Thomas Harold Lawrence, Boy Soldier

One of the many posters aimed at encouraging young men to enlist.

One of the many posters aimed at encouraging young men to enlist.

At the outbreak of the First World War, especially as it was expected to be over by the end of 1914, there was a huge clamour amongst patriotic young men to join up to do their service for King and country. Rules stated that to fight abroad, they had to be aged nineteen, although an eighteen-year-old could enlist and remain in the country until they reached the correct age. Despite these age restrictions, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 ‘Boy Soldiers’ under the age of eighteen fought in the conflict. Recruitment officers were paid two shillings and sixpence for each new recruit, so it was inevitable that a blind eye would often be turned.

St. Oswald's Church, Oswestry

St. Oswald’s Church, Oswestry

Thomas Harold Lawrence, the sixth child of William Lawrence and Emily Parker, was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, in 1899. Baptised at St. Oswald’s, Oswestry, on July 23rd of the same year, he spent his early life at 22 Upper Church Street and 22 Pool Road. The untimely death of his father in 1909, seems to have created financial problems for the family with Emily having to take up the occupation of poultry dealer and the eldest five children all becoming domestic servants. This could explain why on 5th May 1915, aged only fifteen or sixteen, Thomas enlisted at Newtown, joining the 3/1st Welsh Horse Yeomanry.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the average height for a man aged twenty was 5 feet six inches and Thomas, still only a teenager, was already three-quarters of an inch taller. This teamed with his probable experience with horses (his uncle, Edward Parker, living with his family in 1911, was an ostler) meant that few questions would have been asked when he gave his age as ’19 years and 2 days.’

Thomas remained in the army until February 7th, 1916, when he was discharged in Dublin on the grounds of, “having made a mis-statement as to age on enlistment.” He had served for 281 days and had been passed for active service in the field.

This was not to be the end of his war, however. Obviously determined to see active service, June 5th, 1917, saw him examined at Shrewsbury and, thirteen days later, he was being vaccinated at Kinmel Park, an army training camp. Refusing other inoculations, stating he had already received them four times in May and June 1915, he eventually joined as a Class B Reserve before being transfered to the Cheshire Regiment and later the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.

Thomas eventually saw active service in France from March 30th 1918 until December 27th of the same year when he was sent back home to the war hospital in Sunderland, suffering from the effects of an old head injury he sustained whilst on leave. On January 10th  1918, he had been thrown off a motorbike in Oswestry which had resulted in a contusion to the head causing vision problems. He remained in hospital for 39 days and, shortly after, was demobilised.

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The Importance of Newspapers

One of the most informative and interesting Victorian sources for family historians is the newspaper. Many believe, wrongly,  that as they are descended from ‘ordinary’ families, they are a pointless resource as nothing newsworthy could have occurred. In reality, it is quite the opposite as they contain a great weath of information regarding birth announcements and obituaries, legal notices and, on occasion, stories giving an insight into the working life and personality of ancestors. With sites such as http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk and http://www.findmypast.co.uk offering searchable databases to numerous British newspapers, there has never been a better time to try to find stories from the past.

Llanyblodwel, Shropshire

Llanyblodwel, Shropshire

My great-great grandmother’s sister, Mary Thomas, the daughter of William Thomas (a farmer from Morton, Shropshire) and Elizabeth Jones, married Samuel Lawrence on April 25th, 1862 in Llanyblodwel, Shropshire. After their marriage, Samuel appeared to be doing well for himself as, by 1871, he was a farmer of 136 acres, employing two men and one boy. Like so many at that time, however, alcohol seemed to have played a negative part in his life.

On October 7th, 1879, at about 9pm, David Jones, a farm labourer, was having supper in the Lawrence family kitchen. Witnessed by a gamekeeper, Samuel Lawrence entered the room and assaulted Jones.

The following morning, Jones arrived back at the farm, his sole intention being to settle the dispute with Lawrence but, finding that his master was not at home, he stayed for two and a half hours, churning. He also drank two mugs of beer. Later, Lawrence did return and, the worse for beer, said, “I want you. How much do I owe you?” Jones replied that he did not know the exact amount but soon found that Lawrence had gripped his beard with one hand and was striking him beneath his ear with his other. Lawrence then kicked him on the ground.

Jones managed to push Lawrence away, saying, “I can’t stand this,” but the farmer was determined to hold on to his victim, kicking him in the ribs. The assault only ceased when Lawrence’s wife, Mary, and one of his sons (presumably William as their other son, Edward would have been aged about 5 years) restrained him. Jones left the farm, staying at a neighbour’s until his wife came to meet him. With great difficulty, he managed to travel the two miles home. He stayed in bed for ten weeks, being tended to by a doctor.

Samuel Lawrence’s version of events differs slightly. He claims that, when he arrived home, he asked Jones what he was doing in his house. Jones replied that he wanted his money. After a row, Lawrence hit Jones and a scuffle ensued. On hitting him again, Jones fell to the ground, coming into contact with a stone and there was no truth in Jones’ statement that he kicked him in the ribs. Lawrence claimed that Jones was quite tipsy by this point, stating that he’d consumed three mugs of beer.

When the case was brought up at the County Court in January 1880, the judge, Arundel Rogers, concluded that there was no doubt that Jones’ injuries had been caused due to an assault from Lawrence although there was no evidence to prove that he had been kicked. Lawrence was fined £20 which also included the cost of  medical attendance.