THOMAS BURROWS BAKER
We first meet Thomas Baker in the 1911 census when he was living with his wife Edith (born c.1887 in Aigburth) in their three-roomed house at 57 Cobden Street, Woolton. The couple had been married for a year. At a subsequent point, they moved to Newton. Thomas died in the hospital at the largest British Army base in France – Etaples (or “Eat Apples” as the Tommies called it).
Birth c.1888 in Woolton, Liverpool
Death 12th October 1918, died in hospital in France
Addresses: 51 Cobden Street, Woolton (11), Heath Terrace, Newton (18)
Unit: 6th and 9th Bns. The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment
Number and Rank: Rifleman, Private 241461
Medals: Victory and British War Medal
Commemorated and Buried: GH, T, France: Etaples Military Cemetery LVIII. H .13
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, Census: 11
The next two casualties were grandsons of Mary Banks. Her maiden name was Carroll and she was born in Moreton of Irish parents in 1844 and married George Banks (1841-1909) at Liverpool St. Nicholas’s church in 1866. Mary died in 1929. The Deeside Advertiser of 2nd May 1918 claimed that she lost three grandsons in the Great War. In addition to Arthur and William Banks, there was Harry Pownall (1897-1916), the son of her daughter Sarah Anne Banks (b.1871) and her husband Joseph Pownall (b.1864).
There is a third Banks on Hoylake’s memorial – Ernest. However, there are no other records of a casualty of that name from Great Meols. Indeed, The Deeside Advertiser of 14th December 1917 and 18th January 1918 averred that Ernest Banks was a winner of the MM and had been taken prisoner by the Germans. It reported that he was “quite well and sound” and implied that he was a sergeant serving in the Royal Garrison Artillery. The most likely medal card for this man bears the service number 362251 and does not say that he was killed. Furthermore, there is also evidence of the death of an Ernest Banks in Wirral in 1953. This could quite possibly be our man, as he would have been aged 60 at this time. It, therefore seems possible, that the Deeside Advertiser of May 1918 and the Hoylake War Memorial are mistaken and that this might account for why Ernest’s name does not appear on the Grange Hill memorial.
There were members of the Banks family living in Great Meols and working as farmers in the 18th century. Arthur followed in this tradition. In 1911 he was living with his father John (born in 1866) and his mother Maria (née Bennett, born in Capenhurst in 1863) at 1 Shaw’s Drive or Seaview Cottage.
The building still stands, just after Rose Cottage on the left-hand side of the road as you head towards the sea. Like so many local properties, it no longer enjoys sea views, due to later urban development. It had five rooms and, in addition to Arthur and his parents, it housed his brothers, John Henry (born in 1890) and the aforementioned Ernest (born in 1893). The latter two were builders’ labourers. Arthur was one of the first to join the “Wirral Battalion” (13th Battalion Cheshire Regiment) and had been on active service for three years by the time of his death at Armentieres in France. He had been a choirboy at St. John’s Parish Church in Meols. Arthur was first cousin to the next casualty, William Banks of Shore Cottage, Meols.
Birth: c.1895 in Great Meols
Death: 11th April 1918 killed in action aged 23
Addresses: 1 Shaw’s Drive, Great Meols (11), Sea View Cottages, Sandhey Drive, Great Meols (01 and 18)
Occupation: Agricultural Labourer
Units: 13th and 10th Bns. Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: W/575 Private
Medals: Victory, British War and 1915 Star
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, Belgium: Ploegsteert Memorial Panels 4 and 5
Sources BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, GB Census: 01, 11
William grew up in Shore Cottage, Great Meols – a five-roomed house, which, before the promenade was built and the sand hills removed, stood almost on the beach. Generations of the Banks family had lived in or near it and had always been farmers and labourers. William’s mother, Ellen (née Pye, born in Liverpool in 1863) had died in 1896, so he was brought up by his grandmother, Mary. By 1911 Mary was the head of the household and shared her home with William’s widowed father – William aged 48, her two unmarried sons – George aged 44 and Samuel aged 32 as well as with William himself and his siblings Robert, aged 21 and Nellie aged 19.
The two women were employed in “household duties at home” and the males were either general or farm labourers. It is clear that, before he joined the army, William must have been used to living in close contact with other people and to working hard for his living in the outdoors, probably as a member of a team and with various types of specialist equipment. Perhaps it was ideal preparation for life in the Royal Artillery and one of the factors which enabled him to survive the rigours of war, so often with “a smile on his face”.
William “enlisted for the duration of the war” on 8th November 1915 in Birkenhead. He was posted to Great Yarmouth on 15th November for training. At a height of 5’ 9¼” and with a chest measuring 38½” with a 3½” expansion, he was a relatively big lad. On 17th May 1916 he embarked at Southampton and arrived at Le Havre on the 18th. Whilst involved in the Battle of Arras, on 5th April 1917, he was wounded and taken to number 30 Casualty Clearing Station. In a letter to William’s Mother, written on 7th April, his Section Commander, Lieutenant T.W.B. Brodbell explained what had happened: Brodbell was shaving when he heard German gas shells passing overhead. He did not worry about them until in “… the process of ‘sweeping and searching’, the Huns sprinkled us in turn.” A shell landed amidst number one section and William went down with a wound in his left leg. A doctor attended him almost immediately and he was placed in a small dugout and then taken to the clearing station. Brodbell did not think the wound was serious and he did not write immediately because he was confident that William would recover. Sadly, however, the poor lad died within 24 hours. It was thought that the wound had become infected.
The lieutenant’s letter is unusually detailed and frank: “I assume that had the doctor really known that gas poison was in the wound, and that the result would be what, alas, we now know, he would have had the limb amputated straight away, and possibly he might have saved your son’s life… You will understand I have only expressed my own ideas; I may be quite wrong… I am very sorry about his death and have felt a sense of your loss all day. Your son was most popular in the detachment. He was very reliable and was the No. 2 on the gun, his duty being to assist in the ramming operations. We shall all miss him very much indeed and I wish there were many more like him to take his place in my detachment.” Gunners J. Moss and J. Shelbourne appended a moving note – “Will did not think he was badly wounded, as he made quite light of it. He was a very willing lad and a good soldier. His smiling face and good companionship will be sadly missed by all the boys. You have the deepest sympathy of all the battery in your sad bereavement.” On 17th July 1917, Will’s pathetically few possessions – “a disc, cards, photos, a gold ring, Army Form B, four coins and a linen bag” were posted back to his father at Shore Cottage. William Banks senior died in 1936.
Birth: c.1895 in Great Meols
Death: 6th April 1917, died of wounds
Address: Shore Cottage, Great Meols
Occupation: Farm Labourer
Unit: 106th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
Number and Rank: 63727 Private
Medals: 1915 Star, Victory and British War Medals
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, France: Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension, near Arras I. K. 35
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, DA, SR, GB, Census: 01, 11