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The Fallen of Kirkby

Thomas Ernest Heaton

Thomas Heaton
Thomas Heaton
  • Of The Row, Grizebeck, husband of Nellie Heaton (née Milburn) and father of two children.
  • A quarryman in 1913.
  • Born at Woodland; son of Robert and Jane Heaton, of Pearl Syke, Grizebeck.
  • Lance-Corporal, 23715, 8th Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Enlisted in Ulverston.
  • Killed in action 9th-12th April 1917 (first few days of the Battle of Arras), aged 32.
  • Buried in Tilloy British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Named on the Burlington Stone war memorial at Kirkby Quarry.
  • Memorial service in Kirkby, June 1917.

In 1891, Robert (35) and Jane Heaton (33) were living at Pearl Syke, Grizebeck, with their daughter Jane, aged 8, Thomas Ernest, 6, and Robert Edward, just 4 months. Robert senior, who gave his occupation as ‘General Labourer’, had been born in Egton-cum-Newland, and his wife in Kirkby. Altogether they were to have seven children, only five of whom survived to 1901.

Previously, in 1881, the married couple had lived in Chapels just with one Thomas Heaton (a widower at 66) as a boarder. At that time Robert worked as a labourer at the quarry, and Thomas senior gave his occupation as a miller.

By 1901 Thomas was 16 and his elder sister was no longer at home, but he now had three younger brothers, Robert (10), John (7) and Charles (4). Thomas was working in the quarry. He was still single and at home in 1911, by then a slate river. Robert junior had become a clerk on the railway, and John Henry was an apprentice in the quarry, while the youngest, Charles, was still at school.

In the second quarter of 1912, Thomas married Nellie Milburn, a farmer’s daughter and dairy worker from Birchbank, Blawith, and they went to live at The Row, Grizebeck, not a stone’s throw from his parents at Pearl Syke. Their first child, William E., was born later the same year, followed by Ernest in the second quarter of 1914.

At some point Thomas enlisted in his local regiment, the King’s Own Royal Lancasters, and was posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion. This Battalion, part of Kitchener’s new army, first went abroad in September 1915, but we know from the war medals he was awarded that Thomas had not joined by then. It is possible that he was conscripted, because even married men could be called up by June 1916. Probably he was sent to the 8th Battalion to fill one of the many gaps left by casualties. The surviving records also do not show when Thomas Ernest Heaton was promoted to Lance Corporal, but certainly he was in the front line by the start of the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917. At that point the 8th Battalion, having been in the front line for three weeks, numbered only 350, instead of the usual just over 1,000 officers and men.

Note:
Heaton may well have gone to war with fellow quarry worker Isaac Hudson (q.v.): both went into the 8th Battalion KORLR; neither went to France before 1916, and both were killed on the same day in June 1917 in the Battle of Arras. Finally, they shared a memorial service at St Cuthbert’s on Sunday 10th June 1917, at which Mark Grigg, William Relph, Eric Rothery, Isaac Hudson and Joseph Fleming were also commemorated – the worst month of the whole war for casualties from this village.

The Nivelle Offensive and The Battle of Arras

The Battle of Arras, in which Thomas Heaton was killed near Tilloy-les-Mofflaines and Isaac Hudson died near Monchy-le-Preux, was part of the ‘Nivelle Offensive’, the French General Nivelle’s plan to use the British and Canadian forces as a diversion from the main French attack in the Aisne region to the northwest of Rheims. British forces were to attack fifty miles away at Arras and Vimy Ridge on 9th April 1917. The French attack was a disaster, and after losing 187,000 men killed or wounded, it was called off on 6th May and Nivelle sacked on 15th. Although the British and Commonwealth armies were partly successful in taking their objectives, it was at a cost of 130,000 casualties, four of whom came from Kirkby. For once Field Marshall Haig was not to blame for this failed strategy, having been over-ruled in his opposition to the plan by Prime Minister Lloyd George. No doubt Haig remembered the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

French General Robert-Georges Nivelle
French General Robert-Georges Nivelle
British Prime Minister Lloyd George
British Prime Minister Lloyd George

Colonel Cowper’s history of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment shows the tragedy and inevitability of the deaths of Kirkby men Isaac Hudson and Ernest Heaton:

Extract from “The King’s Own, The Story of a Royal Regiment”, Volume III, 1914-1950, by Colonel J. M. Cowper.

When 8/King’s Own returned to the line on April 10 it occupied trenches in front of Monchy and was therefore in the sector next to the 1st Battalion, on the other side of the river. Three weeks’ continuous shelling and sniping had reduced it to three hundred and fifty rifles and it was hardly numerically strong enough to hold the front allotted to it. During the previous week when the battalion was theoretically resting, it had been continuously employed digging communication trenches, and the men were worn out by strain and want of sleep. On the first day in the trenches Second-Lieutenant A. W. Holgate, who had been commissioned from the ranks only a short time before, was wounded. It was in the afternoon of the 11th that the battalion was ordered to attack a trench which was to be incorporated in the British front system, and after three minutes’ drum fire the men went over the top at 6 p.m. Their failure to reach their objective was due to a cause as unfortunate as it was unexpected. They were subjected to heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from both flanks and they were also caught in their own machine-gun barrage which, though accurately laid on the enemy trenches, swept in its trajectory the crest of a rise over which the battalion had to pass. Assailed on all sides, the attack launched in two waves on a three-company front had not enough momentum to carry it through. Five officers were wounded as soon as the battalion rose from its trenches and thirty-eight other ranks were killed or missing. When the survivors struggled back under cover of darkness, the battalion numbered only a hundred and sixty-seven.

