Those who served… Part Two

Those who served… Part Two

2018 Private Thomas J. Kimblin

Thomas Kimblin is the only soldier mentioned in the Ormskirk Monthly Sessions court register, but one of three named in the Ormskirk Advertiser newspaper report of Maria Beckett’s trial.

He enlisted in the Prince of Wales’ Volunteers (South Lancashire) Regiment on 5th August 1914, probably in Warrington, as part of the 4th Battalion.  This was a Territorial Division, so Thomas had been a part-time soldier before the war started, and was one of the first men to be called up.

T.A. men were usually younger men so he was probably born between 1875 and 1895.   The only Thomas Kimblin we’ve been able to trace who were born during this period in the South Lancashire catchment area was an Oldham cotton spinner, but he joined the Labour Corps.  So perhaps this Thomas was born elsewhere and moved to South Lancashire.

What we know for sure is that after initial training his battalion left Southampton for Le Havre on 12th February 1915.

Thomas probably saw action in the Second Battle of Ypres, where poisonous chlorine gas was used by the Germans for the first time and men had to tie urine-soaked rags around their faces to protect themselves from the noxious fumes.  The main action his battalion took part in was the battle of Hooge, where the Germans used flamethrowers for the first time. On 12 October 1915 his battalion was re-designated as a Pioneer unit rather than an infantry unit.  “Pioneers undertook work such a re-building trenches, laying telephone lines, and working heavily in no-man’s land after dark, and in terrible conditions, repairing and relaying barbed wire.  They were expected to act as infantry if needed.”

We don’t know exactly how and when Thomas was diagnosed with shell shock, but by May 1916 he was being treated in Moss Side Hospital.

At 3.30 pm on Sunday May 28th 1916 he was walking along Foxhouse Lane in Maghull when he met Maria Beckett, a 56-year old widow.  She invited him into her house for tea. He claimed in court to have stayed the night and to have shared “a bottle and a half of stout.” On 26th August 1916 he was honourably discharged from the army after being deemed “No longer physically fit for war service” and seems to have received a conditional pension for six months. He must have re-enlisted, however, because he received a new regimental number (46048) and begun serving with 2nd Battalion South Lancashire Regiment.

“The situation at the time was that as the losses at the Somme grew and grew, there was a desperate need in the latter part of 1916 to scrape any barrel in terms of recruitment.  If he felt better, and appeared to be recovered, he would have been accepted back into service, and I am confident that this is what happened here.  2nd SLR had seen exceptional loss of life on the Somme, and Thomas was an experienced soldier who had the determination to re-apply.  He would have been snapped up.”

Dr. Christine Hill, researcher, Lancashire Infantry Museum

At some point after April 1918, he was transferred to 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment (aka the Birmingham Pals) who had just arrived back in France after a posting in Italy, and were probably in a depleted state and in need of reinforcements. Then on 6th September 1918, whilst still with the Warwickshires, Thomas was wounded by a gas shell and transferred from 6th Field Ambulance to No. 16 Ambulance train. (MH 106/380)

He seems to have recovered enough to be retained, but not enough to return to the front line.  He was posted to another South Lancashire Regiment, probably a home-based unit, and given his fourth regimental number of the war.

On 30th January 1920 he was finally discharged from the army.

S/5117 Private John Darling,

All we know about John Darling’s personal life so far is that he was born about 1871.

There are several men by that name born in Britain at that time.  We need to know more about him before we can start to trace his family and find out who he was, but we do know a few details from his army records.

He enlisted on 24th October 1914, probably in Winchester, with the Rifle Brigade.  That date suggests he was with the 13th (Service) Battalion as part of the Third New Army.  He would have moved to High Wycombe to join the 111th Brigade of the 37th Division and then moved to Andover. On 31st July 1915 he arrived at Boulogne. According to his medical records he spent 10 months with the Field Force, on the Western Front from August 1915 to June 1916, but this appears to be a mistake because he was in Moss Side by mid-May at the latest.  According to the War Diary his battalion were based in trenches about 9 miles south west of Arras.  He is not named anywhere as a casualty.  There is the following entry in April:

“14/3/16 – The enemy bombarded heavily battalion HQ in Gastineau 93 pounds 5.9 being fired.  Support lines were heavily shelled, one dug out falling in causing two killed and 4 wounded.  Our artillery replied with field guns on front German line and heavy batteries on RANSART.”

