Hartlepool teenager gassed to death in brutal battle

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The tragic tale of a Hartlepool sailor who died fighting as a soldier in World War One has been unearthed by his great-niece.

Herbert Matthew Thompson, of 22 Lothian Road, was an Able Seaman in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reservists when war broke out in 1914.

But, instead of being sent to sea to fight with the mighty British navy, Herbert was posted to a Royal Naval Brigade - where the recruits were expected to fight as infantry soldiers.

He died just four days short of his 20th birthday, on August 6, 1917, after being gassed at the Third Battle of Ypres on the Western Front.

“I’ve been researching my family tree since the late 1980s, when you had to track down and read through all the old records - rather than just find them on the internet,” said Judith Wright.

“I’d heard talk of a chap called Herbert who was supposed to have died in World War One, but I tried, and tried and tried without success to find out anything about him for years.

“Finally, just after last Christmas, I made a breakthrough and now I am trying to tie up loose ends. If anyone has any further information, I would very much like to hear from them.”

Herbert, the son of tramway motorman James Thompson and his third wife Esther Snaith, was born on August 10, 1897, at the family home in Union Road, Central Estate.

Just three of the couple’s six children survived into adulthood and, after leaving school, Herbert became a crane driver - serving as a Royal Naval reservist in his spare time.

“When war broke out there was an excess of up to 30,000 Royal Naval Volunteer Reservists who could not be allocated to ships - and Herbert was among these men,” said Judith.

“Instead, the men were formed into eight infantry battalions with naval names, such as Drake, Hood, Nelson, Hawke and Collingwood, with the men keeping their Naval ranks.”

Herbert was posted to Hawke unit and saw action at Gallipoli, as well as the Dardanelles, before marching into battle on the Western Front with 63rd (RN) Division in 1916.

The teenager survived the bloodshed of the Battle of the Somme in August, then took part in the Battle of Beaucourt in November - a fight in which 400 of his comrades fell.

Herbert also saw action at the conquest of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 but, during the final phase of the Battle of the Somme, he was injured in a gas attack and later died of wounds.

“I only found out what happened to Herbert earlier this year, as his records were very hard to track down, but I am very proud of what he did during the war,” said Judith.

“He was buried at Point-du-Jour Military Cemetery in France and I’ve been over to visit his grave, which was a poignant experience. I’m glad we finally know what happened to him.”

* Can you help Judith with any further information? Email her via sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk