Home Page

20654 Private
THOMAS PRICE
11
th Battalion, The Prince of Wales's Volunteers
(South Lancashire Regiment) (St. Helen's Pioneers)

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2008. All Rights Reserved.

1. INTRODUCTION

This research project was started when the author acquired Private Price's 1914-15 Star, earned by Price for his service in the Great War of 1914-1918. The medal is named on the reverse in the following manner:

20654
PTE. T. PRICE
S. LAN. R.

An unsuccessful search for Private Price's service papers was made at the National Archives at Kew in War Office files WO363 and WO364. His Medal Index Card (MIC) was found at the National Archives showing his entitlement to the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The information contained on the MIC indicated that he served in the 11th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment.

2. FAMILY INFORMATION

Since about two thirds of the men who served in the 11th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment (11/South Lancs) were born or enlisted in St. Helen's, Lancashire, it was considered a safe assumption that Thomas Price came from that town.[1] A search of the 1881 British Census uncovered two possibilities regarding the family of Thomas Price. The first of these was the family of Sarah Price, a 30-year old woman listed as the head of the household residing at 4 Canal Bank West in the town of Eccleston, Lancashire.[2] Eccleston is a town located about 13.5 miles due north of St. Helen's. Sarah Price's family consisted of four sons and a daughter, all of whom were born in St. Helen's. Sarah's youngest child, Thomas, was a 2-month old infant at the time of the census. The second possibility is the family of Joseph Price, the head of the family living at 57 Frederick Street in Windle, Lancashire.[3] Joseph Price was a 34-year old coal miner who lived at this address with his 46-year old wife Hannah, two daughters and two sons. All the member of the family, with the exception of one daughter, had been born in St. Helen's. Their youngest child, Thomas, was 10-months old at the time of the 1881 census.

A definitive determination of the whereabouts of Thomas Price could not be made from the 1891 British Census. The 1901 British Census, however, provides the following information on the family of a Thomas Price who is thought to be the subject of this research.

Civil Parish: Bolton. Ecclesiastical Parish: St. Marks. County: Lancashire.
Registration District: Bolton. Sub-registration District: Great Bolton
Name Relation

Marital Status

Age

Sex

Birthplace
Thomas Price Head

M

21

M

St. Helen's, Lancashire.
Mary Price Wife

M

22

F

Bolton, Lancashire.
William Price Son

U

2

M

Bolton, Lancashire.
Elizabeth Price Daughter

U

3 months

F

Bolton, Lancashire.

The Thomas Price referred to in the table above was 21 years old in 1901. In the 1881 British Census returns described above, Thomas Price, the son of Sarah Price was 2 months old, while the son of Joseph Price was 10 months old. Either one of these boys could be the Thomas Price described in the 1901 census, although the son of Joseph Price would have been closer to 21 years of age in 1901. The Thomas Price shown in the 1901 census was born in St. Helen's but was living with his family in Bolton. The town of Bolton is located only 16 miles to the northeast of St. Helen's. The town of St. Helen's is located in a coal mining area of Lancashire and is a principal center of the glass industry in England.

3. ENLISTMENT AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Thomas Price's Medal Index Card shows that prior to the Great War of 1914-1918 he served as a Private, Regimental Number 24052, in the 69th Battalion, Territorial Force Reserve.[4] Soon after the outbreak of the Great War in August of 1914, Thomas Price elected to take his discharge from the Territorial Force to join the South Lancashire Regiment. He elected to join the 11th Battalion of the regiment, which was being raised near his hometown.

On the 1st of September 1914, less than a month after the outbreak of the Great War, Lord Derby raised the 11th (Service) Battalion of The Prince of Wales's Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment) at St. Helen's, Lancashire. As previously stated, the largest percentage of the men who joined the battalion were coal miners from Lancashire. A statistical analysis of the battalion's fatalities during the war shows the following:[5]

5.1% of the men were born in St. Helen's, but enlisted elsewhere,

16.9% of the men were born elsewhere, but enlisted in St. Helen's, and

43.9% of the men were born and enlisted in St. Helen's

This total of almost 66% is considered to be a fair estimate of the percentage of men throughout the battalion who had some connection with the town of St. Helen's in civilian life. Because most of the men were miners from the area, the 11/South Lancs was given the title St. Helen's Pioneers to denote the role they would play on active service. These men were experienced with pick and shovel and were a suitable labor force to form a pioneer battalion. All that most of them lacked was training to be soldiers; specifically, infantrymen.

