Thomas was born in the village of Diggle, near Oldham and was still living there when he enlisted into the army. Surprisingly, he joined up many miles away from home at Falmouth. At the time of the Great War (and for many years after), Diggle was in the West Riding of Yorkshire so Thomas clearly decided to join his local Regiment. The 2nd Battalion was a regular army unit but Thomas was not a professional soldier. He will have been assigned to the Battalion, after training, as one of a group of replacements for earlier casualties.
On 1 July 1916, the West Yorkshires took part in the attack that marked the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Over half the men became casualties, with many of the dead caught up on the uncut German barbed wire. They then needed time to recuperate and to take on new recruits and it is possible that Ernest only joined around this time. They were not back in action until late October.
On the 20th, the Battalion moved from reserve to "Camp D" at Bernafray Wood. The Wood was in the southern part of the battlefield and had been captured in early July. Over the next two days, the men carried out fatigue parties. On the night of the 22nd, they found themselves in assembly positions ready to support an attack by other units the next day.
Zero hour was set for 2.30pm and the attack got under way as planned. Thomas and his mates remained in the support trenches but now came under very heavy retaliatory artillery fire which caused casualties and, also, cut all the Battalion's communication. At 3pm, "A" Company was ordered forward to occupy the original British front line trench - known as Spectrum Trench. This had to be undertaken across open ground, rather than through the trench system and they suffered another 15 casualties in getting there. Two hours later, "C" Company was also sent forward. By now, the shelling had died down and there were no casualties. The attack could not be sustained and, by 6pm, the British troops were retreating back to Spectrum Trench. Thomas was almost certainly killed by shellfire and he has no known grave.