JOURNEY TO EAST AFRICA
LINCOLNSHIRE FRONTIERSMAN’S LETTER
Pte. T. Kirkby, A Company, 25th Royal Fusiliers Frontiersmen, Expeditionary Force sends the following interesting description of the Frontiersmen who are with the Expeditionary force in East Africa:-
“As there are some boys from the Hull district, it may interest some of your readers. I may say I have made a friend of one from Ottringham:- W. C. Newsam - and although residing at present at Cleckheaton, I am a native of Winterton, with parents living at Crosby.
“With our Colonel (Colonel Driscoll) at our head, we left ____ for ____ on April 10th in the evening. Before leaving, each man was supplied with coffee or tea, and a packet containing two eggs, sandwiches, etc. A pleasant run in the train to ____, and I may add on reaching ____ the Mayoress of the town, with a large staff of ladies, supplied each man again with another parcel of food; also tea, oranges, and packet of cigarettes each, for which all of us were grateful. On reaching ____ we found the ship ready for us. A short time after embarkation we set sail for East Africa. With officers who appeared to vie with each other for the comforts and amusement of the men, by arranging concerts and boxing contests, etc., the time passed gaily.
“Reaching ____, and staying a short time for necessary work, we proceeded on our journey to the next call. Here coal was taken aboard, being brought to us in barges. It was an interesting break to us to see the darkies carrying a few baskets full on their heads, then having a quarrel in their own jingo, and, to finish, two of them had a good fight. Here, also, small boats came alongside with such articles as tobacco, oranges, etc., and the cheap jacks, who used to visit Brigg Statutes when I was there as a youth, could not touch them in bargaining. It was splendid when the band struck up ‘Tipperary’. Passing through the Suez Canal was a delightful part of our journey. We passed several camps on the banks, and to hear the cheering from each party would have done anyone good. The usual questions from each side were: ‘Who are you?’, ‘Where going?’ and ‘How long have you been out?’ finishing with ‘Are we downhearted?’ and the hearty response ‘No!’ I can assure you not one of us is. With officers we would follow anywhere, and a just cause to fight for, each man is ready to help to crush the power of the great War Lord.
“In due course we arrived at the port for disembarkation. We then entrained for up-country, and passed through beautiful scenery, passing one point where the Germans had wrecked a bridge. After about 40 hours in the train (with stops, of course, for food) the order was given to stop, and I can tell you we were glad to get on our feet again. The amount of crime and sickness, I am glad to say, is small, comparatively. I think all the lads from the Hull district are in good health and spirits, and ready to do their duty. I shall any time be glad to receive a few lines from anyone at Scunthorpe, Crosby, Burton etc.”
Tom Kirkby’s birth was registered in Glanford Brigg Registration District in September Quarter 1867 which is consistant with his having been born, according to the 1871 census, in Winterton, Lincolnshire, the first and only child of Stephen and Susannah Kirkby. The 1871 census shows this family residing at 28 Park Street, Winterton.
Soon after the 1871 census was taken his father, Stephen, died and in 1874 his mother remarried, this time to Waddingham Chumley. By the time the 1881 census was taken this family were now resident in the village of Crosby, Lincolnshire and in addition to his mother and step-father Tom now had two half-brothers Fields and George and a half-sister, Anne Eliza.
The 1891 census shows the family still resident at Crosby but Tom had moved on, to whereabouts unknown. However, a month or so later, on 2nd May 1891, he reappears as a 23 year old Signalman, resident at Stanningley, when he married Agnes Moister at Calverley Parish Church.
In 1901 the census records Tom as a 33 year old Foreman Scavenger resident at 4 Procters Terrace, Tong along with wife Agnes and three sons, Stephen Richard, Tom and George. Ten years later and the family, now extended by the addition of daughters Annie and Lizzie, have moved to 38 Thornton Ville, Cleckheaton where Tom was employed as an Electricity Works Stoker for the Urban District Council.
As far as can be determined, and also noted on his attestation papers, Tom had no previous military service prior to the Great War. On 26th October 1914 he knocked about ten years off his age and attested, at Cleckheaton, to the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). As a Private with service number 14355 he was put on the strength of the Regiment’s Depot on 27th October and Posted to the 8th Battalion on 6th November 1914. His services would not be retained for long however as he was discharged at Grantham on 19th December 1914, under Paragraph 392 (III c) of King’s Regulations, as being ‘Not likely to become an efficient soldier’, on 19th December 1914 having served a total of 54 days.
On the 18th March 1915 Tom Kirkby enlisted again, this time for service with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. He was accepted for service, allotted service number 14995 and subsequently proceeded overseas as a Private with the battalion aboard the “Neuralia” on 10th April 1915.
As Tom’s service record with the 25th Royal Fusiliers no longer survives it is difficult to know the exact details of his overseas service with the battalion. The Royal Fusiliers medal roll entries show that he arrived in the East African theatre with the battalion on 4th May 1915 and that he served overseas until 19th November 1917 when he was invalided back to the UK. Whilst with the battalion overseas he was promoted to the rank of Corporal and, at the time of his Mention in Despatches, was holding the appointment of Acting Sergeant.
Whilst in theatre it is highly probable that Tom suffered from one, or more, of the illnesses that struck down so many of the men in the East African theatre before being invalided back to the UK as he was eventually discharged from the Army because of sickness.
On arrival back in the UK he would have been treated for his illnesses and then, after a brief furlough, returned to the battalion’s camp at Putney. There followed a promotion to Sergeant before the battalion was eventually disbanded at the end of June 1918. All of the men were medically re-assessed and then transferred to other units or discharged as necessary and it would appear that Tom’s illnesses had been sufficiently bad for him to be medically downgraded as he was discharged from the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers on 28th June 1918 as ‘No longer physically fit for war service’ under Paragraph 392 (XVI) of King’s Regulations.
For his service with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers Tom Kirkby earned the 1914/1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal with Oakleaf emblem for a Mention in Despatches and the Silver War Badge (424547).
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
WO 329/2634: 1914/1915 Star, Royal Fusiliers other ranks, Medal Roll
WO 329/764: British War & Victory Medal, Royal Fusiliers other ranks, Medal Roll.
WO 329/3167 Silver War Badge, other ranks, Roll (Territorial Force (London) list TP 2801-3200)
Lieut.-General Sir J. L. van Deventer’s Despatch dated 11th October 1917, London Gazette, No.30560 dated 7th March 1918.
1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 & 1911 England Census
England & Wales Birth Records
England & Wales Marriage Records
West Yorkshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935
First published in;
The Daily Mail (Hull Packet and East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Courier), Saturday, 10th July, 1915
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