CONLEY Thomas Arthur 1897 – 1916


13071 Corporal Thomas Arthur Conley, 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 16 September 1916, aged about 19.  He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France [1] and the Witton Park War Memorials.

Family Details

Thomas Arthur Conley was born 1897 at Huddersfield (but registered in Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire),[2] the son of John and Mary J. Conley and brother to Doris.  In 1901, the family lived at Kew Hill, Lindley Moor, Fixby, near Huddersfield.  Thomas’ father worked as a, “clay miner”.[3]  His mother, Mary was recorded as being 35 years old and born at Auckland.[4]  John Conley had married Mary Janet Parker in 1896, registered at Halifax.[5] Thomas and Doris’ parents were to pass away within 6 years and both children moved north to live with family at Witton Park and Phoenix Row, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

  • 1902: Thomas’ father died, aged 28, registered at Halifax.[6]
  • 1907: Thomas’ mother died, aged 40, registered at Halifax.[7]

By 1911, Thomas’ lived with his uncle and aunt, William and Elizabeth Parker and his cousins at 10 John Street, Witton Park.  Thomas was then 14 years old and worked as a, “colliery driver”.[8] Thomas’ sister Doris lived with Jane Allinson, nearby at Phoenix Row.  Doris was recorded as, “granddaughter”.[9]  Thomas’ 12 years old cousin, Joshua Parker with whom he lived, was still at school.  He too was to lose his life in the Great War. Serving as S/17599 Private J. Parker, 6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, he was killed in action 25 March 1918 aged 19.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial [10] and the Witton Park War Memorials. 

Military Details

28 August 1914: Thomas Conley attested at Bishop Auckland, his recorded age being 19 years 1 month.[11] That day, he underwent a medical examination – he stood 5’5” high, weighed 130 lbs and was of “good” physical development.  He worked as a miner.  His complexion was, “sallow”, eyes, “grey” and hair, “brown”.  He was a Primitive Methodist. [12]  His next of kin was Doris Conley (sister), Phoenix Row, Etherley later c/o Mrs. H. Johnson, “near Railway Station”, West Auckland.  He joined the 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry and was given the service number 13071.[13]


The 10th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry was formed 22 August 1915 as part of K1, Kitchener’s New Army.  The battalion came under the orders of the 43rd Brigade, 14th (Light) Division.  Other infantry battalions in the 43rd Brigade were:

  • 6th Somerset Light Infantry
  • 6th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
  • 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

The Division landed in France 21 May 1915.  Private T.A. Conley was with 10/DLI.[14]  They were posted to the Ypres Salient, Belgium and saw action:

  • 30 July: Hooge
  • 25 – 26 September: Second Attack on Bellewaarde

Later research records that between 30 July and 30 September 1915, 10/DLI lost 2 Officers and 79 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds.[15]  The Division moved south to the Arras area then south again into the Somme region, seeing action at the Battle of the Somme:

  • 15 July – 3 September 1916: Battle of Delville Wood
  • 15 – 22 September 1916: Battle of Flers-Courcelette. [16] 

19 August 1916: Private T.A. Conley was appointed Lance Corporal.

28 August 1916: He was appointed Corporal.

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [17]

The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south. 

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.   

The first day, 1 July, was preceded by a week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack – at 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches – the British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the “Battle of the Somme” has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.     

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Flers-Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, at enormous cost. British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000. In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette – a summary [18]

15 September 1916: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette commenced.  The XV Corps were made up of the New Zealand Division, the 41st and 14th Divisions and were under the command of Lieutenant General Henry Horne.  They were at the centre of the attack and were responsible for the capture of Flers.  10/DLI was part of the 43rd Brigade of the 14th Division.  The 6th Somerset Light Infantry, 6th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry joined the 10/DLI in the 43rd Brigade.  The 43rd Brigade took up position between Delville Wood and the village of Ginchy.  The 41st Division was to their left and the Guards to their right. 

The attack was no local affair.  It was a big effort.  It was the last chance to win the war in 1916.   The attack was preceded by a bombardment lasting 3 days consisting of some 828,000 shells, at twice the concentration of that delivered on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.  To assist, 18 tanks of D Company, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps were commissioned although only 14 managed to get to their starting points. The tanks would be used in small groups along the front with the aim of moving ahead of the infantry to suppress German strong points.  However, a creeping artillery barrage was not to be employed on these identified strong points.  Thus, if the tanks failed then the infantry would be left to its own devices.  The infantry was still the primary force on the battlefield. 

