Saddler Sergeant Thomas Graham

 

 

Thomas Graham was born on 17 March 1876 at Newtownstewart, County Tyrone, the seventh of nine children of saddler William Graham and his wife Martha (née Hunter). William Graham had been in business as a saddler in Main Street, Newtownstewart since some point in the 1860s. At the time of the 1901 Census Thomas was living with his parents and younger brother and working as a saddler.

Graham’s father placed an advertisement in the Londonderry Sentinel in July/August 1903 for a harness maker, perhaps as a replacement for Thomas who may have moved to Belfast at this point. His elder brother had a saddlery business in Gortin, County Tyrone. A sister had preceded Graham to Belfast on her marriage (1899). Graham recorded his mother’s death at a house he lived in in Jocelyn Street, Belfast in 1907. His father had moved to live with the sister and her family in Killowen Street and died there in 1918.

By 1907 Graham was living in Jocelyn Street, Belfast and working as a commercial traveller. Immediately prior to his marriage he was living at 196 My Lady's Road, Belfast. On 30 May that year he married Annie Stewart in the Willowfield Church of Ireland Parish Church, Belfast. The couple moved to nearby 54 Hatton Drive, where they had seven children.

Graham enlisted in the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry between 1903 and 1908, serving with that regiment until its disbandment and replacement by a new reserve regiment, the North Irish Horse, in July 1908. It is not known whether Graham elected to join the new regiment at the time, but he did serve with it at some point prior to the war, with NCO and saddler rank (regimental number not known). It appears that, at the conclusion of his period of service (possibly in 1914) he elected to leave the regiment.

On 23 November 1914, just months after the outbreak of war, Graham joined the Army Service Corps (No. TS/8739) - he gave his age as 35, three years less than his true age. He was immediately posted to the Divisional Train of the 36th (Ulster) Division and promoted to the rank of saddler staff-sergeant.

According to a report in the Belfast News-Letter of 6 June 1915:

Sergeant Thomas Graham, a Newtownstewart man, who has been resident for some years in Belfast, and who was recently transferred from the North Irish Horse to the Army Service Corps, has been promoted sergeant-major, with the rank of warrant officer of the second class.

On 25 June 1915 Graham's skills were tested at Belfast and he was assessed as "a very good saddler".

Graham embarked for France on 2 October 1915 with the 36th (Ulster) Division, attached to No.251 Horse Transport Company of the Divisional Train. He remained in France and Belgium with that unit throughout the war. During that time he was twice disciplined (severely reprimanded): the first time on 10 February 1917 for creating a disturbance in the vicinity of the camp; and the second for being absent from duty without permission and found in a French civilian house at 11 a.m. drinking coffee.

Graham returned to the UK at the end of March 1919 and on 21 April was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve. He unsuccessfully applied for a pension for rheumatism attributed by his military service.

After the war Graham returned to Hatton Drive and resumed work as a commercial traveller. He died in Glasgow on 15 May 1938 and was buried in Belfast's Dundonald Cemetery.

 

Graham at the regiment's annual training camp in 1912. The image can be seen in its full context here.

 

I am grateful to Angela Graham, a grand-daughter of Thomas Graham, for alerting me to his service in the North Irish Horse, for permitting me to reproduce the first image, and for identifying him in the second image.