John Thomas was born on 10 May 1886 in Manchester. Days before his 18th birthday on May 1 1904 he joined the Royal Navy, listing his occupation at the time as a Boot Maker and he served on several ships including the HMS Leviathan before being discharged in 1907.
He became a regular Solider in the Army Service Corps before he was a Transferred to the 2/5th Battalion, Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment), British Army during the First World War becoming a Lance-Corporal. On 30 November 1917 at Bourlon Wood Lance-Corporal Thomas showed great bravery when he went forward under enemy fire to ascertain German intentions and because of this he received the Victoria Cross. The London Gazette from 12 February 1918 describes his actions:
‘No. 50842 Pte. (L./Cpl.) John Thomas, N.
Staffs. B. ((E) Manchester).
For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in action. He saw the enemy making preparations for a counter-attack, and with a comrade, on his own initiative, decided to make a close reconnaissance. These two went out in broad daylight in full view of the enemy and under heavy machine-gun fire. His comrade was hit within a few yards of the trench, but, undeterred, L./.C. Thomas went on alone. Working round a small copse he shot three snipers and then pushed on to a building used by the enemy as a night post. From here he saw whence the enemy were bringing up their troops and where they were congregating. He stayed in this position for an hour, sniping the enemy the whole time and doing great execution. He returned to our lines, after being away three hours, with information of the utmost value, which enabled definite plans to be made and artillery fire to be brought on the enemy’s concentration,
so that when the attack took place it was broken up’
As you can see he was very brave to initially try to approach the German lines and then even more so to continue after his fellow soldier was shot. The information he was able to gain was key to ensuring British gains in the fighting around Bourlon Wood. Lance-Corporal Thomas wrote a very touching and emotional letter to his siblings after his battalion was decimated from 950 men to just 35 during the course of bloody fighting around the time of winning his Victoria cross. In the letter he talks openly about the loneliness of war and seems understandably disillusioned with the situation he and his fellow soldiers found themselves in. This is a very interesting source and goes to show that even the most decorated of soldiers felt the horror of war and questioned what they were fighting for.
After the war John returned to the Greater Manchester area and lived in Stockport until his death on February 28 1954. He is buried in Stockport Cemetery.
The London Gazette, February 12th 1918.