Pte. Thomas Osborne Pascall (1895 – 1916)
In 1898 Thomas George Pascall of South Norwood took over the Platt Brickfields from a Captain Walmersley. Prior to this in 1896 Thomas had opened a successful works at Elmers End, continuing the business of brick and tile manufacturing that his great grandfather established in 1798. He was to devote the rest of his working life to his new venture in Platt, and is notable for being the supplier of many bricks for the area – including those used to construct the Platt Memorial Hall. In later life he became the Chairman of Platt Parish Council, and a Magistrate on the Bench at West Malling.
On 21 February 1895, Thomas and his wife Martha Mary Pascall (née Osborne) had a son named Thomas Osborne Pascall, who was born in South Norwood. By 1911 the family were living at 118 Woodside Green and young Thomas had been enrolled at the Whitgift School in Croydon. There is no evidence that Thomas ever lived in Platt himself, although his parents and two younger sisters Elsie and Vera moved to Holly Mount (near the Brickfields) around 1916. Prior to this Thomas Snr. stayed with the Bennett family whenever he was working in Kent, and perhaps his son may have accompanied him whilst learning about the family business.
Thomas enlisted in Epsom during September 1914 and joined the 19th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), which was one of four public school service battalions formed in the regiment after war broke out. After initial training nearby, the battalion were briefly sent to Clipstone Camp in Nottinghamshire during July 1915, before returning south to Tidworth in August for final training at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain.
Thomas was eventually posted to France with his unit on 12 November 1915 as part of an advanced party of three officers and 124 other ranks from the battalion that arrived in Le Havre on the 14th.
The bulk of the battalion arrived in France on 14 December and Thomas re-joined them two days later. On the 20th the Royal Fusiliers entered billets in Béthune but were sent to the trenches the next day when they took over a relatively quiet part of the line at ‘Windy Corner’ near Givenchy. Thomas, in No.4 Coy, spent Christmas Day in the trenches, and the following day marched a short distance to the line near two neighbouring villages called Hingette and Avelette, which were just north of Bethune.
On 1 January 1916 Thomas ironically found himself based at an area known as The Brickstacks, which sat on a flat piece of land between the towns of Bethune and La Bassée. The battalion was positioned in sub-section A1 near the village of Essars, east of Cuinchy. In ‘Goodbye to All That’ the poet and novelist Robert Graves wrote:
Cuinchy bred rats. They came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly. While I stayed here with the Welsh, a new officer joined the company… When he turned in that night, he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.
New Year’s Day passed without incident, with the Germans being recorded in the battalion War Diary as being notably quiet, however a reasonably sized gap in the wire had been spotted, and following a night patrol, was reported to have been cut by hand, indicating that perhaps an attack was imminent. The battalion spent the night in readiness for such an assault however during the night nothing materialized.
At daybreak the next day the situation changed, with an enemy plane spotted overhead signaling the start of a ferocious artillery bombardment of the British front, third and support lines, and coincidentally at almost exactly the same time a relief had commenced. There was some excitement when it was decided that there were three spies living nearby, and as the relief continued, the bombardment intensified.
Shortly after 11 a.m., whilst Thomas was sheltering in the front trenches, the Germans fired over a large mine that killed him and seven others from his company as well as wounding a number of others. In an act of open bravado, the Germans who sprung the mine were reputedly observed standing exposed above their parapet, perhaps in an effort to see how much damage they had inflicted, but soon returned back to the safety of their trench.
Thomas was buried in Woburn Abbey Cemetery, Cuinchy and posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, British War and Victory medals.
In addition to the Platt War Memorial, Thomas is also commemorated on the Croydon Roll of Honour and in the Whitgift Book of Remembrance.
Photograph of Thomas courtesy of David Stone.