Thomas Etchells was said to have been born in either Macclesfield or Manchester on 24 February 1884, and moved to London with his parents soon after his birth. He later emigrated to America.
At some time Thomas changed his name to William Etchells Howard. He married Grace D Case and the couple's daughter, Grace C Howard, later known as Isabel, was born at Chelan, Washington on 5 July 1909. Grace and Isabel are listed in the 1910 US census, living at Broad Street, Seattle Ward 6, Washington.
Thomas Etchells enlisted at Vancouver on 18 January 1917 using the alias of William Etchells Howard, joining the Canadian Infantry as a private. He stated that he was divorced, employed as a locomotive engineer and named his daughter, Isabel Grace Howard, as his next of kin, stating that she lived in Seattle, USA. Private Howard later admitted that his correct name was Thomas Etchells.
On 17 February 1917 Thomas sailed on the SS Southland from Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving in the UK ten days later to complete his training at Seaford, between Brighton and Eastbourne. It is not known how he met Sarah Ellen Potts but the couple married on 22 April 1917 at Park Green United Methodist Chapel, Macclesfield. Sarah lived at 60 Peel Street, Macclesfield, and in June 1920 travelled to Seattle, perhaps to visit Isabel. Sarah later lived at Albuquerque, New Mexico, and died of tuberculosis in Phoenix, Arizona on 14 December 1923.
Thomas was drafted to France on 12 May 1917. On the morning of 2 September 1918, during an attack on the Drocourt-Queant Line, east of Dury, Private Etchells was killed by enemy shell fire.
News of the death of Private Etchells was reported in the Macclesfield Times on 25 October 1918:
PTE THOMAS ETCHELLS, whose wife lives at 59 Park Green, Macclesfield, has been killed in France. His parents, natives of Macclesfield, left the town soon after his birth for London, where they died, and the private went abroad to friends. He became a member of the Secret Mounted Police and later was an engineer on the American Railways. When war broke out he was living in the States and crossed to Canada, where, on January 12th, 1917, he enlisted in the 24th Reserve. He was married to Miss Potts at Park Green United Methodist Chapel, Macclesfield, on April 22, 1917, and went to France the following month. Deceased was over on leave last January and was killed in September by a shrapnel bullet.
Private Thomas Etchells has no known grave and is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial near Arras, France. The Vimy Memorial is the great memorial to all Canadians who served their country in battle during the First World War, and also bears the names of 11,000 Canadian servicemen who died in France - many of them in the fight for Vimy Ridge - who have no known grave.
In Macclesfield, Private Thomas Etchells is commemorated on the Park Green and Town Hall war memorials.
Washington, USA Birth Records (Ancestry)
Arizona, USA Death Records (Ancestry)
Census (USA): 1910
Canadian Service Records
WWI British Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects (Ancestry)
Lives of the First World War website
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Macclesfield Times: 25 October 1918
Research by Rosie Rowley, Macclesfield.