Rank: Private
Number: 120426
Unit: 19th Battalion (Central Ontario Regiment) Candian Infantry
Date of Death: 11 September 1916
Age: 17
Cemetery: Vimy Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

It's often said that underaged boys regularly enlisted into the army. Certainly it happened. And, certainly a blind eye was turned. But there is rarely proof of the boy deliberately lied about his age. But there is with Thomas.

His enlistment papers clearly show that he had entered his date of birth as 19 July 1896, making him 20. Perhaps he added a bit on, so that his small stature (he was just over 5 feet 3 inches) would not add to the recruiting office suspicions. The family history website, FreeBMD, confirms that his birth was actually registered at Stockport, between October and December 1899. This is confirmed by his entry on the 1901 Census which showed him to be aged 1. He would have been 16 when he joined up.

In 1901, when the Census was taken, Thomas and his mother, Ellen, were living with her parents. They were Michael and Cecila Dempsey, 37 Ridgeway Lane, Stockport. Ellen was married to James Mullaney, but he was not at home when the Census was taken.

In 1913, Thomas went to Canada to work as a farm labourer, settling near Montreal. It is possible that he had joined his father, although his mother remained in Stockport living at 11 Temple Bar in 1916.

As mentioned earlier, Thomas enlisted into the army, at Montreal on 16 August 1915. His attestation papers, which can be viewed on-line at the Canadian National Archives, record his short stature and that he had a chest measurement of just over 34 inches (which he could expand by another 3 inches). He was of medium complexion with brown eyes and hair. Thomas had recorded that he was a Roman Catholic. The 19th Battalion went to France in September 1915 but, allowing for time to train, it would be in the spring of 1916 before Thomas joined his unit as one of a draft of casualty replacements.

The usual vision of trench warfare is of two sets of opposing trench systems, separated by No Man's Land and this was certainly true for part of the war and part of the Western Front. However, as attacks and retreats took place, the two trench systems became interlocked. It would be commonplace for one side to barricade the section they occupied and, several yards further down the system would be another barricade erected by the enemy. The barricades were known as "blocks" and could be quite sophisticated. The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July 1916 and the Allied troops had indeed advanced - not nearly as quickly as had been planned, but the trenches were, by September, interlocked as described.

On 11 September, Thomas and his comrades were in trenches near the French town of Albert which is the centre of the Somme battlefield. The Battalion's War Diary records "At 1.30am this morning parties of about 35 Germans attempted to rush our block, but were driven back by rifle and machine gun fire. Enemy snipers very active all day, from direction of sugar refinery and on Battalion left flank. His artillery kept up a continuous shelling of our front and rear lines with shrapnel, 4.1 and 5.9 (note; shell sixes) and lachrymatory shells were sent over about 8.30pm."

The Diary goes on to record that the Germans were active in No Man's Land, digging trenches out from their main  trench system to incorporate nearby shell holes into the defences. The Canadian troops were doing exactly the same thing.

During the day, 12 men including Thomas were killed. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Canadian Memorial to the Missing. It is possible that he received a proper burial and the location of the grave was lost during the following two years of fighting. It is, however, more likely that he fell victim to one of the shells and his body simply disappeared.

After the War, when the War Graves Commission was collating its casualty information, James and Ellen Mullaney were living at 3936 Wellington Street, Verdun, Montreal.

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