WE TEND to forget when recalling the horrors of the First World War that most young men who went to fight in the first two years were volunteers.
They weren’t forced to go, but they answered the call, and hundreds of thousands of them never returned.
One of these was 24-year-old Thomas Hirst, of Dewsbury, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The life of Thomas is currently being researched by his great nephew, Stephen Walker, of Birstall, whose mother, the late Mrs Jane Walker, was Thomas’s niece.
Thomas, an old boy of Batley Grammar School, was the son of Henry and Clara Hirst, of Crackenedge, Dewsbury, where Thomas was born.
In 1915, Thomas married Elsie Lumb, of Batley Carr, but tragically she died six months later at the age of 22 from tuberculosis, which she contracted shortly after their marriage.
Following her death, Thomas signed up, and newspaper accounts of his death state this was why he had enlisted.
The details of the brief lives and tragic deaths of this young couple only came to light last year when Stephen’s mother passed away.
It was while he was sorting through her papers that he came across an old photograph of two soldiers in World War One uniforms.
He had no idea who they were because his mother had never spoken of them, but fortunately their names were written on the back.
Stephen said: “I managed to find out something of Thomas’s early background.
“In the 1901 Census, Thomas, then aged eight, was living with his parents at 5 Longlands Road, Staincliffe, Dewsbury. In the 1911 Census Thomas was 18, still single and living with his widowed mother in Leeds, his father, a wool and flock merchant, having died in 1904.
“His occupation was described as a clerk in a wholesale grocery firm and his brother Arthur (the other soldier in the photograph) was 14 and working as a trimmer at a wholesale clothiers.
“In the interim I discovered Thomas had attended Batley Grammar School, but for some reason his name is not on the school’s Roll of Honour.”
Further research revealed Thomas had later worked as warehouseman for Mr Harry Carter, a rag merchant in Batley Carr.
In 1915, the registration of Thomas’s marriage to Elsie described him as a rag auctioneer’s clerk at Messrs Eastwood and Nephew in Dewsbury.
Thomas worshipped at the Batley Carr Primitive Methodist Church, where he was christened, and Stephen believes this could have been where he met his wife.
Thomas and Elsie were married at the little Batley Carr chapel, now demolished, on 8th May 1915.
Thomas was 23 years old and living at 7 Hope Street, Dewsbury, Elsie was 22, living at 11 King Street, Batley Carr.
Elsie had worked as a forewoman at a Batley Carr rag merchants, and Stephen thinks the couple may also have met through their work, both having worked in the textile industry and in premises within close proximity in Batley Carr.
Newspaper accounts of Thomas’s death mention they had only been married a few months when Elsie died, and speculated this was why the heart-broken Thomas had gone to fight.
Thomas enlisted in November 1915; joining the 9th Battalion of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and was a signaller.
He disembarked in France in May of 1916 and was killed by a shell on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916.
His body was never found but he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial and also on both war memorials in Batley and Dewsbury.
Thomas’s father, Henry Hirst, was buried in Dewsbury Cemetery, and later his family added on his gravestone, the following details of Thomas’s death:
“Also Thomas, the beloved son of Clara and the late Henry Hirst, killed in action July 1st 1916. He did his duty.”
The life of Thomas’s younger brother Arthur has been more difficult for Stephen to research because little is recorded of those who came home from the war.
But he has discovered that he was born in 1897 in Batley, and that in 1911 he was a trimmer in a wholesale clothing firm.
Arthur and Thomas’s sister Florence, Stephen’s grandmother, was an assistant teacher, which indicates that following their father’s death, all the grown up children were working to help supplement the family income.
Stephen hasn’t been able to discover anything of Arthur’s war record, but he did find among his mother’s possessions, a postcard he sent to relatives from France in 1918.
In 1919, Arthur married Ivy Gray at Dewsbury Parish Church and this is where Stephen’s research into Arthur’s life ends.
Arthur was only 17 at the beginning of the war, but he came home and married. Although Stephen knows nothing more of his life, he hopes that he and his wife had a happy life.
Stephen, who used to be a lecturer at Dewsbury College, also hopes there may be some readers locally who may know something more about these soldier brothers and would be willing to contact him.
If you can help him contact me at email@example.com and I will pass on any information you give me.