Remembering Tom Newsholme
Named after his grandfather, Stephen Thomas Newsholme was born in 1898, the 4th of 6 children, and the eldest son of Edward & Mary (nee Tennant) Newsholme. Edward worked as a farm labourer, and later as a labourer on the construction of the Barden reservoirs.
Tragedy struck the family when Tom was just 4 years old. His mother, suffering post-natal depression, killed herself and her 4 month old baby. Two years later, Edward re-married, to Hannah Hallam, the widow of an Eastby stonemason. She does not appear to have had any children of her own despite being 10 years older than her new husband.
Tom attended both the non-conformist British School, and Brougham Street School, in Skipton. By 1911 his sisters had all left home, but Tom and his younger brother John were still at school, and living at Cherry Tree Cottage, Eastby. Tom was still only 15 years old when the war broke out.
Apart from an entry in the school log book referring to a bout of influenza he suffered in 1907, we know very little else about Tom, because he was so young.
On leaving school, he moved to Bradford, where he had found employment at W.H. Smith and Son, the newsagents, but at the first opportunity enlisted – or perhaps was conscripted - in the 7th Leicestershire Regiment. By the time he was sent to France, in November 1917, the battle of Passchendaele had already claimed huge numbers of casualties, and churned the fields of Flanders into the desolate, muddy, treeless landscape that still dominates our perception of the First World War today. He survived the winter of 1917, but the Spring Offensive of 1918 threw him into the thick of the fierce fighting which finally broke the static line of the trenches.
The collapse of the Eastern Front after the Russian Revolution, which freed up German troops to be re-deployed in the West, and the imminent threat of the arrival of the Americans into the war, prompted the Germans to launch a determined effort to break through on the Western Front. The offensive began on 21st March 1918, and the battle raged until 30th March. The 7th Leicestershires felt the full force of the attack as it began at 4.30 in the morning – Tom would have experienced not only the heavy artillery fire, but also seen the deployment of flamethrowers and advancing tanks, and he may have breathed in the mustard gas which preceded the first German attack. He may even have witnessed the audacity of Private Hickin who walked along the top of the parapet firing his Lewis Gun – and who was killed the 2nd or third time he did this. The Leicestershires won plaudits in the national newspapers back home for their particularly brave and determined efforts to defend their positions – Tom’s unit alone, the 7th, lost 18 officers and 445 other ranks by the end of the month. The Germans, however, managed to break through, and the Western Front became mobile again. (Not until September did the Allies successfully push back).
The war diary for the 7th Leicestershires paints a vivid picture of the “Kaiser’s battle”, including the heavy mist which combined with the smoke and dust from the artillery fire had hidden the advance of the German soldiers. The Leicesters were relieved at 4pm on the 22nd March for a brief respite behind the lines. But Tom was not among them.
His parents had to wait until May to receive the official notification that he was missing, perhaps taken prisoner. His desperate parents pleaded in the Craven Herald for news of him, hoping another soldier would hear something they could report back, but Tom was never found. After the war his name was added to the list of the dead on the Pozieres memorial by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
There is no photograph of Tom in the commemorative book “Craven’s Part in the Great War”, but his parents provided a very moving poem in his memory which was published in the Craven Herald:
“In an unknown grave in France,
There a brave young hero sleeps;
There’s a cottage home in England
Where his dear ones sit and weep.
May the heavenly winds blow softly
O’er that sweet and hallowed spot,
Though the sea divides his grave from us,
He will never be forgot.
From Father, Mother, Sisters and Brother, Cherry Tree Cottage, Eastby.”
In 1921 the memory of 19 year old Tom was again preserved in another little poem sent to the Craven Herald:
“Sweet are the memories that never shall fade,
Of him we loved but could not save.
From Father and Mother, Sisters and Brother, Cherry Tree Cottage, Eastby.”
Illustration : Pozieres Memorial, France
Jane Lunnon, Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group. 2018
With thanks to “Craven’s Part in the Great War” website (www.cpgw.org.uk) .