Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Remembering Joseph Thomas from Chorlton who died in the Great War

I wonder just how many of these small replicas of the Cenotaph still exist.

They would have been made in their thousands and displayed on mantle pieces and in cabinets across the country.

Some will have evoked proud memories of a war fought well but for many more they must have been a painful reminder of a lost loved one who died on some faraway battlefield or out at sea.

The end of the Second World War may have given them a renewed significance but as we passed into the long years of peace and growing prosperity most will have been consigned to a back room, and finally laid to rest in a suitcase in the attic.

And in the way of these things those that weren’t thrown away will have been given to a jumble sale and by degree made their way into a collection.

Of course the personal story which went with each will have been lost.

Joseph Thomas, circa 1914-15
But not this one.

This one I can trace to a family and the young Joseph Thomas who was born in 1894 and died on the Western Front in 1917.*

Joseph grew up in Chorlton-cum-Hardy and  worked for Richard Haworth & Co Ltd who had offices at 19 Cooper Street.

The building has long gone but it faced the Town Hall close to where the Cenotaph now stands.

And like many other young men working in the offices of the city he enlisted in one of the Pal’s Battalions.

The first had been raised in the August in a few days and Joseph enlisted in the second city battalion that September.

This was the 17th Manchester’s which after basic training left for France in the November of the following year.

I doubt I would ever have come across him had it not been for a picture postcard he sent to his brother.

The post card asked for an advance till pay day and alerted the family that he was coming home on leave.

At that stage all I had was his brother’s name and address but that was enough to begin to uncover the story of the family and shed light on the young man who just signed himself Joe.

By the end of the afternoon his early career was clear along with the details of his enlistment and a photograph of ten soldiers one of whom I guessed was Joseph.

The rest as they say just fell into place.

Within an hour of posting the story Nicola and Steven had been in touch and were able to identify young Joseph which in turn led to a meeting at which they showed me a collection of family material including photographs, certificates and the replica Cenotaph.

And that I think is a good point to close.

Of all the memorabilia I have come across from the Great War this replica Cenotaph brings me very close to the loss the Thomas family must have felt.

Picture; replica Cenotaph circa 1920s from the collection of Nicola O’Niel and detail from the picture postcard showing young Joseph, circa 1914-15 from the collection of David Harrop

*Uncovering the story of Joseph Thomas of Chorlton born 1894, died 1917 on the Western Front, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Chorlton%20and%20the%20Great%20War

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