Highgate, Thomas James "Tom"

13th May 1895 – 8th Sept 1914

War Service:
Private Thomas James Highgate (L/10061) of the 1st Battalion Queen's Own (Royal West Kent regiment) and enlisted in Guildford, Surrey and resident in Catford. He died 8th September 1914 aged 19 in France cause of death on death certificate is Killed in Action.

Thomas had a very mixed service history and his full service record does survive at the National Archives. This gives an insight into the last few years of his life. Thomas himself was a farm labourer when he enlisted as a regular soldier in the 1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment on 4 February 1913 aged 17. The battalion was based in Richmond Barracks, Dublin. His Service Record shows that in Dublin he had a number of offences listed, from exchanging duty to rusty rifle, with his first sheet being destroyed in August 1913. On a number of occasions he was absent without leave. Here in 28 February 1914 he was officially noted as having Deserted on his service record. He returned 4 May 1914 for a trial.

He signed a confession
"I Thomas James Highgate do hereby voluntarily confess that I am No 10061 serving in the 1st Bn Royal West Kent Regiment and that I absented myself from that Corps on 4th February 1914 and attempted to fraudulently enlist into His Majesty's Army by making a wilfully false answer to question 10 on the attestation on the 4th May 1914, at Woolwich. I am further aware and have been cautioned that this confession may be used in evidence against me. Woolwich 5.5.14."

So he left his Battalion in Dublin and by May he was in Woolwich trying to enlist in the Army. war was getting closer, maybe friends were joining other local Regiments. This is not recorded in his Service Record. He was sentenced to 42 days detention (22.5.14 - 2.7.14). He returned to duty early 26,6,14 (remitted for good conduct).

A letter in his Service Record dated 29/6/14 from the Medical Officer states “I find his memory good at present but the history of a fall from aloft, 2 shipwrecks and yellow fever on the African coast would account for lapses. ……. I consider that this man’s story of about last night probably true and that he was not responsible for his absence“.

On 1st July 1914 his Service Record shows he was "Absent from Tattoo until 10.40 pm". He was punished with 5 days CB (Confined to Barracks).

The 1st battalion went to France 15 August 1914. The Battalion first saw action at the Battle of Mons, (the Battle and Retreat). On the 5th September 1914 as the 1st Battalion moved forward to take part in the First Battle of Marne Highgate was caught in a barn of Baron de Rothschild at Tournan-en-brie, by the Estate's Gamekeeper. He said to him that "I have had enough of it, I want to get out of it and this is how I am going to do it". Highgate was in civilian clothes and his uniform was found nearby.

He was tried by Court Martial (held at Chateau Combreaux near Tournan in Northern France. He was convicted of Desertion and the death sentence was confirmed 6 September 1914. Highgate was undefended and called no witnesses in his defence. He claimed he was a‘straggler’ trying to find his way back to his Regiment, having got separated from them.

On 8th September 1914 at 6.22am Thomas was in formed of his fate in the presence of a Church of England clergyman. At 7.07am Private Highgate in front of a Company of the 1/Dorsets and 1/Cheshires (part of 15 Brigade) was executed although I dont know where this was carried out. He has no known grave and is remembered at La Ferte Sous Jouarre Memorial some 30 miles North East of Chateau Combreaux. News of his fate was published in Army Routine Orders and distributed to the remainder of the British Expeditionary Force. In a letter in his Service Record from The Secretary of the War Office to the Infantry Record Office, i states that Thomas had been executed for Desertion and the next of kin needed to be informed. It also added that "Lord Kitchener's note of sympathy will, of course be omitted from the communication with the relatives (typed, then by hand) "Who should simply be informed that the man was killed on the 8th". On the 8th Sept the lead Company of the Battalion was at Saacy a further 5 miles North East of La Ferte.

The early days of the war were very hard and initially they had retreat and many did not survive the first few days of the war. Being caught up in this could of made Thomas' resolve to leave stronger or he genuinely could not face any more. But maybe Thomas thought from previous experience that he would just end up in jail for a period and get out on good behaviour before time? He had not known the Army felt it had to clamp down on deserters and those disillusioned, because they were becoming many in the lower ranks. Sadly Thomas was the first of over 300 to feel this from his superiors in the Army.

His Medal Roll Card is annotated in red "fortified for Desertion 6.9.14"

In August 2006 he was among the 300 plus such soldiers given a Posthumous Pardon.

Location of Memorial:
He is remembered on the La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial.

A campaign to have him added to the Shoreham Parish War Memorial and in 2000 Shoreham Parish Council voted not to include his name on its war memorial. However after the Posthumous Pardon in 2006 it was considered that his name be added. His name is locally remembered here on the St Laurence's Memorial, Catford. And is on the Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council Memorial.

He was born at Oxbourne Farm, Shoreham. His father was named John James Highgate [died aged 73 in 1920 in the Sevenoaks registration District] and was a general labourer. His mother was Alice Highgate formely Nuttley [she died aged 72 in 1929 in the Sevenoaks Registration District]. They were all living at Oxbourne Farm, Shoreham and Thomas was registered on the 14th June 1895 in the registration district of Sevenoaks, Kent. By 1913 John James was living at 6 Morena Street, Catford. 2 of his other 4 brothers and 1 nephew also died in the First World War, see Lewisham Borough News Article for details.


Contributed By:

Do you have more information on this person or the memorial they are commemorated on? If so click here to contribute information.


by Local History and Archives Centre, Lewisham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License