Many Stockport families suffered the loss of a son during the War. A much smaller number lost two sons. But the postman’s dreaded visit came three times to 5 Etchells Street, the home of Thomas and Mary Finnerty. William was the first to be killed. The grieving will hardly have been over when, in fairly quick succession in 1917, news came that Martin and Thomas had also been killed.
Thomas Finnerty and Mary Conell had married in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport in the early 1880s. Thomas originated from Ireland and the couple were probably Roman Catholics. In those days, Catholic churches were not licensed for marriages although they almost certainly would have had a wedding ceremony before the civil one. When the 1901 Census was taken, the family was at Etchells Street and there were six children – Mary (then 13), Thomas (10), Martin (8), William (5), Joseph (3) and Ann (5 months).
Little is known of Thomas’ life, except that he had been born in the Stockport area and enlisted in the town. He worked as a doubler at the cotton mill of Mayall & Massey Ltd in Woodley. When he joined up he was assigned to the artillery. 156th Brigade was formed in very early 1915, as part of the Army’s 33rd Division. Thomas’s service is low enough to suggest he was an original member and will have gone overseas on active at the end of the year.
The Third Battle of Ypres (often called Passchendaele) had opened on 31 July 1917 and, by the middle of October was finally petering out. It was a quiet day across the battlefield. In fact, it was so quiet that the official War Diary of 156th Brigade doesn’t even mention it. It cannot be known, therefore, exactly how Thomas died, but it is likely that the artillery on both sides were still active, firing occasional harassing shots at each other and that it was one of the shells that killed him.
Reporting his death, the Stockport Express, in its edition of 29 October said “There are few families from which the War has exacted such a toll. This is the third loss the grieved parents have to mourn and whilst our cause is ennobled by such a sacrifice, and the country the richer for possessing such loyal sons, the burden of sorrow upon the parents can but feebly be appreciated. When the War broke out, Mr & Mrs Finnerty had three sons; all three have laid down their lives for their country. Thomas, the eldest, was a doubler at Messrs Mayall & Massey, Woodley: he enlisted in the early days of the War and had seen many months of active service in France. He was well loved and respected in Stockport for the sterling qualities that helped to build up his fine manly character, and many there are in the Army also mourn the loss of a gallant comrade, a noble example, a true friend.”
One of his comrades had written to Mr & Mrs Finnerty “On behalf of the Boys, I have taken the liberty of writing to you, to express our sorrow at your great loss. …..A magnificent cross marks the grave of our hero: yes, he was a hero, having lived with him for almost a year, I have seen him do many brave things; he was the life of the sub-section.”
The newspaper also published a number of “In Memoriam” notices, including this one from his “sorrowing sweetheart, Mary”:
“Sleep on, dear Tom, in a far off grave
A grave I may never see
But as long as life and memory last
I will always think of thee.”