Thomas Arthur Martin was born in November 1887, a year or so after his parents Moses Benjamin Martin (b 1865) and Phoebe Smith (b.1888), both from Wednesbury, West Midlands married in West Bromwich (1886). He was followed by a brother Francis (b.1890) and sister Phoebe Caroline (b.1891).
By the time of the 1891 census, the family had moved to London, living at 21 Ancona Road, Plumstead, and then 10 years later had moved on to 29 Burrage Grove, at the bottom of Burrage Road, Woolwich. This was probably co-incided with his father signing up with The Royal Army Medical Corps (Volunteers) on 4 July 1899. He served as a Quartermaster Sergeant in South Africa, attached to the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment, in 1900-1901 during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and was later awarded the Queen’s South Africa Territorial Efficiency Medal with clasps (Natal, South Africa, Transvaal and Cape Colony) for long service in 1909.
Thomas was 13 years old in 1901, but was already working as a Cartridge Case Machiner in the Royal Arsenal, a few minutes walk from his Burrage Grove home.
His father, known as Benjamin, having left the Medical Corps at the age of 41, volunteered closer to home with 5th Field Ambulance based at Woolwich Arsenal on 9 April 1908, originally for just a year, but eventually serving for almost 9 years until being discharged on 9 August 1914. He had also been working in the Royal Carriage Department, Royal Arsenal as a Furnaceman in the Foundary at the same time. Unfortunately, he must have been ill as he died a few months afterwards in October of that year, aged only 49.
In 1909, Thomas married 21-year-old Ada Elizabeth Long in Woolwich and they had a daughter Doris (b.1910) a year later. Ada (b.8 December 1887 in Wandsworth), was the only daughter of Thomas and Clara Long. By 1898, the Long family were living at 4 Victoria Cottages, Upper Wickham Lane, one of a row of 18 cottages opposite Cemetery Lane, between The Foresters Public House and Bournewood Road. Her father was a Builder’s Labourer, there was a lot of building going on locally at this time, and she had older twin brothers Thomas and Frederick (b.1882) and two younger brothers Albert (b.1890) and William (b.1898).
In 1911, Thomas and Ada Martin and their young daughter were still living with his parents, but now at 62 Howarth Road, off Mcleod Road, Plumstead. His occupation is recorded as a Carman, a delivery driver for a Wholesale Provisions Merchants. His younger sister Phoebe was a shop assistant in a Drapery store, she married Walter Henry Dewar (b 1891) in 1913 and went on to have four children, two boys and two girls.
Thomas Arthur Martin joined up as a Rifleman Private in the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps (service number R/39591, Role M/101B/344254), quite appropriate having being involved in making shell cartridges in his earlier job. The date he joined up is to be determined, so below is the record of the Battalion’s actions during the First World War.
The King’s Royal Rifle Corps raised 22 Battalions in total during the course of the First World War and saw action on the Western Front, Macedonia and Italy, winning 60 battle honours including seven Victoria Crosses. The regiment lost 12,840 men who were killed during the course of the war.
From 4 August 1914, the 1st Battalion was stationed at Aldershot at the outbreak of war as part of the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Division. It was mobilised for war and landed at Rouen, France on 13 August 1914 and as part of the 2nd Division they took part in the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat. Then the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne. During the First Battle of Ypres B, C and D, companies were surrounded and overwhelmed losing a total of 1,027 men either killed, missing or wounded in just 6 weeks.
1915 – Battles of Givenchy, Festubert, Loos. Transferred to the 99th Brigade of the 2nd Division (13 December 1915.
During 1916 – The Battles of Delville Wood and the Ancre.
During 1917 – Attack on Vimy Ridge, The First and Second Battles of the Scarpe, The Battle of Arleux and Cambrai.
1918 – The 1st Battalion was disbanded in February or at least left the 99th Brigade, 2nd Division, but still fought at The Battles of St Quentin (during which Thomas was probably killed), The Battle of Bapaume, The First Battle of Arras, The Battle of Albert, The Second Battle of Bapaume, The Battles of Havrincourt, Canal du Nord, Cambrai and Selle. The Battalion ended the war in France at Capelle North East of Solesmes on 11 November 1918.
Thomas Arthur Martin was killed in action, aged around 31, on 23 March 1918, (although the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his age as 29), most likely during either the Battle of St Quentin during a major German advance against the Allied lines. Two days earlier the German Army launched a large-scale offensive against the Allied front on the Somme battlefield. This offensive was codenamed Operation Michael, and was the first of several attacks to be made against the Allies on the northern part of the Western Front in the spring of 1918.
The Battle of St Quentin took place between 21 – 23 March 1918 – 72 German divisions in positions ready to attack in three waves, thousands of infantrymen from three German Armies (17th, 2nd and 18th) left the German Front Line after a five-hour artillery bombardment by over 6,600 artillery pieces. Some 3.2 million shells were destined to land on the British-held front during that first day of the attack. To the German’s advantage there was fog in the Somme battlefield sector, enabling the infantry to appear in the British forward positions without being seen to leave the German trenches. The southern part of the British front, held by Fifth Army, was successfully broken by the German Eighteenth Army and the left wing of Second Army. Their troops advanced through the British Battle Zone in the forward area of the Front Line.
When news of her husband’s death on the Somme came through, Ada Martin had her family close by as sometime after 1911, the Martin family had moved back to the same Victoria Cottages in Wickham Lane of Ada’s childhood home. However this time at number 16, two doors down from The Foresters. Her elder brother Thomas Robert was still living at number 4, with his wife Elizabeth and their children Ada Elizabeth (b.1906), Alice Clara (b.1908) and Catherine (b.1909).
Like many service personnel of World War One, he would have been entitled to the Victory medal. This medal was awarded to all who received the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star and, with certain exceptions, to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. These three medals were sometimes irreverently referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.
Thomas Arthur Martin is remembered on the East Wickham & Welling War Memorial in St Michael’s Church and on the Bexleyheath War Memorial at the top of Oaklands Road. Also at his final resting place in France the Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-le-Grand (IV.E.2) on the Somme, north-east of St Quentin.
This story has been researched by volunteers. We have taken every effort to ensure its accuracy. If you are related to this soldier, or if you have any further information, please do get in touch.
Commemorated at Home
East Wickham and Welling War Memorial
Bexleyheath War Memorial
Commonwealth War Graves Commission cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/554911/MARTIN,%20THOMAS%20ARTHUR