The attack on Flers was successful but the men of the 41st Division suffered severe losses in the course of the long day – 15 September.  Alongside them, the 14th Division faced what looked like a dangerous manoeuvre of straightening out a “pocket” of German resistance pressing into the British lines to the east of Delville Wood.  A preliminary operation was ordered for 0515 but in the event, the Germans abandoned their position without much of a fight.  When the main advance came, the Division encountered much stiffer resistance before it was able to successfully conform to the general advance made by the XV Corps. 

15 September: 10/DLI moved forward from Bernafay Wood via Pommiers Redoubt then advanced during the afternoon through Delville Wood to the trenches east of the Longueval-Flers road.  At midnight the battalion went forward to the front line facing Gueudecourt and attacked the Gird Lines at 9.25 am (16 September.)  The leading waves were soon checked by strong machine gun fire.  Renewed attacks followed at 6.55 pm before withdrawing to Bulls Road.  The battalion was relieved 17 September and billeted at Pommiers Redoubt.

On the Division’s front, the creeping barrage was weak and inaccurate.  On the right, 6/Somerset came under fire from Gas Alley and made little progress.  West of the Ginchy-Gueudecourt road, the 10/DLI came under severe fire from front and right flank and took cover in shell holes.  The 6/KOYLI and 6/Duke of Cornwall’s attempted to reinforce but suffered the same fate.  An order to renew the attack at 6.55pm was carried out with no success.

10/DLI: in action [19]

15 September: In the afternoon, the battalion occupied trenches east of the Longueval to Flers Road, German shelling, 8 men were killed.  At midnight, 10/DLI moved off in artillery formation.  German shrapnel caused a few casualties.

16 September:  At dawn, there was considerable enemy movement near Gueudecourt village, beyond Gird and Gird Support trenches. At 9.25am, orders were received to attack with the objective to break through the Gird defences, clear Gueudecourt and establish a line beyond.  A heavy British bombardment opened up.  10/DLI went forward at the appointed hour.

“…as soon as they appeared in the open there came heavy machine gun fire from the front and from the right.  On they went, paying dearly for every yard but when nearly a quarter of a mile had been gained the survivors had to seek cover in shell holes and stay there.  Before mid-day parties of Germans were seen coming forward of the Gird line from the direction of le Transloy but no counter attack was attempted.  The afternoon passed and then came orders for another attack to be delivered at 6.55pm.  Colonel Morant collected about 100 men which included all employed at battalion HQ…The creeping barrage was again negligible and the German machine guns were as active as before.  With no troops in immediate support and both flanks unprotected a withdrawal was inevitable and after dark the survivor of the battalion fell back and put Bull’s Road in a state of defence.  Many wounded were then brought in.”

17 September:  At dawn, the 21st Division came up as relief and the 10/DLI handed over positions before dawn.  A very weak battalion reached Pommiers Redoubt during the morning of 17 September.  Losses in killed, wounded and missing amounted to 381 including Corporal T.A. Conley. 

14 October 1916: It was then reported that he had been killed in action about 16 September (after he’s been reported “wounded” and “wounded and missing”.[20] Later research confirms that 5 Officers and 221 Other Ranks serving with 10/DLI were killed in action or died of wounds between 15 July and 30 September 1916 including 3 officers and 136 men on 16 September 1916. [21]  

Corporal T.A. Conley served a total of 1 year 20 days, as follows: [22]

  • Home: 28 August 1914 to 20 May 1915 – 266 days
  • France: 21 May 1915 to 16 September 1916 – 119 days

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette raged on for another week and was regarded as a major success particularly when compared with the results of August and early September.  A considerable stretch of the German front line had been captured and their second line system had been breached in the Flers sector.  High Wood and the Bazentin Ridge had been captured and opened up an improved tactical position for the British – enhanced observation positions over the German lines.  The Germans made a tactical retreat to the Le Transloy Ridge.  But, the British casualties were atrocious and were comparable in percentage terms to the debacle of July.  It was estimated that the Fourth Army suffered over 29,000 casualties.  All 3 Divisions involved in the central push – the New Zealand, the 41st and the 14th all suffered severe casualties in achieving their objectives but significantly, there were no fresh reserve divisions behind them to surge forward and leapfrog onto victory.  Furthermore, the new weapon, the tanks had shot their bolt. In the analysis of the overall performance of the tanks, the general consensus is of disappointment, if not failure.   

