Norwich – Earlham Cemetery (Thomas Alfred Tyrrell)

This is the war grave of Thomas Alfred Tyrrell, buried in the older military graves area of Earlham Cemetery. The volume of records that remain about an individual varies so much, there is nearly nothing on some poor souls, whereas for others the documentation is extensive. And this is so for Thomas, whose military records remain intact from his service during and before the First World War.

Thomas was born in Dereham in 1877, the son of John Tyrrell and Mary Ann Tyrrell. After briefly working in the shoe industry, he signed up (being given the service number 4080) to join the military on 29 September 1894, opting for a short service option of seven years with colors and five years in the reserves. It was noted at Thomas’s medical that he was 5’4″ in height, he weighed 9.3 stone, had brown eyes and dark brown hair.

During his service (and he served with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Norfolk Regiments), Thomas served in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Barrackpore in India, amongst many other locations. I’m fascinated by what he and other soldiers would have made of that experience, but as an adventure, I think it must have been one of the most exciting possible for someone without any other financial means at the time. Otherwise, for those from Norfolk, it would likely be employment as an agricultural labourer or in the shoe industry.

Thomas left the military in early 1907, but he signed up again to serve in Section D of the Army Reserves on 1 July 1907. He had married on 24 June 1907, although this was pre-planned and he didn’t hate the situation so much that he immediately to enlist again. He married Ethel Georgina (born on 31 December 1889) at St. Paul’s Church in Norwich, now sadly demolished, and she was ten years younger than him. Their first child was born on 18 February 1908, Alfred Thomas.

At the 1911 census, Thomas, his wife and his son were all living at 2 White Entry Yard, which was located just off Bull Close. As a little aside, this would have been very convenient for the Leopard and Plasterer’s, as well as three other nearby pubs which were open when Thomas was living there.

Thomas was discharged on 26 January 1915, being declared as “physically unfit for war service” and he had experienced numerous illnesses and ailments during his time in the military. This included a period at the Cliff Hospital in Felixstowe between 17 and 27 November 1914, suffering with rheumatism.

More of a technicality I understand, but under the Military Service Act of 1916, Thomas was called in once again on 19 July 1916 and given a new service number, 20999. He served at home between then and 15 December 1916, before being discharged again. During this time he became a father for a second time, with Ethel Violet being born on 29 August 1916. By now he had moved to 5 Compass Street, located off King Street, now directly underneath Normandie Tower. He had returned to work as a boot maker and his military records show that he had served in total for 18.5 years.

Thomas died on 14 August 1920 and this would have been linked to an injury caused during military service. What is puzzling is that the grave notes he was aged 41, which is incorrect by two or three years. Errors aren’t uncommon, but the details of these stones were usually checked with family members, but perhaps a mistake or omission was made.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the mother and daughter, both named Ethel, were living in the same location on Compass Street. The younger Ethel had married as her surname was Baker, and she worked as a cardboard box maker, living until 2007. Thomas’s wife, Ethel Georgina, died in Norwich in 1975, which was 55 years after her husband.