Thomas John Edmund Anstey (1884-1915)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Thomas John Edmund Anstey (known as Tom) is a member of the Stoke Gifford Anstey sub-branch and one of the chief researchers of the Anstey Story Project. He was born in Cardiff in 1884 to parents Thomas Henry Anstey and Eliza Morse, unfortunately his mother died when he was an infant so Tom grew up with first his grandparents William Anstey and Mary at Green Court Farm in Henllys near Llantarnam in Monmouthshire, and then later by his aunt Kate Anstey in Wandsworth, South London. Tom was brother to William Henry Anstey, George James Anstey and Edward Archibald Anstey, and he is also my [Gary‘s] great granduncle.

On leaving school in 1901, Tom joined the Capital and Counties Bank in the City of London and in 1908 he signed up for the ‘City of London Yeomanry’, an Army Reserve Unit. Soon after the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Tom volunteered for overseas duty and was promoted to Corporal. Tragically, at the tender age of thirty one, he perished on 5 October 1915 in the trenches at Gallipoli, Turkey fighting for the freedoms we take for granted today (see Tom’s War Heroics below for more).

During the period from 1905 to 1914, Tom investigated both his family ancestry and the ‘Anstey’ surname. He produced copious quantities of high quality research, both in terms of correspondence by letter with others interested in the surname and family of ‘Anstey’ (see Tom’s Correspondence), and by extensive research via resources available at the time (see Tom’s Research). Fortunately his research has survived the passage of time and now partially resides with me.

Tom and I between us (with help from other researchers of course) have now constructed the entirety of the basic Anstey family pedigree and we are the overseers and chief researchers of this ‘Anstey Story’ project. We have currently co-authored four books on the Ansteys, the first of which,

Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry

is now in its third edition, and is available for purchase at Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Amazon Singapore and Amazon Canada.

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Tom’s War Heroics

The following extract is taken from the book ‘ANSTEY: The Stoke Gifford Branch

When Tom and his brother Ted set sail with the Rough Riders for the Mediterranean on 11 April 1915, they would have had a fairly good idea of what awaited them; the newspapers of early 1915 were replete with stories of how the war was progressing, as well as details of the enormous casualty numbers. After nearly three weeks at sea, the Rough Riders arrived at Cape Helles at the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey on 28 April 1915, and stood by to land. They were intended to form part of the second Allied support wave after the initial Gallipoli attack on 25 April 1915. However, for whatever reason, those plans were changed, so on 1 May 1915 they departed again, having never left the ship, arriving at Alexandria, Egypt on 6 May 1915. In Egypt, the Rough Riders were sent to Suez, performing uneventful defence duties on horseback guarding the strategically vital Suez Canal. This continued until the beginning of August 1915, when the regiment was dismounted and readied to return to Gallipoli.

From August 1915 onwards, we can follow the exact movements of Tom, his brother Ted and the Rough Riders through the regiment ‘War Diaries’.  Some regiment diaries are more detailed than others, and fortunately the Rough Riders’ War Diary contains very detailed entries. So on 1 August 1915, the Rough Riders were stationed at Suez in Egypt. On 2 August 1915 they were prepared to move out, though this plan was cancelled on 4 August 1915. On 11 August 1915, instructions were finally received that the regiment would move out on 13 August 1915, which they duly did, arriving in Alexandria, Egypt on 14 August 1915 at about 6am. On the same day, seventeen officers and 315 other ranks of the Rough Riders embarked on board HMT ‘Caledonia’, arriving at Lemnos the following day at about midday (Lemnos was a Greek island that the Allies used as a base for their Gallipoli operations). On 17 August 1915, the Rough Riders transferred to HMS ‘Cruise Doris’ on route to Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, landing about 9.30am on 18 August 1915.

Within hours of their arrival, the Rough Riders were welcomed by intense Turkish shelling; fortunately there were no casualties. By the time Tom and Ted arrived in Suvla Bay, Gallipoli on 18 August 1915, the situation on the ground was once again a trench warfare stalemate. However, given that the August Suvla Bay offensive had only occurred a few days earlier, the trenches were rudimentary at best, and there was much dangerous work to be done in reinforcing and holding the Allied position.

On 21 August 1915, Tom and Ted faced their first combat. Their orders were to advance from Lalla Baba (a hillock overlooking the beach at Suvla Bay) to Chocolate Hill, and from there to attack a position east of Green Hill held by the Turks. This particular attack was a success, though losses to the Rough Riders at seven killed, 27 wounded and eight missing shows the danger of the operation. From 22 August to 4 September 1915 the Rough Riders were held in reserve behind Chocolate Hill. Their role here was in the main to build and improve dug outs, increasing their security and cover from Turkish shelling. However it was by no means safe as Ted was to find out, for on 29 August 1915 a Turkish shell fired aimlessly towards British positions exploded next to him, and shrapnel became embedded in his back. This was the end of Ted’s Mediterranean war; the injury was severe enough that he was shipped back to England, arriving home on 10 September 1915.

