Horace Sydney Thompson (1897-1918)
Text and Research by Brian Roote
Resting in Caterham Cemetery since 5th October 1918 is the body of Horace Sydney Thompson whose name appears on the war memorial in the church. When Peter Saaler wrote his book The Soldiers of Caterham he noted that little was known about Horace. His name did not appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Register, nor did he have a CWGC headstone. Since then much more information has become available, and having found his war record his story has become much clearer.
Horace was born in Caterham on 27th April 1897, to William Thompson and Mary Louisa Start, who married in Croydon Parish Church on 1st May 1879. The family moved to Hawthorn Terrace and then to Coulsdon Road, where they lived for many years. His father William was a carpenter and builder. A brother, Charles, later worked at Caterham Asylum as an attendant, and a sister Eleanor as a kitchen maid.
Horace decided to join the army, and signed on at Aldershot on 27th January 1912 when he was still only 15. He was accepted into the Bedfordshire Regiment, with a service number 9120, and posted to the reserve. Whilst in the reserve he continued his education and passed several examinations. He was recalled to full service on 5th August 1914 and given a new service number, 203125. His age precluded him being sent overseas so he served at home. He qualified as a stretcher bearer on 12th November 1916. On 5th February 1917 the unit (including Horace) was sent to Egypt. Unfortunately he contracted tuberculosis and was repatriated to an army hospital in England on 20th June 1917. He was examined, declared unfit to serve and discharged on 27th August. His medical records are endorsed ‘total incapacity as a result of active service’. He was awarded a weekly pension of 27s.6d. which at the time was the highest amount for servicemen suffering advanced cases of incurable disease. He was also awarded a Silver War Badge to avoid any problems during his ‘retirement’.
Horace came home to his family on Caterham, but his civilian life was short-lived as he died on 29th September 1918 and was buried on 5th October. It is obvious that the Army was notified, as his pension form 36 – Death of a Pensioner is clearly endorsed ‘died 29th September 1918’.
To qualify for War Graves status the death of a serving soldier must have occurred between 4th August 1914 and 31st August 1921, from any cause. If the soldier had been discharged from a cause attributable to service and then died from this cause during the period then he would qualify. Horace’s death certificate gives his cause of death as pulmonary tuberculosis, ie the reason for his discharge. It was my opinion that Horace should be accepted, and I submitted a claim with evidence to the authorities. This was finally accepted, and his name appears in the CWGC United Kingdom Book of Remembrance. There are special CGWC headstones for servicemen who are buried in a cemetery but where the site is unknown, and these headstones are engraved with the legend ‘buried elsewhere in his cemetery’.
On 3rd March, Horace’s death was finally given the credit he deserved and a headstone was placed on his burial plot in Caterham Cemetery. No member of his family has been found, despite an appeal in the local newspapers and on BBC Radio Surrey. If anyone knows of a family member, please get in touch.
The National Archives
St Mary’s Church, Caterham, records