Thomas O’Neill – Attlee’s Batman

Thomas O’Neill – Attlee’s Batman

submitted by Mr Daly, grandson of Thomas O’Neill
with thanks to Stephen Nulty, Prescot Roll of Honour, for additional research

Thomas served with the 6th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment. He may have enlisted on 25th August 1914 in St Helens. His service number was 10978.

At some point he became Clement Atlee’s batman, this is someone who is assigned to a commissioned officer and acts as a personal assistant. It is likely that Thomas would have looked after Attlee’s horse.

On 1st July 1915 Thomas would have arrived in Murdos, before travelling on to ‘W’ beach at Gallipoli. it is possible that he saw action there during 8th – 10th August. If Thomas was with Attlee he would have left Gallipoli on 19th December 1915 for Egypt via Lemnos.

On 17th January 1916 the Manchester Courier reported Thomas wounded in a list of casualties. There were no further details given. Family stories tell of Thomas being injured and losing a lung. It is not known if he was gassed or shot. Thomas was initially presumed dead, but he later turned up and he survived this serious injury.

With little time for recovery Thomas returned to his Battalion in Basra in March 1916. The following month Attlee was wounded at the Battle of Hannah and he returned to Britain for treatment.

Thomas would have remained with his Battalion, which later moved to Sannai Yat and became part of the reserve of the 3rd Division.

From January 1917 the Battalion were on the east bank of the Hai river advancing against the Turkish lines.

Entry in the 6th Battalion war diary for 9th February 1917:

The  Kings  Own  Regiment  attacked  and  captured  the  enemy  first  line,  supported  by  South Lancashire Regiment. The regiment’s bombers were lent to the Kings Own and did very good work. Sgt Prescott & Sgt O’Neill awarded the Military medal. Capt & Adj P WARD wounded in head (died later).

Eventually Thomas would reach Baghdad and remained in the area on the left bank of the Tigris until at least the end of 1917.

Another family story that has been passed down concerns how Thomas lost a stripe. It was thought that Thomas refused to take part in a firing squad line up for a soldier who was to be shot at dawn.

Thomas was discharged and placed in the Z class reserve on 13th May 1919. He was officially discharged at the end of that year.

After the war Thomas met and married Ellen Gilmore. He struggled to find work and to provide for his growing family. Thomas wrote to Attlee to see if he could help him secure work. The reply from Attlee has remained with Thomas’ memorabilia.

Mr Daly recalls that Thomas’ wife, Ellen paid for Thomas’ funeral herself from money she had to borrow. His middle child, Margaret, remembers the ambulance coming to the house for her father. The ambulance men wrapped a red blanket around Thomas before wheeling him out of the house. Little Margaret ran out after them and Thomas turned to her and told her to go in as it was cold. These were the last words Thomas spoke.


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