Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry
Thomas Orr Saidler- Private A/36090
This page is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Orr Saidler who died between 8th and 9th July 1916 in Belgium.
Thomas Orr Saidler (or Tom as he seems to have been known) was born in 1890 in Stirlingshire, Scotland and he died on 8th or 9th July 1916 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 Saidler was born on 23rd September 1890 at Glenend in Muiravonside, Stirlingshire. He was the sixth of 7 children born to Thomas Saidler and his wife Grace Orr. Two of his older siblings had died in infancy, so young Thomas grew up with 4 siblings. His father Thomas Saidler senior was a farm worker who had moved up from Lanarkshire, presumably in the pursuit of work. By 1891 the family were living in Glenend/Glen End Farm in Muiravonside, young Thomas being just 6 months old.
By 1901 the family were living at 15 Gideon Street, Bathgate. One of Thomas' sisters, Christina Saidler, had already married, but the remaining siblings were all still living at home with their parents. In addition there was 3 year old Grace Saidler the daughter of Thomas' older sister Margaret. Thomas and his 2 brothers were still at school. Sadly tragedy struck the family a few years later when Thomas Saidler senior died in 1906 aged just 48. Grace was left to look after the family alone, with the youngest child (William) still only about 10. By 1911 the remains of the family, Grace, Thomas & William were living in at 23 Gideon Street, Bathgate, along with Thomas' widowed sister and her children. Also present were 2 other grandchildren and 2 adult visitors. There were 10 people in all, living in a dwelling with only 2 rooms that had windows. It must have been terribly cramped. Thomas Saidler was by this time working in the coal mines as a drawer - meaning he probably transported the coal back to the surface. At some point around this time Thomas met Mary Murray and they had a child together, although the relationship perhaps did not last as they didn't marry.
Thomas' older brother John Saidler had already emigrated to Canada in 1909. He returned home in 1913 for a holiday, enthusing about the life he had in Canada. His story was reported in the local newspaper the West Lothian Courier. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).
Perhaps John's description of a "freer" life in Canada persuaded Thomas to join him. In September 1913 Thomas joined his brother John aboard the ship Grampian, arriving in Quebec on 20th September. His occupation was given as a miner and his destination Regina, Saskatchewan. Life must have seemed very promising for the young man at this point.
Within a year of his arrival in Canada, war was declared. Thomas Saidler (along with his brother John) was one of the early ones to join up - signing up on 4th January 1915 in Edmonton, Canada. Extracts of letters from a Bathgate Canadian soldier were published in the local newspaper in May 1915. Frustratingly the newspaper doesn't name the soldier, but what he talks about probably describes what Thomas and his unit were going through too (it may even be a letter from Thomas - who knows). 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).
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that Thomas was a Private in the 4th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, his service number was A/36090 and that he was buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground in Belgium. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here
I've not been able to find out much about his time in the army, but it looks as if he initially joined the 51st Battalion, before being drafted into the 4th Battalion in August 1915. His unit sailed on 18th April 1916. It is possible that because of his mining experience, Thomas was put to work on tunnelling efforts. His grave registration papers indicate that he was in the 3rd Canadian Tunnelling Company. These tunnelling units would dig under the German forces to lay mines. Just a few months later, he was killed during an attack on Mount Sorrel (or Mont Sorrel) in the Ypres area of Belgium in July 1916. The exact date of his death is not clear, but it appears to be either 8th or 9th July - presumably in the confusion of war and with exploding mines and shelling it was not always possible to tell exactly when a soldier died.
Thomas Saidler's death was reported in the local newspaper (The West Lothian Courier) in July 1916. Image © Reach plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
Thomas is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground in Belgium. There is a photo of his grave marker (photo below taken by Marg Liessens) on the Veterans Affairs Canada website.
Thomas Saidler is remembered back home on the Bathgate memorial (along with his brother William). Images below courtesy of John Paton.
Thomas would have been entitled to 3 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. His British War Medal came up for sale in 2018, sadly before I started this research, so was unable to make enquiries. Thomas's mother Grace would have received a war pension (for both the sons she lost). In theory his son should also have received payment, but the records suggest that there was some debate about this, so the poor child may have received nothing.
I've not been able to find a photo of Thomas Saidler yet, but the Canadian Great War Project describes him as 5 feet 7 inches (about average for a soldier in WW1) weighed 10 stone 2 lbs, with a 37 inch chest, fair complexion, light brown hair and hazel eyes.
So that's all I've managed to find so far about Thomas Saidler. Many thanks to John Paton and Meg Stenhouse for all their help and for sharing their photos. It would be lovely to be able to add a photograph of Thomas one day. He was survived by one brother, 2 sisters and a son, so hopefully there are some descendants of these out there still. It would be lovely to hear from anyone who is related to Thomas Saidler and can perhaps add to his story. If you can add to Thomas' story, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 Library and Archives Canada hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online:
If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
© Nicky Rowberry 2021
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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry