Second Lieutenant Thomas Featherstone Graves

 

Thomas Featherstone Graves was born on 27 November 1889 at Cookstown, County Tyrone, the third  of five children of medical practitioner Charles Henry Philip Dampier Graves and his wife Ellinor Josephine Constance (nee Purdon). His mother died when he was just eight years old.

Graves was educated at Barbourne College, Worcestershire. Around 1908 he emigrated to Canada, where he took up farming. In 1915 he and his older brother Noel Charles Purdon Graves returned to Ireland to join the army. The Mid-Ulster Mail reported that:

Two sons of Dr. C. H. P. D. Graves, of Cookstown, have patriotically returned to Ireland to join in the defence of the Empire. Mr. Noel C. P. Graves, the eldest surviving son, has been for years in Vancouver with a firm of real estate brokers. He returned some months ago and joined the Officers' Training Corps at Queen's University, and he has now got a Commission in the 19th Royal Irish Rifles, and gone to the camp at Newcastle. His brother, Mr. Thomas F. Graves, has been eight years farming in Saskatchewan, and without waiting for a Commission, has enlisted as a trooper in the North Irish Horse. The example of these young Britons should shame the crowds of fellows at home doing girls' work in offices and shops.

Graves enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 5 January 1916 (No.2057). He was promoted to lance corporal on 3 November. That month, he was one of around 100 North Irish Horsemen who volunteered to transfer to the Royal Irish Rifles (No.40840). The formal transfer took place on 7 December, the same day they embarked for France, where they joined the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, on the Somme front. Graves was posted to B Company.

On 28 April 1917 Graves applied for a commission in the infantry, with a preference for the 11th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. A month later he left France for officer cadet training and reported for duty at No.25 Training Reserve Brigade at the Curragh. On 7 September he joined No.7 Officer Cadet Battalion at Fermoy.

Graves was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant on 30 January 1918 and posted to the 20th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. Soon after, he embarked for France, where he was attached to the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

On 27 May 1918 the Germans launched a massive surprise attack, to be known as the Third Battle of the Aisne, part of their Spring Offensive. They achieved much initial success, capturing tens of thousands of allied troops and much territory. The 6th Battalion was in the line at the time at Chemin des Dames. According to its war diary:

Enemy commenced very heavy bombardment at 1 a.m. followed by attack at 4 a.m. Majority of officers & men missing. Action continued towards the Aisne where small parties of the Battn were collected at bridgeheads at Concevreux. Lt. Col. Walton M.C. in command of remnants of 149 & 151 Inf. Bdes. Further retirement in the evening to heights S of Aisne.

Some 30 officers and 499 other ranks of the battalion were killed wounded and missing. Graves was one of the many made prisoner. He later described what happened:

[The] enemy got through on flank and captured supports. On night of 26/27 May my platoon held three posts in front line, opposite village of Corbeny. While trying to get in touch with platoon in support, I was met by them coming up under escort, by Germans. We being then completely surrounded were captured.

Graves spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner, at Karlsruhe and Stralsund-Danholm. On 20 July the Mid-Ulster Mail reported:

Six weeks ago he was reported by the War Office as missing after the German advance on 27th May, and no news has since been heard of him till a postcard which has just been received from himself stating that he is a prisoner and well.

After the Armistice Graves was released, arriving in England on Christmas Day 1918. He was demobilised on 27 March 1919 and relinquished his commission on 3 December 1920.

 

Second Lieutenant Graves's brother Noel served as a lieutenant in the Royal Irish Rifles. Although wounded he survived the war.