The Brothers Toalster

I happened upon the Toalster name for the first time a few days ago when I prepared the Monumental Inscription record and headstone photograph for Catherine APPLEBY.

Catherine was the daughter of James Patrick TOALSTER and Ethel May HARRISON, born in Hull in 1906.

A quick search online for the meaning of the family name and its heartland turned up nothing of value and I must go with my instinct that it is an Irish name. Catherine’s great  grandfather James Toalster was born in the Emerald Isle about 1810, possibly in Galway – the place named in the first of several records that track his career in the British Army. The others are Liverpool, Poona and London where, I think, he was discharged. In 1861 he can be found living in Scott Street, Sculcoates, given age 51 and described as a Chelsea Pensioner.

James was about 44 years-old when his son, also James, was born and did not live to see any of the twelve grandchildren young James had with Mary Ann CLEARY.

Eight of the twelve were boys and four would join the British Army and serve in the most senseless war. All went to foreign fields and only Catherine’s father, James Patrick, came home.





The three brothers are also remembered at the New George Street Shrine in their home town.

The 13th East Yorkshires was one of the Hull Pals Battalions. If you follow the link you will see that those whose Commonwealth War Graves are illustrated were all killed on the same day as Thomas Toalster. But his mother, still mourning the loss of two of her boys, lived in hope for several months that she might see Thomas again. He had been reported missing at the Battle of the Ancre (13 to 16 November 1916). Then, in late March/early April 1917 –

Ancre was the last of the infamous Somme battles fought over five months. John had been killed on the first day. Edward died from wounds suffered at the Second Battle of Ypres, when poison gas was first used on a large scale.

Only the brother who survived the war is represented on the FamilySearch Shared Tree. I will add the others tomorrow.

Sky 24 · Above the Country Park

Cousin Thomas and Comrade Tom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou may have noticed another CHAPMAN on the Gristhorpe War Memorial (Thursday’s post). Thomas William is a first cousin to Robert, and you can find him on the Shared Tree.

Serving in different regiments, it is unlikely that they ever fought side by side, but it seems that both the 12th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment and the 6th Scottish Borderers were at Delville Wood in July 1916. Allied forces were tasked with taking the wood “at all costs” and from the 15th July into August the fighting was brutal, a satanic mix of close combat exchanges and intense artillery barrages. If the bodies of the fallen were found, many could not be identified. Thomas was killed on 23 July and, as one of the “missing”, is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.

A comrade of Thomas in the 12th Battalion was Tom CHAPMAN, son of John William and Eliza née CAMMISH. He was not related by blood to Thomas William and Robert. Tom may well have been struck down on the same day as Thomas. He died on 27 July from wounds received during the battle for “Devil’s Wood”. He is buried at La Neuville British Cemetery at Corbie and is remembered at a family grave in St Oswald’s churchyard. Find him on the Shared Tree.


Delville Wood

I haven’t been able to establish exactly when and where Tom CHAPMAN sustained the wounds from which he died, on this day 1916. He was serving in the 12th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment and the following extract from a snowdenhouse article places him at Longueval four days earlier.

On the 23rd a joint operation by the 3rd and 5th Divisions was put into action. Both Divisions attacked from the west of Longueval with the 3rd Division on the right and the 5th Division on the left. At 3:40 am the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers advanced followed by the 13th Kings and 12th West Yorks. They made good progress advancing through the northern part of Longueval and into Delville Wood itself, until they came up against heavy machine-gun fire from the front and left. They were forced to fall back at first to Piccadilly Street and then to Pont Street. Two other battalions captured a German strong point close to the Orchard in the north of the village but after being heavy counter attacked they were also forced to retire.

“Piccadilly Street” is the road north out of the village, so I think Tom may have fallen in the area circled on the Google Earth satellite image below.


He was taken to a nearby casualty receiving station and then, perhaps, moved to a hospital where he died.

