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WWI hero’s dog tag to finally come home 100 years after he died following shock discovery

December 10, 2021


The dog tag of a Cardiff soldier killed at the Battle of Gallipoli during WWI is to finally come home more than a century later after being unearthed in a field in Suffolk.

William John Thomas – better known as ‘Uncle Willy’ to his surviving relatives – was just 22 when he was fatally injured by an enemy mortar attack aboard a hospital ship off the Turkish coast in August 1915.

The former crane driver, who lived in Cardiff ‘s Thesiger Street before enlisting, served with the Royal Army Medical Corps and had spent five years with the 2nd Welsh Field Ambulance.

Read more: The incredible tales from Wales during the Second World War

He’d end up buried in a military cemetery in Gallipoli itself, now known as Gelibolu.

But the discovery of Thomas’ army ID amidst farmland in the small Ipswich village of Henley over the weekend has revealed a side to his life which his family never knew existed.

“I came across this small round disk in the soil and initially mistook it for a milk bottle top,” said Simon Hobson, the local detectorist who found it.

“But when I gave it a clean I saw all these details start to appear – RAMC, 1477, 2Welsh, W.Thomas – and thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’ve got something quite significant here’.”

The 55-year-old history buff then started researching the find and, in addition to details about Thomas’ army career, stumbled upon personal information which has remained unknown until now.

How the dog tag looked after being cleaned up

With the help of a Facebook site called MOD War Detectives – a crack team of investigators who specialise in military-related finds – he discovered that Thomas may have had a sweetheart in that area.

“We think she was called Grace and may have been a music teacher at the village school, which isn’t far from where the dog tag was found,” said Hobson.

He added that a Grace Susan Fisher had also been named as a ‘legatee’ (someone who receives money or property after a person passes away) in some documentation drafted following Thomas’ death.

“Perhaps she was the one who had the dog tag and lost it?

“Or maybe the field was somewhere they’d go for a picnic and she wanted to bury it in a special place?

“All we know about her is she was from Cambridge and never ended up marrying. She passed away in 1967.”

It’s believed this photo, taken in Cardiff in 1915, shows William Thomas (fourth from right) enjoying an ice cream shortly before going off to Gallipoli

Hobson added that a country house just up the road called Shrubland Hall had been used by the military during WWI as an auxiliary hospital.

“So it’s possible Thomas worked there as a medic before heading out to sea and meeting his fate.”

The news certainly came as a surprise to Thomas’ great niece Jackie Barrett, 62, from Caerphilly.

“I couldn’t believe it when Simon phoned me with news of what he’d found,” she said. “It’s almost as though Uncle Willy has been brought back to life again. We thought we knew all there was to know about him.

“Simon’s even promised to drive down to South Wales in the New Year and hand the ID over to us personally.

“We can’t wait. It’ll be like having him home again, where he belongs.”

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