Friends of the Somme - Mid Ulster Branch  
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2739   Corporal Thomas Espey
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Dated added: 30/12/2015   Last updated: 15/04/2021
Personal Details
Regiment/Service: 4th Regiment, South African Infantry (South African Army)
Date Of Birth: 18/05/1878
Died: 07/01/1918 (Killed in Action)
Age: 39
Summary      
Thomas Espey was the son of James and Elizabeth Espey. He was born on 18th May 1878 in Gortreagh, Cookstown. He was one of at least four children. Thomas was a railway clerk in Cookstown before emigrating to South Africa. Thomas married Florence Espey in 1908, and they had two sons. Prior to enlisting, he was a Carrier's Contractor and lived in Three Anchor Bay, Cape Town. He enlisted in August 1915. Corporal Espey was one of the 143 survivors who left Delville Wood on 20 July 1916. Corporal Thomas Espey was serving with the 4th Regiment of the South African Infantry when he was killed in action on 7th January 1918.
Corporal Thomas Espey
Further Information
Thomas Espey was the son of James and Elizabeth Espey. James Espey married Elizabeth Dunne on 10th October 1874 in the district of Cookstown.
Thomas Espey was born on 18th May 1878 in Gortreagh, Cookstown. He was one of at least four children.
Known Family (1): James Espey, Elizabeth Espie, William Espey (born 5th February 1877), Thomas Espey (born 18th May 1878), Annie Espey (born 22nd February 1880), Elizabeth Espey (born 27th April 1882).
For several years Thomas worked as a clerk at the Greater Northern Railway (G.N.R.) station, probably in Cookstown.
The 1901 census lists Thomas as age 23, living with family and other relatives at house 1 in Gortreagh, Orritor, Cookstown. Thomas was a railway clerk. His father was a farmer and a widower.
Thomas emigrated to South Africa about 1903.
Thomas Espey and Florence Holliwell were married on 12th November 1908 in the Metropolitan Church in Cape Town. They had two sons.
Family: Thomas Espey, Florence Espey, James Espey (born 9th June 1909), Joseph Espey (born 29th May 1910).
While in South Africa he joined the Cape Mounted Rifles.
Prior to enlisting, Thomas was a Carrier's Contractor and lived in Three Anchor Bay, Cape Town.
1915
Thomas Espey enlisted with the 4th Regiment of the South African Infantry on 16th August 1915.
South Africa raised a brigade of four Infantry Battalions for the Western Front, in addition to 5 Batteries of Heavy Artillery, a Field Ambulance, a Royal Engineers Signal Company and a General Hospital. It is also estimated that around 3,000 South African men joined the Royal Flying Corps. The Infantry battalions were raised from the four main provinces of the South African Union. 1st Regiment (Cape Province), 2nd Regiment (Natal and Orange Free State), 3rd Regiment (Transvaal and Rhodesia).
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 6th November 1915: Thomas Espey, South African Highlander
Newspaper report
Thomas Espey, a native of Auglish, Cookstown, who emigrated to South Africa about fifteen years ago, where he joined the Cape Police, and who a few months ago joined the South African Highlanders to fight on behalf of the Old Country, has been home on a few days furlough. He was one of 3,000 men especially selected by General Botha personally, to come over as an advance contingent, and they arrived in England about two months ago. Every man of that kilted corps is over six feet in height, and there are thousands more to follow later. They are for the fighting line at an early date. Before emigrating, this now Colonial Highlander was a booking clerk at the Northern Counties Railway Station, Cookstown.
The 4th Regiment was unique in its formation. Known as the South African Scottish, it was raised from the Transvaal Scottish and Cape Town Highlanders and wore the Atholl Murray tartan as part of their uniform.
1916
In May 1916 he sent a birthday card home to his son, Joseph.
While in France the entire Brigade came under orders from the 9th Scottish Division and their first major engagement there, was at the Somme in July 1916, where the 4th Regiment was involved in the fighting at Trones Wood. Then the entire brigade attacked at Longeuval (Delville Wood) on the afternoon of 14th July 1916.
Corporal Espey was one of the 143 survivors who left Delville Wood on 20 July 1916.
Longeuval is the site where the South African Memorial and Museum stand today.
1917
The Brigade went on to take part in the Battle of Arras and Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.
1918
Corporal Thomas Espey was serving with the 4th Regiment of the South African Infantry when he was killed in action on 7th January 1918.
The Brigade saw action at Gauche Wood in March 1918 during the German Spring Offensive. When the Germans launched their second major offensive in 1918 during the second phase of the Battle of Lys, the Brigade was ordered to counter attack at Messines.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 9th March 1918:
Intimation has been received by Mrs Black, Toberlane, that her brother, Thomas Espey, was killed in action in January last. Tom, as he was familiarly called, was well-known and highly respected in Cookstown, and his great many friends greatly regret to hear of his death. For several years he was a clerk at the G.N.R. Station, but emigrated to South Africa in 1909. Later he joined the Cape Mounted Rifles. At the outbreak of the present war he volunteered for service, joining a Scottish regiment. He paid a brief visit to Cookstown a few months ago.
On the 24th April 1918 the 1st, 2nd, and 4th, Regiments were amalgamated, temporarily becoming South African Regiment and were reformed again in September 1918.
On the 11th September 1918, the brigade finally parted with the 9th Scottish Division and joined the 66th (2nd West Lancashire) Division and aided in the recapture of Le Cateau on the 17th - 18th October 1918. Over 146,000 men served with South African Units during World War 1 with 18,600 casualties including 6,600 dead.
Memorials
Corporal Thomas Espey is buried in Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-Le Grand, France.
Corporal Thomas Espey's original wooden grave marker
Corporal Thomas Espey - Fins New British Cemetery
Corporal Thomas Espey is also commemorated on Cookstown Cenotaph.
Corporal Espey is not listed on the Great Northern Railway War Memorial in Central Station, Belfast.
In March 2015, various items relating to Corporal Thomas Espey were sold on a South African online auction website. Below are some of the images relating to that collection.
Corporal Thomas Espey document
Corporal Thomas Espey medals
Corporal Thomas Espey medals
Read more
Relevant Cookstown Area Locations
No Location Region Location Notes Longtitude Latitude
1 Gortreagh, Oritor Orritor Born and Lived in Gortreagh 54.653947 -6.788858
References and Links
No Link Reference Map Doc
1 1901 Census lists Espey family 1901 census lists Thomas as age 23, living with family at house 1 in Gortreagh, Oritor, Tyrone
2 1911 Census lists Espey family 1911 census does not list Thomas as living with relatives at house 5 in Gortreagh, Oritor, Tyrone
3 GNR War Memorial Thomas Espey not listed on Great Northern Railway War Memorial
4 South Africa War Graves Project Photo of Corporal Thomas Espey's grave
5 South African Auction website Medals sold in South Africa
6 War Graves Photographic Project Photo of Corporal Thomas Espey's grave can be purchased here
Cookstown District's War Dead Acknowledgements 2010-2021