Thomas Pelfrey had been prominent in local affairs in Lymington before the war. He enlisted on the outbreak of war, but died 9 months later in India from cholera.
Thomas William Pelfrey was born on 17 January 1875 at 127 High Street, Lymington, Hampshire the first child of Thomas John Pelfrey (1850–1912) and his wife, Jane née Smith (1840–1928).
Thomas John Pelfrey had been born at Seasalter, near Whitstable in Kent into a seafaring family and like his father went to sea at an early age. By early 1873 (aged 23), he had settled in Lymington, where he married Jane Smith, who was ten years his senior. After the marriage, Jane continued to work as an upholsterer while Thomas worked on as a mariner.
Their first child, Thomas William, was born two years after the wedding with the second son, Charles Edwin being born in the spring of 1876. At the time of the 1881 census, the family were living at 127 High Street, Lymington.
Ten years later, the family were at 13 Captains Row, where Thomas senior now described himself as a “yachtsman”, while Jane was still a self-employed upholsterer. Thomas junior, aged 16 was a solicitor’s clerk, and his 15-year old brother Charles was an apprentice watchmaker. By the 1901 census, both sons had left home and Thomas senior and Jane were at 99 South Street, Lymington.
Thomas junior married Florence Eliza Dimmick (1877–1953) in Southampton on 5 August 1895. Florence was the daughter of Captain John Dimmick, a master mariner from Lymington. At the time of the wedding, Thomas was resident at 25 St Mark’s Road, Lymington. The couple’s first child, Florence Eveline was born at Lymington on 30 September, less than two months after the wedding. Over the next twenty years, the couple had a further eight children, although two died within three days of each other in March 1902 from the effects of whooping cough.
Following their wedding, Thomas and Florence lived initially at Lavender Cottage in Westfield Road, in the Waterford area of Lymington. By 1911, they were at Holly Cottage, where the family remained until after Florence’s death in 1953.
In March 1912, Thomas’s father committed suicide by hanging himself “whilst of unsound mind”.
Professional career & community service
On leaving school, Thomas trained as a solicitor’s clerk, becoming an assistant clerk in the Town Clerk’s office before being appointed as chief clerk to the county court, and later to the Rural District Council. Thomas also trained as an accountant and was a member of the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors. As assistant secretary to the Lymington Literary Institute, he was responsible for the addition of the Ladies’ Wing, which was built in 1901 as a memorial to the late Queen Victoria. He was also a long-serving member of Lymington town council, a member of the Town Improvement Association and secretary to the Lyric Theatre which was opened in 1912. He was also a member the Lymington Debating Society.
As a member of the town council, he took a deep interest in the welfare and progress of the borough and was a strong advocate of river improvement for the encouragement of yachtsmen. In politics he was a progressive Conservative, and member of the Conservative Club.
Thomas was also a keen sportsman, and in his younger days he was an excellent swimmer, runner, and cyclist, while he took a keen interest in rowing, and was a member of the cricket and football clubs. He was the best shot in the Company in his volunteer days, winning the Mayor’s trophy three years in succession.
He took a keen interest in yachting, and was considered one of the finest amateur yachtsmen in the Solent. He was a member of the Regatta Committee, and was regularly a successful competitor at the regatta. He was also a keen billiard player and a member of the Town Golf Club. He was reported to be a “splendid” dancer and was a popular member of several dancing societies, as well as of the Carnival Ball Committee.
Although Thomas’s father-in-law, John Dimmick, had also been a Freemason (he was initiated into the New Forest Lodge No 319 at Lymington in February 1888), it is unlikely that this had much influence on Thomas as he only attended the Lodge for two years and was eventually excluded.
Thomas was initiated into Powney Lodge No 3099 at the Masonic Hall at Ashley Road, Lymington on 18 November 1908 (aged 33) together with 40-year old Frank King, a journalist, and 30-year old Percy Corbett, a bookkeeper. The three brethren were passed to the second degree on 16 December and raised to the degree of a Master Mason on 17 February 1909. On the latter day, George C. Vicary, a 28-year old solicitor was initiated into the lodge on what must have been a busy evening.
Thomas progressed through the junior offices of the lodge and on 18 May 1915, two days after his death, he was due to be invested as Junior Warden. He was described as “one of the most promising of the younger officers, entering into the duties with the seriousness and enthusiasm which marked all his doings”.
Prior to the war, Thomas was a member of the 4th (Bournemouth) Rifle Volunteers Corps, which in 1908 became the 7th (Volunteer) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, under the command of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. On declaration of war, Thomas enlisted into the 1/7th (Territorial) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment – he probably signed on in the Lyric Theatre where he was secretary.
As part of the Hampshire Infantry Brigade of the Wessex Division, the battalion were sent to Salisbury Plain immediately that war was declared to prepare for service overseas. The Wessex Division was soon ordered to India to replace regular British and Indian units who were to be deployed on the Western Front.
