The ashes of a brave soldier are interred in the family grave here at a church at the top of hill opposite a family pub. I was on the way home from a day walking on the moors at Marsden and, in failing light, thought I would look for the Steele headstone. Thankfully there weren’t too many rows to walk up and down, only one “Steele” grave (I checked for others.)
At the time of the First World War Thomas was a 26 year old sergeant in the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. On Thursday 22nd February 1917 he was fighting near Sanna-y-Yat in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). His troop had raided and attacked an enemy trench successfully - or so they thought. However the enemy counter-attacked with unseen ferocity and temporarily regained some of their trench. It was a pivotal moment as to who would win. With a comrade Thomas carried a machine-gun into position and set it down at a strategic point. He kept this gun blazing until help arrived and was instrumental in keeping the rest of the line intact.
It was a bad day - hours later the enemy attacked again. Thomas rallied the troops and did what he could to encourage them to stand strong in their trenches and fight back. Again they were against strong machine-gun fire but Thomas led some of his lads forward (getting badly wounded) and helped re-establish their position that day.
Before the war Thomas had a successful amateur rugby league career with his local team Healey Street, near Oldham. Broughton Rangers team soon heard of him and he played a number of games professionally before war broke out. After the war he continued to play for Healey Street despite suffering over ten war injuries and died aged 87 at his home in Saddleworth. He was cremated at Hollinwood Crematorium and ashes were interred in this family grave.
I was the only person in the cemetery though I saw the vicar walking around. I tried to catch his eye as he might have been able to tell me more about Thomas but he looked rather preoccupied.
He was cremated here...