Remembering the First World War fallen - Tom Harry Read
At the beginning of May 1917 the French Army was on the brink of collapse and widespread mutiny; the Russian Revolution had just broken out, threatening the imminent collapse of the Eastern Front; the Germans had retreated to their impressively well-constructed defensive Hindenburg Line; and the British had already launched an unsuccessful and costly attack in April, intended to support a renewed French offensive. The village of Bullecourt had been flattened, but was still just behind German lines.
At 3.45 on the morning of May 3rd 1917, another attack was launched by the British and Australian troops. After the initial advances of the first day, the ensuing 2nd Battle of Bullecourt (just one episode within the larger, ongoing, Battle of Arras, April-June 1917) became bogged down into yet another war of attrition which continued until 17th May, and has gone down in Australian history as “The Blood Tub”, but is scarcely remembered in this country, overshadowed as it is by the Battle of Passchendaele later in the year.
The 2/6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment were thrown in at the front of the attack, in which 8 successive waves of infantry, supported by tanks and a creeping barrage of artillery, attempted to breach the Hindenburg line. Under heavy machine gun fire, the losses were heavy, for hardly any gain. The 2/6th W.R.R. unit’s war diary recorded 1 officer killed, 5 wounded, 15 other ranks killed, 155 wounded and 88 missing. Overall the British suffered nearly 3,000 casualties on 3rd May alone.
Aerial Photograph of Bullecourt in 1918 © Australian War Memorial, 2016
One of those missing, presumed dead, was Private Tom Harry Read, of Greenbottom, Embsay.
The West Yorkshire Pioneer & East Lancashire News reported on the 18th of May that his mother had been informed by letter that her son was missing. His corporal wrote to her that he had found Tom lying wounded, and had tried to make him as comfortable as possible, but had to leave him in the hope he would be picked up by stretcher bearers. He assured Tom’s mother that her boy’s “cheerful and willing disposition made him very popular with his comrades.”
On 29 June he was officially declared as presumed dead. His death was not reported in the Craven Herald newspaper, and he was therefore omitted from the printed publication of “Craven’s Part in the Great War” published shortly after the war. There is, as far as we know, no surviving photograph of this young soldier, but at least the 22 year old is commemorated on the famous Arras Memorial, on Embsay’s village war memorials on the Main Street and inside St Mary’s Church, and a record for him has been recently been added to the website “Craven’s Part in the Great War” (http://www.cpgw.org.uk/soldier-records/tom-read/ ).
Tom was the son of Margaret (nee Metcalfe) and her first husband, William Peel Read, and was just 7 when his father died, leaving Margaret a widow with 9 children. Tom was 13 when his mother married again, to William Smith. His step-father died less than a year later, and Margaret struggled on as a farmer, with the help of her eldest son, William. At 16, Tom was an apprentice to a sculptor, and became a keen member of Embsay’s cricket team. More than once, the Craven Herald reported his contributions to the team’s successes. On 19th June 1914 they reported that: “A fine innings by T. Read for Embsay, was the feature of the match. He batted in excellent style for 75…”
The Craven Herald of 8th May 1921 carried the following message from Tom’s sister, Eva, “In Memoriam”:
“Memory clings with silent thoughts.”
A full account of the battle in which Tom died can be found on the CPGW website: http:www.cpgw.org.uk/ (in his record, click on “View additional text”)
Jane Lunnon, Embsay Research Group