Thomas was the son of George and Alice Astley of 46 Lingard Street, Reddish (and, later, of 22 Ainsdale Grove). He worked, locally, in the cotton mill of the Reddish Spinning Company, Houldsworth Street and, in the autumn of 1914, he travelled into Manchester to enlist in the army. He joined the fifth of the "Pals Battalions" being formed by the Manchester Regiment and was assigned to No. 14 Platoon, "D" Company. Click here for some details of the Pals' recruitment and training.
Thomas went overseas with the Battalion in November 1915. As far as is known, he came through the next two years of fighting unscathed. On 7 October 1917, he was in camp near Ritz Trench at Hooge Crater, just outside the Belgian town of Ypres (now Ieper). The unpublished history of the Battalion, held by the Regimental Archives, records "This Sunday morning was one of heavy driving rain, the mud was very deep and the troops wet through on arrival. Dinner was provided at Ritz Trench. Afterwards the Battalion proceeded to relieve the 2nd Borders and 8th Devons in the line."
Rain and mud had characterised the Third Battle of Ypres since it started on 31 July. Conditions for the men had got worse day by day and battalions would now normally undertake only two or three-day tours of duty in the trenches. There was heavy shelling throughout 8 October. This was repeated on the following two days and, by the time they were relieved on the evening of the 10th, 34 men had been killed or posted as missing. Thomas was amongst them. John Ashworth had been badly injured on the 10th and died the next day.
Thomas was amongst the missing. No trace of him was ever found but it would not be until September 1918 that the War Office made the official presumption that he must have killed. No doubt, the phrase "blown to bits" applied to his death.