Thomas James Coppard (see also his page on Lives of the First World War) was the second child of Edward Coppard and Est[h]er Elizabeth nee Botting (the spelling of her name varies between sources as to whether the h appeared in Esther).
His parents had married at St Mary’s, Bletchingley on 30 May 1868, both were Bletchingley born and bred. At the time of their marriage, Edward was a general labourer, he could only make his mark, rather than sign, in the register. His father, Thomas, was also a labourer. Ester was the daughter of James Botting, a blacksmith, she could sign her name, but the rather scratchy and blotted signature doesn’t suggest a great deal of comfort in using a pen. Their ages are not given in the register, just that they were of “full age” (ie over 21). Their first child, Alice Hannah, arrived in early 1869, she was baptised in St Mary’s on 25 April 1869. The 1871 census was taken on 2 April, it was some time after that that Thomas was born, he was baptised at St Mary’s on 27 August.
The family was enlarged over the next few years with the arrival of Albert Edward (baptised 31 May 1874), Ellen Elizabeth (baptised 26 November 1876) and Kate Isabel (baptised 27 April 1879). At the 1881 census the family were living at Tilgate Cottages, Bletchingley. Edward was 36 and a general labourer, Esther, 38. More children followed over the next ten years, Minnie Gertrude (baptised 26 February 1882), Edwin George (baptised March 1885) and finally Charles Botting Coppard, born 24 November 1888 and baptised on 30 December.
At the 1891 census the family were still at Tilgate Cottages, Barfields, Bletchingley. Thomas was now 19 and working as a domestic groom. Alice Hannah, Albert Edward and Ellen Elizabeth weren’t in the family home, the rest of the children were still too young to work.
Thomas James Coppard and Mary Ann Jones married at St Mary’s on 30 December 1894. He was 23, and now a labourer, she was 19. Her father, William Henry Jones had been a labourer, but was deceased. The witnesses were Charles Overy and Alice Hannah Overy – Thomas’s brother-in-law and sister who had married just over a year previously on 26 December 1893. Thomas and Mary’s first child arrived just four months later, on 28 April 1895. He was hastily baptised (privately) on 29 April, but died the following day. He was buried in the churchyard on 4 May.
The following year, Louisa Annie Coppard was born to the couple on 3 June 1896, and baptised on 28 June. From the following year, Thomas begins to appear in the electoral registers, showing that they were living in Tilgate Cottages still (probably a different cottage to his parents though). A third child, Albert Henry, arrived on 6 February 1898, and was baptised on 24 April, he was followed by Francis James on 2 September 1899 (baptised 26 November). It was just over a week before Francis’s baptism that we have the first evidence so far found of Thomas as a ringer, when he is listed as ringing the third to a peal of Grandsire Triples at Bletchingley on 18 November 1899. He had presumably started ringing a little while before this, but no earlier reports have yet been found.
1900 brought more sorrow, with the death of a second child in infancy, with Albert Henry dying early in the year, he was buried in the churchyard on 1 February 1900. Their second daughter, Elsie Elizabeth, arrived on 18 February 1901. The 1901 census was taken on 31 March, the family are shown at 3 Tilgate Cottages. Thomas (now 29) is shown as a bricklayer’s labourer. No occupation is given for Mary, unsurprisingly given the recent birth of Elsie. Florence Gertrude (or May – Gertrude in his army record, May in the baptismal record) was born on 3 October 1903, and baptised on 29 October. She was followed the next year by Edward George on 30 October (baptised 29 January 1905), then Arthur William on 23 February 1907 (baptised 31 March) and Leonard Charles on 1 September 1908 (baptised 25 October). On the occasion of this last baptism, Thomas’s occupation is for the first time given as painter.
At the 1911 census the family were still at Tilgate Cottages, Thomas is listed as a house painter, no occupation is given for Mary, and the children were all still of school age except Lousia Annie who was working as a general servant for the Legg family at Newlands, Bletchingley. Archie Legg (28) is described as a grocer and draper, with him are his wife Ethel Kate, their son William Gregory (1) and Ethel’s younger brother William Geoffrey (15). They’d been married for 2 years, and had had another child who had died before the census. Later that year Thomas and James had another son, Richard Frederick, on 11 October 1911. In 1913 the family moved to Bank Cottages, Bletchingley. On 5 July 1914, their last child, Jack Stanley, was born – just under a month before the outbreak of war.
Thomas joined up at Reigate on 7 November 1914. He joined the 7th Supernumerary Company of the 2/5th Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). Supernumerary companies were raised by several Territorial Force battalions, initially for those registered as part of the Territorial Force Reserve or National Reserve, little more than lists of men held by the county territorial associations of those who had previous military experience. Thomas states he had 8 years’ service with the Volunteers. No other evidence of this has yet been found, and the use of the term Volunteers implies it was prior to 1908 when the Territorial Force was created. The surviving portions of his record are rather sketchy, so it’s difficult to work out exactly what his service entailed especially for the first couple of years. The supernumerary companies were mostly employed on the defence of strategic points (such as railway bridges), and in guarding POWs. In late 1916 he was posted to 41 Protection Company as the supernumerary companies were brought together to form the Royal Defence Corps, his duties would have remained much the same. From a subsequent medical report it seems he has based at Barking around February 1917 and this was when he began to develop myalgia and rheumatism. A further reorganisation saw him posted to 6th Battalion RDC on 11 August 1917. On 24 August he was examined by No 4 Travelling Medical Board at Dovercourt (on the coast of north Essex) and placed in the medical category CIII (the lowest) – presumably he was based somewhere in that area at the time. On 27 February 1918 he again went before a medical board, this time an invaliding board at Felixstowe. This recommended his discharge on the basis of the rheumatism and myalgia he had developed back in February 1917. The board originally rated him at under 20% disabled, when his discharge was finalised this was set at 10%. As a result, rather than an ongoing pension, he was paid a lump sum of £37 15 shillings (this accounted for his disability and dependent children Florence, Edward, Arthur, Leonard, Richard and Jack). He left the army in London on 20 March 1918 after 3 years, 134 days service.
Despite is discharge on the grounds of ill-health he seems to have subsequently become a more active ringer than he had been previously. He rang a quarter peal on 14 May 1921 for the wedding of another Bletchingley ringer, C V Risbridger, seven of the eight ringers are listed on the roll of honour: G Kirby treble, S J Coppard [sic – but no ringer known with those initials, so presumably Thomas J] on 3rd, L F Goodwin 2nd, A Wood 4th, A Cheesman 5th, W Cheesman 6th, W J Wilson. Over the next three years he rang three more recorded pieces of ringing (each of Grandsire Triples), a quarter peal on 20 November 1921 (with G Kirby Treble, L F Goodwin 2nd, W J Wilson 3rd, A Wood 4th, T J Coppard 5th, F Balcombe 6th from the roll of honour), a peal on 12 May 1922 (with Gordon H Kirby Treble (1st peal), George F Hoad 4th, Albert E Wood 5th, Thomas J Coppard 6th all on the roll of honour) and a quarter peal on 28 October 1923 (with L Goodwin 2nd, W T Beeson junr 3rd, W Wilson 5th, T Coppard 6th from the roll of honour).
Thomas died aged 54 in September 1925 at Redhill Hospital and was buried in “Centre Old Cemetery”, grave reference D3, on 22 September 1922. Mary survived him and continued living at Bank Cottages, she died on 22 January 1933 and was interred in the same plot on 26 January.