Thomas Elmhirst

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Sir Thomas Elmhirst
Born 15 December 1895
Yorkshire, England
Died 6 November 1982(1982-11-06) (aged 86)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
 Indian Air Force
Years of service c. 1913–1950
Rank Air Marshal
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Air Force Cross
Mention in Despatches (4)

Air Marshal Sir Thomas Walker Elmhirst KBE CB AFC DL (15 December 1895 – 6 November 1982) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force in the first half of the 20th century and the first commander-in-chief of the newly independent Indian Air Force where he organised the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi following his assassination in 1948. He later became the Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Guernsey from 1953 to 1958.

Military career[edit]

Elmhirst studied at the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne, Isle of Wight in 1908, and at Dartmouth, Devon.[1]

He was commissioned as a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1913 and was posted to HMS Indomitable in the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron under David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty.[2] When war came he served on HMS Indomitable as she took part in the initial bombardment of the Turkish Dardanelles forts and the Battle of Dogger Bank (1915)[2] where he commanded 'X Gun Turret', the last one to fire at the German ship SMS Blücher before she sank. In 1915 he was selected to be in the first draft of the Royal Naval Air Service where he served until the end of World War I. He celebrated the armistice by flying an airship (SSZ73) under the Menai Bridge with his friend Gordon Campbell (VC) as his passenger. He then became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force in 1919.[2]

Between the wars he trialled the first gyroscopic compass for aircraft in the RAF and became Air Attaché to Turkey in the run up to World War II.[2]

During World War II he ran the operations room at RAF Uxbridge during the Battle of Britain. He then commanded the Egypt Command Group under Air Marshal Tedder before becoming Second-in-Command of the Desert Air Force.[2] He continued in this role through the battle of Alamein until after the Allied invasion of Sicily. He was then Second-in Command of British Air Forces in North West Europe until the end of the war,[2] serving in D-Day, Normandy, the Ardennes and the advance across the France and Germany.

After the war he was appointed as the Commander of the RAF in India.[2] As independence approached Pandit Nehru asked him to be the first Commander-in-Chief of the new Royal Indian Air Force upon its inception.[2]

In 1953 he ran Operation Totem, the first British nuclear bomb land tests in Emu Field, Australia.[2]

Later in 1953 he became the Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey, welcoming Queen Elizabeth II on her inaugural tour of the island as the new monarch. He held the post for five years, retiring in 1958.


Thomas Elmhirst was born into a landed gentry family in Yorkshire, where the family seat is Houndhill. He was the 4th of eight boys and one youngest sister. His eldest brother William Elmhirst was killed on the Somme and the third son Christopher Elmhirst was killed at Gallipoli. One of his brothers (the 2nd son) Leonard Knight Elmhirst became a noted philanthropist and educational reformer.

He married firstly Katherine Gordon Black, daughter of William Black, on Tuesday 16 December 1930,[3] and had a son, Roger and a daughter, Jane. Katherine died in 1965.

He married secondly Marian Ferguson (née Montagu Douglas Scott), widow of Colonel Andrew Henry Ferguson, on Wednesday, 30 October 1968. Marian was the paternal grandmother of Sarah, Duchess of York, and maternal great grandmother of HRH Princess Beatrice of York and HRH Princess Eugenie of York.

Thomas Elmhirst died at Dummer, Hampshire, on Saturday 6 November 1982, in his 87th year. He was survived by his second wife, Marian Elmhirst (née Montagu Douglas Scott), and his children and grandchildren from his first marriage.


  1. ^ "The Papers of Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst". Janus. Cambridge University. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst
  3. ^ Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition,Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003, volume 1, page 562.
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Hugh Walmsley
As AOC in C, RAF India
Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Air Forces in India
15 August 1947–21 June 1948
Post upgraded
New title
Indian Air Force became an independent service
Commander in Chief, Royal Indian Air Force
21 June 1948–25 January 1950
Succeeded by
Redesignated as Commander-in-Chief, Indian Air Force on 26 January 1950, after India became a republic
New title Commander in Chief, Indian Air Force
26 January-23 February 1950
Succeeded by
Sir Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Philip Neame
Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey Robson