Thomas William Chambers

Name Thomas William Chambers
Corps RFA 380TH Battery 158 Brigade
Rank Gunner
Service No. 58723
Date/Place of entry Before April 1911
Date of death 12 July 1917  Died of wounds
Memorial/Grave 11 B 11, Dickebusch New Military Cemetery extension, West Vlaandered, Belgium

Thomas William Chambers was born in the summer of 1887 and was brought up by his grandparents, farm worker Edmund Chambers and his wife Mary Goodman nee White. Edmund and Mary were in their early forties at that time and living at Home Farm Cottage in East Carlton. Mary had been born in Church Langton but her father’s family were originally from Middleton and her parents and three of her brothers were living on Middleton Hill. Her brother Thomas White’s second wife was Sarah Jane Tirrell, grandmother of Leonard Joseph Stokes.

The Chambers family were among the earliest recorded in the Cottingham parish registers; an Agnes Chambers was baptised there in 1577 (There is a family tree on the Cottingham history website )  By the mid-nineteenth century the name was less common in the village but remained widespread in the Welland Valley.

Edmund Chambers was born in Middleton in 1844, one of three children. Census entries show he lived all of his life either in Middleton Hill or in East Carlton. For the most part his cousin John Chambers was his neighbour. John was married to Alice Wignell from Caldecott; her eldest sister Sarah was the wife of William Chambers of Caldecott (another sister Rebecca married William Jackson of Middleton.)  The persistence of the unusual given name Pridmore (a long established local surname) in both the Middleton and Caldecott Chambers families is a further indication that they were well known to one another.

Edmund’s younger sister Emma married David Claypole, a shepherd from Cottingham, and lived thereafter in Pipewell and then Wilbarston. His elder brother George stayed put in Middleton and East Carlton; his son Frederick married Rebecca Beadsworth who was cousin to Frederick Oliver and Samuel William Booth.

When Thomas William was four years old, the household at Home Farm cottage also included Edmund and Mary’s youngest children Hannah and Arthur who were just a few years older than he was. Their three older children had moved away. The eldest,  Anne, probably Thomas William’s mother, was a domestic cook in Derbyshire, Samuel was in the shoe trade in Rothwell, and Mary Lizzie in service in Todmorden.

In 1901 Edmund and Mary were in Eady Crescent near School Hill and Thomas William was employed as a page boy. The census entry does not say where but Carlton Hall seems the likeliest possibility. Hannah was on service in Leamington and Arthur was lodging with his brother Samuel and young family in Rothwell. Next door to Edmund lived his elder brother George.

By April 1911 Thomas William had enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery. He was a gunner in the 39th Battery and stationed at Deep Cut Barracks near Farnborough.

A battery was the basic unit of the Royal Artillery. In the 1890s the RA had been split into Garrison and Field Artillery, and the Royal Field Artillery then divided again into field batteries, horse batteries and mountain batteries. The RFA was the biggest artillery grouping and was responsible for medium calibre guns and howitzers. This meant its batteries were usually deployed near the front line during World War 1.

When grouped together, RFA batteries formed into a brigade in the same way as infantry battalions. At the start of World War One an RFA brigade comprised three batteries, each with one hundred and ninety eight men of whom seventy five were gunners, and six heavy calibre guns, an ammunition column, and a headquarters staff commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel; the total strength was about eight hundred. Each RFA brigade division was added to an infantry division.

Initially most RFA brigades used fifteen pounder field guns, but in 1916 eighteen pounder guns became available. By this time an artillery brigade consisted of four batteries one of which was allocated 4.5" howitzers. The howitzer launched its shells high into the air so that it dropped more directly down onto its target even when that target could not be easily seen.

At the time of his death Thomas William was a gunner in the 380 battery, 158th Brigade. This brigade had been part of the New Army 35th Division formed in the Spring of 1915 but disbanded by 28 Feb 1917. However a second 158th brigade was formed a few weeks later in England. As Thomas William’s military record does not survive, it’s impossible to be certain if he served with both the 158th brigades.

As well as the 380 and 381 batteries, the new 158 brigade contained the2/1st Shropshire and 2/1st Berkshire Royal Horse Artillery, from whose ranks were drawn men to serve in the Ammunition Column. The brigade arrived in France in May 1917 and quickly moved to the town of Bailleul, a few miles south west of Ypres. It was an important rail head, air depot and hospital centre, and was severely bombed and shelled in July 1917.

The 158 Brigade moved on to Ouderdom camp, south east of Poperinge, on 26 June. Poperinge, commonly referred to as ‘Pops’ by British soldiers was the centre of a large concentration of troops and was where the famous Talbot House - Toc H.- opened in 1915. Because of its military importance close to the front line the town was frequently targeted by long range German artillery. Ouderdom camp was shelled on 1st July. On 9 July RFA batteries took up positions near Zillebeke Lake just outside Ypres under the orders of 8th Division.

Thomas William died from wounds on 12 July, between the end of the Battle of Messines and the start of the Third Battle of Ypres. The brigade war diary gives no clues to when or in what action he was injured. He is buried, along with one hundred and thirty other RFA servicemen at Dickebusch New Military Cemetery. Dickebusch is a village south east of Poperinge and it seems likely he died in the trenches there; the cemetery was commonly used by ambulance units on the front line.

In the autumn of 1914 Thomas William had got married. His bride was Nellie Tozeland of Narborough, a former domestic servant who in 1911 was keeping house for her three unmarried brothers who worked in the quarrying industry. Nellie’s eldest brother William had married Ann Chambers, daughter of Edmund and probably Thomas William’s mother, in 1911. Nellie was thirty three when they were married, and widowed at thirty six; no children of the marriage have been identified.

Several other relatives of the Middleton Chambers family died while serving in the war:
Rothwell-born Arthur Edmund Chambers, Thomas William’s cousin, was killed in action in November 1915.

Frederick Chambers of Caldecott was killed in action in August 1917, just under five weeks after Thomas William’s death. Frederick was a great niece of Alice Chambers nee Wignell of Middleton. She and her husband John were neighbours of his cousin Edmund in East Carlton and Middleton.

George Robert Chambers of Caldecott was Frederick’s cousin. He died in hospital in November 1918 a week after the Armistice.

Reginald Harry Chambers of Rothwell was Frederick’s nephew. He died in April 1917.

Edmund’s sister Emma Claypole and her husband lost a grandson Francis Leonard Moore, who died in August 1918.