Drinkstone honours dead soldier

Robin Sharp, Vice Chairman Drinkstone War Memorial Institute
Robin Sharp, Vice Chairman Drinkstone War Memorial Institute

A Drinkstone soldier, who died from wounds he received during the first days of the Battle of the Somme, is being remembered in a special exhibition in his home village.

Private Thomas Barker, aged 33, was serving with the 7th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in France when he was wounded during an attack on the German-held village of Ovillers on July 3, 1916.

Robin Sharp, Vice Chairman Drinkstone War Memorial Institute

Robin Sharp, Vice Chairman Drinkstone War Memorial Institute

He died from his wounds the following day and was buried in the Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, outside the town of Albert on the Somme.

An exhibition charting his life and military service has been compiled on behalf of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (Village Hall) by vice chairman Robin Sharp.

Mr Sharp said: “This exhibition is one of a series planned to remember all 15 of the men from Drinkstone who lost their lives during the First World War.

“We are focusing on each man in turn, as we reach the centenary of their deaths. Thomas Barker is the fifth man from the village to be commemorated in this way.

“We feel that this is a fitting way to mark the impact that their loss had on the village, to honour their lives and keep the solemn pledge ‘we will remember them’.”

The exhibition is free to view and will be on display in All Saints’ Church, Drinkstone, until Sunday and then at Drinkstone Village Hall until August 5.

Mr Sharp said: “So far we’ve not been able to find any photograph of Thomas Barker and we’d be delighted to receive further information about him, or any of the other 14 men, to help us to celebrate their lives.

We’re proud to be able to remember and honour Thomas and show that his life and sacrifice have not been forgotten by this generation of Drinkstonians.”

Anyone with information email louise.robin@btinternet.com or call 01359 271456.

What is known of Thomas Barker:

* Thomas James Barker was born in Bradfield St George between April and June 1883 and baptised in the village on September 16 of that year.

* He was the second son of six children born to Ebenezer Barker, a farm labourer, and his wife Rose Ann (née Pettit).

* In the 1911 census, the Barkers were living in a two-up, two-down cottage in the Gedding Road, Drinkstone and Thomas was described as a ‘labourer on a farm’, but having ‘no work’.

* Thomas Barker’s service records have not survived, but from calculations based on other records relating to his army number, it would appear that he enlisted as a volunteer in the 7th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in Bury St Edmunds in mid-December 1915, aged 32.

* Training in Britain would have followed, until Private Barker was posted to France, probably in early May 1916.

* For the next few weeks, the Battalion occupied itself with resting, training and preparation.

* In mid-June the Battalion moved by train to Vignacourt, near Amiens, in the Somme region. Tellingly, for eight consecutive days the men practised assaulting trenches and attacks on ‘further positions’: the ‘Big Push’ was about to begin.

* On July 2 the 7th Suffolks took over support trenches near Albert. It was here that the Battalion received orders to make a frontal attack, over a frontage of 200 yards, on the German-held village of Ovillers the following day at 3.15am.

* The Regimental History recorded what happened next: “The Battalion assaulted in eight successive waves ... The first four waves penetrated as far as the enemy’s third line, portions of them getting into the village itself; but owing to the darkness the succeeding waves lost touch, enabling the Germans to surge in and cut them off. At the third line of resistance, after very heavy fighting, the assault was brought to a standstill [at about 4.30pm], the Battalion losing very heavily.”

* Casualties in the Battalion were 21 officers and 458 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.

* One of these casualties was evidently Private Thomas Barker, badly wounded. Somehow he was brought back to British lines and taken to an advance dressing station manned by members of the 36th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps.

* Despite being given the best medical care available, Thomas Barker died from his wounds on July 4, aged 33, fewer than two months since he had first landed in France.

* He was buried in the Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, some six miles from the battlefield where he was wounded.

* The sad news of Thomas’s death was delivered to his parents Ebenezer and Rose Ann, back at the Green in Drinkstone.

* In due course, his service medals - British War Medal, Victory Medal - as well as the Memorial Plaque (or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’) would have been sent to his family.

* It was his parents who received his outstanding army pay of £3 16s 8d (£3.83) on February 9, 1917, and a War Gratuity of £3 on August 11, 1919.

* Thomas Barker’s name is inscribed on the war memorial in All Saints’ Church, Drinkstone; it is also the first name that appears on the war memorial in St Peters Church in Felsham, although as yet no evidence has been found to indicate that he had lived or worked in Felsham.

* Thomas Barker is remembered in Drinkstone a century after his death, the fifth man on the war memorial to fall in the First World War - but sadly not the last during the Battle of the Somme.