My Great Great Uncle Tom Fox

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Tom was born in Swindon, England on 30th January 1886, the 7th child of James and Annie Fox. Along with his father and two brothers, Tom worked for the Great Western Railway, starting as a ‘Lad Porter’ in March 1900.

Over the next few years, Tom’s life changed, with the sudden death of his oldest brother in 1901, followed by the death of his mother from TB in April 1904. Later that same year, his father had a serious accident while at work in the shunting yards, which resulted in his leg having to be amputated – he died two days later.

Possibly these events encouraged Tom to try his luck elsewhere as records show him arriving in Canada early in 1907. By 1911 he was working on a farm in Battleford, Saskatchewan, then moving on to Edmonton, Alberta where he worked as a Streetcar Mechanic.

On 4th January 1915 Tom enlisted, becoming Private Thomas Fox, 436052 in the 51st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By September, Tom was back in England for training before embarking for France where he was transferred to the 49th Battalion, C Company, Signals Section.

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On 6th July, 2016, Tom wrote the following letter to my Grandmother, his niece.

 

Signal Section, 49th Batt. Belgium

 

My Dear Niece,

This is the first time I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing to one of my nieces or nephews, so if I make a mistake in spelling or anything, you must just “read on”. I received the cake and candies alright while we were back in France and I must say they were very nice indeed, so please thank you Mother very much for me, will you. That is just the kind of cake that your Grandmother used to make, “a good sound cake”. I’ve had a lot of different kinds of cakes, made lots of ways, but one from your Mother is better than all the others, because “they are the kind that Mother used to make”. Yes, I would like a few days leave so I could come and visit you all, did Cousin Emily come down for Whitsun, and did you have fine weather. The last time I remember seeing her she was a little girl of almost six, I think, and Stanley was “all smiles”, a nice little chap too. I suppose you are all anxious for the war to end, aren’t you, so are we. I keep getting little souvenirs and carrying them for a few days and throw them away again, but when I see a chance of sending some I’ll send you some, I’ve got some buttons that I cut off a dead German a week ago. I’ll send them when I get a chance.

Well Phyllis, give my love to your Mother and father and Sonny, and I hope you are all in good health. I remain

Your Loving Uncle

Tom

 

The Regimental diaries record that in early September the 49th were sent south to the Somme battlefield, arriving in the town of Albert on 13th September.

The Forty Niner magazine, October 1978, includes the ‘Recollections of Harry Botel’ which includes…

The Headquarters Company which headed the column during the march (to Albert) were a jolly lot. The signallers, of whom I was one, were a bunch of youngsters, some still in their teens. At the time I was 24 and referred to as ‘Old Bo’. One of our number was Tom Fox, a linesman, with a voice like a foghorn. During our march he would roar out, “Hooray, hooray! This is my daughter’s wedding day. Ten thousand pounds I will give away.” To which the whole section would shout and cheer. Then a moment of silence and Tom Fox would say in a full voice, “On second thoughts I think it best to put it back in the old oak chest.” And then the whole section would groan.

The company camped at Tara Hill, just outside Albert. The diaries of F R Hasse describe the events of the next couple of days, including how they visited the nearby great crater at Lochnagar. At 3pm on 15th September the battalion fell in and left camp, heading for the Chalk Pit where they were issued with bombs and tools. At about 5pm they moved on towards the Windmill between Poziere and Courcelette and on in to battle.

We know nothing else of Tom’s story other than the records showing him as ‘Missing 15/16-9-16’, then later ‘Prev. Rep. missing now for official purposes presumed to have died on our since Sept 15/16 1916’.

There is, however, a final mention in the diary of F R Hasse…

We got word yesterday that Forbes got out all right; also Radcliffe and Trimble. This leaves only one member of our section missing – Tommy Fox – and there seems no doubt he’s been killed. Now, some men under fire are afraid and show it, and some, not many, have no fear at all. Tommy Fox was most certainly in that last group, and it was not because he lacked imagination. He is going to be missed as a linesman, for whenever a line was broken, Tommy Fox, grinning cheerfully, would set out to repair it, no matter how bad the shelling was. Not that he used to take foolish chances though he was sometimes careless about wearing his steel helmet – I remember a stretcher bearer, in the Salient, telling him that he would like to see him with his tin lid on, seeing that he was a heavy man, which remark made Tommy’s grin expand more than ever.

 

There is no known grave for Tom Fox, although it is quite possible that he is in one of the many ‘unknown’ graves in the British Cemetery just outside Courcelette. Several of them are specifically identified as ‘A Soldier of the Great War, 49th Bn. Canadian Inf.’ He is commemorated on the Canadian Memorial at Vimy and a simple inscription was added to his parent’s grave in Swindon, ‘Also Their Youngest Son, Killed in Action Sept. 1916, Aged 30’.

In 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of Tom’s death, we retraced his journey up to the battlefront, 100 years to the hour. We also took another fruit cake for Tom, made from his sister’s recipe, and ate it overlooking the battlefield.

Alex Brandell