  • The officers and crew had not enough time to be trained properly.
  • The infantry had no time to train with them.
  • The tanks were plagued with mechanical failure.
  • They were too slow and noisy.
  • The visibility from the tanks was poor.
  • The working environment was a mechanical hell!

At this stage of development, common sense rather than specialist military knowledge counted for more in their analysis – their virtues were exaggerated, they needed to be more powerful and the noise needed to be reduced!   Most significantly, the German artillery was not silenced.  The Royal Artillery undoubtedly needed more fire-power if it was ever to have a chance of winning this major duel in the Battle of the Somme. 

In conclusion:

  • The German line had been under immense pressure 15 September 1916 but it held out. 
  • Their artillery was struggling but had not been overwhelmed. 
  • German supplies were depleted but had not run out. 
  • German morale was failing but had not collapsed. 
  • Their resistance was still strong.  The German nation was not ready for defeat! 


Corporal T.A. Conley was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British Victory and War medals.[23]  His sister Doris received the medals.



13071 Corporal T A Conley, 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry is commemorated at pier and face 14A & 15C, the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.[24]



Corporal T.A. Conley’s effects went to his sister Doris.[25] By 1919, 18 years old Doris lived with Mrs. H. Johnson, 28 Station Road, West Auckland.[26]  A copy of his will dated 7 May 1915, named her as the recipient.  She then lived at 4 Lindley Moor, Lindley near Huddersfield.


Thomas Arthur Conley was born near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire but when he was about 9 years old, he and his sister Doris were orphaned.  His mother Mary (nee Parker) was born at West Auckland, County Durham and had family at Witton Park and Phoenix Row, near Bishop Auckland.  The children were sent north to County Durham to be looked after by their mother’s family.  Thomas lived with his uncle and aunt William and Elizabeth Parker at John Street, Witton Park and is recorded in the 1911 census as a, “colliery driver”, then aged 14. 

In August 1914, 3 weeks after was had been declared and in answer to Kitchener’s appeal, Thomas volunteered to serve in the Army.  When he joined up, he would have been about 17 years old but his stated age was 19 years 1 month.  He joined the 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry and after training was posted to France in May 1915.  The battalion saw action around Ypres and Hooge.  After a spell around Arras in France, it was the Division’s turn to serve on the Somme.  10/DLI was to see action at Delville Wood and the Battle of Flers/Courcelette when tanks were used for the first time.  Now a corporal, Thomas would not be seen again after the opening day of this battle, 16 September 1916.  He was reported wounded, wounded and missing then presumed dead. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme together with 72,000 officers and men.  He was 19 or 20 years old.      

One and a half years later, his cousin Private Joshua Parker, 6th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, was killed in action 25 March 1918 aged 19.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.9a p.438 Halifax 1897 Q3

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.9a p.919 Halifax 1896 Q3

[6] England & Wales Death Index 1837-1915 Vol.9a p.260 Halifax 1874 Q4

[7] England & Wales Death Index 1837-1915 Vol.9a p.212 Halifax 1907 Q2

[8] 1911 census

[9] 1911 census Note: It is assumed that Thomas & Doris’ mother Mary Janet Conley (nee Parker) was William Parker’s sister and he took Thomas in, maybe adopted him.  Their grandmother recorded as Jane Allinson took in Doris.  Presumably she remarried since she was not named Parker. A Jane Allison died in 1915 thus Doris was taken in by another family, presumably Mrs. Johnson. (Both spellings are recorded Allison and Allinson).

[10] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[11] Age: He would have been 17 years old.

[12] Army Form B.178 Medical History & Description on Enlistment

[13] Army Form B.2065

[14] Medal Roll card index

[15] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[16] &,

[17] Various sources – “The Somme” P. Hart,  www.cwgc/somme, “The Somme: the day by day account” C. McCarthy

[18] “The Somme” Peter Hart & “The Somme: the day by day account” Chris McCarthy 1993 p110

[19] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.” Captain Wilfred Miles 1920

[20] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service 

[21] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[22] Statement of the Services & Military History Sheet

[23] Medal Roll card index, Roll of Individuals entitled to the Victory and British War medals dated 1 April 1920 & Roll of Individuals entitled to 1914-15 Star dated 9 October 1919

[24] CWGC

[25] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects Record Number 409967

[26] Army Form W.5080