Thomas Foley D.C.M.

Name: Thomas Foley
1st Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment
Service Number
: 7114
Date of Death:
11 March 1915
Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

Thomas Foley’s Headstone – Photo by Jane Roberts

Thomas Foley was born on 10 December 1881 in Batley, the son of Batley-born John Foley and his Charlestown-born wife Bridget (née Cafferty).

John and Bridget married in 1878, and Thomas was their second child, with eldest son Michael being born in November 1879. Five more children followed Thomas. These were Catherine (born in 1884); John (1886); James (1888); Mary Elizabeth (1890) and Patrick (1890). By 1911 six of the Foley children were still alive – eldest son Michael’s death took place in Wakefield Asylum in 1908.

From 1881 – 1911 the family lived in New Street, Batley and this remained their address at the time of Thomas’ death in 1915.

Thomas’ father John had a number of different occupations. In 1881 he was a mason’s labourer; by 1891 the census gives his occupation as a gas stoker. 10 years later he worked as a coal miner; and in the 1911 census, in yet another total career shift, he worked as a willeyer. The textile industry operation of willeying was the process where the wool was cleaned and opened by beating out the dust and dirt. By this period it was a mechanised task. In 1915 John was described as “an industrious and well-respected employee at Blakeridge Mills” – so he worked for the Taylor family.1 In 1881 Bridget was a rag sorter, though in subsequent censuses no occupation is given for her.

Thomas’ civilian occupation was a coal miner. However, just short of his 18th birthday, in November 1899 he enlisted in the Militia for a period of 6 years.2 He was 5’4½”, weighed 112lbs, and described as fresh complexioned with blue eyes and red hair. He served with the 3rd West Riding Regiment. Militia were intended for home service only, but some did serve overseas during the period of the South African War. The mobilisation of Militia needed an official order of embodiment into the Army, and this was announced in November and December 1899. Thomas’ record shows that he was embodied with the Regiment (called up), on 22 February 1900 and disembodied on 10 May 1902. And he did indeed serve in South Africa in the 2nd Boer War, awarded the King’s South Africa Medal with 1901 and 1902 Clasps. Newspapers also reported he served in India after South Africa. He was discharged by purchase later that year on 23 September. Curiously though he is recorded as at home and working as a coal hewer in the 1901 census (although that being said the family recorded Michael in the 1911 census, after his death).

His experiences in the Militia must have given him a taste for army life, because in March 1903 he enlisted in Leeds with the Cheshire Regiment. He joined for 12 years – three years in the Regulars followed by nine years in the Army Reserve. And whereas his religion on his Militia service records indicted Roman Catholic, his Cheshire Regiment papers state Church of England. By now Thomas was a shade over 5’6” (growing to 5’ 7” when he left for the Reserve), weighed 130lbs and had tattoos, which included a heart and the letters A.M.L., on his left forearm. During this spell in the Army he achieved a 1st Class musketry classification and he passed instruction classes in swimming. He also had a few infractions recorded against him, with a definite theme, summed up as follows:

  • Chester: 31 March 1903 – Drunk in town about 11.30pm. Resisting the escort;
  • Chester: 19 June 1903 – Creating a disturbance in town about 11.10pm;
  • Aldershot: 30 July 1903 – Breaking out of barracks after tattoo until found in his barrack room at 5.30am the following day;
  • Location and date not legible – Breaking out of barracks after tattoo. Apprehended by Regimental Police on the Maiden Road about 10.30pm drunk;
  • Aldershot: 9 March 1904 – Late falling in for Rouse Parade at 7am;
  • Aldershot: 17 March 1904 (is the St Patrick’s Day date significant here one wonders) – Absent from tattoo until found drunk and creating a disturbance in Barracks about 10.45pm;
  • Southampton: 5 April 1904 – Drunk in Barracks, 3.30pm; attempting to damage Government property; using threatening improper language to a N.C.O.; and violently resisting the escort; and
  • Wellington: 20 October 1904 – Quitting the ranks without permission.

On 25 April 1906 he transferred to the Army Reserve, and returned to Batley. Here he resumed his mining work, in the employment of Messrs Crawshaw and Warburton at their Shaw Cross Colliery. In addition to a coal miner (hewer), the 1911 census also states that he was an Army Pensioner. And in terms of parish organisations, he was a member of the St Mary’s branch of the National Catholic Benefit and Thrift Society. He was also a member of the Batley (John Dillon) Branch of the United Irish League.

Towards the end of April 1913 he set sail 3rd Class from Liverpool on the Arabic, bound for Halifax, Canada with the intention of seeking better wages there than he could earn as a miner in England. His stated destination was Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. However, according to the newspapers, before arriving back in England he had been working in St John’s, Canada.3

His stay in Canada proved to be short. With the declaration of War he was recalled from the Army Reserve and, along with other Reservists, set sail from Montreal on the Corinthian, arriving in London on 4 September 1914. He sent his South Africa medals home to his parents for safe-keeping.

Once back in England, he enjoyed an unexpected four days furlough at the end of September 1914 which enabled him to visit his family and friends in Batley.

