Jacob Thomas VC

b. 1833 Llanwinio, Carmarthenshire, Wales. d. 24/04/1896 Darjeeling, India.

Jacob Thomas (1833-1911) was born on a farm in Llanwinio, in rural Carmarthenshire, Wales, the son of a farmer. When he was 20 years old, Jacob decided to turn his back on farming life and enlisted with the Bengal Artillery in Cardiff on 6th July 1853. Jacob was soon posted to India, and was present when the Mutiny broke out in 1857.

Jacob Thomas VC Medals RA Museum Woolwich

Jacob found himself part of the only artillery company that was present throughout the whole of the Siege of Lucknow in the latter part of the summer of 1857. On the 27th September, he was part of a mixed detachment of men from the 32nd Regiment of Foot and Madras Fusiliers, who had arrived in the city with Havelock’s Column. The small party of artillerymen were there to destroy any guns that they could capture. From the start, there was a lack of discipline and planning, and several men became lost in the narrow lanes leading towards the battery. The infantry managed to reach the guns but had to wait until the gunners managed to find them.

The most effective method of destroying a gun was to ram powder down the barrel and block the muzzle with clay rendering the gun unusable. Unfortunately, because the day was so hot, the soldiers had drunk all their water so the clay could not be moistened. The guns had to be abandoned, undamaged, and the party began to make its way back to the Residency perimeter. By this time, the rebels were fully alerted and lined the escape route as the British ran a gauntlet of musket fire, sustaining a number of casualties.

One of the Fusiliers was hit and fell. Immediately, Thomas ran to him, picked him up and carried him to safety over his shoulder. Miraculously, the pair reached safety without being hit. Thomas remained on the barricades for the rest of the siege until it was lifted in November. His bravery was duly noted and his citation for the VC appeared in the London Gazette on Christmas Eve 1858. He received his VC just over two years later, on 4th January 1860 from Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. After the Mutiny had concluded, he had transferred to the Royal Artillery but elected to remain in India.

He was eventually promoted to Quartermaster-Sergeant but was discharged on medical grounds in 1866 due to injuries when a horse fell on top of him. He became a fitter, which he had been before he joined the Army, and died on 24th April 1896 in Hooghly, India. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Bandel Cemetery, Hooghly. His medals were sold at auction in 1912 for £68 and are now held by the Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich.