G/4253 Private Thomas (Tom) Arthur Cheal enlisted in the British Army and was posted to the Western Front to fight in the Great War of 1914-1918. Tom remained resilient throughout his service and fought bravely with his battalion until the ravages of war ultimately claimed his life.
Thomas (Tom) Arthur Cheal was born on 5 August 1894 at 61 St Mary’s Road, Reigate, Surrey, England, the eldest son of Thomas John Cheal (a waterworks labourer) and Kate Skilton. Tom was one of nine children; he had three brothers (Harold, Robert and Walter), and five sisters (Beatrice, Mary, Edith, Lillian and Gladys).
At sixteen Tom and his family had moved to Earlswood, Redhill, where Tom was working as a porter for the local bootmaker. Tom was a mischievous lad. In 1913 his sense of adventure landed him in trouble with the law when he and his brother and a few mates were caught stealing apples from a nearby orchard. Some of the boys were each fined £2 6s. each and ordered to keep out of any further mischief.
On the 19 January 1915 Tom, single and at age 20 years 5 months, signed up and enlisted into the regular army. G/4253 Private T.A. Cheal was assigned to the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, 1st Battalion.
The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment was based at the Stoughton Barracks in Guildford. It is thought Tom would have commenced basic training such as drill routines, following commands, weapon handling, first aid and specific instruction pertinent to the role he was to fill. No amount of training or experience could have prepared him for what he was about to endure.
Tom’s war medal index card (held by The National Archives) details that on 4 May 1915 he disembarked to serve in ‘Theatre of War – 1. France’.
Tom’s exact movements from that date are not clear. The 1st Battalion’s war diary (held by The National Archives) details a draft of NCOs and men arriving in Le Hamel on the afternoon of 8 May. Tom most likely joined other troops as a reserve and initially was not at the front line.
On 31 May 1916 there is a diary note to say that the first batch of Derby recruits had joined the battalion. ‘Rather a poor lot physically’ it says. Unbeknown to all they were about to become involved in one of the most infamous battles of World War I.
The Battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July 1916 and lasted until 18 November 1916.
On 3 November 1916, G/4253 Private Thomas Arthur Cheal was killed in battle. The 1st Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment’s war diary states
‘At 4pm the Battalion left the trenches and went forward in splendid style in spite of the adverse condition of the trenches and weather. Artillery observing officers spoke very highly of the manner in which the men advanced. After getting about half way to the first objective the advance was held up by heavy rifle and machine gun fire’.
It is not known when Tom’s next of kin was advised of his death.
Tom’s register of effects states on the 28 February 1917 the amount of £10 18 shillings & 6 pence was authorised to be paid to his mother as his sole legatee. A war gratuity of £8 was authorised on 4 October 1919.
For his service, Tom was the recipient of three medals: the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914-15 Star. The three medals are commonly referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.
The British War Medal (‘Squeak’) was awarded to all soldiers of British and Imperial Forces who had served between 5 August 1914 and the end of the war (11 November 1918), including soldiers who died during this time.
The Victory Medal (‘Wilfred’) was awarded for serving in France between August 1914 and November 1916.
The 1914-1915 Star (‘Pip’) was awarded for service in any theatre during those two years.
Tom’s final resting place is in the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) Burial Ground, Grass Lane, Flers, France. His headstone has an embellishment of a cross in the centre – G/4253 Private T.A. Cheal, The Queen’s, 3rd November 1916.