2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (British Army)
Date Of Birth:
17/05/1940 (Killed in Action)
Sergeant Thomas James Gildea was the son of Robert and Hester Gildea, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, and the husband of Sally Gildea, 12 Sandhurst, Cookstown. Thomas James Gildea worked as a printer and also worked in Luton, England. Sergeant Gildea was killed in action on the night of 17th May 1940 aged 28. It is believed that Sgt. Gildea was killed close to the Senne Canal at Halle in an action to support Royal Engineers who were demolishing bridges.
Thomas James Gildea was the son of Robert and Hester Gildea. Robert Gildea married Hessy McCullagh on 19th January 1905 in Cookstown.
Thomas Gildea was born on 6th April 1913 in Cookstown.
The 1911 census lists Thomas’s father was an Army Pensioner and a House Painter.
Family: Robert Gildea, Hester Gildea, Robert John Gildea (born 5th October 1906), Anne Jane Gildea (born 17th March 1908, died 10th April 1915), Maggie Gildea (born 17th October 1910), Thomas Gildea (born 6th April 1913).
Tragically, Thomas’s younger sister Anne Jane who was burnt to death at home on 10th April 1915 aged just seven.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 20th February 1915:
A little girl named Annie Gildea, whose parents reside at Oldtown Street, Cookstown, met with a serious burning accident on Monday evening, her clothes catching fire. Her father, a painter, being out of/at work, the mother is at present employed in Millburn factory. It appears the little girl was a lone in the house with some younger children, and is not able to explain exactly what happened, but Mr Robert Bell, merchant tailor, who resides opposite, saw the child rushing out with her clothes in flames. He immediately ran across, and pulling off his coat as he went, promptly wrapped around the child and put out the flames. Rev James Bloomer, who was passing, went at once for some soothing dressing, which was applied by Miss L McCormick (an U.V.F. nurse), who otherwise rendered first aid until the arrival of Dr. Knight. The burns are of a serious nature. Mr Bell deserves credit for his promptitude, which is not the first instance of his presence of mind, as he recently noticed flames in the upstairs room of another house opposite his shop, and running over found the curtains and bed on fire, while the family downstairs were unconscious of their risk. The action of Miss McCormick and Mr Bloomer proves the value of ambulance and first aid training in emergencies.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 17th April 1915: Deaths
GILDEA – 10th April, at her father’s residence, Oldtown Street, Cookstown, little Annie, beloved daughter of Robert and Hessie Gildea.
‘Long days and nights she bore in pain,
To wait for cure, twas all in vain;
But God alone who thought it best,
Relieved her pain and gave her rest.’
Robert and Hessie Gildea.
World War 2
Prior to active service he worked as a printer and also worked at the Vauxhall Car Plant at Luton, England.
Before returning home at the outbreak of war, he had previously served 7 years in the army and had been in India, retiring from the army to get married to Cookstown girl, Sally Crane on 28th March 1937. They had 2 children, Nancy-Joyce who died in infancy and Maureen who was 10 months old when her father died.
Sergeant Gildea was killed in action on the night of 17th May 1940 aged 28. It is believed that Sgt. Gildea was killed close to the Senne Canal at Halle in an action to support Royal Engineers who were demolishing bridges over which the B.E.F. had passed and to prevent them from falling intact to the advancing German troops.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 8th June 1940:
Most of the Cookstown men who served with the British Expeditionary Force in Flanders are reported safe. Some have been home on leave, others have written from England, but at the time going to press no official information as to the whereabouts of several men have been received. Mrs Gildea of Union Street, Cookstown, was notified by the War Office on Thursday that her husband, Sergeant Thomas Gildea, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, has been posted as missing.
On Saturday last, Privates Jim McCullagh, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, of Milburn Street and Thomas Talbot, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, of Donaghrisk, arrived home on short leave and returned on Monday. Private McCullagh however got further leave, reaching home again during the week.
Two members of the Pioneer Corps, Private Leslie McIlree of Maloon, and Private Robert Hamilton of Gortalowry, also got leave. Private McIlree, who saw service through most of the Great War with the Royal Field Artillery, is probably the oldest war veteran in the district to volunteer for service on the outbreak of the present hostilities. He had six brothers in the Great War, and he has two sons at present on active service.
Our readers will understand that it is not possible for a newspaper to possess a list of all men from the locality who are serving in the Forces, and they will greatly assist us if they inform us promptly of any official intimation they receive as to relatives wounded, missing or killed in action. We are not permitted to publish such information until ‘official’ notification has been received by relatives concerned.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 24th January 1942:
Mrs Gildea, of Union Street, Cookstown, has received a letter of sympathy from the King and Queen on the death of her husband, Sergeant T Gildea, killed in action May 1940.
At the time, the date of his death was difficult to ascertain and for a number of years his wife Sally persisted in making enquiries. The following is a letter in response to Mrs Gildea’s request. It was sent by The British Red Cross Society to Mrs. Gildea on 5th June 1942 when she lived at 44 Union St, Cookstown:-
‘Dear Mrs Gildea, You asked us in your letter if P/S/M McDaids mentioned the date in which your husband was killed; we did not tell you this as it seems a little uncertain, and I am sure you will realise how difficult it must have been in the fierce fighting and confusion to be quite accurate about dates. P/S/M McDaid says that your husband was killed on 14th or 15th of May, but another man, L/CPL Graham who has written to us since then (he gives no further details and only corroborates McDaid’s statements), says that the date was May 17th. Perhaps later on, when it is possible to question them personally and not by writing, it may be possible to make certain which of these 3 dates are correct. Thank you so much for your letter, I only wish we had not been obliged to send you such sorrowful news.’
Sergeant Thomas James Gildea is buried at Halle Communal Cemetery in Vlaams-Brabant, Belgium.
Sergeant Thomas James Gildea is commemorated locally on Cookstown Cenotaph and on the family memorial in Cookstown Cemetery.
Sergeant Thomas Gildea was the brother of Fusilier Robert Gildea, who was killed in action three years later on 19th July 1943.
The CWGC record Sergeant Thomas James Gildea as the son of Robert and Hester Gildea, of Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Sergeant Gildea is also recorded as the husband of Sally Gildea, of Cookstown.