Thomas Arthur Conley (1897-1916)

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This page is part of a project by David Verguson to research the lives of those who appear on war memorials and rolls of honour in the Lindley area.

Biography

Thomas Conley was born in Halifax in 1897 so was eighteen years old when he died September 1916. His father was John Conley who married Mary Janet Parker from West Auckland in County Durham, who was eight years his senior, in the summer of 1896. It seems possible that Mary worked as a domestic servant and it was this that brought her to West Yorkshire.

By 1901 the couple lived at Kew Hill beyond Lindley Moor with three-year-old Thomas and newly born Doris, who was barely a month old. Halifax was the registration district for Kew Hill so that was where their marriage was registered, however their Parish Church was St. Philips, Birchencliffe, though they were probably married at the Methodist chapel at Kew Hill, close to where they lived.

John, who was born in Huddersfield in 1874, worked as a clay miner, which may have been in Birchencliffe but was more likely Blackley at the brickworks, near their Kew Hill address. A well-known local rugby footballer, John played for Elland until December 1895 when he transferred to the Huddersfield team at Fartown, playing almost weekly.

Tragedy struck in October 1902 when, at the age of only 28, John died of typhoid fever. He was buried a few days later at Blackley chapel. A collection was held at the game following his death when the players wore black armbands and went round with collection boxes and collection sheets were at the turnstiles. It raised over £33 and the players gave an additional amount. The committee of the Northern Rugby Union gave Mary £25.

The family remained in the Huddersfield are but it cannot have been easy for Mary, a widow still in her 30s, raising two children one aged four and the other 18 months. The strain may have been one reason for Mary's death five years later at the age of 40, young even by the standards of the time.

Orphaned, the children needed someone to care for them. John's mother was not married in 1881 and may never have married and may have died in 1896. This would explain why the children moved to County Durham to live with their mother's family.

By 1911, Doris was with her grandmother, Jane Allinson at Witton Park, a colliery village near West Auckland, Durham. In the same village Thomas lived with his uncle William Parker, who was a licensed hawker. Like his cousin John Parker, Thomas was a "Colliery Driver" at the age of 14; he looked after the mine's horses. By the time he enlisted he was a miner.

Thomas joined the 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, which had recently been formed in Newcastle, on 28 August 1914. Many miners joined up in the early days of the war, perhaps because conditions in the pits were so poor that service in the army, expected to be only for a short period, seemed exciting. In fact, in Witton Park, so many skilled miners enlisted that the pit had to close in 1917.

At his medical at Bishop Auckland Thomas was described as 5' 5" tall, weighing 130 lbs, or just over 9 st, and with a 34½" chest. His physical development and vision were both good and he had been vaccinated in infancy. He gave his religion as Wesleyan.

His battalion first went Woking and then Aldershot during which the newly formed unit received basic training. No doubt, like many of his contemporaries, Thomas, being well fed by the army, and perhaps eating well for the first time, put on weight and may even have grown a little taller.

The Battalion and was finally sent to France in 1915, landing at Boulogne on 21 May.

The Battalion took part in many of the actions that made up the Battle of the Somme beginning in July 1916. On 19 August, Thomas was made Acting Lance Corporal and promoted Corporal nine days later in "C" Company. This rapid rise may well reflect unit losses.

On 16 September he was described as wounded and subsequently, missing. He was later presumed to have been killed in action on that day, the second day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a phase of the Battle of the Somme.

Thomas' body does not seem to have been recovered for burial though his death was confirmed by an officer of the 7th Royal Sussex Regt. and retrieved his pay-book, some time later. This suggests that the area where Thomas fell was taken then lost by allied forces.

Doris was living at 4 Lindley Moor when Thomas named her in his will in May 1915 and she was still there when his effects were returned two years later. Earlier he had awarded her an allowance of 3/6d from his pay in addition to the separation allowance of 2/10d that she received as an orphaned sister.

By the end of the war when as next-of-kin, Doris was in correspondence with the War Ministry, she was living with her late mother's sister, Hannah Johnson first at 25 Station Road and then at Railway Street, West Auckland. It was to the Railway Street address that Thomas's "Soldiers Penny" was despatched in 1919.

At only 18 years old, Doris was Thomas' only relative and it may have been due to her, or possibly the people she stayed with at Lindley Moor, that his name went on the Methodist War Memorial, at East Street Church in accordance with the religion he gave on enlistment. In that church there is also a plaque that may come from the Kew Hill Chapel; Thomas's name is on this plaque, along with twelve others from this small community.

Thomas is also remembered on the Witton Park memorial that was originally in the Memorial Hall until that was demolished when it was then moved to St Paul's Church in Witton Park. Thomas's name is also recorded on the memorial at nearby Crook, though his surname is spelt a little differently.

Doris never returned to Lindley but married Edward Murray in West Auckland in late 1922 and had two children, John in the spring of 1923, and Alwyn in late 1925. Doris was probably living in Crook when the memorial was erected in 1927.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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