Thomas Porteous Black was born on 8 April 1878 at Shotts, Lanarkshire, the first son of George Banks Black (d. 26/5/1915), stationmaster, and Margaret née Brown (d. 28/5/1938), and one of nine children. His father worked his way up on the railways from a Surfaceman to a District Superintendent, beginning in the north of Scotland, then moving by 1891 to Newcastle, and by 1901 to Darlington, returning to end his career at Aberdeen.
Thomas went to Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, and then Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Darlington. Upon completing his secondary education he travelled to the Dardanelles, visiting Constantinople, Scutari and the Crimea, and so most likely passed Cape Helles and the Gallipoli peninsula where he would fight in 1915.
He won a £30 Foundation Scholarship to Durham University, (and would win another in 1897), and matriculated in the Michaelmas term of 1895 as an unattached student. He obtained a B.A. in Classics in 1898 (M.A., 1901). He then studied at Armstrong College: in 1901 he was awarded an Associate in Science degree, and in 1902 a B.Sc., researching radioactivity (M.Sc., 1906). Black lived, during this period, with his family at 36 Rothbury Terrace in Heaton. A Prince Albert Travelling Scholarship, (or Royal Exhibition Scholarship), enabled him from 1903 to study at Strasbourg where he completed his Ph.D. in Physics in 1905: his thesis was entitled ‘Über den Widerstand von Spulen für schnelle elekrische Schwingungen’, or ‘Concerning the resistance of coils for fast electrical oscillations’. He then returned to Armstrong College where he was appointed Demonstrator in Physics (1905/6). In 1907 he left Durham University to take up a position as a Demonstrator Lecturer in Physics at Nottingham University College, where, with Professor Barton, he published An Introduction to Practical Physics for Colleges and Schools (1912). He was appointed as Registrar of the university in 1911. Joining first the Robin Hood Rifles Volunteer Corps he then took a leading part in establishing the Officers’ Training Corps at the university, and is reported to have undertaken special training with the Black Watch to equip himself for higher duties. His zeal was attributed by his obituarist (Gongmagazine, Dec. 1915) to his recognition of the threat of German militarism, observed during his time at Strasbourg. He resided during this period first at 6 All Saints Street, and then at 60 Ebers Road in Nottingham.
At the outset of the war Black joined the newly-formed 9th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment). He was first commissioned as temporary Lieutenant on 3 October 1914 but was soon promoted to Captain on 31 December 1914. After training the battalion set sail for Gallipoli on 30 June on the “Empress of Britain” and arrived at Gallipoli on 21 July, and was ordered into trenches at Cape Helles to acclimatise. After a week here, and a further week on Imbros (now Gökçeada) training, the battalion was landed at Suvla Bay on 7 August 1915. At dawn on 9 August 9th Sherwood Foresters received orders to advance from to link up with allied forces at Anzac Bay. The battalion’s war diaries were lost upon its evacuation from the peninsula, and a short account of the day’s action was recorded by Lt Col. Scothern in his personal diary – Scothern would go on to command the battalion later in the war.
“The formation adopted was one of two long lines about 200 - 300 yards apart. A and B companies forming the front one and C and D companies in the rear. The Machine Gun Section was extended between the two lines. After advancing about 1000 yards the battalion encountered heavy fire and suffered many casualties. From this point the advance was carried on by sectional rushes. Eventually the advance was held up on the right and in the centre near the orchard in the vicinity of Hetman Char. It was impossible to progress from here. The majority of officers had become casualties by 7 a.m. However the battalion held on to the line until 6 p.m. when the Turks tried to envelop the right. Lt Col. Bosanquet came up to the orchard and gave orders to withdraw the line 100 yards or so in the rear, and was wounded through the wrist whilst there, Major Blackburn taking command. At the end of the day there had been 19 officer casualties and about 300 men.” Diary of Lt Col. Scothern, 9 August 1915 (unpublished, in private hands).
An excellent narrative of the action, drawing from many published and un-published sources, is available online, and emphasises the professionalism of the Turkish soldiers, targeting men showing leadership and initiative in order to break up successive attacks. Despite the bravery under fire of Company Sergeant-Major Jack Whitworth (later awarded a DCM), who recovered him from where he lay wounded, Black would die of his wounds a short time later. An account of a similar (or the same) act of brave compassion was reported later:
"I shall never forget the 9th of August, for we made an attack about six in the morning… My God, it was like hell to see them shot down, and hear the cries of the wounded. A chum of mine dragged one of our chaps into the hedge bottom, and we bandaged him up as well as we could, but we could not do much as he was shot through both thighs by explosive bullets, and they had ripped half of his thighs off. We stayed with him all day, and at night we had to retire and leave him." Private Joseph Bowler reported in the Mansfield Reporter & Sutton Times, 10 September 1915.
This account also indicates how Black’s body may also have had to be abandoned in the action after his death as the battalion withdrew and consolidated its position, and as no record of his burial survives he is today commemorated at Gallipoli on the Memorial at Helles. He is remembered too on the Nottingham University war memorial, the Durham University Roll of Service, and in the windows and plaque to the fallen in Ferryhill parish church (formerly Ferryhill United Free church), Aberdeen. Nottingham University also established a research scholarship in his name. Black left no dependants, his wife, whom he married in 1909 at Aberdeen, having died in February 1914.