Rank: Private 6312
Regiment: 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment
Thomas Boalch was born in Beer in 1895, the son of Theodore Boalch, a fishmonger, and his wife Amelia. In the 1911 census he was described as a fishmonger’s assistant, and his address appeared as ‘104 Main Street, Beer’.
He joined the Army Reserve in Exeter on 26 September 1911 and became a Private in the Devonshire Regiment Special Reserve, the 3rd Battalion. His Army record describes him as 5ft 9ins tall, weighing 153 pounds, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair. Men in the Special Reserve began with six months’ full-time training, and thereafter did three to four weeks’ training per year, with the possibility of being called up in the event of a general mobilisation.
Thomas was called up for full-time service on 8 August 1914, just four days after the outbreak of war. In October 1914 he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, which had just been recalled from garrison duty in Egypt. His unit’s war diary records that on 5 November 1914 the battalion marched in pouring rain from its camp at Hursley Park, near Winchester, to Southampton docks and boarded the SS Bellerophon of the Blue Funnel Line. They disembarked at Le Havre at 9.40am the following day.
They moved into front-line trenches near Neuve Eglise on 13 November before moving to Estaires, near Neuve-Chapelle, four days later. They began to suffer casualties from shellfire, and on 30 November, during a spell of very cold weather, 54 men were sent to hospital, almost all of them suffering from frostbite.
On 1 December Estaires was visited by King George V, President Poincare of France, the Prince of Wales (who was serving as a staff officer) and General Joffre.
After serving in France for just over a month, Thomas returned to England on 10 December. Unusually, his Army record does not explain this, as there is no entry in the ‘casualty’ section of the record, which normally records wounds, illness and postings. He returned to France on 18 November 1915, and was sent back to England again on 3 July 1916.
The explanation is found on his medal index card, where it refers to the issue of the King’s Silver War Badge. This was a lapel badge issued to men who had been invalided out of the Forces due to wounds or illness, and which they wore in order to avoid being presented with a white feather for not being in uniform. The Silver War Badge records show that, after serving overseas, Thomas was discharged from the Army due to illness on 5 September 1916.
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