He went to war a boy – but re­turned home a man

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Cash-strapped Commuters - By Sa­man­tha Wil­liams

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

Pic­ture: Paul Amos FM3345015

Beth Swan, who has re­searched her great-grand­fa­ther’s past, with some pic­tures of him

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