Thomas Sydney Lawton, Corporal 202462, 1st/4th Bn. Cheshire Regiment
Died of wounds 28th July 1918 in Rouen, France, aged 38
Thomas Sidney Lawton was born in Macclesfield in 1877 and baptised at Christ Church, Woodford on 6 January 1878, the son of Ruth and William Lawton, a butcher of 16 Chestergate, Macclesfield. In 1891, thirteen-year-old Thomas was living there with his parents and brothers Joseph (14), William (8) and Samuel (5).
Thomas in his early years was educated at a private school before completing his education at the Macclesfield Modern School. When he left school he joined his father in the family business and before starting up in business on his own account in Mill Lane, where he remained for eight years.
Thomas’ parents both died in 1901, William on 30 May and Ruth on 13 November.
On 6 August 1906, Thomas married Rosa Thompson at St Peter’s Church, Congleton; in 1911 the couple were living at 68 Cross Street, Macclesfield, and had two children: William (born 1907) and Norman (born 1908). Two more children were born to the couple later. The 1911 census shows that Thomas was usually known by his middle name, Sidney.
Thomas later opened a shop in Roe Street and was trading there when war broke out.
Thomas attested in September 1914 at Macclesfield. He had previous military experience, having served for 19 months with the Cheshire Imperial Yeomanry in the South Africa War, where he received a wound to his shoulder, but rejoined as a private. Thomas was drafted with the British Expeditionary Force to France on 24 March 1915, and after being there two months suffered a wound to his head on 7 May 1915, fighting at Hill 60.
In 1915 Pte Lawton was mistakenly reported to have been killed, but the error was corrected by a letter from him printed in the Macclesfield Times on 14 May 1915:
“STILL BATTING” – AN UNFOUNDED RUMOUR – We have received a letter from Private S Lawton, 1st Cheshire Regt, now at the 3rd Southern Hospital, Oxford, in which he gives the quietus to rumours abroad in Macclesfield that he had been killed.
“I am proud to tell you that I am still batting,” he writes. “It was quite bad enough for my wife without the cruel statements made about my fate. I did get hit at Hill 60 on May 7th, but that was three weeks after I was supposed to have been bowled out, and it was a crack through the head, the same as I was supposed to have been killed by. I am glad to say that I am doing as well as can be expected int he circumstances, and hope to be out of hospital by the end of the month. This is a cruel war. Well, it is not a war; it is wholesale murder and nothing else. As we left the firing line we must have passed thousands of dead and dying. Many hundreds who had been poisoned by the gases lay about everywhere – rambled away like sheep will do to die.
“I had your paper sent to me every week I was at the front, and the boys all made a rush for it, and it went through scores of hands. My eyes are very bad yet as the result of my wound, but they are getting better every day.”
After recovery from his wound he was drafted to Egypt, stationed there for two years and four months, and was then posted back to France, having been promoted to corporal.
In France, Cpl Lawton was the victim of a gas attack; on 24 July 1918 he was transported from Senlis on No. 31 Hospital Train, arriving at Rouen the following day. The medical records show that he was in “D” Company and was wounded by a gas shell. Cpl Lawton died in No. 10 General Hospital, Rouen, on 28 July 1918, aged 38 years. His death was reported in the Macclesfield Times on 2 August 1918:
We regret to record the death of Corpl Thomas Sidney Lawton, Ches Regt, which took place on Sunday at the No 10 General Hospital, Rouen, from gas poisoning. His wife, who resides with her three children at 13 Shaw Street, Macclesfield, has received a message of regret and sympathy from the Army Council. Son of the late Mr Wm. Lawton, butcher, Chestergate, the deceased soldier, who was 39 years of age, was a native of Macclesfield and received his training at a private school and at the Modern School. After completing his education he joined his father in the business and later started for himself as a butcher in Mill Lane, Sutton, where he remained eight years. He then took the shop in Roe Street now occupied by Mr Millward and was trading there when war broke out.
Joining up in September 1914, Corporal Lawton served with the Cheshires for three months in France, and was wounded in the head on May 7th 1915 in the fighting at Hill 60. Upon recovery he was drafted to Egypt, where he was stationed for two years and four months, and he was re-transferred to France, without a leave, three or four weeks ago. A letter from the matron of the hospital to Mrs Lawton states that her husband, upon admission, was very ill and died without being able to send a message home.
The Corporal was on the committee of the Wednesday Football Club. In the South Africa War, in which he fought with the Cheshire Imperial Yeomanry for 19 months, Corpl Lawton was wounded through the shoulder. He possessed the medal for that campaign. Much sympathy is felt for Mrs Lawton in her heavy loss. Deceased has a brother in France and another in Mesopotamia.
An announcement of Cpl Lawton’s death was placed by the family in the Macclesfield Courier on 10 August 1918:
LAWTON – On July 28th, 1918, at the No. 10 General Hospital, Rouen, from gas poisoning while on active service in France, Corporal T S Lawton, Cheshire Regiment, of 13 Shaw Street, Macclesfield, age 39. Deeply mourned. His life for his country.
Corporal Lawton is buried in Grave Ref Q.III.O.11. at the St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, France. His widow asked for the personal inscription “REST IN PEACE” to be added to the military headstone. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Corporal Lawton, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
In Macclesfield, Corporal Lawton is commemorated on the Park Green, Town Hall and St Michael’s Church war memorials. He is also remembered on a family gravestone in Macclesfield Cemetery, plot number P.13034.
Brother of William Lawton, who served as Private 25027 with the South Wales Borderers; and Samuel Lawton, who emigrated to Canada on the SS “Victoria”, which left Liverpool on 16 April 1909, settled in Winnipeg with a wife and children, and enlisted in Winnipeg on 1 July 1915 with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (click to download service records as a large pdf file), receiving service no. 147178. Both survived the war.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births, Marriages
Census (England & Wales): 1891, 1911
Cheshire Parish Baptism Registers (FindMyPast): St John’s Church, Macclesfield
MH106: WWI Representative Selection of Military Hospitals Admissions and Discharge Registers (Forces War Records): MH106/1968 31st Ambulance Train: British Expeditionary Force France (24/07/1918 – 20/10/1918)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Lives of the First World War website
Macclesfield Times: 14 May 1915, 2 and 9 August 1918
Thanks to Edward, great-grandson of Thomas Lawton, for his photographs and assistance in compiling this information.