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Turner, Thomas Norman Leslie

The Commonwealth War Graves site confirmed details for Thomas, but not his regimental number, which could not be found anywhere.  There was a card in the Flintshire Roll of Honour in the Hawarden archives which gave his full name as Thomas Norman Leslie Turner, and his address as Sonsas, Prestatyn.

His period of service was 1914-1916, and on the back of the card it was stated that he was in the Indian Army.

In the 1901 census provided by Ancestry, Thomas’ family were living at 88, Church Road, King’s Norton, Worcestershire. At home were Jane H. Turner, age 37, who had been born in Manchester, Emily E, age 13, born in London, Frederick R G, age 11, also born in London, Thomas N L was 9 and had been born in Worcestershire, and Edith M, age 4, born in Worcestershire. There was also a domestic servant, Sarah Slaney.

In 1911, the family was now at 3, Fern Avenue, Prestatyn.  Jane Hayton Turner was 48, Thomas was 19 and a Railway apprentice. Edith Mary was 15 and at school, and a visitor, Gladys Gardner, age 11, also at school.

The Imperial War Museum website, Lives of the First World War, has an entry for Thomas, and also gives his father’s name as Richard John Turner, of 12, Newhall Street, Birmingham.

The National Archives also provide details for Thomas.  His job is described as Assistant Superintendent in the Traffic department of the Indian State Railways. This record is held by the British Library Asian and African Studies, previously the Oriental and India Office Library, and is dated 20th February 1914.  Ref IOR/L/F/8/17/1340

On the website Passenger Lists Leaving U.K. 1890-1960, there is this entry for T.N.L. Turner, dated 6th March 1914. He is on the manifest of the ship Mooltan, of the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and was travelling from London to Bombay. The ship’s master was R.L. Haddock. It seems likely that Thomas was travelling to take up his position on the railways, as also on the manifest it states that his “country of intended future residence” was India.

There were no records of service found for Thomas, but we know his military service started in 1914 and he was already working in India at the outbreak of the war. He was in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, and his regiment was the 48th Pioneers, who were an Infantry regiment of the British Indian Army, raised in 1901 as the 48th pioneers Bengal Infantry. During World War 1 this regiment was part of the 6th Poona division which had sailed from India to Mesopotamia late in 1914, and after some early successes, this whole division was captured in its entirety at the siege of Kut, with other Allied units, where they were surrounded and besieged. We cannot be positive Thomas was at Kut, but as his whole division was there, it seems likely.

Around 11,500 soldiers held Kut at the start of the siege, some 3,000 British and 8,000 Indian troops, 3,500 Indian non-combatants – labourers, cooks and orderlies.  Conditions became increasingly desperate, facing freezing cold and torrential rain, poor drainage and sanitation, and limited medical supplies and food. Many attempts were made to send provisions, including the first air supply drop in history, carried out by 30 squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, but the garrison finally surrendered on 29th April 1916, after holding out for 147 days. Some 1,750 Indian and British troops had died from wounds or disease – CWCG website.

It was the single largest surrender of troops in British history, and one of the most infamous defeats suffered by the British Empire forces in WW1.

We know that Thomas’ entire regiment was besieged at Kut, but by the time of surrender on April 29th he had already been dead for several weeks. There is more information in “The Cross of Sacrifice,” volume 1, compiled by S.D. and D.B. Jarvis, 2012. This lists the names of officers who died in the service of British, Indian and East African Regiments and Corps, 1914-1919. The entry for Thomas is “T.N.L. Turner 2nd Lt, IARO, 48th Pioneers”, and tells us that he met his death by being “murdered by Sepoy” on 26th March 1916. A sepoy is an Indian private soldier in the infantry, so it seems that Thomas was somehow killed, “murdered” is the word used, by one of his Indian Army comrades. The details are on page 283, M.R.38, of the book. This calls for further research.

From the Prestatyn Weekly, April 8th 1916.

Mrs Turner, Sonsas, has been notified that her son, 2nd lieutenant Thos. Norman Leslie Turner, 48th Pioneers, Indian Army Reserve, was killed in action in Mesopotamia on March 26th. Lieut Turner was engaged on railway work in India, and enlisted on the outbreak of war. In the last letter his mother received from him, he stated that he was on road construction.

In the British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards, Thomas was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal, with a remark that they were issued by the Government of India, and also the 15 India Star.

 

In Prestatyn, Mrs Jane Turner was supporting the War effort herself, by assisting refugees from Belgium whose country had been invaded by Germany.  In the website “Belgian Refugees in Rhyl”, whose sources were various editions of the Prestatyn Weekly, Mrs Turner is mentioned several times.

Mrs Turner, Sonsas, is secretary of a small but enterprising committee of ladies, who have undertaken to maintain Belgian refugees in Prestatyn.

She provided tea for the fundraisers, she received the telegram to say what time the refugees would be arriving by train, and was waiting for them on the platform with other ladies. Later, when most of the Belgians had moved on, Mrs Turner received a letter of thanks from one refugee, who had in fact left Prestatyn to join the Belgian army, leaving his sister and her baby behind. The letter was written in Flemish, and had to be translated for her.

The Prestatyn Weekly for July 20th 1918 reports that the King of the Belgians conferred the Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth on Mrs Turner for her help with Belgian refugees.

It was Mrs J.H. Turner who signed Thomas’ card in the Hawarden archives in July 1920. She died in 1929, and is buried in Coed Bell cemetery, Prestatyn.

While political instability persists, a two volume Roll of Honour, for all casualties buried and commemorated in Iraq, is on display at the Commissions’ head office in Maidenhead, available for the public to view. – CWGC

Another member of the Turner family had an important role in the armed forces. This was Thomas’ brother, Frederick Richard Gordon Turner, who was with the family on the 1891 and 1901 censuses. In 1911, when the rest of the family were in Prestatyn, Frederick, age 22, and an engineering sub lieutenant, was staying in the Victoria Park Hotel, Barrow in Furness, with many other naval officers, and also an officer of the Japanese Imperial Navy.

The UK Royal Naval Officers Service Records show that Frederick, born 29th March 1889, enrolled in the Navy on 26th July 1909.  There are many service records for him, listing various promotions, until his retirement.

In the Prestatyn Weekly, August 1st 1914, there is an account of his marriage.

Turner-Gregory.

On July 28th at St. Andrew’s Fulham, engineering lieutenant Frederick Richard Gordon Turner R.N. of HMS Neptune, elder son of Mrs Turner, Sonsas, Prestatyn, to Emily Annis, only child of Mr and Mrs George E. Gregory, of West Kensington.

In the UK Navy Lists 1888-1970, the list for Feb 1944, vol 11, we see that

Engineering Vice – Admiral Sir Frederick R G Turner KCB OBE is Engineer in Chief of the Fleet.

He was awarded the KCB in the King’s Birthday Honours 1943. (King George VI)

After this the records give him the title Sir Frederick, and there are references to him in the National Archives, and in “Sources in British Political History 1900-51” volume 2.

In 1949, his name is in the lists of retired officers. There is a portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery, in the category “armed Forces and Intelligence Services.”

 

 


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