Away From the Western Front – Thomas Cork’s story

We have come across many stories of local men who fought in the First World War, putting a human face to the events which still have an imapct on our lives today. One of those stories is that of Thomas Edward Cork of Appledore and his older brother William.

Born on the 21st November 1894, two months after the death of his grandfather, Thomas was the 7th of nine children.

His parents George Henry Cork and Lucy Tucker were married in 1855 and 7 sons (of which Thomas was the 4th born) and 2 daughters together, all of whom survived childhood. Both George and Lucy had come from farming families and were both heavily involved with the local church of St. Mary’s in Appledore. George appears to have taken over the farm Lucy grew up on at Watertown, Northam.  All the boys worked on the farm in various roles throughout most of their lives.

Thomas went to school in Northam before attending Bideford Grammar School between 1907 and 1910, the same schools his elder brother William Arthur attended before both boys went back to work on the family farm full time until war broke out in 1914.

In or around the weekend of 19th / 20th December 1914 a 21-year-old William and 20-year-old Thomas joined the Royal North Devon Hussars in Barnstaple. At the outbreak of war, the RNDH had were sent to Clacton where they trained until they were called up for active service.

North Devon Journal 22nd December 1914 page 5 column g

In September 1915, they were sent to Liverpool where they embarked the HMT Olympic (sister ship to the ill-fated SS Titanic) and left England on 24th September 1915 for the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Campaign.

Whether the brothers saw action at Gallipoli together is uncertain, Thomas certainly landed on the peninsula with the Hussars. William, however, was transferred to the Dorset Regiment sometime before 1916, but exactly when is unknown. It would be nice to think they were serving together at this point, they certainly would not have been the first regimental brothers to have seen action together, the Priscott twins served together in the 6th Devonshire Regiment in India and Mesopotamia.

Thomas was evacuated from Gallipoli a few days before the rest of the Hussars having contacted enteric, or Typhoid, fever. He was admitted to the Hospital at Alexandria on 10th December 1915 some 7 days or so before the rest of his comrades were evacuated.

Entry from the RNDH Casualty book, courtesy of the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

He would probably have stayed in hospital until he was invalided home in April 1916 to recuperate until September 1916 when he was sent to Palestine to re-join the RNDH who were now part of the campaign to reach Jerusalem. A month before Thomas’ return to England, his younger brother Ernest, had been given a 3-month exemption from conscription by the Northam Tribunal to enable him to help his father at the family farm as two of his brothers Thomas and William were already serving.

North Devon Journal 9th March 1916 page 6 column a

By January of 1917, William had been transferred to the Dorset Regiment and posted to France, where they were taking part in operations to distract the Germans on the Somme while the Allies prepared to launch an attack at Arras. On the first day of the operations, 11th January 1917, William went missing and was later listed as Killed in Action at Beaumont Hamel. His body was never recovered, his name being listed on the Thepvial Memorial alongside the many others whose remains were never found.

North Devon Journal 29th March 1917 page 5 column b

On the 2nd and 3rd December 1917 Thomas and the RNDH, which was now part of the 16th Devons, were involved in an action against the Turks at El Foka near Jerusalem. The 16th Devons were part of a group which saw them successfully take the small town before being forced to retreat later that same day. A total of 286 were either killed wounded or missing after the attack and Thomas was one of 141 of the wounded.

Thomas was severely wounded on 3rd December (possibly during the retreat which was when the largest number of Devons were wounded or killed) and this may have been why he was then transferred to the Labour Corps. It is not known what injuries Thomas suffered or how long it took for him to recover. However, the 16th Devons left Palestine for France in April 1918 while he remained, so he may well have been transferred before they left. Thomas was assigned to the Labour Employment Area Company and he stayed with the unit until the end of the war.

Having survived Typhoid fever and severe injuries Thomas was sent home in either late 1918 or early 1919 and it was on his way home from Palestine he became ill. He caught influenza and was hospitalised on his return to England at the University of Southampton Hospital, where he died of pneumonia on 19th March 1919. His body was taken by train to Bideford and he was laid to rest in Appledore Church Yard. His coffin was carried by members of his former regiment.

North Devon Journal 27th March 1919 page 8 column f

A memorial stone was erected to commemorate the brothers in the churchyard and their parents added to it later.

…Barum Athena

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