Foulkes, Thomas

Thomas was born in Ruthin in October, 1890, to his father William Foulkes who hailed from Llandyrnog in Denbighshire and his mother Margaret Griffiths from Ysceifiog in Flintshire. They were a farming family and lived at Bryn Cosyn, Brynford, Flintshire. At the time of the 1901 census, Thomas had seven brothers and sisters and his father worked as a farmer and bailiff possibly for the Grosvenor family who owned most of the land and mineral rights in and around the area of Halkyn. The Foulkes were a bilingual family.

By 1911 it seems that Thomas and his sixteen year old brother Edwin had left home and were working as a wagoner and a cowman respectively on a farm not far away in Babell.

Following the outbreak of war in 1914 Thomas must have given a lot of thought to joining the war effort and by 29th November, 1915, Thomas signed the necessary papers to join the army reserve and the 5th Battalion (Flintshire battalion) of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Afonwen near Caerwys. At his enlistment he was 25 years and two months, 5ft 3 1/2 inches tall, and weighed 123 llbs. He was posted to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in 1916. He was a member of B Company and embarked on the H. T. Megantic at Devenport on 21st June, 1916, disembarking in Alexandria on 30th June. He joined the Battalion on 4th July in Ismailia.

Thomas died on 26th March, 1917, and as a member of the 5th Battalion RWF he would have been part of the 53rd Welsh Division which itself was part of a 22,000 strong force deployed to attack the stronghold of Gaza in Palestine. The soldiers fought bravely but the attack failed largely due to poor communication and bad decisions made by senior officers.

Their first objective was the port of Gaza which guarded the coastal approach to Jerusalem.

The main attack on Gaza was led by 53rd (Welsh) Division from the south, with Anzac Mounted Division and Imperial Mounted Division circling around to the north and east to isolate the garrison and block the route for any reinforcements. Although the Anzac Mounted Division entered the town, the determined resistance facing the infantry in the south, along with the threat of large-scale Ottoman-Turkish reinforcements arriving from Beersheba in the east, forced them to retire to the dismay of their commander who said ‘that defeat had been secured from the jaws of victory’.

The main objective assigned to 53rd (Welsh) Division in Eastern Force was the capture of the Ottoman-Turkish defences at Ali Muntar, on the south-eastern approach to Gaza. All three brigades were to participate in the attack with the 160th Infantry Brigade on the left along the Es Sire Ridge, the 158th Infantry Brigade on the right over the Mansura Ridge and 159th Infantry Brigade on their right attacking Clay Hill.

The 161st Infantry Brigade were to form the reserve. The attack began at 11.45am and the advance was slow with the attackers having to move in daylight across open ground against well entrenched defenders with a clear line of sight.

Consequently casualties were very heavy but with the deployment of 161st Infantry Brigade by 16.00 Clay Hill had been taken, most of Ali Muntar being cleared by 17.00 and the position secured around dusk. However the capture was to prove in vain as shortly afterwards, with news of Turkish reinforcements arriving, confusion reigned.

Amazingly the position was abandoned, then re-occupied and after a short fight abandoned again. The British suffered 4000 casualties in the battle and the majority in 53rd Division.

Thomas was among seven or eight young soldiers from the Holywell area who died in this very attack. Although it is likely that the soldiers’ bodies were buried near to the battlefield their bodies were never identified and their only commemoration is the list of service men at the British and Commonwealth cemetery at Jerusalem.

His record states that he was wounded in action on 26th March, 1917, in Gaza and by 13th May, 1917, he was recorded as missing and his death was accepted on 4th July, 1917.

His father accepted his British war and Victory medals on 16th May, 1922.

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