John Darling would have been coming under constant bombardment throughout his time at the front so there’s no way of knowing for sure if this was the incident that triggered his illness.

We do know that on the afternoon of 22nd May he escaped from Moss Side hospital and had been invited into Maria Beckett’s house “for tea”, where he stayed for eight days, and she “procured drink for him from time to time.” On the night of 28/29th May fellow Moss Side patient Thomas Kimblin also stayed the night in Foxhouse Lane, but left the next day.

If it’s true that John Darling arrived on the 22nd and stayed for eight days then he would have left Maria Beckett’s house on the 30th also.  It is not clear from the report if he left voluntarily or because of a visit from Policeman Sergeant Kelly.

John Darling and Thomas Kimblin were both called to give evidence at Maria’s trial on July 7, but only Thomas is named in the court register in the “nature of offence” column.  The following exchange, reported to have taken place in court, seems to suggest there was no love lost between Thomas and Maria:

Maria Beckett: You have never been in my house.

Thomas Kimblin: I stayed there all night.


MB: I wouldn’t have a little fellow like you in the house.


Did Thomas inform the local police?  Or did Sergeant Kelly catch both men in Maria’s house on the 29th May, the date of offence given in the court register?

The newspaper report claims John Darling was a sergeant, but his rank is given as private on his Medal Rolls Index Card, and Rifleman on his Medical record discharge papers (MH 106/1536), so he was either demoted because of his 8-day leave of absence, or the newspaper incorrectly reported this.

He seems to have been transferred from Moss Side Hospital to Winchester Military Hospital on 6 November 1916, which was presumably closer to his family. On 9 July 1917 he was finally transferred home and left the army.  The cause of his discharge was stated as:-

“Mental Instability aggravated by active service”.

Private Smith

There was a third Moss Side patient mentioned in Maria Beckett’s trial.  Sergeant Kelly told the court that in the intervening period between the offence and the court case he had been called to her house again, where a soldier called Smith was stood outside.  Maria complained that he had just been in her house, had a fit, and wrecked the place.

Soldier Smith told the court that Maria had invited him in and given him a cup of beer, “shortly after taking which he had a fit, he being subject to fits.”

Perhaps in this case giving an intoxicant to a wounded soldier really was a bad idea. On the Forces War Records database there are over sixty six thousand matches for “Smith” in World War 1 and the Moss Side hospital visitors’ book records half a dozen different Smiths as patients between 1915 and 1918.

On 20 May 1916 a Private Smith was visited for just ten minutes by his mother Mrs J Smith who lived at 77 Kilburn Street in Litherland.  (In 1911 there were two Smith families living on Kilburn Street, but neither at 77, and neither with a mother who has the initial J.) On September 10th 1916, Lance Corporal Smith was visited by his brother T. Smith whose address was recorded as 44, Barkham Road, Nelson.

As the incident of a man named Smith having a fit and wrecking Maria Beckett’s house occurred sometime between 29th May and 7th July 1916, either of these two could be our man. But it is very possible that there were other men called Smith in the hospital at the time who we will never know about because they didn’t receive any visitors.

And Smith, Kimblin and Darling were not the only Moss Side patients Maria Beckett entertained if the evidence that emerged in her trial is to be believed.

So who was Maria Beckett? Find out in our next blog post!

Written by John Fay

Edited by Amy Walling, Manchester Metropolitan University

Image : The picture is taken from Second Battle of Ypres where poisonous chlorine gas was used by the Germans for the first time


Posted on 7 September 2018 under Moss Side Military Hospital

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