Mitchinson describes the work of the infantry pioneer battalion during the Great War as follows:[6]

"Towards the end of 1914 the onset of trench warfare on the Western Front had created a huge demand for manpower with a basic training as infantry but with special skills and aptitude for earthwork. Half were expected to be men used to working with pick and shovel, the other half to possess recognized artisan trades. Pioneer battalions were to be strong units numerically, with 24 officers and 860 men being a typical establishment. They were to work for the most part in detachments, responding to the instructions of the Commanders Royal Engineers of divisions. Their special skills were recognized by a rate of pay 2d a day more than their infantry equivalents (though substantially less than the Royal Engineers) and they were supposed to receive special training to match, although not all did. The jobs they did were legion. Those foreseen by the original Army Council Instruction were ambitious enough, including road making, demolition, entrenching, bridging, tree felling, the construction of wire obstacles and work on railway embankments. In practice the pioneers concentrated, as they were asked to do, upon the domestic economy of trench life: shoring, revetting, building of dugouts, overhead cover and shell-proofing, sapping, mining, building trackways for men, mules, guns and ultimately armoured vehicles, tunnelling and the rendering habitable of flooded shell holes in seas of mud."

Thomas Price enlisted as a Private in the 11/South Lancs on the 8th of September 1914 and was issued Regimental Number 20654. He must have been about 35 years of age at that time. The 11/South Lancs at that time was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A.G. Pawle with Major F.J.C. Bonnyman as his 2nd in Command. The 11/South Lancs continued to take on officers and men and by February of 1915 when it was stationed in Bangor, Wales the battalion officers included one Lieutenant Colonel, one Major, four Captains, seven Lieutenants and twelve 2nd Lieutenants for a total of 25 officers, or one over its authorized establishment.

The 11/South Lancs joined the 30th Division at Grantham in Lincolnshire on the 15th of May 1915 and became the division's Pioneer Battalion. On the 15th of August the unit was taken from the 30th Division and placed temporarily under War Office control. In September the battalion moved to Larkhill, near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, where it underwent further training before departing England for France on the 6th of November 1915. The 11/South Lancs landed at Le Havre the following day.

Price's battalion rejoined the 30th Division in France and spent the early months of 1916 preparing for the great British summer offensive scheduled to take place on the Somme. From the 1st to the 13th of July 1916 the 11/South Lancs took part in this major operation. The battalion began the battle on the right flank of the British line and followed the attacking brigades of the 30th Division across the brickstacks at Montauban where it immediately began consolidating a new defensive line. The battalion carried and successfully dug four new communications trenches during these operations at a cost of 21 men killed in action on the first day of the Somme attack.

Private Price and the 11/South Lancs took a very active part in the major battles fought after the Somme. These battles included the following:

Le Transloy:

1-18 October 1916

Scarpe:

9-14 April 1917

Scarpe:

23-24 April 1917

Pilckem:

31 July - 2 August 1917

St. Quentin:

21-23 March 1918

Rosieres:

26-27 March 1918.

Private Price made it through all of these battles, but it appears that he may have been severely wounded at St. Quentin during the fierce German offensive in that area in 1918. His Medal Index Card indicates that he was discharged on the 22nd of March 1918. This date would coincide with the second day of heavy fighting at St. Quentin. Now it is also possible that he was wounded some time earlier or that he contracted a disease that rendered him ineligible for further service. By 1918 he was 39 years old, so age may also have had something to do with his discharge before the end of the war. At any rate he was not at Rosieres and may not have been at St. Quentin either. This was fortunate for him because a week of hard fighting near the end of March 1918 reduced the 11/South Lancs to about 50% of its original strength. The total casualties for the week were 418 men, including 59 killed in action.

By the 15th of May 1918 the 11/South Lancs was reduced to training cadre. On the 19th of June 1918 the battalion was transferred to the 66th Division and on the 30th of June it joined the 25th Division at Boulogne and crossed over to England. On the 3rd of July 1918 the 11/South Lancs absorbed the remainder of the 18/South Lancs and the battalion was reconstituted and sent to Aldershot. On the 8th of October 1918 the 11/South Lancs returned to France and there it joined the 25th Division at Premont on the 13th of October as the division's Pioneer Battalion. The 11/South Lancs ended the war as the 25th Division's Pioneer Battalion at Maroilles, east of Landrecies.

The 11/South Lancs record of service during the Great War was distinguished. The battalion won one Victoria Cross (awarded to Corporal J.T. Jones),[7] one Distinguished Service Order, four Military Crosses, one Distinguished Conduct Medal and nine Military Medals. During the five years of the conflict the battalion suffered a total of 261 deaths including 5 officers. The fatalities were distributed by years as follows:

Year

Number of Fatalities

1914

1

1915

11

1916

77

1917

73

1918

99

Total:

261

The breakdown of casualties in the 11/South Lancs by rank is shown in the following table:

Rank

Number of Casualties

Lieutenants

2

2nd Lieutenants

4

Company
Sergeant Majors

4

Company Quarter-
Master Sergeants

1

Sergeants

10

Lance Sergeants

4

Corporals

6

Lance Corporals

25

Privates

205

Total:

261

Of the 261 total fatalities suffered by the battalion, 138 men (52.9%) were killed in action on the battlefield, 89 men (34.1%) died as a result of wounds received in action, 22 men (8.4%) died in France of non-combat related causes (accident or disease) and 12 men (4.6%) died at home of non-combat related causes.

