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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Thomas Minks (1889-1914)

Information about Thomas Minks, teacher at Highfield Council School, who died of wounds following the bombardment of Hartlepool. He was the first Durham County Council employee to be killed in WW1 and is commemorated on Durham County Council War Memorial.

Biography

Thomas Minks was born at Allendale Cottages, between Medomsley and High Westwood, on 5 January 1889, and he was baptised at Medomsley on 6 February. His parents were Robert and Elizabeth, and Robert was a deputy at Derwent Colliery, Medomsley. In 1891 the family was living at 9 Allendale Cottages, Robert was described as a coal miner age 35, Elizabeth was 33, and Thomas had a younger sister, Mary Jane. By 1901 the family had moved to 15 Allendale Cottages. Robert was listed as a deputy and an older brother of Thomas, William Bailey (age 22), who did not appear with the family in 1891, was described as hewer. There were also four younger siblings - Alice Hannah (age 8), Martha Amelia (age 7), Mavis (age 4) and Robert Sydney (age 2).

Bombardment of the Hartlepools, Mainsforth Terrace, 16 December 1914 (D/DLI 13/2/275)
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In October 1904 Robert, then age 50, and described as a 'master shifter' disappeared. It was known that he had gone down the pit, but there was no evidence that he had come out.

A search was made for him with a bloodhound, and a clairvoyant was also employed, but with no success.

After the abandonment of the search and several weeks later, his body was eventually discovered in a remote part of the mine workings. An inquest jury decided that he had committed suicide.

Thomas was educated at Westwood Council School and Consett Pupil Teacher Centre and then became a pupil teacher at Westwood School, before attending Bede College in Durham to train as a teacher. He was described as a very fair footballer and cricketer on his college application notes. He was at Bede from September 1907 to July 1909, and does not appear to have been an outstanding student, but passed his final examination. By 1911 Elizabeth Minks had established herself as a newsagent at Rowlands Gill, with Mary, Martha, Mavis and Robert assisting in the business. Alice Minks was following in Thomas' footsteps, as a student teacher.

In 1914 Thomas was a certificated teacher at Highfield Council School, near Rowlands Gill. He was given permission to volunteer at the end of September 1914, and he joined the 18th Battalion (the 'Durham Pals') of the Durham Light Infantry. The 18 DLI was one of the Kitchener's Army battalions, raised from the enthusiastic flood of volunteers in the first months of the war, and it was unique in that the expenses for raising it were paid for entirely by the County of Durham. The battalion trained at Cocken Hall, and at the end of 1914 was sent to form part of the garrison of Hartlepool, where it became the first of the New Armies to come under fire, but from the German navy rather than its army.

The German raids on Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough were part of a plan by the German navy to trap and destroy a part of the British Grand Fleet. A fast battle-cruiser force, Seydlitz, von der Tann, Moltke and Derfflinger, with the armoured cruiser Blucher and 22 supporting light vessels, under the command of Rear Admiral Franz Hipper, was assigned to raid the North-East coast. To provide back-up if Hipper's ships came under attack and also to be in a position where it could attack any detached units of the Grand Fleet which investigated the raids, the main High Seas Fleet sailed to position east of Dogger Bank. The German force split up to make the attacks, with Seydlitz, Moltke and Blucher assigned to bombard Hartlepool on 16 December 1914.

Hartlepool was defended by three 6 inch guns and a garrison of 166, which included men of the Durham Light Infantry. The garrison was warned at 4.30am that there was the possibility of an attack, and the bombardment began at 8.10am. The shore batteries did not begin to fire until the German shells began to land, and then found that they could make no impact on the armour-plating of the German ships. The bombardment killed 86 civilians and injured 424, while seven soldiers were killed and 14 injured. One thousand one hundred and fifty shells were fired and hit various targets including churches, 300 houses, gasworks, steelworks and railways. The raid was over in 40 minutes.

The retreating German warships were pursued by a section of the Grand Fleet, including six battleships and four battlecruisers, and at one point the 22 battleships of the High Seas Fleet were close to engaging the smaller British unit, but the German commander feared that he was meeting the entire Grand Fleet, and broke off the engagement.

Thomas Minks was one of the members of the 'Durham Pals' which formed part of the garrison at Hartlepool (specifically guarding the gasworks), and he died of wounds he received during the bombardment. Five other other members of 18 DLI were also killed.

Thomas Minks was buried at High Spen, St. Patrick, on 19 December 1914.

Sources

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
  • Soldiers Died ... CD
  • Medal Rolls Index Cards
  • North East War Memorials Project website
  • Medomsley baptism register, EP/Me 6, p.228
  • High Spen burial register, EP/HS 1/15, p.43
  • Durham Directory, 1905, p.57
  • Bede College students' record book, E/HB 234, f.72
  • Bede College register of applicants, E/HB 257, pp123-124
  • 1891 Census return, RG 12/4091, f.109v, p.28
  • 1901 Census return, RG 13/4667, f.47v, p.14
  • 1911 Census return, RG 14/30521, schedule 13
  • Durham Advertiser, 18 December 1914, p.8(d)
  • Durham Advertiser, 25 December 1914, p.3(f-g)
  • Durham Chronicle, 18 December 1914, p.12(b-c)
  • British Army World War 1 Service Records, TNA WO 383 Thomas Minks