Thomas Finneran

Name: Thomas Finneran
1st Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
Service Number
: 30963
Date of Death:
8 August 1916
Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Thomas’ inscription on the Thiepval Memorial – Photo by Jane Roberts

Thomas Finneran was born in Batley on 15 January 1888 and baptised at St Mary’s a week later. He was the eldest son of County Mayo-born Michael and Ann Finneran (née Callaghan). The 1911 census pinpoints Ann’s birthplace to Charlestown.1

The couple, who married locally in 1883, settled at 30, Hume Street – a two-roomed house which was to remain their home throughout their lives. Michael worked as a woollen rag grinder, and Ann as a rag sorter. More details about the tough, dirty, arduous role of a rag grinder – integral to Batley’s shoddy industry – can be found here.

Rear view of 20 Hume Street, also view of yard of 20, 22, 28 & 30 Hume Street

Michael and Ann had seven children in total. Eldest daughter Catherine, also known as Kate, was born in December 1883. Another daughter, Mary, followed in March 1886. Thomas came next. Then another son, John, in April 1889. Twins Michael James and Ann were born in November 1890, but both were dead by the following year. Ann survived only seven weeks, and died on 27 December 1890.2 Her twin lived for nine months, his death being recorded on 25 August 1891.3 Their final son, also named Michael, was born in March 1894.

Within weeks of Michael’s birth, though, another tragedy struck the family. On 12 April 1894 49-year-old Michael died, leaving widowed Ann with five young children, and without the support safety nets we have today.4

Thomas attended St Mary’s school where he attained a Standard IV education.5 In this period pupils were graded between I (lowest) and 6 (highest). It meant Thomas could read a few lines of poetry or prose, chosen by the Inspector. He could write a sentence slowly dictated once, a few words at a time, from a reading book. In arithmetic he could do work involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, long division and knew rules around money, weights and measures.

By the time of the 1901 census, the family finances were better placed. Kate and Mary had employment as rag sorters, whilst 13-year-old Thomas, having completed his education, worked as a trapper in a coal mine.6 This was an underground job for young workers. It involved opening and closing the doors, allowing hurriers to pass through with the coal tubs whilst ensuring fresh air flowed through the tunnels preventing a build up of dangerous gas. It was a boring task, with the young worker spending long hours sitting in semi-darkness – but it was a vital safety job.

In 1908 Kate married Patrick Hopkins, meaning in 1911 the Finneran household comprised of Ann and her four working children Mary, Thomas, John and Michael. At this point Thomas had moved away from coal mining, being employed as a labourer at a brickworks.7 It was a relatively recent change, as at Christmas 1909 he was described as a miner. This was on the occasion of a seemingly minor infringement of the law. He appeared in Batley Court on Christmas Eve, and was found guilty of playing football, presumably in the street. For this, he received a five-day custodial sentence, spending Christmas in Wakefield Prison. From these records we also have a basic description of the 21-year-old Thomas. He stood at 5’ 5”, and had brown hair8 (an earlier conviction that summer for obscene language stated dark brown hair).9

HM Prison Wakefield, 1916 – Source Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Image

However, the labouring job was only brief as, prior to enlisting, Thomas was back in the coal industry, employed as a bye-worker at Howley Park Colliery.10 This was a general all-rounder handyman/labouring type of job, essentially employed by the mine to worked where needed – either underground labouring, mending roadways, doing joinery work or providing cover for absent workers.

In life outside work Thomas attended St Mary’s church and was a member of the Batley Irish National Club. The family, though, continued to be dogged by tragedy. In an eleven-month period between November 1913 and October 1914 members across three generations died.

In May 1912 Thomas’ sister, Mary, married Alexander Jessop at St Mary’s. It was an all too brief union. In November 1913, days after giving birth to a daughter, she died. Ten months later, on 16 September 1914, Thomas’ mother, Ann, died.11 Then within weeks, on 26 October 1914, Mary and Alexander’s 11-month-old daughter, named after her mother, also died.12

In August 1915 27-year-old Thomas enlisted as a Private with The King’s (Liverpool Regiment).13 After training, in March 1916 he went out to the Western Front to serve with their 1st Battalion. Five months later he was dead, as a result of his involvement with the third British attempt to capture the village of Guillemont during the Battle of the Somme.

