He went to war a boy – but returned home a man
Thomas Gordon Swan was just 15 years old when he enlisted for the First World War.
He would go on to serve in three different units during the four-year conflict, including the Machine Gun Corps and the Tank Corps, before being shot in 1918.
Little was known about his experiences however, until his great granddaughter Beth Swan 14, from Kennington, started exploring her family’s history.
The Highworth Grammar School student said: “At school in Year 7 we had to research our family tree, but I decided to carry on after the project finished.
“I looked into all my greatgrandparents but no one really knew much about Gordon, as he was called, only that he fought in the war.”
During her research Beth discovered the names of two relatives from her father’s mother’s side, the Goodsell brothers, on a memorial at Biddenden Church.
After learning they were in the Machine Gun Corps (MGC), Beth wrote to historian Graham Sacker on the off-chance her paternal great-grandfather Gordon was also in the MGC. Coincidentally, he was. She found that Mr Swan, who was born in London to Minnie Swan in February 1900 – taking her surname as he didn’t know his father – moved from regiment to regiment during his time in the army, receiving three different army numbers in all.
He was sent to Chilham when he was a baby, staying with relatives while his mother remained in London, and volunteered in April 1915, at just 15 years old.
He told the recruitment officer, however, that his birthday was in February 1898.
He was accepted into the Royal East Kent Mounted Yeomanry (REKMY), and obtained his first army number, and was sent to Crowborough for training.
After the REKMY was earmarked for disbandment, however, he was transferred to the 9th Yeomanry Cyclist Battalion in January 1917.
He only served with the battalion for four months, as in May 1917 he was enrolled in the MGC - gaining his second army number.
Two months later after basic training he was transferred once again to the Heavy Branch of the MGC, which would later become the Tank Corps. of Cambrai that he was hurt, as this ran from September 27 and October 5.
Mike Swan, who along with wife Amanda also has daughter Lucy, 12, said: “170,000 men served in the Machine Gun Corps.
There were 62,000 casualties. Everyone said Gordon went to war a boy and returned home a man.
“A lot of them didn’t want to talk about it. As he had three different numbers and lied about his age it has been hard to trace him. No one really knew much about him. That was until Beth did her research.”
After the war Mr Swan moved back to Chilham and was hired as the games keeper at Chilham Castle.
He married Gladys Clements on April 12, 1928 at Chilham Church, and the couple had three children John, David – Beth’s grandfather – and Graham.
He died in 1965, before his grandson Mike was born.
As part of Beth’s research the Swan family visited the Tank Museum Bovington, in Dorset, which holds an original tank from the Great War period, in which Mr Swan would have fought as a gunner.
Beth said: “This is a hobby for me. I find it really interesting to find out about my family.
“I would like to trace more family members.”
Beth Swan, 14, with her sister Lucy at the Tank Museum Bovington; Thomas Gordon Swan; Thomas Gordon Swan in uniform, far right
Beth Swan, who has researched her great-grandfather’s past, with some pictures of him