Date of Death:15/02/1916
Memorial:Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Panel Ref:Panel 53 and 55.
Thomas O'Dea was born in Oldham's Higginshaw district, just over the border from Royton, in 1891. His parents were John,a cotton warehouseman, and Margaret. John was an Irishman and Margaret originally hailed from Manchester. John & Margaret had a total of 15 children but sadly 8 didn't survive infancy. Thomas' siblings that we currently know about were James,Mary Alice,Thomas (died in 1880,aged 2),Margaret Ann,Susannah,Joseph,Patrick (died in 1901,aged 1), John, Ann, Agnes & William.
In 1911 Thomas, by then aged 20, was still living with his parents in Higginshaw at 8 Windsor Street. In his youth he had been a Captain in the St.Mary's(R.C)Boy's Brigade.At the time of the 1911 census he working in the cotton industry as a spinner, possibly at the Woodside Mill which is where he was employed as a minder when he enlisted in 1914. It's unfortunately not possible to ascertain where Thomas was living at the time of his enlistment, what is known is that his parents were definitely in Heyside, at 32 Hebron Street,a year later.
Thomas enlisted very soon after the outbreak of war, in Oldham, and became a member of the freshly formed 12th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. The 12th had been created at Ladysmith Barracks, the Regiment's Depot, in Ashton under Lyne in September 1914. Thomas sailed with his battalion, 1005 strong, out from Folkestone on July 15th 1915, reaching Boulogne the following morning. The 12th Manchesters were first shown the niceties of trench warfare by the Liverpool Scottish before going into the line on the 24th July.For the rest of the year they were in and out of the line around Ypres.
Before Christmas 1915 a group of Royton men in the Battalion wrote home with an appeal to those still back home:
"It will soon be Christmas. We ask the people of Royton to give their hearts in prayer to God that He will safeguard us through the great perils and hardships which lie before us....There are many Royton boys both here and on other fronts. All single boys ought to be helping in this great fight who have sisters and mothers to protect. They should show that they are worthy of the name of man. What will our dear ones say? How proud they will be of the lads who are left behind here who have sacrificed their lives in this most honourable cause"
Shortly after that appeal, on December 23rd, Royton man Jimmy Barker was killed whilst on the front line with the battalion.
On the 2nd January 1916 the battalion went in to the trenches at Hill 60, and throughout February they remained in the Ypres area. On February 15th they came under heavy shellfire whilst manning the frontline and casualties were heavy in A Company with 15 men killed and many more wounded. Thomas O'Dea was one of the men killed. Royton man Harry Travis Stott was killed the following day.
Not long after his death Thomas' mother back home in Heyside received a letter from Lieutenant Cox of the 12th Manchesters:
"It is my painful duty to inform you that your son, Lance Corporal O'Dea, fell in action on the 15th. In your deep grief it is some consolation to remember that he fell doing his duty.I, as his officer, can speak of my own deep grief and total heartfelt sympathy, and also assure you that he will be greatly missed by his comrades with whom he was a general favourite"
Thomas' father John had himself enlisted in September 1915 into the Royal Engineers where he served as a pioneer in the 10th Labour Battalion. He had lied about his age, claiming to be 46 when he was in fact probably in his 50's. John served out in France but was sent back home in March 1916, perhaps this was linked to Thomas' death the month before. The following year brother James was to die of his wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station.
Unlike James, Thomas does not appear on the Royton War Memorial although he is commemorated on Oldham's.
The Commwonwealth War Graves Commission has the following men of the 12th Manchesters dying on the same day at Thomas.The number does not match that reported by the Battalion at the time:
BAMBER FREDERICK 22 Corporal 13939 from Manchester
CULLEN WALTER Private 13223 from Stockport
DONLON THOMAS 28 Private 9645 from Manchester
ELLIS JAMES Private 13640 from Swinton
HEATH GEORGE 21 Corporal 3932 from Salford
HOWARD DANIEL Corporal 1529 from Manchester
O'HARA JOHN 33 Private 13591 from Manchester
RATHMILL HENRY Private 29940 born Manchester,enlisted Ashton-under-Lyne
REECE THOMAS 31 Private 13646 from Manchester
SHARROCKS WILLIAM Lance Serjeant 13032 from Rochdale,enlisted in Shaw