For a young lad who died at the age of nineteen, Thomas George Golding had lived a life and a half. He was born in Gibraltar in 1896, the son of Frederick Charles Golding, born in Eastleach in 1865, and Margaret Metcalf, born in Black Rock, Dublin around 1866. In 1871, Frederick aged six was living in Eastleach with his siblings and his father was recorded as a hawker, his mother as a hawker’s wife. Frederick obviously had the wander lust as, in 1881, he was lodging with a couple with Southrop and Fairford origins in Milverton, Warwickshire where he was a gardener.
It appears that somewhere along the road he decided to join the army or the navy as, by the late 1880s, he had met and married Margaret. Their first child, Mary Ann, was born in Gibraltar in 1890, followed by Frederick Arthan in 1892, Thomas George in 1896 and Louisa Mercy in 1897. All the children were born in Gibraltar and were British citizens which suggests a service family. However, by 1901, Margaret was in Eastleach as a widow living on her own means, which implies a service pension.
The younger three children are living with her. It seems that her husband Frederick died in Gibraltar in the late 1890s. Attempts to discover any more about his demise have been unsuccessful. The Gloucestershire regiments weren’t stationed in Gibraltar in that period but an F.Golding was wounded at Driefontein in the Boer War in March 1900. Either way, Thomas had lost his father at a very early age. On 18th January 1902, Margaret had married John Walter Stone, a general labourer from Southrop, who was eleven years her junior. Later in the year, Thomas gained a half-brother, John Walter. Presumably the children all attended the village school.
Perhaps their military background and early life in Gibraltar had influenced Thomas and Frederick as, by the 1911 census, they were no longer living in Eastleach, although Margaret and John Stone were residing at 46 Eastleach, next door but one to the Victoria Inn. Frederick Arthan was with a military unit, No 54 Company Royal Garrison Artillery, and described as a trumpeter. Thomas had enlisted in Dover with the 2nd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment around 1909 when he could only have been aged thirteen or fourteen. Perhaps life on the Eastleach farms didn’t appeal. By the 1911 census he was in Malta listed as a musician.
The Regimental Orders for the 2nd Battalion on 11thOctober 1910 were to proceed to Malta on or about 4th November 1910. Thomas, described as No 9227, Boy, Golding, D Company, was with them when they sailed for Malta. This posting lasted until late summer 1913, when Bandsman T. Golding embarked on H.T. Soudan and set sail for Tientsin in China. On 18th September 1913 came the instruction “Till further orders the Band and the Guard will sleep on the port side of the Boat Deck from 9.15 p.m.” Arriving in China on 18th October they took the train to Peking and Tientsin, arriving on 22nd October. What a journey for the boy from Eastleach. The posting was not to last long. When the Great War broke out in August 1914, the Battalion was recalled and returned home on H.T. Arcadia, passing through Aden in mid-October, Port Said by 24th October and Gibraltar by early November, arriving in Southampton on 7th November. Presumably, Thomas had not been home for four years.
The 2nd Gloucesters landed in France in the second week in December 1914, having been mobilised at Winchester and inspected by the King before the crossing. They spent Christmas at Aire, in reserve to the troops holding the Ypres section of the line. A few days later they were in the trenches at Saint-Eloi and continued in the front line for the rest of the winter. That first winter in the trenches brought hardship – forty-eight hours in, forty-eight hours out – rain, frost, snow and mud. It was cold, wet and squalid and the men suffered from trench foot and chills. In early April, they moved up to Hooge on the Menin Road and here they fought in the long and deadly struggle of the Second Battle of Ypres, mostly in the vicinity of Sanctuary Wood. Holding trenches on the Eastern sector of the Ypres Salient was a terrible task, with Hill 60 to the right and Langemarck, the scene of the first German gas attack to the left, although the Battalion was not directly involved in the gas attack. In the first few days of May, there was a lot of action with heavy bombardments of Sanctuary Wood. On 5th May there were heavy casualties and the enemy had rushed Hill 60 under cover of asphyxiating gas. The men were warned to keep their respirators wet. Enemy aircraft was busy all day. The bombardments continued on 6th May with German sniping much more active. This was the day that Thomas Golding fell on this battlefield. At the end of the day, there was no mention of casualty numbers but information was received that his Division was once again in possession of Hill 60. What a price was paid.
Thomas Golding has no known grave and his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres, along with more than 54,000 others who gave their lives in this area before 16th August 1917. It sits astride the road along which hundreds of thousands of troops passed on their way to the front, a terrible reminder of the waste of so many young lives.
Thomas is also remembered in Eastleach, not only on the war memorial but also in St. Andrew’s Church, where the inscribed candlesticks on the altar were given by his mother in memory of her lost son. Thomas’s older, married, brother, Frederick, returned from the war but his lungs had been so badly damaged by gas that he never fully recovered and died prematurely in 1937, most of that time bed-ridden. He, like many others, was also a victim of the Great War.