Edward Thomas (British Army soldier)

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Ernest Edward Thomas
Born (1884-12-16)16 December 1884
London, England
Died February 1939 (1939-03) (aged 54)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1898–1923
Rank Sergeant
Unit 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards
Battles/wars First World War
Awards Military Medal

Ernest Edward Thomas, MM, of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards fired the first shot of the British Army in the First World War, at 7am on 22 August 1914, in an engagement outside Mons.[1]

Early life[edit]

Although it has been reported that Thomas was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary,[2][3] it has now been established that he was born in London of Irish ancestry.[4] Thomas joined the army as a drummer in the Royal Horse Artillery, but transferred to the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards before the outbreak of hostilities.

World War I Service[edit]

It was whilst serving as Corporal in the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards that Thomas is reported to have fired the first British shot of the First World War.[5] He was promoted to Sergeant on 5 November 1915 and transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in 1916. Thomas was also Mentioned in Despatches for bravery. Whilst positioned in a slit trench he advanced on his opposite number after British shelling of the enemy lines, to find all the German soldiers killed. Noting the quality of the German boots, he removed them from several soldiers, tied them together and crawled back to his own lines, where he distributed them amongst his friends.[6] Thomas was awarded the Military Medal during his service.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

He returned to the Royal Irish Dragoons at the end of hostilities and was finally discharged in 1923, he then became the Commissionnaire at the Duke of Yorks Cinema.[4] Whilst at work in February 1939, Thomas became ill and subsequently died of pneumonia and was buried with full military honours.[4]

See also[edit]

  • Alhaji Grunshi, of the Gold Coast Regiment, the first soldier anywhere in British service to fire a shot in World War I, on 7 August 1914
  • Charles Beck Hornby, reputed to have become the first British soldier to kill a German soldier, using his sword, in the same action on 22 August 1914.


  1. ^ "The First Shot: 22 August 1914—Opening salvos". World Wars in depth—World War One. BBC. 5 November 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
  2. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (18 October 2014). "First World War dead remembered at Ypres ceremony". Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Hurley, Tom. "Tipp FM in search of Ernest Edward Thomas". Radio Today. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Grant, Andy. "Ernest Edward Thomas: famous WWI soldier". My Brighton and Hove. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Sheehan, William (2011). The Western Front: The Irishmen Who Fought in World War One. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd. p. 4. ISBN 9780717151950. 
  6. ^ Deignan, Tom. "The Irish and World War I". Irish America. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Cooper, Stephen (2013). The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players. UK: The History Press. ISBN 9780752481241.