Rank: Sergeant
Number: 72973
Unit: 118th Company MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 31 July 1917
Age: 23
Cemetery: Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper, Belgium

Thomas was a pre-War member of the local Territorial Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment (service number 1121) and was mobilised when War was declared in August 1914. An account of their early weeks can be found here.

He was the son of Joseph and Mary who, in 1901, were living at 132 Chapel Street, Edgeley (and, later, at 44 Aberdeen Crescent) with their four children. Thomas, then aged 7, had an older brother - 9 year old Harold and two younger siblings - Clemence and Ella. The family worshipped at St Mark's Church, Edgeley. Thomas was a keen player of crown green bowls and, a few weeks before his death, had been home on leave and had taken the opportunity to play several games at Alexandra Park.

In 1916, the 6th Cheshires were part of the Army's 118th Brigade. In March of that year, the High Command decided to form specialist machine gun units attached to each Brigade and it is likely that this is when Thomas, now a sergeant, was transferred. The Company operated 16 heavy Vickers machine guns, each with a seven man team. Thomas will have been in command of one of the teams.

When the Brigade's infantry battalions took part in an attack, the Company had two specific roles. About 8 of the teams would go forward with the infantry to give them close support and be ready to set up their guns in captured positions and prepare to defend against any counter attack. The remaining teams would stay at the British lines firing a barrage over the heads of the infantry and onto the German trenches.

31 July 1917 was the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres (known to many as Passchendaele). The day before, the gun teams that would accompany the infantry moved to their designated spots. A later newspaper report stated that Thomas had died whilst "helping the Cheshires", so it seems likely that he was in command of one of the three gun teams from the Company's Number 3 Section that was attached to them. An account of the Cheshires attack can be found here.

The Company's War Diary confirms that the gun teams moved forward with the infantry at 3.50am, but they suffered such casualties that there were insufficient men to operate the guns and they had to retire back to a position known as Canton Trench. Thomas had been very badly wounded, no doubt by enemy shellfire, and died before he could reach the dressing station. His commanding officer later wrote "He died a glorious death, as a soldier and a gentleman."  Thomas Clarke has no known grave.

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