In Memoriam: Thomas Bashforth

Thomas Bashforth was born 11 October 1888 at 8 Cranbourne Street, Workington. He was the illegitimate son of Ellen Bashforth, who was aged 17. The birth father is believed to have been called Kelly. Ellen married John McGlasson in Wigan in 1892 and Thomas was brought up as one of the new McGlasson family.

In 1911 Thomas was working in Darlington as a plasterer and met Florence Wood. They married the following year. When war broke out in August 1914, Thomas was one of those caught up in the enlistment fervour engineered by Lord Kitchener. He signed up following a public meeting in Darlington on 31 August 1914.

AF01

While training with 16 Durham Light Infantry he rose to the rank of Corporal, before being assigned overseas to 11 DLI in August 1915. He remained with 11 DLI for the rest of his army service, being promoted to Sergeant in 1916. He was killed in action outside the village of Arvillers on Wednesday, 27 March 1918. He left a widow and three children: Ethel, Thomas and John Raymond. The last of these was born while he was away in France in 1917.

Among the stories told about Thomas was one concerning his final leave in January 1918. As he went to the railway station he was thinking about what he had been through and what might await him on his return to the Front. The exact details may have been embroidered in the constant re-telling, but it appears he spoke to his neighbour, Mrs Ingledew, who was working as a porter on the station. He spoke of ‘taking his hook’ rather than going back, but Mrs Ingledew counselled against it. There were enough stories going round as to what happened to the families of men who deserted. It may only have been thinking out loud, but it has the ring of some sort of truth considering how long Thomas had served and what he had been through. Worse was to come and maybe the story has been embellished because of what happened.

Thomas was wounded during the actions at Arvillers on 27 March 1918. One of his comrades, a man called Towers, tried to carry him back to the village for treatment. They were hit again, the bullet passing through Thomas, killing him, and lodging in Towers’s back. It is a story we would not know about, but for a chance encounter around 1935. Thomas’s youngest son was an apprentice painter and decorator and was employed on a job to do with the Towers family. The man Towers caught Ray’s name and told him of what had happened and how the bullet was still lodged in his back.

I have often wondered about who exactly this man was and whether or not any of his family were still in Darlington. I tracked it down to one of three brothers: Isaac, Alec and Robert Towers (the last of whom died in the Middle East serving with the Railway Operating Division). By a process of elimination and a chance encounter on-line through the Ancestry website, I can be as certain as possible that it was Alec Towers.

Alec Towers enlisted in Darlington on the same day as Thomas Bashforth and also rose to the rank of Sergeant in 11 DLI, regimental number 18572. He was awarded the Silver War Badge for a serious wound and was discharged 17 December 1918 aged 25. Alec Towers married Mary A Morris in early 1919 in Durham. He died in Durham in 1966. They appear to have had three daughters, Vera, Margaret and Audrey, all born in Durham or Chester le Street between 1920 and 1924. Alec does not seem to have lived near Darlington after 1919. However, his mother continued to live at the family home at 52 Falmer Road in Darlington until her death in 1935 aged 66. Dad was probably helping to redecorate the house.

There was one more strange coincidence regarding Thomas’s death. On exactly the same day, near Arras, at the opposite end of the front along which the German offensive had been launched, Private 39621 George Robert Howe of the West Yorkshire Regiment was also killed in action. He was Thomas’s brother-in-law. George was the husband of Thomas’s half-sister, Maggie McGlasson and father of three children: Maggie, Polly and Nell.

So this ‘in memoriam’ has a wider brief than my grandfather alone. As well as remembering him, his widow and their children, I bring to mind the wider McGlasson family and their relatives and descendants, as well as the Towers family. So many losses – more than I have recounted here. So many thoughts and coincidences, echoed in families everywhere.

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