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Thomas Turle (1880 – 1949)

A trawl of the internet in early 2014 for references to the surname Turle revealed a First World War Victory service medal which had been awarded to a Thomas Turle. Further checks confirmed that a Thomas Turle had indeed served in the Royal Army Medical Corps with the service number 98546. It seemed wrong that in the centenary year of the commencement of the First World War a service medal should not be in the hands of someone who felt some connection to it and so I duly purchased it and set about researching Thomas Turle.
Victory Service Medal


First World War Victory service medal

Ordinarily Thomas would not have appeared as a Turle but as his father was not named when he was born he was given the surname of his mother Alice Sophia Turle . In actual fact finding Thomas’ birth record was not easy probably because he was born out of wedlock. Luckily a baptism record for a Tom Turle at Holy Trinity, Bristol on the 28th April 1880 showed that his mother was Sophia Turle [1]. However not all census returns told the same story, in 1881 his place of birth was given as Tunbridge Wells, Kent and in the 1891 it was given as Yorkshire [2]. By 1901 Thomas is married and he gave his place of birth as Tunbridge so this seemed the best place to look for a birth certificate [3]. A birth registration for a Tom Turle was found in Tunbridge Wells and the birth certificate revealed that he was born on the 13th November 1879 at 22 Park Road, South borough, Tunbridge. By the time Alice got round to registering the birth on the 3rd January 1880 she had moved back west to Bristol [4]. The place of baptism and the fact that Alice moved to Bristol made sense as Alice was born in Bedminster, Somerset to William Turle and Sarah Pain [5]. William like his father Tripp Turle was a butcher in the village of Bedminster, now part of Bristol and before that in Blagdon, Somerset [6].

The identity of Thomas’ father is not known, Alice was 24 years old when Thomas was born in 1880 and was working as a domestic servant possibly at 22 Park Road, Tunbridge Wells [7]. As was often the case when a child was born out of wedlock Thomas was bought up by members of his family, other than his mother. In 1881 he was with his mum’s sister and in 1891 he was with his maternal grandparents, both in Bedminster [8]. by 1900 Thomas, now an adult, had moved to Rochford in Essex and had married Eliza Fulcher a local girl [9]. The 1901 census returns shows Thomas and Eliza living in Southend-on-Sea with a daughter called Louisa Alice and working as a carpenter and builder [10]. Two more daughters were to follow, Lilian Maud in 1903 and Ivy Sophia in 1906 and a son Thomas in 1914 [11].

At the outbreak of the First World War Thomas was married with four children and working as a house decorator. Perhaps naturally for a man of 34 with a wife and children Thomas did not volunteer for the military in 1914. By 1916 it was obvious that the war had not been over by Christmas, that it was not going to be easily won, and that a volunteer army was not sufficient. Therefore, in January 1916 conscription was introduced for single men and childless widowers between the ages of 18 and 41. Having a wife and children Thomas was still exempt from conscription but in May 1916 conscription was extended to married men. Compulsory conscription on this scale was understandably not readily accepted and military tribunals were set up for individuals and their employers to appeal against conscription. Many appeals were on the basis of the need for an employer to retain their employees but many were also on the basis of conscience. Thomas was enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private on the 22nd November 1916. Given that Thomas avoided military service for so long and that he was given a non-combatant role it was tempting to surmise that he appealed as a conscientious objector. However, this does not appear to be the case as there is a section on the enrolment papers for conscientious objectors and in Thomas’s case this has not been completed. We know when Thomas signed-up because we are fortunate that some of his service record survives. We are fortunate because about 80% of British First World War service records were lost to fire as a result of enemy bombing in the Second World War. However, only two complete pages survive from Thomas’ record, one being the enrolment paper which gives his address at the time as Clarence Villa, Branksome Road, Southend. The other page is a disciplinary report from when Thomas appears have been absent without leave for 10 hours on the 18th/19th January 1918. For this offence he was deducted a day’s pay [12].

Thomas returned home from the war but unfortunately little is at present known about the rest of his life and he died on the 14th January 1949 in Southend [13]. How his Victory medal came on the open market is not known, nor what became of his British War Medal, which he was also awarded. All four of his children married and so there are probably descendants of Thomas alive today.

The Allied Victory Medal, also known as 'Wilfred'

It was decided that each of the First World War allies should each issue their own bronze victory medal with a similar design, similar equivalent wording and identical ribbon. This medal is the British version which was designed by the Scottish sculptor William McMillan. The obverse, or front, depicts a winged classical figure representing victory. The reverse bears the inscription ‘THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILISATION 1914 – 1919’. The recipient's service number, rank, name and unit was impressed around the rim of the medal.

The three main First World War medals awarded were: The 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. The three medals soon became affectionately known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred after characters from a popular Daily Mirror comic strip. Nearly all servicemen were awarded both the British War Medal and Victory Medal but only those who had served in France at the outbreak and early period of the war were awarded the 1914 or 1914-15 star. Approximately 5.7 million victory medals were issued.

Ross Turle, June 2016
Thanks to Mike Houlden for information on Alice Sophia Turle

[1] baptism record
[2] 1881 census RG11/2451, folio 70, p.15 and 1891 census RG12/1952, folio 116, p.31
[3] 1901 Census RG13/1682, folio 17, page 26
[4] Thomas’s birth certificate
[5] Alice’s birth certificate
[6] 1861 census RG9/1706, folio 13, p.21
[7] Thomas’s birth certificate
[8] 1881 census RG11/2451, folio 70, p.15 and 1891 census RG12/1952, folio 116, p.31
[9] Central Registrars’ quarterly indexes, Dec quarter 1900, Rochford District, vol.4a, p.971
[10] 1901 census RG13/1682, folio 17, page 26
[11] central registrars’ indexes
Lilian Maud – June quarter 1903, Rochford District, vol.4a, p.742
Ivy Sophia – March quarter 1907, Rochford District, vol.4a, p.718
Thomas – September quarter 1914, Rochford District, vol.4a, p.1422
[12] Thomas’s army record – TNA, WO363, British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920
[13] death certificate

Updated 22 June 2016