Private 9036 Thomas Babbs

Killed in Action on Saturday, 7th November 1914, age 35.
Commemorated on Panel 35 and 37 of Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

1st Bn., South Staffordshire Regiment. 22nd Brigade of 7th Division.

Husband of Annie Elizabeth Jones (formerly Babbs), of 1 Court, 1 House, Eagle Street, Toll End, Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Bilston, Enlisted: Wednesbury, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 4th October 1914.
Medal entitlement: 1914 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/925985/

Genealogical Data

Census: Cannot trace Thomas Babbs.
This is most likely because he was in the army, having enlisted in the Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1899.

It seems unlikely that Thomas was born with the surname Babb(s), most likely it was Bloomfield or Vernon. On 29th March 1889, Maria Sarah Ann Bloomfield Vernon (a widow, father Stephen Bloomfield) married Robert Ruffles. Robert died shortly after the marriage, and before the end of 1889 Maria Sarah Ann Bloomfield Ruffles (widow) married James Babb. This marriage lasted until James's death in 1896, and on 16th May 1897 Maria Sarah Ann Babb (widow, father Stephen Bloomfield) married Thomas Huskinson.

When Thomas enlisted in 1899, he gave his mother, Maria Huskinson, as his next of kin.

By the time of Thomas's death in 1914, he was married to Anne Elizabeth. No trace of his marriage can be found.

Personal Data

On 10th May 1899, Thomas Babbs enlisted at Walsall with the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, for a period of 7 years with the Colours, and a further 5 years with the Reserves; he had no previous military experience. Thomas was 20 years of age, had been born in Bilston, was 5 feet 4 inches tall with a 33-inch chest, weighed 119 pounds and was employed as a Labourer. He had fresh complexion, brown eyes and brown hair, and had a scar on his right hand. He described himslef as a Wesleyan.

Thomas saw service in the England, Ireland, South Africa - during the Boer War, Malta, Crete, Gibraltar, before returning to England on 1907. In October 1907, Thomas left the regular army, and began his period in the Reserves which expired in May 1911.

The list of 'UK Military Desertions' shows that Private 6075 Thomas Babbs of the 1st Yorkshire Light Infantry (born Bilston in 1879) had deserted on 11th December 1900 whilst serving in Limerick, Ireland. During his time in Crete, he extended his period of service from 7 to 8 years, but in December 1904 was jailed for 10 days for an unspecified offence. In 1906 he was tried by District Court Martial, convicted and imprisoned for 21 days for "quitting his post", this was commuted to 11 days when he embarked on the journey back to England.

Thomas Babbs landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium, on 4th October 1914, the date that the 1st South Staffs first joined the British Expeditionary Force. It would seem that Thomas was a Reservist with the South Staffs Regiment, and had extended his time with the army, either as a Regular or Reservist as his initial 12 years would have expired in May 1911. His army number is shown on the WW1 Medal Roll as South Staffs 3/9036, and the 3rd Battalion is the Reserve Battalion.

After Thomas's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £7/6/2d (7 pounds, 6 shillings and 2 pence); this was paid to his widow, Annie Elizabeth, in May 1916. His War Gratuity was £3/0/0d (3 pounds exactly), this was also paid to his widow, now Mrs Annie Elizabeth Jones, in August 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that Thomas had enlisted in the previous year.

Action resulting in his death

The 1st Bn. South Staffs returned to England from South Africa on 19th September 1914, and were attached to the 22nd Brigade of 7th Division. In early October 1914 they landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium and were almost immediately in the thick of the 1st Battle of Ypres.

The 1st South Staffords War Diary stops on 26th October 1914 as officer casualties had been so heavy. The remnants of the 1st South Staffords and 2nd Royal Welsh were temporarily merged on 31 October to create a composite battalion under Capt Vallentin.

Vicious fighting continued through the early days of November. Major-General T. Capper of the 7th Division, later wrote that "On November 7th, the 1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, although very weak after three weeks' fighting, made a gallant counter-attack in support of the First Corps, which was hard pressed, driving the enemy from his trenches and assisting in the capture of three machine guns. This effort at the end of three weeks' continual fighting - and with hardly any officers left, speaks eloquently for the bearing of this Battalion."

It was in this attack that Captain J. F. Vallentin was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross "for conspicuous bravery". Previously he had been wounded slightly and was in hospital at Ypres when on 6 November he heard that his Regiment was going into action that night. Determined to be with his comrades Captain Vallentin obtained permission to rejoin them. During the subsequent assault on the German trenches he was twice wounded, but pressed on until he was killed by five or six machine gun shots. The capture of the trenches owed much to the confidence held in his valiant leadership by his men. This was the first V.C. won by the South Staffordshire Regiment in the war, and the first one ever awarded to the 1st Battalion.

The diary of the 2nd Queen's, also of 22nd Brigade, gives some details of the action.
6th November 1914 Ypres
Brigade moved to Dickebusch, into Corps reserve. During the evening a message arrived from Lord Cavan, commanding 4th (Guards) Brigade, in need of assistance. The Brigade marched to Zillebeke, arriving at 2200, and lay in a field around Cavan's HQ.

7th November 1914
About 0500, the Brigade left the field, and went down the path through the woods. Overnight, a gun had been positioned to enfilade the German trench. However, the assistance it gave was slight. The Brigade was deployed, screened from the Germans by a slight rise in the ground. The attack was timed for 0615. There was a heavy mist, and it was only just becoming daylight. The Brigade advanced over the rise. German machine guns opened. The second wave came up, and advanced with the first. It was completely successful, and the enemy ran away. There was much shelling, but the Brigade line held on. The Brigade withdrew that night to the level crossing, where it bivouaced.

The 1st South Staffords were withdrawn just days before the end of the 1st Battle of Ypres. When it had landed in Belgium just a few weeks before it had been a force of 1,100 officers and men, now only 78 remained. Almost every officer had either been killed or wounded, and only one N.C.O., Company Sergeant Major F. Bytheway, was left to bring the men out of action.

After the action, like many of his comrades, Thomas was "Missing, presumed dead." Again like many of his comrades, Thomas has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

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