The Battle for Delville Wood was a bitterly fought affair and South African units particularly suffered enormous casualties. Graham Leslie McCallum writes about his grandfather’s experiences on the Western Front here. Scroll down until you see photographs of Longueval and Delville, which may change the pictures you have in your mind of a French village and wood in summer.

Tom was buried in La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, which is about 30 km west of Longueval. He is remembered on a family grave in St Oswald’s; he has the left-hand kerb and older brother Frank the right.


Memories of FRANK CHAPMAN, died 28 Dec 1926, aged 38.

And TOM CHAPMAN, died of wounds in France, 27 July 1916, aged 20.

Tom is on the FamilySearch Tree.

Thruppence Ha’penny a Letter

Three Hull Pals from the 10th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment (The Commercials) were killed 101 years ago today and are buried in the St. Vaast Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais.

I haven’t been able to pinpoint the action in which they lost their lives. The Battle of the Somme was ongoing and the 22nd September was the last day of the associated Battle of Flers-Courcelette – but that was about 80 kilometers away from St Vaast.

About three months earlier the Pals were a similar distance south west of Flers, heading for the trenches at Doullens. It is heartbreaking now to see the smiles on their faces. What were they thinking? Perhaps William Richard, Corporal Eric Claude DUNN and Private WOFFINDEN are among the cheerful captured by the camera.

Photographer: Lieutenant Ernest Brook, IWN Non-Commercial Licence © IWM (Q 743)

A rough count puts 28 soldiers in the picture. Whatever their labours on that day the cost to the British Empire in wages would have been 28 shillings (at 1914 rates and assuming all the men were “Infantry of the Line”). This princely sum, if their parents could find it, would pay for 96 letters to be carved on a son’s war grave headstone, should their boy make the ultimate sacrifice.

Private William Richard Skelton’s father, also William Richard, stumped up 16 bob, to have the following words inscribed:

Father in Thy Gracious


We Now Leave Our Loved One


The clerk was punctilious with the letter count and rounding down to the nearest penny.


(I have “Photoshopped” the document so that you can read the column heads. You can find an image of the original at young William’s CWGC page.)

At age 16 William Jnr was working as a Laundry Errand Boy but later took up his father’s “trade” as a Gardener. Then he volunteered to join the Hull Pals, went to war and didn’t come home.

His parents must have spent a deal more than 16 shillings to have their thoughts carved on the family headstone in St Oswald’s churchyard.

He sleeps not in our native land

But neath a foreign sky

Far from those who loved him dear

In a hero’s grave he lies

Fold him in thy arms O Lord

And ever let him be

A messenger of love between

Our aching hearts and Thee.


I think only a small percentage of bereft families could afford an inscription and of those that put their feelings in the public domain nearly all accepted their loss gracefully. On a First World War forum, one “Old Sweat” has offered an example that runs counter but goes to the heart of the matter.

I am here

As a result

Of uncivilized nations.


William Richard Skelton, father and son, are on FamilySearch Tree.

Update 23 September

Thanks to the loan of David Bilton’s book Hull Pals: 10th, 11th, 12th & 13th Battalions East Yorkshire Regiment I know what the jovial soldiers pictured above were thinking. In the immediate aftermath of the first day of the Battle of the Somme the 10th received orders to move and after leaving camp a CO asked the men to smile for a cameraman who was further along the road. When he was spotted the soldiers not only laughed but hurled remarks “that would have given the true Somme atmosphere”. Seventeen of the soldiers pictured have been identified but none are the three buried at St Vaast.

I mentioned the Battle of Flers-Courcelle, 15-22 September 1916, and an appendix in Hull Pals lists a fatality on the 16th, two on the 18th, one on the 19th and an additional two on the 22nd. Unfortunately, the casualty records for the period have been lost and there is a vague indication that the battalion was in a quiet area where the only action was occasional shelling and random raids on German trenches.

The two soldiers who were killed on the same day as William Richard Skelton were Privates Walter DENNISON and George Albert WARD. They rest in Merville Communal Cemetery about 15 kilometers away from St Vaast.