Corporal Coombes was a local man having been born in Cheadle and baptised at the parish church. He was married and lived at 8 Ernest Street, Cheadle.
Before the war, he had served for four years as a Territorial soldier and was mobilised into the 6th Battalion when war was declared. His original service number was 2430 and an account of the Battalion's early months is here. The Stockport Advertiser, 30 April 1915, reported that he had sent home to his wife "some interesting relics from the trenches, including a German officer's water bottle, a beautiful carved candlestick which he had captured from a German and a portion of a German shell." Thomas' six-digit service will have been issued to him at the beginning of 1917 and he will still have been with the 6th Battalion at that point. It is not known when he was transferred to the 9th Battalion.
Thomas was wounded in action and will have been in a military hospital at Etaples when he died. It cannot be determined exactly when Thomas received his wounds, but the Battalion had been in action for several days previously. By late October, German resistance was starting to crumble and British advances were rapid. On the evening of 2/3 November, the Cheshires went into the front line at Sommaing (south of the French town of Valenciennes). A patrol went out during the night and established the enemy was holding positions a little way in front. By morning, though, they had withdrawn.
Two companies of the Cheshires immediately pushed forward but, as they crossed a ridge, came under machine gun fire from Jenlain to the north west. By 11.15, they had secured the ridge and were pushing patrols forward. The Battalion's War Diary records "There was a sharp fire fight between the front companies and enemy machine guns under cover of which one platoon pushed through the orchards north of the road and got into the northern outskirts of the village, capturing a few prisoners."
By 5pm, both leading companies had secured positions in the village. The War Diary "All the above movements were carried out under very heavy shell fire from the enemy and an irritating fire from our own guns". The next day, the attack on Jenlain was resumed with the troops following a creeping artillery barrage. German resistance was stiff but many prisoners and machine guns were captured. Around 7.30, the British artillery barrage started to fall short, causing a considerable number of casualties. The advance was maintained and, by 8.50am, the village was secured. During the afternoon, the battalion was relieved to billets.
On 7 November, the Cheshires were back in the advance, securing the village of Bellignies with no significant opposition, although the War Diary noted that, prior to the attack, the enemy artillery shelling was "the worst the Battalion has ever experienced". In another criticism of the British artillery, the Diary also notes "Our own artillery made this a very difficult and dangerous proceeding."
The Commanding Officer subsequently wrote a highly critical report of the previous days' action, of which the following are extracts:-
"2 On 3rd November, a large number of casualties were stretcher cases. These had to be carried back from Jenlain to Mareches - a distance of 6000 yards. The supply of stretcher bearers and stretchers quickly became exhausted. When the Battalion attacked on the morning of the 4th, it went forward without the Medical Officer and RAMC bearers who were still trying to evacuate about 40 cases from La Patte D'Oie and many severely wounded were still lying east of Jenlain, there being no stretchers to get them away with. Valuable lives were unnecessarily lost.
4 If the artillery have not time to ensure a reasonable degree of accuracy, they had better not fire at all.
13 A good supply of rum is essential."
It cannot be known if Thomas was wounded by the "friendly fire" of the British artillery falling short, nor can it be known if his life would have been saved if medical arrangements had been better. He died on 8 November. Three days later the War was over.
(NB: Original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)