Date of Death:15/11/1916
Regiment:East Lancashire Regiment
Cemetery:Waggon Road Cemetery
photo courtesy of Chris Eaton
Thomas Holden was born in Royton on October 13th 1894. His parents were Alfred, at that time a mechanic, and Elizabeth who were both also Royton born. Thomas was their third child after daughters Ethel and Sarah. The Holdens lived at 170 Middleton Road and Thomas could be found there at the time of the 1901 and 1911 censuses. For the latter, at the age of 16, he was working as a clerk in a cotton mill. At the time he joined the army he was working at the Roy Mill. In 1909 Thomas' sister Ethel Harrison (she had married two years earlier) died aged only 27 and his mother was to follow in 1912 aged 56. Alfred Holden remarried, to Martha Platt in 1913, and it's likely that Thomas moved with them to 552 Rochdale Road in the Summit area. Thomas was the boyfriend of Jessie who lived next door at number 554.
Thomas joined up in May 1916 in Royton and became a member of the Manchester Regiment. He was first with the 25th Battalion, a reserve and training unit, who were based at Altcar near to Formby. A move followed for Thomas when he was transferred to the 4th Battalion, another reserve unit, who were part of the garrison guarding the Humber estuary.
It's not known when exactly Thomas was sent out for active service but when he was he had been earmarked as part of a replacement draft for the 22nd Battalion Manchester Regiment who had been out in France since November 1915 and had been decimated on July 1st 1916 as part of the bloodbath of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, five Royton men had been amongst the unit's dead. However, before he could join them from the large training camp at Etaples he and others were transferred to the 8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment. The 8th East Lancs had suffered their own baptism of fire on July 15th and had taken 374 casualties. Royton man Richard Mannion had been severely wounded and was to die the following month.
The 8th Battalion newly brought up to strength with fresh recruits such as Thomas Holden were to take part in the last fighting of the Battle of the Somme during the phase known as the Battle of the Ancre.This last push began on November 13th with the objective being the Redan Ridge which lay between Serre and Beaumont-Hamel. It's capture was important as it dominated the Allied positions to it's west. If it fell into British hands it would also enable a flank attack to be made on the German positions at Serre. The key German positions on the ridge were Munich and Frankfurt trenches. The first attacks met with some success but then faltered. Troops being held in reserve were then brought up towards the action - the 112th Brigade of which the 8th East Lancs were part were to be part of this renewed effort.
In the early hours of November 15th the men approached the battlefield. Corporal William Mullen from Accrington who was to be wounded later in the day wrote to his parents from his hospital bed:
"We marched through endless communication trenches, and getting out of the trenches we tramped across a great many fields that were nothing but one mass of shell holes, and the mud was almost up to our waists and water over our knees in most places. I shall never forget it. It was bitterly cold and fritz was knocking sparks off us with shrapnel. Many men dropped exhausted through struggling to get through the mud. At last we got to our destination. Many would have taken it for a trench, but it was one continuous line of big deep shell holes. We rested here for about an hour."
The Battalion arrived in Beaumont Trench, the jumping off point for their attack, at 07:45. They were exhausted after five hours slog through atrocious conditions in the dark and now had only 45 minutes before being sent over the top. The Battalion's officers had had little time to grasp the details of their orders.There was approximately 1250 yards of ground between them and the Germans in Munich Trench, the terrain being relatively flat. The plan called for a short but intense artillery bombardment on Munich Trench with the 8th East Lancs and 10th Loyal North Lancs following up behind it. As the barrage lifted and moved onto bombard Frankfurt Trench , Munich Trench was to be rushed and seized. The barrage would then lift on Frankfurt Trench and this too was then to be taken.
At 08:30, moving forward through fog, the men advanced in two waves. The ground they advanced across had been churned by shell fire and was deep in mud due to constant rain, the men were sometimes knee or even thigh deep in mud. They got to within 50 yards of Munich Trench with A & D Companies in the lead when they suddenly came under machine gun and rifle fire from short range. The men went to ground and the attack petered out with the men of the 8th East Lancs digging in across the battlefield. Corporal Mullen described the scene:
"We had not gone more than 100 yards when the Germans spotted us coming. As soon as they saw us they jumped out of the trench, planted their machine gun on the top and simply poured lead into us with a coolness and skill that any machine gunner might envy. Our lads were dropping down like skittles...."