On 4 September 1915 the order was given to the Rough Riders to begin preparations for the move from their reserve position to the front line trenches via the support trenches, where their principal task was digging a communication trench. Six Rough Riders fell sick that day and were removed to the field ambulance, whilst one was wounded by shrapnel. The War Diary entries for early September give a good flavour of Tom’s day to day existence:

Heavy shelling at night and by day the only safe approach is along the communication trench we are digging. A mule convoy arrived from Suvla with rations. Enemy hear it and fire for an hour without success. Regiment in support and commenced digging out the lane where mule convoy arrives and also where it forms a communication trench to front trenches, both require much deepening.

On 8 September 1915, the order came that the Rough Riders would be moving from support trenches to front line trenches the following day, and so on 9 September 1915, Tom arrived at the front trenches for the first time. The entries in the War Diary become much more frequent at this point. For example:

9 Sep 23:40 One man wounded when on listening guard to sapping party

10 Sep 06:30 One man killed behind dug-outs by snipers chance shot

10 Sep 11:30 Two men killed by exploding shrapnel shell while working in trench

10 Sep 17:30 Two men crawled out of sap head to locate snipers. One man shot and killed the other returned with the aid of covering party who brought in body

10 Sep 18:00 Very heavy firing heard from our right at Anzac”

It is worth remembering that these diary entries concerned only the Rough Riders regiment, which consisted by this time of just over two hundred soldiers. Whilst not being killed or shelled, the regiment spent their time digging and improving the front line trenches, locating and killing enemy snipers with machine gun fire, extending saps and improving barbed wire entanglements. The order to rotate back to reserve trenches came on 19 September 1915, after Tom had spent just over a week in the front line trenches. From the War Diary entry on 19 September 1915 however, it seems the reserve trenches were only slightly less dangerous than the front line:

19 Sep Order came to dig communication trench up to next line at night. Rested men from 19:30 to 05:30 next morning. This trench very necessary as road in use is well marked and completely shelled by day. At 17:30 Turks suddenly began heavy bombardment of British positions everywhere, especially on our left flank. Rifle fire all along the line and more bullets fall here than on front trenches.”

The Rough Riders spent just under a week in the reserve trenches, then on 25 September 1915 they moved back up to the front trenches, in what seems to have been a particularly ‘busy’ day.

25 Sep Our reserve trenches heavily shelled all day long owing to constant streams of men from regiments behind us passing up communication trenches with baggage and from front trenches to rear in same way. Strength now eight officers and 175 others. At 20:00 moved up to the front trenches and relieved Herts Yeomanry.

This was to be the last time Tom would make this particular journey between trenches alive. The Rough Riders War Diary entries from 1 October 1915 onwards paint a particularly clear, poignant and bleak picture of Tom’s final days:

Gallipoli 1/10/1915: Regiment in front and support trenches between Tints Corner and Dorset Sap, 1st County of London Yeomanry on our left, 3rd Regiment on our right. Right half of trenches under water and pumping parties continually working. Sandbags received and used on wet section. To Field Hospital – 14. 2nd Lieut Gilpin rejoined from Suvla. Present strength 10 officers and 136 others

Gallipoli 2/10/1915: 04:00 Stood to Arms. R.E [Royal Engineers] commenced the draining work on right trench using our men as fatigue. Orders received to relieve 3rd County of London Yeomanry in right arm of front trench. To Field Ambulance – 12 From Field Ambulance – 5

Gallipoli 3/10/1915: 04:00 Stood to Arms. 05:00 moved front trench, relieving 3rd County of London Yeomanry. On our left 1st County of London Yeomanry. On our right an open nullah [riverbed]. This trench is being continued across the nullah to meet similar extension from the right flank at a small building called Black and White House which is still used by Turkish snipers. The trench has now reached Dead Man’s Gully. This gully to the rear has been partly cleared of the dead, mostly British, but to the front right up to the parapet of the trench it is full of bodies as far as one can see along it. 11:00 One man killed. 19:00 Continued digging trench. In the last three days 39 O.R have gone sick to ambulance. The amount of digging and draining and fatigue of heavy load carrying along narrow trenches has been too much for them after four months of Egyptian summer. New line is about 210 yards long from 40 yards south of Dorset Saphead to a little beyond Dead Man’s Gully, and is being extended daily. Smell very bad from bodies lying in and around the gulley and all over the fields in front. Turkish trench is about 150 yards at the nearest and varies up to about 400 yards.

