Rfn William Thomas Merritt (1896 – 1915)

William Thomas Merritt (usually known as Thomas) was the fifth of nine children of Henry Merritt, a stoker from Staplehurst, and his wife, Mary Jane (née Burgess.) He was born on 11 July 1895 in Maidstone and, in 1901, lived with his family in a cottage between Basted House and Basted Lodge. Thomas’s father worked in the Basted Paper Mill when he and his two siblings started at Platt School in October 1905; however, by 1911, the family had moved back to Maidstone and lived at 10 Brunswick Street. At 14, Thomas got his first job working in the wood trade, though he eventually followed in his older brother Henry’s footsteps and became a quarrier at Postley Quarries in Maidstone.

By 1914, Henry and Mary Jane returned to the parish and lived in Platt Common. Thomas enlisted in Maidstone in August 1914 and joined the 2/3rd Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Following training, he was posted to France, arriving on 14 January 1915, and probably among a draft of 90 reinforcements taken on strength of the 2nd Battalion, KRRC, on the 26th. At the time, the battalion had been holding a section of the line in the Cuinchy sector that ran from the Béthune-La Bassée road to the La Bassée Canal.

By mid-March, the battalion had taken over trenches at Gorre in the Festubert Sector and, at the end of the month, were based in the Rue du Bois area. Thomas went into action for the first time on 9 May when the Rifles attacked at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. The assault was unsuccessful, and the British sustained 11,000 casualties for no material gain, with losses in the battalion numbering 251 men.

Thomas took part in the Battle of Loos in September and remained in the sector in early October. His unit took over the line north of Le Rutoire during the evening of the 7th. At 11:00 a.m. the next day, the Germans attacked their position, and at some point in the afternoon, Thomas was gassed and sent to the nearest casualty clearing station to receive treatment. He made a reasonably swift recovery and returned to duty two weeks later.

On 22 November, while in the trenches near Hulluch, Thomas was among a small party of men sent out after dusk into No Man’s Land to place 80 knife rests (metal or wooden frames on which barbed wire could be strung up) in front of the British line. The Battalion War Diary records one man wounded during the operation, and it seems very likely this was Thomas, who died three days later at No.1 Casualty Clearing Station in Chocques.

He is buried in the Chocques Military Cemetery, and in an obituary published in the Kent Messenger, his parents thanked Nobby Barnes and Mr. and Mrs. Holland for their sympathy in the sad bereavement.

Scott Wishart