TOM HINCHLIFFE

Lance Corporal S/9754, 4th/5th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Died 28 July 1918 aged 24

No Known Grave Commemorated Soissons Memorial, Aisne, Picardie, France

Son of William Henry and Mary Jane Hincliffe

Lived 12, Milton Square, Heckmondwike


Tom's Grandfather (paternal) was Thomas Hinchliffe (1834-1900) who lived in Leeds and was a Cloth Dresser (Woollen).  His paternal grandmother was Eliza McMorran (1829-1923) she was born in Leeds in 1863 and baptised at St Philip's Church in Leeds.  Thomas and Eliza were married in Burley at St Matthias Church, Leeds in 1860.  Thomas is described as a Cloth Dresser and his father, Joseph, as an Agent.  Eliza was a Dressmaker and her father, James, was a Coal Porter.  Interestingly, they all signed their own name.

By 1871 Thomas and Eliza were living in Chatham Street, Leeds with their two sons and two daughters; both are still listed as working.  In 1881 they are at 55, Chatham Street, Thomas is still cloth dressing and Eliza is not employed.  Joseph (19) and William Henry (Tom's Father, aged 17) are Boot Riveters, Mary (16) is apprenticed to a Dressmaker and the other three children are at school.

Mary Jane Pearson, Tom's mother, was baptised in 1863 at St Philip's Church in Leeds, her parents are listed as Edward, a Tailor born in 1839 in Knottingley and Sophie born in 1843 in Leeds.  They had married in 1861 in Hunslet.  In 1881 their daughter Mary Jane is living with her grandparents; her father Edward had died in 1878.

Mary Jane married William Henry Hinchliffe in summer 1884 and by 1891 they were in Leeds at Runcorn Street, married with 2 children, a niece and a lodger in 3 rooms and he was working as Boot Riveter. Sometime between 1894 and 1896 they moved to Heckmondwike to live in Milton Square, William Henry worked in the boot making industry.  By now there were 4 sons and 2 daughters the eldest Harry is a Pit Boy aged 14.  By 1911 there are 8 people in the family: father (48) works at home as a Boot Repairer, daughter Florrie (21) is a Servant, Alfred (19) is a Baker's Apprentice, Tom (17) is listed as a Mill Lad in a spinning mill, Walter (15) Pony Lad, Annie (13) is a Mill Girl in a worsted spinning mill, and Eric (5) is at school.

Tom had attended Heckmondwike Secondary School (now Grammar) and was, according to the newspaper, employed before enlistment by the Yorkshire and Lancashire Railway.  He was a member of St James' Church, Heckmondwike.

Tom enlisted in 1915 in the Black Watch, Royal Highlanders and was based in Perth.  He trained in the Scottish Highlands at Nigg and Tain.  He embarked to France in September 1915 and was part of the 4/5th Battalion of the Royal Highlanders, which came into existence in 1916 with the combination of 2 Battalions and was active in the battles on the Western Front, particularly in the Battle of the Somme.  It was at the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 that his brother Alfred was killed.  Tom's regiment was involved in particularly fierce actions at Contalmaison, High Wood, Delville Wood and Longueval - the last named changing frequently as the Germans counter-attacked and further assaults were made to regain it.

In April 1917 Tom's regiment was involved in the 1st Battle of Arras.  With the support of some of the first tanks, with more sophisticated artillery fire and improved tactics, the five Black Watch battalions involved made some progress.  They then held on tenaciously to the gains made at such cost against fierce counter attacks.  Subsequent attacks in the Second and Third Battles were less successful but equally costly in lives.  July saw six battalions of the Regiment taking part in the Third Battle of Ypres and the endeavours to extend the Salient.  In this the 4/5 Battalion was reduced to no more than company strength, indicative of the terrible losses and conditions at Passchendaele.

In July 1918 his battalion was involved in an advance in the area of Soissons near the village of Buzancy.  The Germans, realising the enormity of what was at stake, defended the two strategic hinges of the salient with utmost determination in order to win sufficient time to withdraw the remainder of their forces from within the (shrinking) pocket.  The American Infantry were relieved by the 15th Scottish Division; their first task was to bury the many American dead still lying in swathes in the cornfields where they had fallen.  Supported by US 1st Division heavy artillery pending arrival of their own, the 15th Division's first attack northwards of Buzancy in the coming dawn was poorly co-ordinated, suffered badly from unsuppressed machine-gun fire, and had only limited success.

After a move sideways to directly face Buzancy, shortly after noon on 28 July 1918, the Scots, accompanied by a French flamethrower section, and with the support of French heavy artillery in addition to their own, launched a surprise attack eastwards up the slope towards the chateau and the village itself, in conjunction with French forces to its right.  Fierce hand-to-hand fighting around the chateau and through the narrow, sloping streets ensued, the attackers of the former having to scale its boundary walls on the shoulders of their comrades.  Unfortunately, the Division's rapid advance left its flanks mercilessly exposed, the French being unable to make similar progress.  As the afternoon progressed, a strong counterattack developed by the German 5th Inf. and 50th Res. Divisions and the Scots found themselves slowly being forced to give up their hard-won positions, and by the evening had made a fighting retreat back to where they had started.  A few days later the Germans withdrew, their salient having been completely reduced.  It was on 28 July 1918 that Tom Hinchliffe was listed as missing presumed dead.

Tom was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal in 1920.  He is listed on the Memorial at Soissons in the Departement de l'Aisne, Picardie, France; his final resting place is unknown.

The local newspaper reported that, at the time of Tom's death, his brother Walter was also serving in France with the West Yorkshire Regiment and that his brother-in-law Private James Greenwood was a prisoner in Germany.  The paper noted that Mr & Mrs Hincliffe had "thus made heavy sacrifices"!

Tom's account at Perth was closed with a payment of £17 15 shillings and 11 pence signed for by his father, William Henry, who also received the £14 war gratuity.
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