Hull Pals Memorial Post. PRIVATE THOMAS SWINDEN 11/612. Born in July 1886, Thomas was the youngest of three sons to Robert and Jane Swinden of 2 James Place, Cleveland Street, Hull. A Coal Filler by trade, he had actually being rejected for military service some years before on the grounds of “bad teeth”, yet he queued outside Hull City Hall on Tuesday 8th September 1914 to join the fledgling 11th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, ‘The Tradesmen’, 2nd Hull Pals. A veteran of Egypt and the Somme, he was taken prisoner on 3rd May 1917 during the attack on Oppy Wood. A party of men had fought through the German front line and got as far as Oppy village before they were cut off and surrounded. Perhaps Thomas was one of these men. The War Office was informed by their German counterparts that he “Died at Mersburg in the Prisoner’s Hospital on the eighth August, nineteen hundred and seventeen, at 11.15am.” Thomas is buried at Berlin South Western Cemetery; he was 31 years old.
The attack on Oppy Wood, part of the Battle of Arras, was a significant battle for the East Yorkshire Regiment and particularly for the city of Hull. All four Hull Pals battalions were involved on 3 May and all suffered heavy casualties, with 40% of those present killed or injured. 2nd Lieutenant Jack Harrison, a local teacher and rugby player with Hull FC, won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery in rushing a machine gun position to protect his platoon. His body was never found.
The village of Oppy in France had been in German hands since October 1914 and was part of a formidable defensive system including trenches, dug-outs and thick barbed wire defences. During the Battle of Arras, which began in April 1917, the British tried to take Oppy. The first attack was a failure. A second attack was partially successful. The third attack on 3 May, known officially as the Third Battle of the Scarpe, was again unsuccessful with significant loss of life. The troops were ordered to attack at 3.45am, rather than at dawn, and the defending Germans could easily see the line of British soldiers clearly lit by the full moon. The British continued to attack Oppy and were finally successful the following year. The City of Hull Memorial at Oppy was unveiled in 1927 and commemorates the men of the Hull Pals who were killed on 3 and 4 May 1917.