Taffy Thomas was one of the great regimental characters of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars.
Larger than life, radiating confidence, humour and a zest for practically everything, his cheery grin and challenging quips were familiar and welcome to all those who served with him.
He was with the 4th Hussars from 1937 to 1954, rising from the rank of Trooper to Regimental Sergeant Major.
His war record was excellent, his courage and leadership being a model for others to admire and emulate.
He saw action in Greece, the Western Desert and Italy, and was several times decorated for gallantry.
Having made an indelible mark on his Regiment, after leaving the Army he proceeded to make another such mark on the Tower of London, where he served for many years as a Yeoman Warder.
He was triumphantly representative of what has been called the backbone of the British Army, members of the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess, described by our former Colonel, Sir Winston Churchill, as ‘that aristocracy of men’.
Thomas first joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1925, but transferred to the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in 1929, then was on the Reserve from 1931 to 1937.
Rejoining the Colours then, he was posted to the 4th Hussars, was soon promoted to Corporal and when war came was already a Sergeant.
Although captured during the ill-fated campaign in Greece of April 1941, he soon escaped,- but not without leaving his mark by blowing up some trains in use by the Germans to supply their rapidly advancing Panzer troops, where he was recommended for an award.
Back in Egypt where the Regiment reformed, he was promoted SQMS, and by the time of the Knightsbridge battles, which followed Rommel’s offensive in early 1942, was a Squadron Sergeant Major.
However, he was taken prisoner during the confused fighting there and sent to a POW camp in Italy. As might have been expected, he escaped, got back to England, and then insisted on rejoining the 4th Hussars, by this time in Italy, preparing to attack the Gothic Line.
Typical of Taffy’s daring in action is the story told by Colonel Aubrey Ridley Thompson, then a troop leader in ‘A’ Squadron, of which Thomas was SSM:
While supervising the replenishment of the forward troops with ammunition, he and others came under dangerous sniper fire, much to Taffy’s annoyance. With the aid of a troop sergeant, armed with Tommy guns, they advanced towards a farm building hiding the sniper, and so dismayed the Panzer-Grenadier that he surrendered.
Taffy had already been awarded the MM for his actions in Italy whilst a POW, was Mentioned in Despatches for the desert fighting and was awarded the US Bronze Star for his bravery in the Italian campaign.
The next scene of action after the war was the emergency in Malaya, where he was again Mentioned in Despatches. The 4th Hussars campaigned here from 1948 to 1951.
To start with Thomas was SSM of ‘B’ Squadron, but when the great Chesty Read, who had been RSM since 1942, was accidentally killed in 1950, Thomas took over and remained RSM until he retired from the Army in 1954, he was made MBE in April 1952 for his services in Malaya.
His service to the Regiment and the British Army had been outstandingly dedicated and significant.
He will always be remembered by those who knew him. To be a guest in the Sergeants’ Mess under his regime, as we so often were, was at once a great pleasure and privilege.
At the Tower he had only to catch sight of a Regimental Old Comrade, to hustle him and family past the waiting queue, brush aside any question of tickets and conduct a personal tour of the Tower’s treasures.