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Thomas William Spurr

Thomas William SpurrLance-Corporal Thomas William Spurr, 858, Australian Infantry, A.I.F., 15th Battalion, 'F' Company

Thomas William Spurr was born in Gomersal in early 1874, the eldest child of four children born to David Spurr, born in Poona (now Pune), India and his wife Susannah (nee Boden) who married at Gomersal St. Mary’s Church in March 1873.

David's father William was born at Soothill (Chickenley/Streetside end) in 1807. William was a stone mason thought to have been working for James Spurr. William enlisted in the European Army of the Honourable East India Company in December 1825 in Wakefield as a gunner in the Horse Artillery. He married in Bombay in 1833. The Spurr family returned to the U.K. in 1848 after William had received his pension from the Lord Clive's fund, having reached the rank of sergeant in the Heavy Horse Brigade in 1838. The family first lived in Poona, 1836 to 1840 in Deesa Gujarat, 1840 to 1843 in Poona then to Karachi for the battle of Sinde. 1846 to 1848 back in Poonah.

In 1881, David and Susannah and their two children who had been born by that time were living in Gomersal. David Spurr was in the USA in 1891 visiting his siblings and he returned in 1894 only to die of heart failure at home in Gomersal shortly after his journey back from America. David Spurr died on the 27th July 1894 and he was buried at Gomersal St Mary’s Church on the 30th July 1894.

David did not arrive home in time to see his son Thomas William Spurr because Thomas, then aged 17, but claiming to be 18 years old, had joined the British Army in January 1891. He first enlisted on the 14th January 1891 with the regimental number 2174 in the 3rd Battalion, West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment using his own name.

His mother Susannah Spurr bought him out of the army three months later in April 1891 because he was under age. Not to be thwarted, in 1892, Thomas signed up again and rejoined the West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales Own) Regiment. This time though he signed on in his brother Harry’s name. At that time Thomas William Spurr was 5’ 6¾” tall, weighed 128 lbs with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair.

Whilst enlisted in the Army, Thomas obtained the 2nd and 3rd Class Army Certificates of Education. He attended school to attempt the 3rd Class Certificate, which many of his contemporaries failed. Anyone trying to obtain the 2nd and 1st Class Certificates was usually someone wanting to gain promotion. Thomas also learnt to play both the saxophone and clarinet. Family legend is that he could have earned a living from his musical abilities, but chose the Army instead.

On the 9th March 1894, Thomas was among a group of two NCOs and 99 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own West Yorkshire Regiment who sailed from Portsmouth on H.M.S. "Malabar" to Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma (now Myanmar), where the regiment was based. Other soldiers from The Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment were also sent to Rangoon from Benares (now Varanasi) in Uttar Pradesh, India. Thomas was in Rangoon at the time of his father’s death in Gomersal in July 1894.

Leaving Rangoon for Bombay on the 27th October 1894, on HMS "Hardinge", he transhipped there to S.S. "Brittania" and arrived in Aden on the 13th November 1894. On the 9th November 1895, Private Spurr travelled from Aden bound for the U.K., but when they arrived at Suez, the soldiers were told that they would disembark at Gibraltar and some of them (including Thomas) would join a force of troops to go to Ashanti in West Africa. They reached Gibraltar at the end of November 1895.

On the 11th December 1895, Thomas left Gibraltar on S.S. "Manila" for Cape Coast Castle, Gold Coast in what is now modern day Ghana, calling at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and Freetown, Sierre Leone. The force arrived at Cape Coast, Gold Coast on Christmas Day, 1895. In 1896, Private Thomas Spurr returned to England with his regiment and was awarded the bronze Ashanti Star. The Ashanti Star was issued unnamed. However, the Colonel of the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment had his unit's Ashanti Stars engraved with each soldiers name at his own expense. On returning to the U.K. the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment had moved into Dover Castle, Kent. In February 1897 the battalion moved from Dover Castle to Talavera Barracks at Aldershot.