At 4.20am on 8 August 1916, as a thick mist covered the battlefield – a mist intensified by the smoke from the guns which for most of the preceding 17 hours had bombarded Guillemont – B, C and D Companies of the 1st Kings advanced to attack. The mist was so thick they could hardly see more than 10 yards ahead.14 Their objectives were the German front line from the strong point to Brompton Road, the Guillemont railway station, and finally High Holborn which was the name of the road between Guillemont and Waterlot Farm.15 As they advanced, A Company took their place in the ‘jumping off’ trenches. Their task was to follow close behind the leading companies, in a mopping up exercise. Unfortunately they were met with severe machine-gun fire and a shower of bombs from the strong points, which the leading companies had missed in the mist.

Extract of Trench Map 57C.SW.3 (Longueval), Scale: 1:10000 Edition: 2F Published: 1916. Trenches corrected to 3 September 1916
National Library of Scotland, Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.

The three leading companies though captured High Holborn and Guillemont Station. But from this point onwards there was little information as to what happened to them.

According to the summary by Captain Hope of the 1st Kings:

This Battalion appears to have obtained objectives very easily but without any support on the right with a result that the three attacking companies, B. C. & D. were cut off and most are missing.

A number of men of these companies have returned but mostly shell shock cases….

Mist, smoke, insufficiently cut barbed wire and also our own barrage not lifting before the first advance caused apparently many casualties at the barbed wire “gaps”. Also it is clear that the enemy trained their guns on their own front line immediately the attack was delivered. This caused much trouble.16

As the day progressed, the Germans bolstered by reserves, countered and many British infantrymen were killed, wounded or captured.

Some pockets continued to hold out until the following day, 9th August, with the 1st Kings withdrawn in the early hours of that morning to trenches near the Brigade Headquarters on the Carnoy-Montauban road. According to the 6th Infantry Brigade Headquarters Unit War Diary the strength of the 1st Kings on withdrawal was about 180 all told.17 One officer was killed, six were wounded and eight were missing. Of the other ranks, 16 were killed, 130 wounded and 225 missing.18 Thomas was amongst the missing.

In February 1917 Thomas’ brother John appealed for any news about his brother. This followed the family’s recently received official notice from the War Office that Thomas had been missing since 8 August 1916, the presumption now being he was dead.19 And, in an indication of the strain families of the missing came under, days after the newspaper appeal John was in Batley Court on 26 February for being drunk and riotous in Hume Street on 10 February 1917.20

Thomas’ body was never formally found and identified. He has no known grave, but he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. He was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial.

Thomas’ brother-in-law Alexander Jessop is also commemorated on Batley War Memorial. But his death is shrouded in even more mystery. His family believed he served with the Durham Light Infantry. That, though, is the limits of knowledge. No rank, service number, medals or known Commonwealth War Graves Commission recognition. He does not even have a date of death. And, into at least the 1930s, his family continued to seek answers.

1. 1911 Census, The National Archives (TNA) Ref: RG14/27244;
2. Batley News, 3 January 1891;
3. Batley News, 28 August 1891;
4. Batley News, 13 April 1894;
5. Wakefield Prison Records, West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Nominal Register Number 97, Ref: C118/207;
6. 1901 Census, TNA Ref: RG13/4255/82/29;
7. 1911 Census, The National Archives (TNA) Ref: RG14/27244;
8. Wakefield Prison Records, West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Nominal Register Number 97, Ref: C118/207;
9. Wakefield Prison Records, West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Nominal Register Number 95, Ref: C118/205;
10. Batley Reporter, 23 February 1917;
11. Batley News, 19 September 1914;
12. Batley News, 31 October 1914;
13. Batley News, 7 August 1915;
14. Unit War Diary, 6 Infantry Brigade: 1 Battalion The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment – TNA Ref WO 95/1359/3;
15. Wyrall, E. (1928). The history of the King’s Regiment (Liverpool) 1914-1919: By Everard Wyrall (Vol. II). Edward Arnold & Co.
16. Unit War Diary, 6 Infantry Brigade: Headquarters – TNA Ref WO 95/1355/1;
17. Ibid;
18. Ibid;
19. Batley Reporter, 23 February 1917; and
20. Batley News, 3 March 1917.

Other Sources (not directly referenced):
• 1891 England and Wales Census;
• Batley Cemetery Registers;
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission website;
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes;
• The Long, Long Trail website;
• Medal Index Card;
• Medal Award Rolls;
• National Library of Scotland maps;
• Parish Registers;
• Soldiers Died in the Great War; and
• Soldiers’ Effects Registers.