They sailed from Southampton on 19 October 1914, travelling via Malta and Suez and arrived at Karachi on 11 November, from where they were sent to northern India.
Death and commemoration
In India, the 1/7th Battalion were engaged in “policing” duties based at the cantonment town of Chakrata, situated at an elevation of 7000 feet, about 200 miles north of Delhi.
A few months after arriving at Chakrata, Thomas was taken ill with cholera. He died on 16 May 1915 and was buried in the local cemetery alongside two of his comrades, 39-year old Private Walter Joseph Evans and 17-year old Private Arthur Frank Way, both from Bournemouth.
Following the independence of India in 1947, access to Chakrata and other remote cemeteries was difficult, and as a result Thomas’s name was one of more than 1,000 engraved on the 1914–1918 Madras Memorial at Chennai. Over the years, access has been regained to many of the cemeteries and today there are only 72 graves which remain inaccessible, including 15 at Chakrata.
News of Thomas’s death reached his family at Lymington by telegram on the same day, and was reported in the Western Gazette on 21 May. The minutes of the installation meeting of Powney Lodge on 18 May record that the Worshipful Master, W. Bro. H. Hunter Woods made “a very feeling reference to the sad loss sustained on the sudden death of Bro. T. W. Palfrey from cholera”. The lodge immediately petitioned the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys and Girls on behalf of his three youngest children.
At the meeting of the Lymington town council the following week, tributes were paid to Thomas:
He was one of those all-round men who was always anywhere when wanted.
He was a man who went out at his country’s call, and everyone connected with the town would hold his memory in esteem.
To those who knew him intimately, he was a most generous and open-hearted friend, and his untimely death is mourned by a very wide circle. Beneath a rather sharp exterior there beat the kindest of hearts, and many a poor person has benefited by his gratuitous advice and assistance.
A memorial service was held at the Congregational Church on 27 May, conducted by the Revd. W. Vine, which was attended by a large congregation, including representatives of the many institutions of which Thomas was a member. The address was given by the Revd. H. New, who spoke highly of his character and the valuable and varied work which Thomas did for his native town. He also referred to the intense and strenuous manner in which Thomas set about everything he took in hand, and the thorough way in which he strove to carry projects through.
They talked of a short and incomplete life, but I am not sure that that is the right way to measure things. He lived; some of us existed. He laboured to build a permanent character, and it is after all character that counts. Our departed friend was not afraid of standing alone. The question he asked was “Is it right, and ought it to be done?” and straightway he would go and try to accomplish it. We did not always agree with him in minor details, but we could not fail to admire his sincerity of purpose and enthusiasm. He travelled faster than many of us, and his public life in the town had made its mark. He thought quickly and saw further than most of us. He thought possibly he was born a great many years too soon, and we were left a long way behind him. We might eventually see the wisdom of many things he advocated, and wonder why we had not seen their utility and force sooner. He had a great and passionate desire to make his native town a better and more prosperous place, and its improvement and expansion were ever his chief aim.
Of his patriotism, I need say nothing. He saw his country in great danger. He heard his country’s call and responded to it, willingly giving his services. His life appeared to be full of promise and usefulness, and many of us anticipated greater things of him, and were looking forward in the days to come to happy seasons of intercourse and fellowship, to further efforts and work for the general good. These were our dreams, and they are now all ended.
It is another of the unexplained mysteries of life, and for its unfolding we must await the fuller light of that great day when all mysteries would be made clear. Today we must leave the matter in the hands of love and wisdom, embracing in their sympathy those whose loss was greater and their burden heavier than ours, praying on their behalf that the God of all grace will comfort and help them in the days to come and transform their sorrow into joy. To us, his friends, his death comes as a call to further duty, to do those things which are urgently needed, and to strive to serve our day and generation as he served it.
Later family history
Thomas’s death left Florence a widow at 37, with 7 children, the youngest of whom, Gerald Graham had been born on 9 November 1914, after Thomas had left for India. Florence never remarried and remained at Holly Cottage until her death on 12 October 1953, aged 76. Their children mostly lived into the 1980s or 1990s, and Thomas has grandchildren still living in the Lymington area.
1881 England Census
1891 England Census
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920
United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Records, 1751–1921
Atkinson, C.T. The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1914-1918, pp. 41-47
The Western Gazette:
28 March 1902: A Double Bereavement
4 April 1902: A Double Funeral
21 May 1915: Masonic Installation
21 May 1915: Sad Death of Corporal T.W. Pelfrey
28 May 1915: The Late Mr. Pelfrey
28 May 1915: The Late Mr. T.W. Pelfrey
4 June 1915: Memorial Service at Lymington Congregational Church
18 June 1915: Town Council – Tributes to the Late Councillor Pelfrey
Cap badge of 7th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment: picclick.co.uk: 7th Bn The Hampshire Regiment
Lyric Cinema: www.lymingtonharbour.co.uk: History of Lymington
Madras War Memorial: mikeydawson.wordpress.com: North Staffordshire Regiment