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Thomas Henry Laity

(1897-1918) – Mustard gas victim

Depicted as a cheeky schoolboy with his younger brothers on a postcard, Thomas Henry Laity of Marazion died in 1918 of mustard gas poisoning. Among treasured family mementos are a letter from the French hospital where he died, the official notification of his death and a photograph of his wooden cross grave marker.

Credit: Marazion Museum

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As a boy Thomas Henry Laity was photographed with his two younger brothers eating Cornish pasties outside their Chapel Street home.  The charming image became a popular Edwardian postcard with the family copy inscribed ‘Interval at School’.  The boys were sons of local labourer Thomas Henry Laity, and all three wear boots, stockings, plus fours and cloth caps on their heads.

Thomas Henry joined the Royal Garrison Artillery and his company - the 46th Siege Battery – was based at Dover.  In July 1916 his age was questioned; photographs show that he looked young for his age.  His father had to send a copy of his birth certificate to prove that he was old enough to be sent abroad (nineteen being the official age).  He rejoined his battery on the 19th of July 1916.

In the summer of 1918, Thomas Henry Laity the elder received a letter from France.  Dated 13 June, it read :

‘I have to send you the sad news of your son’s death today.  The end came very suddenly.  Yesterday he seemed ever so much better.  He was sitting up and had regained the use of his eyes (though of course they were still painful) and his breathing seemed much better.  As a matter of fact he was only put on the “dangerously ill” list quite recently.  Though I must confess that I thought very seriously of him from the first.  His pal Leicester was moved to the base on Tuesday & of course your son would also have been moved if he had been fit to travel.  I had one or two talks with him and he seemed full of vitality only the day before.  I am afraid these sudden collapses are one of the features of this devilish gas that the enemy uses’.

The letter also noted that Thomas Henry’s paybook would be forwarded to Fore Street Marazion and ended by hoping that God would help the family bear their loss.

The official army record form dated 17 June 1918 informed Mr Laity that his son had died of a ‘Gas shell mustard wound’ while on Active Service.  He was buried in Souvenir Cemetery near St Omer ‘amongst the other brave lads who have given their lives for us’.  The Laity family were able to obtain a photograph of the wooden cross erected over his grave from the Director of Graves Registration & Enquiries.  

Key words: casualty, trenches

Credit: Marazion Museum