(See Isaac Hudson for a summary of the battle as fought in by Heaton and Hudson.)

The 8th Battalion War Diary gives more detail, although since we don’t know which Company either Hudson or Heaton were in, and since only officers were named as casualties in war diaries, it doesn’t help us work out exactly what happened to them. However, being almost ‘recorded history as it happened’, the war diary does give a powerful sense of what it was like to be there, and just how dangerous it was.

Extract from the War Diary of the 8th Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, April 1917.

Tilloy British Cemetery at Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, France. (Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
Tilloy British Cemetery at Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, France. (Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

Press Cuttings

(Courtesy of Andy Moss, Penny McPherson and Diane Ayres)

KIRKBY.
KIRKBY MEN KILLED AT THE FRONT.- The sad intelligence is to hand that Messrs. Heaton, and Hudson, who until a short time ago worked in the local slate quarries, are amongst the killed in the recent fighting in France. Pte. Fleming, from Canada, is also among the list of killed. The deep sympathy of the people of Kirkby goes out to the relatives of these gallant men.
-: Barrow News, Saturday, May 5, 1917; page 11.

PTE. T. E. HEATON, BEANTHWAITE.
Word has been received by his wife, Mrs. Heaton, of Beanthwaite, of the death of her husband, Pte. T. E. Heaton, of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, and eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Heaton, of Grizebeck. Deceased before joining the army was employed at the Burlington Slate Works, and was 32 years of age. He leaves a widow and two young children.
-: Barrow Guardian, Saturday, May 5, 1917, page 8.

ROLL OF HONOUR.
HEATON.- Killed in action, Pte. T. E. Heaton, King’s Own R.L. Regiment, of Beanthwaite, Kirkby.
-: Barrow Guardian, Saturday, May 5, 1917, page 8.

KIRKBY.
KIRKBY MEN KILLED AT THE FRONT.- The sad intelligence is to hand that Messrs. Heaton and Hudson, who until a short time ago worked in the local slate quarries, are amongst the killed in recent fighting in France. Pte. Fleming, from Canada, is also among the list of killed. The deep sympathy of the people of Kirkby goes out to the relatives of those gallant men.
-: Barrow News, Saturday, May 5, 1917; page 11.

KILLED IN ACTION.
HEATON.- In sad but loving memory of my dear husband, Lance-Corporal Thomas Ernest Heaton, King’s Own Royal Lancaster regiment, who was killed on April 9th, 1917, aged 32 years.

“The call was short, the blow severe,
I little knew that death was near,
Only those who have lost are able to tell
The pain that I felt at not saying farewell.”
“Fondly we loved him, he is dear to us still,
But in grief we must bend to God’s holy will:
Our sorrow is great, our loss hard to bear,
But angels, dear husband, will guard you with care.”

From his loving wife and children; also his father, mother, sister, and brothers, Kirkby-in-Furness.
-: Barrow News, Saturday, May 5, 1917; page 16.

KILLED IN ACTION.
[Photo] Pte. Thomas Heaton, brother of Mr. Ed. Heaton, of Millom, who has been killed in action, and reference to whose demise has already appeared in the “News”.
-: Barrow News, Saturday, May 19, 1917; page 3.

KIRKBY.
MEMORIAL SERVICE.- On Sunday a memorial service was held in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Kirkby, in memory of six Kirkby men who have died for their country, their names are: Mark Grigg, William Relph, Eric Rothery, Isaac Hudson, Thomas Ernest Heaton, and Joseph Fleming. The Vicar, the Rev. W. G. Sykes, preached an appropriate sermon, and special psalms and hymns were sung. At the conclusion of the service, the organist, Mr. J. B. Richardson, played the Dead March in “Saul.”
-: Barrow Guardian, Saturday, June 16, 1917; page 6.

ROLL OF HONOUR.
HEATON.- In sad but loving memory of my dear loving husband, Lance-Corporal Thomas Ernest Heaton, King’s Own Regiment, who was killed in action in France on April 9th, 1917, aged 32 years, late of Beanthwaite, Kirkby-in-Furness.

“Oft we think of you, dear husband,
When our hearts are sad with pain,
Oh, this world would be a heaven
Could we but hear your dear voice again.”
“God knows how much we miss you,
How we miss your loving face,
But you have left us to remember
None could ever fill your place.”
“May his reward be as great as his sacrifice.”

“Sadly missed by his sorrowing wife and little sons; also his loving father, mother, brothers, and sisters.”
-: Barrow News, Saturday, April 13, 1918; page 12.

Medal Roll Index Card for Thomas Ernest Heaton courtesy of Andy Moss
Medal Roll Index Card for Thomas Ernest Heaton courtesy of Andy Moss
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