Robert's widowed mother, Susannah, married Robert Stubbs at St Mary’s Parish Church, Gomersal in the summer of 1898. It seems likely that the couple lived at Robert’s home in Ossett. On the 8th June 1899, Thomas went into the Army Reserve notionally for the next 5 years. However, in September 1899 he was recalled back to full-time army service for the 2nd South African Boer War. On the 20 October 1899, Thomas sailed with his regiment from Southampton to Cape Town on the S.S. "Roslin Castle", arriving at Cape Town on the 8th November 1899, but was immediately sent onto Durban. The S.S. "Roslin Castle" arrived in Durban the 11th November 1899.

Between October 1899 and 1902, Thomas saw service in the South African Boer War and on the 17th February 1900, he was wounded at Monte Christo in the Northern Province. In common with most of his fellow soldiers, his disciplinary record was less than perfect and in June 1901 he was court martialled, found guilty of drunkenness and imprisoned for 56 days. He was subsequently awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal 1899 and 1901 plus the Queens South Africa Medal 1902 with clasps for Transvaal fighting at Tugela Heights, the Relief of Ladysmith.

By April 1902, Thomas William Spurr had served 10 years in the colours and he was transferred to Reserve until June 1904, then discharged. No record has been located to determine his whereabouts between 1904 and 1912, but he was living in Ossett in the latter years. On the 9h January 1911 his stepfather, Robert Stubbs, died in Ossett and Thomas sailed on the 14th February 1913 on the "Orama" from London to Adelaide, arriving in Adelaide on the 21st March 1913.

Thomas Spurr's address in Australia was given as the Royal Hotel, Nambour, Queensland; his occupation was a carpenter and he was unmarried.

On the 3rd October 1914, Thomas Stephens, a.k.a. Thomas William Spurr, aged 40 years and five months, enlisted in the Australian army and joined the 15th Battalion, 4th Infantry, Australian Imperial Force. He was 5’ 7¾" tall, weighed 142lbs with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and fair hair with no distinguishing marks. By the 14th October 1914 he had been promoted to Lance Corporal.

The 15th Battalion was originally raised as part of the all-volunteer Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in September 1914. Drawing personnel from volunteers from Queensland and Tasmania, it formed part of the 4th Brigade, along with the 13th, 14th, and 16th Battalions. With an authorised strength of 1,023 men, the battalion initially consisted of eight companies, of which six came from Queensland and two from Tasmania. Thomas embarked from Port Melbourne on the 22nd December 1914 on board Transport A40 "Ceramic", heading for Europe, but diverted to Alexandria, Egypt. A day earlier he was admonished for being absent from duty between midnight on 20th to reveille on the 21st December 1914.

Just before Thomas left Melbourne on the ship the "Ceramic", he had written to his mother to inform her he had enlisted with the Australian Army in Brisbane using the alias name Thomas Stephens, Regimental number 858 etc. A little while later, the family also received a letter from Thomas to say he was in Alexandria and would shortly be going to the Dardanelles.2

On the 25th April 1915, the 15th Battalion, 4th Australian Infantry landed at Gallipoli and five days later on the 30th April 1915, Thomas Spurr was killed in action. By the 25th April, the Turks had been given time to prepare better fortifications and increased their armies sixfold. Assigned to the follow-up waves, the 15th Battalion landed at Anzac Cove on the afternoon of the 25th April 1915. As the Ottoman defenders checked the Allied advance inland, on arrival the 15th Battalion was rushed into the line on the left flank of the beachhead. As the advance inland stalled, the battalion became isolated and threatened with destruction until Cannan withdrew his force to a more tenable position. Later, they helped shore up the line before occupying positions around Pope's Hill and Russell's Top, where they joined an attack on the 1st May. After that, they occupied Quinn's Post, and defended it against a strong Ottoman counterattack on the 19th May.

Lance-Corporal Thomas Stephens (Spurr) was buried at Quinns Post Cemetery on the 1st May 1915. On the 31st May 1915, his brother Harry Spurr sought information from the Australian Infantry Force Office in London and Thomas Spurr's mother Susannah received a death certificate in the name of Thomas Stephens, which was issued from the Australian, London Office. Her solicitor had to get this changed to Thomas William Spurr at the High Court in London. The High Court also finally granted Thomas's mother probate of his estate on the 27th May 1916. Thomas was still a U.K. citizen not Australian at the time of his death. His estate had a value of £213 3s 11d. His Effects following his death, including a prayer book, were forwarded to his family, much later, in December 1916.

