Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

Thomas Colthart - Private S/10009

This page is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Colthart who died on 4th October 1917 in Belgium.

Thomas Colthart was born in 1892 in Lanarkshire and he died on 4th October 1917 in Belgium, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 25.

Thomas Colthart was born on 27th June 1892 at Dillarburn in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire. He was the eldest of 11 children born to James Henderson Colthart and his wife Janet Watson Naismith, who had married the previous year. James Colthart was a shepherd who had moved to Lesmahagow from nearby Crawfordjohn in the 1890s.

By 1901 the family were living at Rosehill Cottage in Lesmahagow and James was now working as a coal miner/roadsman. The family had grown with 3 more children and Thomas was now at school. By 1911 the census indicates that James and Janet had had 11 children in total of which 2 had sadly died. 8 of the remaining 9 children were still at home, ranging in age from 18 to 7 months. The 9th child may well have been in service somewhere by then. Thomas was now working as a coal miner - a hewer, while his father was back to farm work. A later newspaper report suggests Thomas was working at the Bellfield Colliery.

When the war started in 1914, Thomas Colthart was one of the early ones to join up - signing up in May 1915. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that Thomas was a Private in the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, his service number was S/10009 and that he was buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here

You can now look at the Medal Roll cards from the first world war online. These show a soldier's name, rank and what medals they were entitled to. Due to copyright issues, I don't think I can reproduce the image of the medal card, so instead I've transcribed it:

NameCorpsRankRegtl No.
Colthart2. Gord. Highr'sPteS/10009
Thomas M.M.   
Medal.RollPageRemarks
VICTORYG/101 B91072K. in A. 4-10-'17
BRITISHdittoditto 
15 STARG/r B.2.93 
    
Theatre of War first served in(i) France. 
Date of entry therein10-11-15 

As is so often the case with these medal cards, not all of the information has been filled in, but it does indicate that he would have been entitled to 4 medals. There were the 3 "regular" medals. The British Medal was awarded to servicemen who served in a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The Victory Medal (Allied Victory Medal) was awarded for service in any operational theatre over the same time frame. The 1915 Star was awarded to all those who served in any theatre of war against Germany between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915. But the medal roll also has M.M. after Thomas' name indicating that he had been awarded the Military Medal. This medal was awarded to men who were not officers, but who showed gallantry and devotion to duty under fire. His parents must have been very proud when it was announced in the local newspaper. Image Reach plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

Sadly Thomas' service records have not survived. Much of the British Army World War One Service Records were destroyed when the War Office was bombed in London in 1940. So I don't have any details of his service or what he was awarded his Military Medal for. The newspaper report indicates it was awarded in July 1916. It also seems from the newspaper report below, that he was in the Signalling Section. It sounds also as if he was popular with the other men and respected by his officers. Image Reach plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

In the absence of any detailed record of Thomas' military career, I have tried to find out what his regiment was doing. You can now view many of the Regimental War Diaries online, so I have downloaded the relevant diary for the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders.

2nd Bn The Gordon Highlanders

WAR DIARY

FOR

October - 1917

WAR DIARY
or
INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY
Hour, Date, PlaceSummary of Events and Information
1st Oct 1917 RENNING HELSTIn the afternoon the Battalion moved into a very poor camp on
the outskirts of DICKEBUSCH. Lieut Col DR TURNBULL DSO 2nd Gordon
Highrs Comdg 20th Manchester Regt was killed by a sniper in
front of POLYGON WOOD on the 30th Sept 1917.
2nd Oct 1917 DICKEBUSHFine day. The Battalion moved in the afternoon to
the ZILLEBEKE AREA and was accommodated in dug outs
and shelters
During the night 2/3rd hostile aeroplanes dropped a few
bombs in the vicinity of the Battalion, wounding one man.
At 10pm the Battalion paraded in Fighting order and moved
off to the assembly postions by the following route, -
WARRINGTON ROAD - 7TH DIVISION TRACK - 20TH BRIGADE TRACK running
through CHATEAU WOOD - NONNE BOSSCHEN - POLYGON WOOD, from
this point they were guided on to the tapes which had been
previously laid and formed up in Normal Formation
Battalion Headquarters went to the BUTTE. The march, and
forming up was carried out very succesfully under
intermittent hostile shell fire. Tapes for forming up
on were laid out as follows - the 8th Devonshire Regt in front
to take first objective with a frontage of 400 yards
The 2nd tape 200 yards in rear of the last line of the
8th Devonshire Regt or 340 yards in rear of the front tape.

