Date of Death:24/02/1917
Panel Reference:Pier&Face 3C&3D
Thomas Henry Cummings was born in Manchester, most probably in 1874. His parents were Thomas, a cabinet maker, & Mary. He had two older siblings that we know of, Peter and Mary. Sister Kate who was two years younger was born in Moston and then a year later Francis was born in Oldham. Another brother, Charles, was born in 1879. At the time of the 1881 census the family were living at 156 Roundthorn Road in Oldham.
There is no sign of the family in the 1891 census but it's known that Thomas joined the army whilst a young man. He joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers which recruited in Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan so it's possible they had moved there.
The Oldham Chronicle, after his death, wrote of his military experiences with the Royal Irish Fusiliers (he must have been with the 2nd Battalion):
When 'quite a lad' he enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and he fought all the way through the Boer War and received honourable mention from his commanding officer for his work in the Rhodesian Campaign. When he was on the Zambezi the force he was with was practically the first band of white men in that part of Africa. Also fought in the Matabele and Mashone Campaigns, and in the latter was rescued from suffocation by being drawn out from under a pile of deat natives. He was identified only by the fact that he wore shoes while all the other feet were bare. He was a Corporal in these campaigns
After leaving the army Thomas emmigrated to America but returned to England in around about 1908. That same year he married Elizabeth Costello in Oldham. In 1911 they were living together at 4 Chapel Lane in Royton and Thomas was working as a Yard Man/General Labourer at a cotton mill. By the time war broke out in 1914 he was a Stripper and Grinder at the Thornham Mill.
He rejoined the army at the outbreak of war and was at first back in the Royal Irish Fusiliers but was then transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers. Thomas was a musketry instructor in the 3rd Battalion, a training unit, based in Hull.
In late December 1916 he was sent for active service to the 18th Battalion out in France. The 18th had been formed in Bury in January 1915 as a 'Bantam Battalion' - a unit for men under the pre war regulation height of 5 foot 3. They had been in France since January the following year but due to losses had needed to receive several drafts of reinforcements. In an effort to preserve the character of the unit a great many men unfit for front line service were sent to them. During the winter months about 190 men were weeded out and instruction given that the 'bantam standard' had to be disregarded for good and all when incorporating new drafts. The days of the 18th Battalion being a bantam unit were over and Thomas Cummings was one of the new taller reinforcements that arrived.
Thomas' time back as a front line soldier was a very short one. The battalion's first stint in the trenches in 1917 began just four days before his death. On the night of February 20th the battalion went up to the front line and began taking over trenches from the French. These positions were reported to be of poor quality and extremely wet and muddy. The average depth of water in these trenches was 2 foot. This was completed by 11:00 on the 21st. They began to take casualties on the 22nd - six men were wounded and then came under considerable artillery bombardment from the Germans on the 23rd in which a further seven were injured. Then on the 24th Thomas was killed during a gas shell bombardment that took place between 19:45 and 20:30. The unit war diary states that 2nd Lt.Cyril Rayner and five other ranks were killed & 5 wounded.
His wife Elizabeth, living at 6 Park Street, was to receive a letter from the Second Lieutenant of his platoon:
"Sergeant Cummings had only been with my platoon for three or four weeks, but during that time proved himself a fine soldier and a man. He was greatly admired by all the men of his platoon and all of them join me in offering you our deepest sympathy. He died peacefully and was buried just behind our front line"
The battalion's war diary recorded that a total of five others were killed but only the following can be found in the records:
DUNKERLEY SYDNEY Private 16351 from Oldham
ELEY WALLACE Private 20837 from Stafford
ORD WILLIAM Private 24862 from London
RAYNER CYRIL 24 2nd.Lt. from Reigate