Inscription began Peter’s Great War investigations

Hebden Bridge historian and author Peter Thomas
Hebden Bridge historian and author Peter Thomas

In January 2013 a man from Huddersfield named Arthur turned up at the office window of Hebden Royd Primary School.

In his hand he held a Lord Wharton’s Bible, something familiar to older readers as they were once widely presented as Sunday School prizes.

An avid collector of war-related items, Arthur had picked up the Bible in a South Yorkshire ‘junk shop’, having been attracted by the inscription on the fly leaf which read: “Robert. Age 21. My brother died of wounds in hospital in Manchester, Nov. 16th 1918, received in action to the right of Albert, August 5th 1918, in Belgium, during the Great European War, Aug. 4th 1914 to Nov. 11th 1918. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. He gave his life that we might live.”

Another inscription stated that the Bible had been presented to one James Whitby Thomas, in 1903, at St. James’ Church, Hebden Bridge. Arthur felt strongly that he wanted, if possible, to place this Bible in the hands of descendants of James and Robert Arnold Thomas and, after making enquiries in Hebden Bridge and finding that Hebden Royd Primary School had strong links with St James’ Church, he ended up at the school office window.

The school administrator could think of only one line of enquiry – a local historian who lived nearby and who also had the surname Thomas – and so the Lord Wharton’s Bible came into the hands of Peter Thomas.

Peter became instantly fascinated by the inscription, especially the link with the surname, as he says; “I felt that I had to know more about Robert and James Thomas and my researches led me to 24 Oak Street, Hebden Bridge, where the brothers lived with their father and stepmother John and Annabella and two sisters, Ada and Ethel. I found no link with my branch of the Thomas family, but in common with my forebears, not only were they engaged in the clothing trade, but they also got caught up in the great tragedy of the First World War.”

In turn this has led Peter into researching the history of the 1914-18 war in so far as it affected the Calder Valley in general and Hebden Bridge in particular.

He hopes to publish a book on the subject in 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of what James W. Thomas called the Great European War. His aim is not simply to present a list of events and casualties but “to try and find out what were the real thoughts and feelings of ordinary soldiers and civilians, and whether the increasing bloodshed began to sour that fervent patriotism so evident at the outset of the war.”

In this respect, Peter would be grateful to see any letters, diaries, photographs, medals or other memorabilia relating to the conflict that local families may still have.

“A real bonus for me would be to locate the descendants of James Whitby Thomas and Robert Arnold Thomas (born 1897) and return the Bible to where it rightly belongs. Their mother was Delilah, and James W. Thomas married Florence Hopkinson in Ripponden in 1915. Their son Robert Hopkinson Thomas was born in 1920. At his death Robert A. Thomas was serving with the Royal Fusiliers,” said Peter, who can be contacted on telephone 01422 842210, or at plkthomas@hotmail.com