Pte Thomas Spence of Walden and West Burton was one of those who did come home from WW1 but then died during the flu epidemic. ‘He was gassed and later got the flu. He died at home,’ said his grand-daughter, Frances Sledge of Leyburn.
For his wife, Fanny, and daughter, Grace Kathleen, his death meant that they had to leave their home in West Burton. Fanny took her daughter back to her family in Wharfedale. They either lived with Fanny’s parents (William and Deborah Gill) at the post office in Buckden or they stayed with her aunt and uncle at Fold House Farm in Kettlewell.
It was to those addresses that his medals (the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914-1915 Star) were sent and the family carefully stored them in the boxes and envelopes in which they came.
Tom was born at Hargill Haw Farm in Walden where his father, John farmed. He had four siblings: Margaret, Grace, Sarah and John. In the 1911 census he was described as a 15-years-old draper’s apprentice. By 1915 he had enlisted with the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards).
On April 1 1915 he wrote to his mother, Margaret Spence, from Newcastle-on-Tyne: “Dear Ma, I arrived safe and sound, but I got a very pleasant surprise, we are of (sic) across before the 18th of this month. Dont fret or worry I shall be alright…. Tell uncle Kit I am of but dont forget I shall come safely back again. I had a very enjoyable time at Northallerton…. Tell Mr Roulden I shall write to him soon now, to let the School children know how we get on. … I am in the Pink of health. I am your loving son Tom. Remembrance to all at Burton.”
His battalion had moved from its home base at Northallerton and, just as Tom said, was sent to France on April 18, and straight into battle in the Ypres sector. The regiment saw action at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 which was probably when he was gassed. He received his honourable discharge certificate and silver badge after being in hospital in August 1916.
He married Fanny Gill at Skipton registry office in August 1918 but died on April 18 1819 aged 23. He was buried in Aysgarth churchyard four months before his daughter was born. In the 1911 census her grandmother, Deborah, then 57-years-old, was described as being in charge of the post office at Buckden. Deborah’s husband was then 71-years-old.
“He was a shoemaker. He had a long beard and lived until he was in his nineties,” said Mrs Sledge. Below: William Gill with his daughter, Fanny Spence, and grand daughter.