Today we profile another one of those South African heroes who served with the Royal Navy Commandos on D Day and who went on to win a Military Cross for Bravery – Lieutenant D.C. “Tommy” Thomas MC from Maclear in the Transkei.
His most painful recollection of D-Day was the stormy passage he and his contingent had to undergo in crossing the Channel in their landing craft.The seas were running high, and hardly a man escaped sea sickness. They landed in the second wave at first light, their boat receiving a direct hit as they approached the shore, half-a-dozen men being killed, and Thomas found himself up to his neck in water after having jumped form the landing craft as it struck the beach.
The Commandos, having “dumped” their steel helmets, promptly donned their green berets as they went ashore, it being “more comfortable”. They had a specific job to do which was to connect up as soon as possible with the paratroops who had dropped further inland, and encountered fire, but “did not wait to deal with the resistance at the coast, pushing inland instead with all speed”.
It was “tough going through the minefields but they got there”. “And were the paratroops glad to see us!” remarked Lt. Thomas, who further remarked that for the next few days none of them knew much of what was happening, and could not be sure whether the invasion was a success or not.
All they knew was “that in their own sector on the left flank of the beach-head they were kept hard at it”, and the toughening they had had in advance was to prove more than useful.
According to plan, they kept on the move all the time -”frigging about” as it was called in Commando terminology, snatching some much-needed sleep in slit-trenches during the day, while at night they were patrols or raids to be carried out. It was while returning from one of these ”nocturnal excursions” that Lieutenant Thomas shared with his sergeant and another man “the benefit of a German hand-grenade”, and was to later return to England with several “little shrapnel souvenirs still in his leg”, but otherwise was “none the worse for wear”.
Commenting on how the Normandy landings compared to his time in North Africa, Lt. Thomas was to say that “it was worse”, elaborating that “for one thing, in the Desert, you could see whom you were fighting, but in Normandy most of the time you couldn’t.”
Lt. Thomas was also to add that he was wondering how he would “be able to settle down on the family farm in the Maclear district of the Transkei after all this excitement”.
The unfortunate truth is that it was highly likely that his participation in D Day ultimately killed him years later. After the war but he developed an alcohol dependency problem whilst suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), very sick he eventually shot himself when he was also diagnosed with cancer. A real tragedy and the end to a fine South African hero, close family and fiends described him as an AMAZING man, brave, humble and very caring.
People who knew him well said he was never the same after the war, and today we honour his extreme sacrifice and we remember him.
Reference – Two South African “Royal Marine” Commandos and the D-Day Landings, June 1944 By Ross Dix-Peek.
Photo of Tommy courtesy and copyright of his old girlfriend – Mrs A Mason (from Mrs Mason’s personal album).