The probate letter addressed to Susannah Stubbs of North View, Horbury Road, Ossett noted that "Thomas William Spurr of Ossett in the County of York died on the 30th April 1915 on the Gallipoli Peninsular" and was a "bachelor without father."

Thomas was awarded the British and Victory medals and also the 1914/15 Star medal in recognition of his service overseas before the 31st December1915. A Memorial Plaque and Scroll commemorating his sacrifice was sent to his mother in Ossett in 1922.

Thomas William Spurr (aka Thomas Stephens) is not remembered on any Ossett War Memorial or Roll of Honour. Mrs. Susannah Stubbs, Thomas's mother did not wish for him to be remembered in the alias name (Stephens) and this is why his death was never put on the War Memorial or Roll of Honour in the Ossett or Gomersal area. However, his death plaque, his medals and the King's letter were hung in a frame on the wall of the family home at Horbury Road, Ossett, then latterly in his sister's house next door.2

Thomas Spurr is remembered in this 2014 biography and Roll of Honour because his family have gone to great lengths to make clear that Thomas Spurr served in the Australian Force as Thomas Stephens. Both Australia and New Zealand believe that any soldier who was KIA must be remembered in their birth name not an alias. Members of the Boden and Spurr family reside in both these countries and pushed for this acknowledgement by the authorities at the Australian National War Memorial in Canberra. The commemoration at the Australian National War Memorial, Canberra is Panel 77, Supplementary Panel 188. Conflict First World War: 1914 to 1918.

Thomas’s mother, Susannah Stubbs, died in Ossett on the 26th July 1926, aged 71 years, and she and her second husband, Robert Stubbs are buried at St John’s Methodist Church, South Parade, South Ossett.

Anzac Cove 1915

Above: Anzac Cove in 1915.

Lance-Corporal Thomas Stephens, aged 40 years, son of the late Mr. David Spurr and Mrs. Susannah Stubbs (formerly Spurr) of South Ossett, Yorkshire. Also known as Thomas William Spurr, died on the 30th April 1915 and is remembered on Special Memorial 24 at the Quinn's Post Cemetery, Anzac,1 Gallipoli, Turkey. The Anzac and Suvla cemeteries are first signposted from the left hand junction of the Eceabat-Bigali road.

The eight month campaign in Gallipoli was fought by Commonwealth and French forces in an attempt to force Turkey out of the war, to relieve the deadlock of the Western Front in France and Belgium, and to open a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea.

The Allies landed on the peninsula on 25-26 April 1915; the 29th Division at Cape Helles in the south and the Australian and New Zealand Corps north of Gaba Tepe on the west coast, an area soon known as Anzac.

Quinn's Post was established on the afternoon of the 25 April by a New Zealand machine-gun crew. In the coming months, the post was held by a number of different Australian and New Zealand units and was the subject of incessant attacks and continual hand-to-hand fighting with the Turkish post opposite, who knew it as 'Bomba Sirt' (Bomb Ridge). The post was named from Major Hugh Quinn of the 15th Battalion, Australian Infantry, who was killed there during a fierce attack on 29 May. Major Quinn is buried in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery.

The original cemetery was made after the Armistice by the concentration of 225 isolated graves, all unidentified, into Rows E to I. Rows A to D were added later. The graves from Pope's Hill Cemetery, and six other graves found later, were brought into a plot, at the north-east end. Pope's Hill Cemetery was at the foot of Pope's Hill, where the track turned up to Quinn's Post. The hill was named from Lt. Col. H. Pope, then commanding the 16th Australian Battalion, which reached it on 25 April.

There are now 473 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 294 of the burials are unidentified. Special memorials record the names of 64 soldiers, most of them Australian, who were known or believed to have been buried in Quinn's Post Cemetery or Pope's Hill Cemetery.

The family of this casualty have provided documentary evidence indicating that although he chose to sign up and serve as Thomas Stephens, his family name was Spurr.

References:

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site

2. Private correspondence with Mrs. Angela Slack, Thomas Spurr's Great Niece who has provided much of the detail of Thomas Spurr's Army service.