Thomas William Hetherington x2: Lest we forget

‘Lest we forget’. Sadly, in 2023, it’s impossible for us to ‘forget’ the horrors and tragedies of war. The phrase is associated with famous author Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was initially gung-ho about the First World War and pulled strings to get his only son, John, a commission in the British Army (after John was rejected for his poor eyesight). Tragically, John was killed in action in September 1915 – and Rudyard Kipling became fiercely critical of the war.

‘If any question why we died,

‘Tell them, because our fathers lied.’

Common Form, Rudyard Kipling

This year’s Remembrance post on Cumbrian Characters remembers two men with the same name, born a few months and about ten miles apart – two lives cut short by the infamous Battle of the Somme.

Thomas William Hetherington x2

Thomas William Hetherington and Thomas William Hetherington were first cousins, once removed. Both births were registered in Wigton distict – one in the June quarter of 1886, the other in the March quarter of 1887. Birth certificates would confirm which was which. But as there is a short-service document for the man I will refer to as TWH 2, dated June 1915, which says he is 28 years 6 months, it fits that he was the early 1887 birth.

Thomas William Hetherington 1

TWH 1 was born at Westnewton, the only son of William Beaty Hetherington and Sarah, née Pattinson. They also had a daughter, Sarah Jane, but no other children.

In 1891, he was with his parents at Pasture House, Westnewton. There’s no sign of any of them on the 1901 census. But 1911 shows William, Sarah and Sarah Jane at one address in Dundraw, while TWH 1 is also at Dundraw, with wife of less than a year Eleanor (née Tyson) and their baby daughter Isabella, just two months old.

TWH 1 was a farm labourer. Two more daughters followed: Sarah Jane, in November 1912 – and Eleanor, born on November 1, 1914.

How must TW’s wife Eleanor have felt when, just over two weeks later, her husband signed up to join the Army?

TWH 1 signed up to three years’ Short Service. He wasn’t to survive that long.

The Border Regiment

TWH 1 served with the Lonsdale Battalion of the Border Regiment. 

The service record shows he was 5ft 4 1/2ins tall (average height for those days was about 5ft 6ins), and weighed just over 9 stone. He had a ‘ruddy complexion,’ blue eyes, and dark hair.

He signed over half his Army pay to Eleanor, and was home from November 16-22, 1915, for a few precious days with her and the three little ones. But on the 23rd, he left for France…

And on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, he was

‘regarded for official purposes as having died’.

His name is one of 72,337 on the Thiepval Memorial to the ‘missing’ of that battle, those with no known grave.

In March 1917, Eleanor was awarded a widow’s pension of 20 shillings and 6d a week, for herself and the children – about £57 in today’s values. Had her husband stayed a farm labourer, he’d have been earning about 60-70 shillings a week. 

Thomas William Hetherington, Le Neuville cemetery, Cumbrian Characters
Fields where battles were fought more than 100 years ago are still littered with reminders. This, the guide said, is from barbed wire defences.

Thomas William Hetherington 2

TWH 2 was the third son (fourth child of five) of school teacher James Hetherington and Esther Jane, née Bainbridge. He was with his parents on the 1891 and 1901 census, at Beck Bottom, Westward. 

A newspaper report of his death said he served an apprenticeship to the drapery business with Mr A Graham, of Wigton.

By 1911, he’d move south to London: he is one of 33, young ‘wholesale draper’s assistants’ sharing seven rooms at 47 Wood Street, next to the Curriers’ Hall, London Wall. 

This must have been literally ‘above the shop’ – namely Foster, Porter and Co. One wonders how the other 32 young men fared in the conflict that was to follow.

The Short Service record shows TWH 2 signed up on June 17, 1915, by which time his address was a few miles north: 39 Frobisher Road, Hornsey (seemingly a four-bed terraced house, worth just under £1million today). It’s likely he was lodging with other people, but it was a step up from Wood Street.

For some reason, this Cumbrian living in London became a private in the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders.

This was to take him, too, to the Battle of the Somme, where he survived a few weeks longer than his ‘cousin’.  TWH 2 died ‘of wounds’ on August 23, 1916 and was buried at Le Neuville British cemetery, Corbie.

Most burials are men who died at the nearby casualty clearing station no. 21. The date he was wounded is unknown. 

Thomas William Hetherington, Le Neuville cemetery, Cumbrian Characters.
Thomas William Hetherington 2 is buried at Le Neuville cemetery

A memorial service was held at Westward Church on September 13, 1916, was attended by the family and ‘a large number of parishioners’.

The Rev T W Melrose spoke of his ‘great sacrifice’

“He has given his life for his King and country and for God.”