Thomas (Tom) Checkley

royal marines badgeActing Lance Corporal, Ch/16909, 1st Royal Marine Battalion, Royal Marine Light Infantry, killed in action 28th April, 1917, aged 24.

Born in Crowle, 15th March 1893, Tom was the first (legitimate?) son of William and Mary Anne Checkley (nee Sharp) after their marriage at St Oswald’s Church in July 1892. Mary Anne already had a son, Tom’s half-brother, John Sharp, born before the wedding. The family were living at Cobby’s Yard, Thorne in 1911 before moving to Swinefleet and Goole Smallpox Hospital. Tom gave his address as 5 Paradise Place, Boothferry Road in Goole, when Tom he enlisted.

Like his elder half-brother Tom was serving in the military when war broke out. Formerly an ostler, he had enlisted in the Royal Marines at York on 24th November 1910. Following his initial shore training at Deal and Chatham, he put to sea for the first time onboard HMS Commonwealth on 4th May 1912. He did three voyages with HMS Commonwealth and was still stationed with her, although back at base in Chatham, when war was declared. Tom was onboard when HMS Commonwealth put to sea again on 8th August 1914 and he served with his marine detachment until transferred in November 1916.

There had been a Royal Marine Brigade fighting on land with the army from almost the beginning of the war. Particularly prominent at Gallipoli they also suffered terrible casualties there. Following their return they became the 1st and 2nd Royal Marine Light Infantry Battalions, serving with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. At the same time it was realised that the war was not going to be fought at sea so Tom was redeployed to the 1st Battalion and sent to France on 13th November 1916.
The battalion saw it’s first action at the operations on the Ancre between January and March 1917, where on 12th January Tom was promoted to Acting Corporal. They were in reserve for the opening week of the Battle of Arras, but moved up to the front to be involved in the capture and subsequent defence, of the village of Gavrelle on 23rd and 24th April. A further advance to attack the German lines north of Gavrelle, the Oppy Line, was planned for the 28th April.

The objective for the 1st Battalion Royal Marines was to advance up to the Oppy Line, and then continue eastwards until they met up with the 2nd Battalion who were attacking position on their right. The attack began at 4.25am and as one historian has put it they were ‘to all intents and purposes never heard of again’. They had advanced headlong into a strong point and although some of them managed to fight their way through, they were hit by a massive counter-attack near Oppy Wood. Only a few wounded survivors managed to struggle back to their own lines.

No accurate casualty figures were taken for the attack of the Royal Marines at Garvelle but it is thought the 1st Battalion lost at least 193 men killed, 160 wounded and 29 taken prisoner. Among them was Tom Checkley. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

The action at Gavrelle was the single most costly action in the history of the Royal Marines. There is a memorial to all those from the 63rd Naval Division who fell at Gavrelle in the village. Tom is also remembered on Swinefleet War Memorial (wrong attributed as died on 28th March 1917).