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Thomas Felton

Tom Felton Private Thomas Felton, 15328, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 10th Battalion

Thomas Felton was born in Horbury in 1882, the youngest child of six children born between 1866 and 1882 to Shropshire-born Thomas Felton and his wife, Staffordshire-born Sarah (nee Guest) who married in Wolstanton Staffordshire in 1864.

Thomas Felton junior was baptised at St Peter’s Church, Horbury on Easter Day, 6th April 1890. Thomas senior was a widower when he married Sarah Guest, having lost his first wife, Sarah Williams, in 1863 aged only 24 years. They had one son from their marriage and sadly he died aged two in 1862.

Thomas Felton, a puddler at an ironworks, and Sarah (nee Guest) and their family moved to Horbury in the mid-1870s and between 1881 and 1901 they lived at Northgate, Horbury where Thomas Felton junior was born. By 1901 Thomas Felton senior, now aged 64, was retired and Tom Felton was the only child still living at home with his parents. He was working as a blacksmith’s striker.

On the 2nd August 1902 at St Peter’s Church, Horbury, Tom Felton, a 20 year-old blacksmith married 22 year-old Amy Bowers, spinster of Westfield, Horbury and by 1911 they had a two year old son, Willie Felton, having lost a child who died before April 1911. Tom was working as a blacksmith’s striker at Horbury Wagon Works and the family were living at 2, Victoria Street, Horbury. In 1914 a second son, Stanley Felton, was born to the couple. By 1917, widow Amy Felton and her two children were living on Vicar Lane, Ossett. Amy never remarried and she died in 1948 aged 68 years. Thomas Felton senior died in 1918 aged 80 years.

Tom Felton enlisted at Wakefield and embarked for France on the 11th September 1915 with the 10th (Service) Battalion, KOYLI, formed at Pontefract in September 1914 as part of K3 and came under command of 64th Brigade in 21st Division. The Battalion moved to Berkhamsted and then to Halton Park (Tring) in October 1914, going on to billets in Maidenhead in November. They returned to Halton Park in April 1915 and went on to Witley in August. In September 1915, they landed in France. on the 13th February 1918 the battalion was disbanded in France, with at least some of the men going to 20th Entrenching Battalion.

Thomas Felton's army service record has not survived but his medal record card reveals that he embarked for France on the 11th September 1915 and he was awarded the 1914-15 Star in addition to the British and Victory medals.

The 10th KOYLI were involved in the attack on Fricourt on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916 as part of 64 Brigade, 21st Division. The 64th (Northern Brigade) in 21 Division consisted of the 9th and 10th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in the front line, with the 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI) and the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment in reserve.

The 10th Battalion, KOYLI war diary for the 1st July 1916 is very brief:

"The British offensive commenced, this battalion leading the 64th Brigade assault. They left the trenches at 7.30 a.m. and took Crucifix Trench that morning and held it till early the next day, when they were relieved by the 1st Lincolns. Casualties - Officers Killed: Capt. C.R. Heygate, Lt. J.W. Bamber, Lt. R.S.M. Beatson, 2nd Lt. J. Andrew, 2nd Lt. K.J.P. Asher, 2nd Lt. A.C. Cockroft, 2nd Lt. J.A.A. Fountain, 2nd Lt. M.E.J. Maude, 2nd Lt. L.F. Sharp, 2nd Lt. G.F.N. Wilkinson. Wounded 16 Other Ranks Killed 50, Wounded 292, Missing 135." Sadly, one of those 135 missing men was Private Thomas Felton.

Prior to Zero Hour (0730) the men from the KOYLI battalions (9th and 10th) crawled out into no man’s land in readiness for their assault. In front of them the German wire had been well cut by the week long artillery bombardment and both battalions made swift progress through the German’s front line trenches. Within 30 minutes they had secured an area around the north of Fricourt village as far as the road to Contalmaison. Here they were held by machine gun fire coming from their front and flanks, and dug in. To their left the 34th Division’s attempt at taking La Boisselle had been repulsed with enormous loss to its Tyneside Brigades. As the 34th Division attempted to remedy the situation the KOYLI found themselves in the unenviable situation of maintaining a position surrounded on three sides.

The "Ossett Observer" 1 had this obituary for Tom Felton:

"Ossett Man Reported Killed - A Former Workman At Horbury Wagon Works - After officially being reported as missing for nine months, Private Tom Felton of the K.O.Y.L.I., whose wife and two children reside at Vicar-lane, South Ossett is posted by the War Office as having bene killed in action on July 1st, last year. Both Private Felton and his wife hailed from Horbury, the deceased soldier having worked mainly as a blacksmith's striker at Messrs. C. Roberts and Co.'s railway wagon works, though at the time he enlisted, in September 1914, he was working for an Ossett firm of building contractors. He went out to the Western Front after a year's training. He took part in the heavy fighting last July, and a comrade, Private Joe Blackburn, afterwards wrote that he had fallen wounded in battle, but from that time until the receipt of the recent message he had not been traced. The deceased was 34 years of age, and the children are eight years and nearly three years respectively."

Battle of the Somme 1st July 1916

Above: Soldiers going over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. Private Tom Felton of 10/KOYLI was one such soldier and he never returned.

Thomas Felton’s army service record has not survived but he was posthumously awarded the British, Victory and 1914/15 Star.

Private Thomas Felton (34), husband of Amy Felton, of 10, Vicar Lane, South Ossett, was killed in action on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916. His body was never found and he is remembered on Pier and Face 11C and 12A of the Thiepval Memorial,2 Somme, France. The Thiepval Memorial can be found on the D73, next to the village of Thiepval, off the main Bapaume to Albert road (D929).

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

1. "Ossett Observer", April 14th 1917

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site