Thomas appears on the Blackham Roll of Honour as T Gasson but for much of his life he was known as Tom Coomber. His early life explains why and it reveals some interesting facts about life a century or so ago which I’m happy to record here as it concerns my great grandparents. Richard Coomber Thomas was born 21 May 1884, the son of Elizabeth Gasson. It would appear that Elizabeth could not afford a doctor’s fees because Thomas was born in East Grinstead workhouse.* He was christened on 7 September 1884. On Christmas Day 1884, Elizabeth married Thomas Marshall Coomber whose name suggests he was baby Tom’s father or certainly agreed to take the boy as his own. Willetts The family moved to Willetts Cottages in Blackham shortly after where Thomas Marshall and Elizabeth lived until their deaths in 1945. By 1901 young Tom was lodging in
Tunbridge Wells where he was working as a blacksmith. He joined the Territorial Force on 9 April 1908 alongside the Collins brothers and Bill Wickham. He is number 366 and Capt Ludlow of Beech Green signed his papers. By now he was employed as a blacksmith for Mr Floyd. He married Annie Towes, born Withyham 1889, on Christmas Day, Army record says 1905, freeBMD says 1907, still under the name of Coomber. In 1911 the family now used the name Gasson and lived at the home of elderly bootmaker William Mills. As a reservist he was called up at the outbreak of war and posted to the 72nd Provisional Battalion, Royal Sussex Regt. serving in the UK. In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed which led to conscription. All British men were liable for service but there was an exemption for “time expired” men, those who had served their time. It appears that Thomas took advantage of this and applied for his discharge from the army.
And who can blame him. He left the force on 8 April 1916 and found a place at Pilbeams where he also worked after the war. Re-enlist The need for more and more men led to the extension of this Act in May 1916 when the exemption was cancelled. Thomas was obliged to re-enlist, this time under the name of Gasson, as G31570 Royal Sussex Regiment. His later records do not exist. His MIC shows he was transferred to the Devon, then Hampshire regiments, he served abroad. The ROH states he was wounded. No details are on record. Thomas and Annie’s children’s births are all recorded as Gasson: Evelyn Philadelphia 1908, twins William and Thomas F. 1910, John 1912, Charlie 1915, Reginald F. 1921, Stanley G 1924, Cecil N 1928 although at least one of them reverted to Coomber later in life. Thomas died, as Thomas G M Coomber, in Ashurstwood on 13 January 1957, aged 73
*There is an interesting footnote to this story in that Thomas’s mother, Elizabeth (above), became the unofficial midwife in Blackham and was also the person who was called on to lay out the dead. It is hard not to speculate that her experience of having to give birth in a workhouse might have led to her decision to help other women who perhaps could ill-afford to call out the doctor.
Thomas George Marshall Gasson
Called up a second time after being ‘time-expired’
Thanks to Frank Wiltshire for this research
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