Caton J T

Corporal 788 John Thomas (Tom) Caton, 4th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment


Killed in action, 25th April, 1915

John Thomas Caton was born in Stokesley in 1884, the son of Thomas Ainsworth Caton and Mary Kate Wilson.

Thomas senior had been born in Lancaster and had made a career in the merchant marine, receiving his Master Mariner’s certificate in July 1878. Mary Kate Wilson was born in Ormesby in 1858, but in 1871 she was living with her Uncle and Aunt, John and Mary Butterwick who had a grocery business in West End in Stokesley. Presumably it was in the town that they met, as Thomas and Mary were married in Stokesley in the September quarter of 1878.

In 1881, the young couple were living in Poplar, East London, with their baby daughter, named Mary after her mother, but by the time their son John Thomas was born just three years later, the family was once more in Stokesley. However, in November 1886 at the early age of 35, the unfortunate Thomas senior died of a sickness aboard the ship ss Gulf of Mexico whilst serving as second mate, and in the 1891 census we find Mary and her fatherless family living in High Street Stokesley. As well as her own children, Kate (10), Mary (8), Kate and John Thomas (6), Mary had her mother Catherine Wilson and two nephews in the household. John Thomas, now known simply as Tom, was accepted as a pupil at the nearby Preston Grammar School, his name even appearing on a prize list published in the local press.

In 1901, the family was in West Row, occupying two houses not far from the Masonic Hall. In one of the houses, Mary Butterwick, now 81 and a widow, was living along with John (16), who had become a solicitor’s clerk, and his sister Kate (20), recorded as a dressmaker. In another house a few doors away was John's mother, Mary Kate Caton, and her own mother Catherine Wilson, now 74 years old.

Early in 1907, John Thomas Caton married Hannah Eliza Alderson in Stokesley. Hannah was the daughter of Thomas Alderson, farmer of Tame Bridge, and Hannah Eliza Young of Stokesley. John and Hannah Caton were to have three children: Thomas Ainsworth in 1908, (named after his seafaring grandfather), Stanley, born in 1910 and Vera (1913).

Tom and Hannah Caton and family (the two boys) were recorded in the census of 1911 living in West End – seemingly in Garden House. Tom's occupation was listed as 'solicitor's clerk', and we know from a town directory of the time that he was also President of the Stokesley Rifle Club.

After war broke out, Tom Caton enlisted in the Yorkshire Regiment at Stokesley, and was sent with his regiment to France on 18th April, 1915, (along with other Stokesley men including CQMS Frederick Barr). In usual circumstances their arrival would have been followed by a period of further training, but the situation into which they entered was far from normal. The Germans had launched an offensive which threatened to drive the Allies back, and the Yorkshires were immediately sent into action. They were ordered into the line and were at the Front within the week.

The action in which he fell is described in the official history of the Division, and quoted in the excellent website created by Bill Danby of Skelton entitled The 1/4th Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales' Own Yorkshire Regiment.

"On through Fortuin the two Battalions went, next encountering the enemy in force advancing south of St Julien.
They forced the enemy to give ground and drove him back into the village. They then found themselves up against a muddy stream, known as the Hannebeek, on the southern exits of St Julien and, the crossings being swept by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, the two Battalions were forced to take what cover presented itself.
Casualties during this affair were severe, but the counter-attack was completely successful and, besides preventing the Germans from making any further advance on the 24th reflected the greatest credit upon the two gallant Battalions."

Corporal Caton fell the day after this action, ‘where was once a shrine on the Fortuin Road’, as the Yorkshires held off new counter-attacks by the Germans against their hard won positions.


The same web page displays his photograph and gives a brief description of his service. A little further down the page is a similar tribute to Corporal Caton's fellow Stokesley townsman, CQMS F A Barr who was fatally wounded in the same action. (See Barr F A)

We are told that Tom Caton left three young children, of whom tragically only one survived when the Book of Remembrance was compiled in 1926.

Corporal Caton fell on 25th April 1915. He was 30 years old and was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1915 Cross. Most of those who fell in this battle were buried under their own names with a simple wooden cross, but there was heavy fighting in the area later in the war which destroyed these earlier burials. It proved impossible to identify many of the Fallen when they were re-interred, and John Caton is commemorated on Panel 33 of the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, erected to honour all those who fell in this sector and have no known grave.

His name also appears on the Middlesbrough War Memorial at the main entrance to Albert Park

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