As well as the German fire to contend with the British barrage was falling short and hitting it's own troops. The commanding officer of the 10th Loyal North Lancs, attacking to the right of Thomas Holden and his comrades, stated afterwards:
"We were caught by the 6 minute intense barrage behind which we retired 50 yards and reformed. We lost at this trench almost entirely from our own barrage. 8 officers were killed out of 15, 6 wounded and approx 170 men. One of our surviving company commanders afterwards saw some Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in Leave Alley, who had seen the whole thing and they declared that our barrage was so short that not even a splinter would have reached Munich Trench. It is contended that we ran into our intense barrage. After reforming the battalion under one of the surviving officers we again advanced, but the barrage was by then well away and Munich Trench was alive with men and machine guns"
The war diary of the 8th East Lancashires touched on this:
"the barrage being short, the thick fog and the wire in front of the trench being uncut....The casualties during this attack were very severe, especially in officers, ten of whom were killed"
The attack had failed and the two battalions had suffered approximately 350 casualties, many from 'friendly fire'. Thomas Holden was one of those killed from the 8th East Lancs. Nearby Fred Duckworth of the 10th Loyal North Lancs was also killed.
Thomas' body was either never found or could not be identified if it was. He was one of the many listed as being missing in action. His father Alfred back in Royton received unofficial news of his death before Christmas 1916 - possibly from another man in the Battalion. Then on May 4th the Red Cross informed Alfred that his son could be presumed dead. Alfred still had heard nothing from the War Office and only after pressure from his father was Thomas' officially pronounced as being presumed killed in August 1917.
On September 9th 1917 during a memorial service at St.Paul's Church the high regard that Thomas had been held in is clear to see:
"we are remembering before God, the noble life, the heroic death of one of the best and finest lads in our Church and Parish, Thomas Holden, and in thinking of him our deepest sympathy goes out to the bereaved father and all relatives in the awful suspense and terrible anguish of mind through which they have gone for months past. We have now been told officially that Thomas Holden, who was reported missing on Nov 16th last was killed fighting on the day before, but his body was not found and buried until July 4 of this year. No one can realise the terrible suspense and pain of those dear ones of his during all these months of waiting. But, thank God, they have the joy and comfort of knowing that Thomas was respected and loved by all who knew him for his manly Christian life, his loftiness of purpose and his devotion at all times to duty. He was a young fellow endowed with a keen intellect, and if he had been spared I have no doubt he would have occupied a very high place in our district. In our Sunday School and Church life generally he played a large part, and his loss, I know, is keenly felt both by his old teachers and fellow scholars. He has been taken from us at the time early age of 22 years, but we believe he tried to do his duty both to his God and to his fellows, and we feel he is at rest in God's fair Paradise "where no flower can wither". He has gallantly passed into the unseen with all it's glory and brightness and joy. It is for you, dear mourners, that we sorrow, that our hearts ache, that we cry:'Jesus,Master, have mercy' "
Over the following three years the following 'In Memorium' notices were posted in the Oldham Chronicle by Thomas' girlfriend Jessie:
In ever loving memory of Private Thomas Holden, East Lancashire Regiment,
Killed in action Nov.15th 1916
Anchored by love death cannot sever.
I sadly miss him and will do for ever.
Not now but in the coming years,
It may be in the better land.
We'll read the meaning of our tears.
And there we'll understand
554 Rochdale Road, Royton
In honoured but ever lasting memory of Private Thomas Holden,
who fell in action Nov 15 1916
No more roaring of the cannon.
No more danger from the ball
Now he sleeps in a foreign country
Waiting for the last roll-call
I often think of the years gone by
When we were both together,
A shadow over my life is cast.
A loved one gone for ever
Sadly missed by his sweetheart Jessie
Rochdale Road, Royton
In loving memory of Private Tom Holden,killed in action
Nov 15th 1916
In my heart, firm and fast
Are golden memories of the past
554 Rochdale Road, Royton - Jessie
Thomas' father Alfred died in 1931 aged 75. He was buried alongside Elizabeth in Royton Cemetery. Also buried there is Thomas' sister Sarah (1949 aged 65) and stepmother Martha (1954 aged 85).