Gallipoli 4/10/1915: Quiet at Stand To. 09:00 Sudden heavy bombardment of Australian trenches by the Turks, followed by tremendous rifle fire all along the line particularly opposite us, but no Turks left their trenches at all. 19:00 Snipers very active all round the open end of our trench.

And so we reach Tom’s last day alive, 5 October 1915. Details of his demise appear in that day’s Rough Riders War Diary entry.

Gallipoli 5/10/1915: Very quiet. A few bombs fired from our trench mortar at nearest Turkish trench. Good range obtained but rather uncertain. 19:00 Party of R.E under officer with party of our men went out to erect a wire entanglement round the end of our line. Two patrols of four men each crawled out beyond [into no man’s land]. Soon after commencing work rapid fire was opened on them from several points and the party eventually came in carrying two wounded R.E men. There was some confusion as to the position of the Turks and one of our working party (Cpl [Tom] Anstey) and one of the patrol (Tpr Hayes) were missing. Lance Corporal Read and Tpr Hall went out to search for them, starting from the right and working round in front of our wire to the left by the gully. The Turks kept up heavy sniping all the time and appeared to be getting in closer round our trench end. At one time our two men were almost given up as well as the two missing. Just after an hour they came in and reported having been as far as the bend in the gully where they saw a number of Turks digging but they had found no trace of our men. 21:00 Opened fire on the gully with the machine gun and two troops cleared out Turkish digging party there. It is difficult to take adequate steps to keep the Turkish working and sniping parties under because we are under orders not to provoke disturbances because of our own night digging and wiring parties; and every night more or less there is one of the latter at some point along the line.

Gallipoli 6/10/1915: 06:00 Fresh body can now be seen about 50 yards to the right of our trench and beyond our wire. This body brought in in the evening, identified as that of Cpl [Tom] Anstey.

On 14 October 1915, Sergeant H. W. Etkins, who was in the front trenches near Tom on the day that he was killed, wrote a letter to the ‘Gloucestershire Society in London’ informing them of the precise circumstances of Tom’s death. In the letter he wrote:

You may perhaps have been informed of the death out here of Corporal Anstey of the Roughriders, the City of London Yeomanry. It took place a fortnight ago on a Wednesday night, and as I am I believe the only other member of our Society in the London Mounted Brigade, was not two hundred yards away at the time of the unfortunate affair, and have had the opportunity of gleaning full particulars at first hand…Corporal Anstey had been sent out in charge of a small party to cover the operations of some Engineers engaged in fixing wire entanglements in front of a difficult and important part of our line. The Turks heard and opened with machine-gun fire on the working party, who were obliged to withdraw. Meanwhile Corporal Anstey, on the flank with his men, came across a sniper under a tree and promptly shot him. But Turkish snipers generally cover one another, and at the flash of Corporal Anstey’s rifle he was immediately shot by another concealed sniper. It will be consolation to know that his death was instantaneous, while it cannot fail to be a matter of pride to the members of the Gloucestershire Society in London to reflect that a member they mourn met his death while bravely carrying out a most difficult and dangerous piece of work in the service of his country.

Tom is now buried at Plot One, Row D, Grave One in Green Hill Cemetery in Suvla Bay, very close to where he fell. We are fortunate that Tom’s final resting place is marked and known; around eighty percent of those lying at Green Hill Cemetery remain unidentified. Indeed, it is only because his grave is marked that sometime after Green Hill Cemetery was completed (probably in the early 1920s), his Aunt Kate Anstey was able to travel to the Gallipoli Peninsula to pay her final respects to Tom.

Tom’s sacrifice is widely commemorated. There is an entry for him in ‘De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour Volume 2’, published in 1916. In the 1916 annual meeting of the ‘Gloucestershire Society in London’, Tom’s then recent passing was noted with sadness. Under a 1918 Army Order, Tom was awarded the ‘1914/15 Star Medal’, and under Army Orders 301 and 266 in 1919, he was awarded the ‘Victory Medal’ and ‘British War Medal’.

There are also two memorials to Tom in Henllys, Llantarnam where he spent much of his youth. The first is a War Memorial inside St Gabriel’s Church, Old Cwmbran. The second is a magnificent marble tablet dedicated to Tom on the wall of the chancel of the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Llantarnam (photo below), where his grandparents William and Mary were buried. The tablet was unveiled in a ceremony on 22 April 1921 at the church, and was commissioned and paid for by Aunt Kate Anstey. No doubt many of the extended Stoke Gifford Anstey family attended this service, for the report of the ceremony states that the church was “filled to capacity”.

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