Could Labourer Have Avoided War?

Born into an Irish Catholic family in Doncaster, Thomas Battle became a Foreman Labourer for Thomson and Dixon. Unfortunately the labourer part of his job description meant he wasn’t important enough to be exempted. He was sent to war and died of wounds on the 23rd of March 1918.


Thomas Battle was born on the 10th of August 1882 in Doncaster to an Irish father and an Irish descended mother, Thomas Battle and Joanne Murphy Battle. He was baptised on the 27th of August at the Catholic Church of St Peter’s in Doncaster. His Sister, Agnes Battle, was born in 1887. In 1891 they were living at 7 Portland Place. Three doors down was a crowded boarding house and many of their neighbours were other Irish immigrant families.

In 1901, with his older brother Jacobus (James) Battle, Thomas was lodging with an Irish couple John and Mary A McDermott at 28 Pepper Street, Leeds. John was a bricklayer labourer and may have helped get the brothers jobs in that line of work. If this was the case Thomas may have had the skills to be Bricklayer. Two other ageing Irish labourers lived with them, Mark Gaway and John McGuinness.

At some time in the next four years Thomas Battle worked at the Doncaster Wire Works, before starting work for Thomson and Dixon in 1905. On 21st of May 1907, he married Eliza Agnes Barker. In 1910 Thomas and Eliza had their first son, Thomas Battle junior.

In 1911 Thomas senior was not living with his family, instead he was boarding with Mary Burke, and her two daughters Agatha and Agnes May. Yet he seems to have still been with his wife and they had their second child, Agnes Battle in 1915. By 1916 Thomas was a Foreman Labourer at Thomson and Dixon. This promotion enabled him to move to 91 Stone Close Avenue, Hexthorpe, Doncaster.

Though many of his colleagues were granted exemption from duty in the First World War, Thomas was not. His colleagues were in many cases Foremen Bricklayers while he was a Foreman Labourer. The Tribunal replied simply to next to his name on the company exemption, ‘Even a Foreman Labourer cannot be considered indispensable. Think he should go.’

Desperately, Thomas submitted an individual exemption form, asking for exemption on the same grounds as his colleagues. He was denied again, and sent to war where he served in the 11th Battallion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment. He died of wounds on the 23rd of March 1918. He is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery in France, in grave XXXI. J. 23.


Many of his workmates did survive the war, find out more about them below:

Sam Waterhouse

Percy Claude Standeven

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