26116 PTE. T. WESTBY. CHESH.R.

 

Thomas Westby was born in the second quarter of 1896 in Walton Le Dale.  His father was William Westby (b. 1867 in Walton Le Dale), a cotton weaver by trade.  His mother was Alice Halshaw (b. 1869 in Walton Le Dale).  William and Alice were married in 1891, and they had 9 children, 7 of whom survived infancy:  John (b. 1893), Margaret (b. 1895), then Tom, William (b. 1899), Alice (b. 1901), Ada (b. 1907) and finally Elizabeth Ann (b. 1909).  In 1911, the family was living at 39 Brandiforth Street, School Lane, Walton Le Dale.  Tom was a cotton weaver.

 

Tom turned 18 in 1914 and he probably enlisted in 1915 or early 1916.  He joined the Cheshire Regiment, was assigned service number 26116 and was posted first to 11th Battalion and then transferred to 16th Battalion.  16th (Service) Battalion (2nd Birkenhead), to give it its full title, was a Bantam Battalion, coming under orders of 105th Brigade in 35th Division.  16Bn fought on the Somme in 1916, at Bazentin Ridge and then in the fighting for Arrow Head Copse and Maltz Horn Farm, and later for Falfemont Farm.  According to The Long Long Trail, on 8 December the Divisional commanding officer (Major General H. J. S. Landon) submitted a report complaining that replacement drafts he had received were not of the same tough physical standard as the original bantams but were undeveloped, unfit men from the towns. A medical inspection was duly carried out and 1439 men were rejected from the ranks. A second inspection removed another batch, bringing the total to 2784. These men were in the main transferred to the Labour Corps. Their places were filled with men transferred from disbanded yeomanry regiments; they had to be quickly trained in infantry methods and a Divisional depot was formed for the purpose. Brigades were then ordered that no more bantams were to be accepted. Original bantams who passed the medical inspection remained in place.  16Bn was disbanded in February 1918.  We know from his military medal records that after serving in 16Bn, Tom was moved to Depot, then to no. 12 Entrenching Battalion, so he must have been part of this reorganisation. 

When he was killed, Tom was attached to 7Bn Royal West Kent Regiment.  7th (Service) Battalion, The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) came under orders of 55th Brigade in 18th (Eastern) Division.  We don’t know exactly when Tom was transferred, but 18th Division was heavily engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 (at Pilkem Ridge and Langemark and also the First and Second Battles of Passchendaele).  He would certainly have been with The Queen’s when they were engaged in 1918 in the first phase of the German Spring Offensive, at St Quentin and the Avre.  At the end of the Battle of the Avre (4-5 April), his Battalion were not far from Amiens, at Villers-Bretonneux.  They remained here for the rest of the month and the Germans launched another attack to try to re-take Villers-Bretonneux on 24-25 April.  The action here was remarkable for the first use during the War of tanks simultaneously by both sides, and the dramatic night-time recapture of Villers-Bretonneux by British and Australian units, which effectively stopped the German advance.  Tom was killed here on 25 April 1918, he was 22 years old.

 

Rank:  Private

Service No:  26116

Date of Death:  25 April 1918

Age:  22

Regiment/Service:  Cheshire Regiment, 16th Bn. attd. Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), 7th Bn. 

Cemetery/memorial reference: Panel 35 and 36.
Memorial:  POZIERES MEMORIAL

I presume that the J Westby and W Westby on St Saviour’s Roll of Honour are Tom’s brothers, John (b. 1893) and William (b. 1899), but I have found no conclusive military records.

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