2nd Bn The Gordon Highlanders

WAR DIARY

FOR

October - 1917

WAR DIARY
or
INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY
Hour, Date, PlaceSummary of Events and Information
3rd Oct 1917 Continued2nd Gordon Highrs on the left, 2nd Border Regt on the right, each
on a frontage of 200 yards and a depth of 340 yards.
The Battalion had on its left the 4th Australian Battalion
who had fought along side of us at BULLECOURT, and
specially requested that the two Battalion should fight side
by side once again. The formation of the Battalion lined
up was - "A" and "B" Companies in the front line with "C"
Company mopping up, and "D" Company in reserve.
The Battalion was formed up in position at 1.15am
2nd Lieut L G W Roberston MC Killed.
4th Oct 1917 At 3am the enemy shelled the forming ups line and Companies
were ordered to close on the 8th Devon Regt if necessary this
was not done. At 4.30 am the enemy began an intense fire
which was answered by our artillery
At 6am the advance began behind a barrage which started
200 yards in front of the 8th Devon Regt, who advanced up
and got underneath it. The Battalion also advanced till
the front line got 400 yards beyond our front tape.
The officers had great difficulty in preventing the men
from moving forward with the 8th Devon Regtm it was
ultimately ascertained that a number of our men assaulted
the 1st objective with the Devons. About 7am the 1st
objective was taken and at 7.50am the Battalion moved forward

2nd Bn The Gordon Highlanders

WAR DIARY

FOR

October - 1917

WAR DIARY
or
INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY
Hour, Date, PlaceSummary of Events and Information
4th Oct 1917 Continuedto get close up to the barrage which had halted 200 yards in
front of the 1st Objective. at 8.10am the barrage again
moved forward closely followed by the Battalion driving
everything before it, inflicting very heavy casualties on
the enemy strong points and concrete emplacements
gave very little trouble and were easily mopped up.
The final objective "on the RIDGE of NOORDEMDHOEK" was
reached at 9am with only 40 casualties. Reorganising
and consolidating commenced at once.
From this time the enemy commenced to shell heavily
all along the line causing our casualties to increase
considerably, the Battalion remained in the position
captured and dealt with any of the enemy that
showed themselves. At 7pm Battalion Head Quarters
moved forward from the BUTTE and occupied a
concrete Pill box near the line of the 1st Objective
Rations was brought up about midnight under great
difficulties, a number of the carrying party became
casualties including three of the Coy Quarter Master Sergts.
During the advance the Battalion captued about 70
prisoners, 3 machine guns, and the estimate of
Huns killed 130.

No mention is made of Thomas Colthart's death in the War Diary, but it was not unusual for ordinary soldiers not to be named. The 2nd battalion of the Gordon Highlanders in 1917 were basically in the thick of the fighting at the Third Battle of Ypres (or Battle of Passchendaele). From the war diaries it is clear that the men had to contend with aerial bombing, shelling, snipers plus no doubt lack of sleep, fighting at night, poor accommodation and difficulties with rations. The map below shows many of the places named in the war diaries. Taken from The Scotsman 5th Oct 1917. Image Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

The same newspaper described the fighting in which Thomas died as "A Magnificent Attack" and a "British Victory". Any casualties on the British side are made light of, presumably to keep the morale of the British people up. No mention is even made of the Gordon Highlanders.

The final piece of documentation I could find for Thomas Colthart was his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects. It lists the amount of money in his account at the time of his death and the amount, including the War Gratuity, that was eventually paid to his next of kin - in this case to his father James Colthart. For Thomas the total amount came to just 17 10s 4d - not much to show for the ultimate sacrifice.

Thomas Colthart was buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. In a small way he was one of the lucky ones as his body could be identified by his Identity Disc. So many other soldiers' bodies were buried unidentified. His sacrifice is also recorded back home on Lesmahagow's war memorial. There is a photo of the War Memorial at Lesmahagow on Flickr - I don't have permission to reproduce the photo here, but hopefully it's OK to link to it here. Thank you to the Scottish Military Research Group who took the photo.

So that's all I've managed to find so far about Thomas Colthart. It would be lovely to be able to add a photograph of Thomas one day. He had lots of brothers and sisters so hopefully there are some descendants of these out there still. It would be lovely to hear from anyone who is related to Thomas Colthart and can perhaps add to his story. If you can add to Thomas' story, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

In researching Thomas' final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The official Government source of genealogical data for Scotland:

The British Newspaper Archive:

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The National Archives at Kew now hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online, but it is well worth a visit down there if you can make it:


If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

Nicky Rowberry 2021

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry