Private 305892. 1st/7th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment
Thomas Barker was born in 1885 in Seaham Harbour, County Durham, the son of Thomas (Snr) and Sarah Ann Barker, the fifth of their five children. (Census records).
Father, Thomas Barker (Snr), was born in Manchester in around 1848. In 1861 he was living in Kingsley with his Grandparents. In 1871 he remained living in Kingsley with an Aunt. (1861 and 1871 Census). Mother, Sarah Ann (nee Worthington) was born in Wetley Rocks. The couple married at St Werburghs Church, Kingsley, in late 1875. (Marriage Register).
In 1881 the couple were living in Cheadle with their oldest three children. For reasons which are as yet unknown the family moved to Seaham Harbour, County Durham, where Thomas was born in 1885. It would seem that his Mother Sarah Ann died in County Durham in 1887 when Thomas was only a young child. The family returned to live in Kingsley.
In 1889 Thomas (Snr) remarried Anne Carr who was from the Kingsley area. (Marriage Register). In 1901 the family were living at Cupola, Froghall, and had a further four children, making a total of 9 children including the 5 children from Thomas Snr’s first marriage. At this stage Thomas (Jnr) was aged 15 yrs and was employed as a General Labourer. (1901 Census).
By 1911 Thomas Barker (Jnr), then aged 25 yrs, had married Mary Barker. The couple had a young child, Annie Barker, and were living at Little Bunting, Kingsley. Thomas was employed as a Colliery Labourer. (1911 Census).
Army Record required.
At some stage Thomas Barker joined the Army and was allocated to the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, 1st/7th Battalion. The regiment saw active service on Western Front in Northern France with Thomas entering the theatre of operations on 15th April 1915. (Medal Card)
In August 1917 the Regiment were deployed in the area of Redan, Nieuport, (Belgium).
Thomas Barker was killed on either 5th (CWGC) or 8th August 1917 (St Werburghs Plaque). Thomas Barker is commemorated at the Coxyde Military Cemetery, Nr Nieuport, Belgium. (CWGC).
The date of Thomas’s death is likely to be 5th August as the CWGC’s information would be based from graves registration. In addition the records held on line record the date of death as 5th August.
Lastly his medal card has the following entry ‘Accid. Drowned’. The ‘Accid.’ Is read to be ‘accident’.
Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, 1st/7th Battalion, War Diary has the following relevant entries:
5th August – “Gas shells continued at intervals until 4.00am. Bright sunny day. Fairly quiet. Man drowned on ration party crossing the canal. Casualties 2”
6th August “”Fairley quiet day supplied 100 OR (other ranks) carrying parties. Casualties 11 OR gassed, 1 OR wounded, 1 OR drowned (fell off Vauxhall Bridge while on ration party) (rest of entry refers to training movements)
7th August “Fairly quiet day. 7.45 – 9.0PM very heavy shelling of Batt HQ with 5.9’s. Several direct hits but little damage. RSM Holmes injured. All HQ NCO’s of 5WRR killed in dugout. Casualties 7 OR’s wounded.
8th August – Raid by 6 WRR (West Riding Regiment), 5 Prisoners, 1.00am Relief between 5 & 7 WRR order cancelled. Casualties 7 OR (other ranks) wounded. Fine rain at night.”
It would therefore seem that unless the entries for 5th and 6th August are duplicates that two men drowned on consecutive days whilst carrying supplies across the canal which was quite a wide stretch of water not far from the sea on the Belgium coast. The work was carried out under gas shell attack and several men were affected by gas.
A search via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site for the dates 5th August to 8th August inclusive for Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment shows that 58 men are recorded to have lost their lives in this period. Only one came from 1st / 7th Battalion and that was Thomas Barker on 5th August, no man lost his life from the battalion on 6th or the 8th. It would therefore be reasonable to assume that the entry was in fact a duplicate – its on a different page and may have been written up a few days after and may have been just an error albeit the authors hand for both days appears to the same (Entry initialed each day GBH)
Footnote 1: In June 1917, Commonwealth forces relieved French forces on 6 kilometres of front line from the sea to a point south of Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort), Belgium, and held this sector for six months. Coxyde (now Koksijde) was about 10 kilometres behind the front line. The village was used for rest billets and was occasionally shelled, but the cemetery, which had been started by French troops, was found to be reasonably safe. It became the most important of the Commonwealth cemeteries on the Belgian coast and was used at night for the burial of the dead brought back from the front line.
Footnote 2: Thomas Barker is the relative of Sharon Emery and Julie Dono (Nee Barker) who’s late father and mother were Bertie and Betty Barker. Bertie’s father was the brother of Thomas. Both sisters still live in the village to this day.