Thomas William Armstrong
Driver, Royal Engineers, 8th Field Troops Company
Military Service Number 14893
Born in September 1892 in Scalby, Scarborough
Killed in Action 28 February 1918 – reported as being accidentally drowned.
Buried at the Deir El Belah War Cemetery, Palestine
The cemetery is 20k SW of Gaza and was damaged during a bomb attack in 2008. No graves were affected.
Thomas William Armstrong was the son of George William Armstrong (1862 – 1942) and Mary Jane Marshall (1866 – 1909). George was a road mender, born in Scalby, and Mary Jane had been born in Falsgrave, Scarborough. They had three sons, Thomas, born in Newby, while George and Robert were both born in Scalby.
The 1901 Census reveals the family lived next to the Schoolmaster’s House on Church Becks, probably up Carr Lane. Thomas answered Kitchener’s call at the start of the First World War and became a Driver with the Royal Army Service Corps, Regimental Number 14893, entering France on 27 September 1915. His was among the first twenty-one names of past scholars of the school serving with His Majesty’s forces that were inscribed on the Village School’s original Roll of Honour, unveiled in a ceremony in the school on 11 November 1914.
At the time of his death, Tom was a Driver in the Royal Engineers with the 8th Field Troops Company, service number 90812. In 1917 he served in Macedonia on the Struma River, which rises in Bulgaria and makes its way south into Macedonia (Greece).
The Scarborough Mercury of Friday 15 March 1918 reports – ACCIDENTALLY DROWNED. Another name has been added to Scalby’s Roll of Honour. Mr Armstrong of Newby has received news that his eldest son, Driver Tom Armstrong R.E., has been accidentally drowned in Egypt. Driver Armstrong joined the army soon after was was declared. He was mentioned in the dispatches for gallant conduct on the Struma last year.
Tom was drowned along with his officer, Captain Cecil Christian Kidd, Royal Engineers, aged 25. Cecil was the only son of Thomas and Eliza Jane Kidd of Claremont, Swadlincote, Burton-on-Trent. They chose to add on his headstone that he had obtained a B.Sc. and was a native of York.
Cecil’s records in the National Archives contain the Proceedings of a Court of Enquiry into the circumstances of the drowning of the two men, at the Brigade HQ of 7th Mounted Brigade. Major P H Warwick, DSO, South Notts Hussars, presided. The first witness, 2638 Sgt F S Bishop said he went with a bathing party under Lt Kidd to the shore near the mouth of the ‘Wad I Ghuzzef’ where he warned the poor swimmers in the party to be very careful and not to get into deep water. Lt Kidd, Driver Armstrong and Driver Thompson who were very good swimmers swam out into the deep water and after about 7 minutes he heard Dr. Thompson shout. ‘We did our best to get him in with a rope and some of our best swimmers and seeing two native fishermen I called them to the spot. One of them then took the line and swam to Dr. Thompson and brought him ashore.’ It was then noticed that Kidd and Armstrong were missing. Sgt. Bishop said it had appeared to him that they were trying to reach Dr. Thompson. Watch was kept on the coast all night and on 1st March around dawn Sgt. Bishop found the body of Lt Kidd about 2 miles south of the incident. The second witness, 50989 L/Cpl R Harvey agreed with Bishop’s report, adding that Dr. Thompson was in a very exhausted state when the fisherman rescued him, but it seemed to him that Lt Kidd and Dr Armstrong did not see that Dr. Thompson was in difficulties, ‘probably owing to there being heavy waves.’ They tried to launch a boat about 200 yards further down but could make no headway with it. The Finding of the Court was that both men lost their lives through drowning, when on duty. This was caused by accident and no blame can be attached to anyone. It added that the native fishermen behaved ‘in a very plucky manner and that some recognition should be made of their good work which saved Dr. Thompson’s life.’
Tom is buried alongside Cecil Kidd in Deir El Belah War Cemetery in Palestine, about 16 kilometres east of the Eygptian border and 20 kilometres south-west of Gaza. The cemetery contains 724 burials from the First World War. It was damaged during a bomb attack in 2008 which damaged the Stone of Remembrance and Cross of Sacrifice.
In 1920 George Armstrong, Tom’s father, remarried Hannah Longfellow of Leeds, who had been working as a servent in a boarding house on North Marine Road, Scarborough, since at least 1901. The 1939 Register reveals George and Hannah lived at 98 Hackness Road, with George’s 44 year old son, George A Armstrong. George senior was a Road man for the Urban District Council while his son was a General Labourer. Hannah died in 1943.