Thomas Price's story ends with his discharge from the Army in 1918. He had served a total of 3 years and 196 days with the Colours, with 3 years and 137 days of that time served in France and Flanders. For his service during the Great War he was awarded the 1914-15 Star,[8] British War Medal and Victory Medal. Hopefully he returned to his family in Bolton after his discharge from the Army and lived out the rest of his life in peace.

ADDENDUM NO. 1 Dates of the Baptisms of the Price Children

The following information regarding the family of Thomas Price was provided by David Dixon, a researcher, author and ex-pupil of St. Marks School in Bolton, England. David has a web site on the Internet devoted to St. Marks Church and School. His web site address is: http://www.stmarks.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk.

David provided the following details of the baptisms of Thomas and Mary Price’s children who were born before he served in the Great War:

Baptism date: 2 April 1899
William Price, son of Thomas and Mary Price
Occupation of parent: Labourer
Address: 67 Reservoir Street
Baptised by Edwin Wolfe

Baptism date: 13 January 1901
Elizabeth Price, daughter of Thomas and Mary Price
Occupation of parent: Labourer
Address: 2 Farmer Street
Baptised by G.E. Twamley

David’s web site has pages dedicated to the soldiers from the area and to those who died in the wars. These pages may be found under the page titled "Forces" on his web site.

REFERENCES:

Books

1. JAMES, E.A. Historical Records of British Infantry Regiments in the Great War, 1914-18. Henry Mills Ltd, Birmingham, 1975.

2. MITCHINSON, K.W. Pioneer Battalions in the Great War: Organized and Intelligent Labour. Leo Cooper, London, 1997.

Computer Software

1. 1881 British Census and National Index. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1999.

2. Soldiers Died in the Great War. The Naval & Military Press Ltd., Heathfield, East Sussex, 1998.

3. Vital Records Index - British Isles. Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1998. An email from Rod Webster ( rw@webgreen.freeserve.co.uk ) in the U.K. indicates that Windle is more likely Private Price's census address as at the turn of the century Windle was a mining village in the heart of the South Lancashire coal field and that there had never been any mining of note around Chorley in central Lancashire. Modern day St. Helens has swallowed up Windle completely and Windle's neighboring village of Eccleston (a different Eccleston). There are about twelve villages named Eccleston in Lancashire. Rod Webster's grandfather, 20006 Private Peter Edgar Harrison also served in the11th (Service) Battalion of The Prince of Wales's Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment).

Documents

1. 1881 British Census, Family History Library 1341894, Public Record Office Reference RG11, Piece 3734, Folio 86, Page 25.

2. 1881 British Census, Family History Library 1341894, Public Record Office Reference RG11, Piece 3736, Folio 34, Page 23.

3. 1901 British Census, Public Record Office Reference RG13/3625, Enumeration District 11, Folio 79, Page .

4. Medal Index Card (MIC).

Maps

LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

Periodicals

INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal, Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.

ENDNOTES

[1] Mitchinson (p. 83) indicates that a large portion of the men in the battalion were miners, mostly Lancastrians, from around the St. Helen's area. Also, a statistical evaluation of the men who were born and/or enlisted in St. Helen's indicates that approximately 66 percent of the men had some association with the town.

[2] 1881 British Census, FHL Film 1341894, PRO Ref RG11, Piece 3736, Folio 34, Page 23.

[3] 1881 British Census, FHL Film 1341894, PRO Ref RG11, Piece 3734, Folio 86, Page 25. Windle is a suburb of St. Helens and is now a part of Moss Bank.

[4] Price's former unit on the Medal Index Card is shown as "T. Res. 69th Bn." No record of such a unit could be found in the official Army Lists of the period.

[5] Soldiers Died in the Great War.

[6] MITCHINSON, pp. xv-xvi.

[7] Mitchinson lists Corporal J.T. Jones in his book as having won the Victoria Cross. A check of The Register of the Victoria Cross, revised and enlarged edition, 1988, published by This England Books does not show an entry for any soldier by the name of Corporal J.T. Jones. Information received from Mr. John Robertson in August of 2008 indicates that the actual name of the Victoria Cross winner was Corporal John Thomas Davies, a relative of Mr. Robertson's wife. John Thomas Davies was born in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, Cheshire in 1895 but moved to St. Helens, Lancashire with his family around 1900. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry at Eppeville, France in 1918 and his medal is held by the Imperial War Museum. Davies died in 1955 and is buried in St. Helens Cemetery. For additional information see www.victoriacross.org.uk.

[8] This medal is in the author's collection. The whereabouts of the British War Medal and Victory Medal are not known.