‘Enjoyed’ might not be the correct description for his visit home. Although not stated, this leave was possibly connected to the sudden death of his younger brother James. A strong, healthy 26-year-old, like Thomas he too worked as a miner. However, a knee injury affected his capacity to work. He was admitted to Batley hospital for an operation to remove his cartilage on 23 September 1914. He died whilst having the anaesthetic, chloroform, administered. His funeral took place in Batley cemetery on 26 September 1914.

Thomas re-joined his Regiment in Cheshire and, within days of his brother’s funeral, on 7 October 1914 he docked in France. Once here he was posted to the 1st Cheshires. The month of October 1914 they were based in France, before they moved into Belgium in November 1914. Thomas took part in much severe fighting during his five months with them. Nevertheless his last letter home, written on 2 March 1915, was described as “cheerful” and intimated that he was in the best of health.4

It was on 7 March 1915 that Thomas suffered fatal injuries. His Casualty Form – Active Service notes that he was treated initially by the 94th Field Ambulance for what was described as a “bullet wound left shoulder, right of neck and lung injured”.5

From there he was transferred down the line, on 7 March, to Number 3 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). Interestingly his medical records here contrast with his service records in that they indicate a gunshot would to his right shoulder. Whatever the location of his injury, Thomas died in the CCS on 11 March from his wounds.

The Casualty Form records that he was buried in the military cemetery of Poperinghe and his grave was marked with a cross duly inscribed. According to the press his family received official news of his death in early April.6

It later transpired that, whilst incurring his fatal injuries, Thomas performed repeated acts of heroism and courage. For these actions he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). According to the Batley News he was the first Batley man to win the coveted distinction, although the Batley Reporter was more cautious, saying it was probably the first DCM to be gained by a Batley soldier in the present war.

Distinguished Conduct Medal, Wikimedia Commons the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The full citation, which was published in the supplement to the London Gazette on 29 June 1915, read:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, notably on the night of March 7th, 1915, when he went out in front of our trenches to bring in some stretcher bearers who had lost their way. Subsequently he went out three times under heavy fire to bring in wounded men, and although wounded more than once himself he continued to carry out this duty.

The medal was forwarded to his father in September 1915. Along with the medal came a letter from Major Parr from the Infantry Records at Shrewsbury, on behalf of the Colonel of the Regiment. Major Parr wrote:

In forwarding the medal I trust you will allow me to add my sympathy in the loss of your son, and trust that the decoration for his gallant conduct may be some consolation in your trouble.7

John Foley said of his son:

Although I am his father, I do not hesitate to say that a finer, straighter, or cleaner lad has not set foot on the fields of France.8

Just over a month later, on 15 October 1915, Thomas’ mother died.

Thomas’ brother John (Jack) was a Sergeant in the K.O.Y.L.I. (Service Numbers 4496 and 201900). In July 1916 reports appeared in the local news that he had been wounded in his right foot, but was progressing favourably in a London hospital. His youngest brother Patrick (Paddy) served with the Royal Garrison Artillery (Service Number 161859). Both survived the war.

Thomas’ uncle James Foley was not as fortunate. He died later in 1915, also as a result of wounds received in action.

Besides his DCM, Thomas was awarded the 1914 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. 

He is buried in Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery, Flanders. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial.

I have not yet tracked down a photo of Thomas. One did exist though. The Chester Chronicle of 11 September 1915 reported that a photograph was being shown at the Picturedrome that week. No image appeared in his native Batley papers.

1. Batley Reporter, 10 September 1915;
2. The Militia was a volunteer force, seen as an alternative to the Regular Army. Men would volunteer and undertake basic training. Thereafter they would return to civilian life but report for regular periods of military training. They were not normally obliged to serve abroad, although some did during the South African War (1899 -1902). In 1908 as a result of the Haldane reforms, the militia battalions were turned into Special Reserve battalions, which trained part-time just as the militia had, but would provide drafts to reinforce the regular battalions of their regiments in the event of war.
3. Batley Reporter, 16 April 1915. The Batley News mentions that he was living in Kensington.
4. Batley Reporter 16 April 1915 and Batley News 17 April 1915;
5. The Field Ambulance records treating these injuries on the 6 March and transferring him to hospital on 7 March but this entry was made on 10 March.
6. The Batley Reporter of 16 April indicated that news was received the previous Saturday.
7. Batley News, 11 September 1915;
8. Batley Reporter, 10 September 1915.

Other Sources:
1881-1911 England & Wales Censuses;
Batley Cemetery Records;
British Army Service Records, The National Archives (TNA) WO96/619/214;
British Army Service Records, TNA WO363;
Canadian Passenger Arrivals, Library and Archives Canada, Series RG 76-C, Roll T-4749;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen, Hospital Admission and Discharge Registers, TNA, MH106/288;
GRO Indexes – Births, Marriages and Deaths;
London Gazette, Supplement 29212, Page 6576;
Medal Award Rolls, TNA WO100/186, WO100/331, WO329/998, WO329/2443;
Medal Index Cards;
• Newspapers;
Soldiers’ Effects Register, NAM Accession Number 1991-02-333, Number Ranges 179501-181000, Reference: 72;
Soldiers Died in the Great War;
UK Arrivals from Canada, Inward Passenger Lists, TNA, Class BT26, Piece 594;
UK and Ireland Outward Passenger Lists, TNA, BT27;
Unit War Diary, 1st Cheshires, TNA WO95-1571-1.