(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'
Thomas was born in around January 1879 in Salford, Lancashire. We don't know anything about his early life or family except that he was a Roman Catholic.
In late 1896 Thomas lived at The Mechanic's Home on Grosvenor Street in Ardwick, Manchester. He had only recently moved there, previously he had been living at 15 Davis Street in nearby Hulme. He worked as a labourer.
Thomas began his military career on the 30th November 1896 when he joined the 4th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Militia, so Thomas kept his civilian home and job, and trained as a soldier for a short period every year.
When he enlisted Thomas was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 118 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. There was a scar from a cut on the back of his left hand. He was given the service number 5796 by the 4th Battalion.
After 49 days of basic training Thomas was released back to civilian life. He must have taken to the Army though, because just a few days later on the 26th January 1897 he enlisted in the Regular Army. He chose to stay in the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 5021.
We don't know anything about Thomas' career until August 1899, when he was serving with the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Gibraltar. In that month the British Government decided to send the battalion to South Africa in case war broke out between British and Boer settlers there.
The 1st Battalion sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October. The war began badly for the British and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.
They fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town; the 1st Battalion would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. Ladysmith was relieved on the 28th February 1900.
After Ladysmith the British Army tried to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. Thomas took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so Thomas stayed in South Africa.
There were no battles on the same scale during the rest of the war. The 1st Battalion took part in many smaller operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers. This strategy was eventually successful and the war came to an end on the 31st May 1902.
At some point after this Thomas was sent home and transferred to the Army Reserve. This had happened by June 1903. As a Reservist he was free to find a home and a job, but could be called back to the Army in an emergency. Where he lived, and everything else about the rest of his life, remains a mystery. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1949. Thomas was also awarded the 'Orange Free State' clasp to his Queen's South Africa Medal.