Performances on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th November at 8pm, Goudhurst Village Hall
WHO’S WORDS OF WAR?
Two of the poems featured in GADS’ “Words of War” (at Goudhurst Parish Hall on 11th and 12th November 2016) were written by Tom Sefton, and printed for “private subscription” by a publisher in Manchester in 1936.
Search the internet and you will find little trace of Tom Sefton or his magnificent poems and, in Roger Joye’s rare volume of Sefton’s poetry, there is no reference to Sefton’s regiment or where exactly he saw service on the Western Front. The records of soldiers who fought in The Great War are incomplete; the majority were destroyed or badly damaged when the warehouse in which they were stored was bombed in the Second World War but the surviving records showed that there were at least 12 Thomas, Tom or T Seftons who served with the British Army. The question is, then, which – if any – of these soldiers wrote these wonderful, poignant but largely unknown poems?
There are two small clues in the foreword to Sefton’s book; first, that Sefton worked in a mill before the war and, secondly, that it was a result of an intervention by Sefton’s company commander – named as “Captain Desmond Coke” – that saw Sefton transferred from an administrative job at his regiment’s headquarters to a battalion fighting on the front line.
Finding a record of a Captain Desmond Coke in the British Army during The Great War was initially unrewarding but, after many hours of drawing frustrating blanks, Roger Joye came across the records of a Captain Francis Desmond Talbot Coke, Adjutant of the 10th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, who arrived in France with his battalion on 31 July 1915… and, having identified Coke’s regiment, it was then work of moments to establish whether any of our twelve Thomas or Tom Seftons also served in this regiment.
As luck would have it, two of the twelve Seftons served with this regiment: a Private Thomas Sefton and a Private Tom Sefton, both whom served in France but some further sleuthing showed that, crucially, whilst the former served in France from 12 February 1915, the latter didn’t arrive land in France until 31 July 1915… exactly the same date that Captain Coke and the 10th Battalion disembarked at Boulogne. We finally had our man!
Luckily, Tom Sefton’s service records have survived and we now know that the poet was born in Bolton and was working as a clerk at a cotton mill when war was declared in August 1914. Sefton, then 25 years old, immediately volunteered and was posted to 10th Battalion – part of Kitchener’s “New Army” – on 14 September 1914. After months of training in England, Sefton’s battalion arrived in France on 31 July 1915.
On joining the army, Sefton was promoted rapidly from private to Lance Corporal and then to full Corporal before the Battalion had even left England with Sefton acting as an Orderly Room Clerk before being promoted, via Serjeant and Colour-Serjeant, to Quarter-Master Serjeant in June 1915. In January 1917, Sefton was given a commission as a Second Lieutenant and transferred to the 9th Battalion, where he was wounded in action at the Battle of Messines, losing a hand and being sent back to England.
Second Lieutenant Tom Sefton of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment survived the war.
Original research by Roger and Gill Joye. Additional research by Charles Woollam.
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