The men of the 8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment who were also killed in the fighting that claimed Thomas Holden's life were:
ANTEN GEORGE Private 34603 from Liverpool
ASHALL JOHN 28 Lance Corporal 16314 from Billinge
ASHMORE WILLIAM Private 32166 born Co.Wicklow,lived Liverpool
BOARDMAN JAMES Private 16295 from Manchester
BOOTH WILLIAM 35 Private 17256 from Blackburn
BRIGGS JOSEPH 27 Lance Corporal 26883 from Darwen
BUTLER JOHN 34 Private 17160 from Nelson
CLARK DANIEL Private 29506 from Shaw
CLOUGH JAMES Private 17681 from Burnley
COLLUM THOMAS 20 Private 17768 from Preston
CROOK JAMES Private 16491 from Liverpool
DUCKWORTH BENJAMIN Private 23660 from Accrington
EASTWOOD RENNIE Private 24868 from Nelson
ETHERINGTON WILLIAM Private 29509 from Oldham
FISHER EDDIE 17 2nd Lt. from London
GALLAGHER JOHN Private 34760 from Liverpool
GANDERTON JOSEPH 22 Corporal 23923 from Birmingham
GREGORY FREDERICK 33 Private 27545 from Accrington
GRIMSHAW JAMES 18 Private 16494 from Chorley
HALL ALEXANDER 20 Private 11629 from Burnley
HALLIWELL FREDERICK Corporal 16168 from Manchester
HENLEY STANLEY 26 Private 34617 from Liverpool
HEYS JAMES Private 19052 born Bury,enlisted Accrington
HILTON ARTHUR 19 Private 32211 from Liverpool
HOPWOOD ERNEST 22 Private 24913 from Bacup
HOWARTH WALTER 26 Private 24491 from Burnley
HUNT JAMES 24 2nd Lt. from St Annes on Sea
HUYTON EDWARD 29 Private 23578 from Preston
JONES HERBERT Private 29530 from Manchester
KEMP JAMES Private 32216 from Liverpool
LEACH WILLIAM 25 Private 24622 from Darwen
LEIGHTON WALTER Lance Corporal 2625 from Colne
LIVESEY ALBERT Private 16867 from Darwen
MACARTY JOSEPH Private 22680 from Salford
MARSDEN FREDERICK 19 Lance Corporal 12483 from Accrington
MARSHALL WALTER 26 Private 24556 from Brantingham,Yorks
MINNAAR CHARLES 34 2nd Lt. from South Africa
MOONEY GEORGE 21 Corporal 24051 from Blackburn
MOORHOUSE ARTHUR 21 2nd Lt. from Bentham,Yorks
MORKEL DANIEL 26 2nd Lt.from South Africa
McCORMACK ALEXANDER Private 17358 from Manchester
NAUGHTON THOMAS Private 11889 from Burnley
NEEDHAM ARTHUR Captain
NEWSHOLME HAROLD 22 Private 17322 from Nelson
NORMAN ERNEST Private 26022 from Darwen
ORANGE JAMES 22 Private 29546 from Manchester
OWEN RICHARD 26 Private 32162 from Liverpool
RICHARDSON JAMES Private 34725 from Accrington
RONALDS ERNEST 23 Private 32188 from Upholland
SANDERSON JOSEPH Serjeant 17659 from Blackburn
SCHOLES HENRY Private 34662 from Radcliffe
SHAW SAMUEL Private 32237 from Liverpool
SKIPWORTH ALFRED Corporal 16209 from Ashton-in-Makerfield
SMITH GEORGE Lance Corporal 34677 from Wigan
SMITH WILFRED 30 Private 24872 from Todmorden
STOCK JAMES 25 Captain
STUTTARD SMITH 35 Private 27518 from Burnley
TYRER ISAAC Private 32239 from Kirkby
VEITCH JOHN 26 Private 34729 from Sunderland
WARD GEORGE Private 20565 from Bacup
WARD JAMES Private 24457 from Oswaldtwistle
WELLSTEAD JOHN 36 Private 32245 from Liverpool
WILLIAMS WILLIAM Private 34638 from Rochdale