b. 1835 Abbotsham, Devon. d. 02/03/1902 Severnake, Wiltshire.
Thomas Arthur (1835-1902) was born in the parish of Abbotsham, near Bideford, Devon in 1835. In March 1853, Thomas Arthur, then 18, enlisted at Devonport with the Royal Regiment of Artillery. His attestation record describes him as “5ft 6in tall, fresh complexion, hazel eyes, brown hair with no scars.” He was sent to London to the Royal Artillery Depot where he had an uneventful beginning to his Army career until the outbreak of the Crimean War the following year.
In November 1854, Thomas and the rest of No 1 Company, 5th Battalion, left Woolwich to embark at Liverpool to sail on the “Niagara” for the Crimea on 1st December 1854. When they arrived in the Crimea in January 1855, conditions were poor and several men died from illness and Thomas had a spell himself in Scutari Hospital. Thomas spent the majority of his time in the trenches at Sebastopol, when in June 1855, he would twice show immense gallantry.
On 7th June 1855, he was in charge of a magazine on the left side of the advance, when the Quarries were taken. He then took responsibility for carrying barrels of ammunition for the 7th Fusiliers several times during the evening across the open ground under heavy Russian fire. Just 11 days later, on the 18th June, he volunteered to form a spiking party during the assault on the Redan. Sergeant Gowing of the 7th Fusiliers commented on his actions by saying “I had the honour of taking a man’s name that evening for a most daring act; bringing up a barrel of ammunition on his head across the open field under tremendous fire, throwing it at our feet, exclaiming ‘here you are, my lads, fire away!”
Arthur left the Crimea with his Regiment and arrived back at Woolwich in March 1856, with the War virtually over. Before the announcement of his Victoria Cross in February 1857, Thomas was in trouble with the Regiment authorities due to absences without leave. He lost some pay for being AWOL in September 1856 for a brief period, and went AWOL for another day shortly after his VC was announced on 24th February 1857. Later that same year, by Regimental Court Martial he was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment from 21st May to 17th June 1857 and spent his time in Weedon Bec Military Prison. On his release from prison, he immediately returned to Woolwich Barracks where he had to prepare for his appearance in front of the Queen at Hyde Park for his investiture of the VC.
Thomas was the 23rd man out of 62 to receive his VC on 26th June 1857, and later that year became an acting Bombardier in a Field Artillery unit based in Northampton. On 6th July 1859, Thomas married Ann Goddard at Aldershot, and the following year, Thomas reverted back to being a Gunner and returned to his roots when his Battery was posted to Devonport, Devon. In 1861, his first child, Jeanetta was born in Plymouth. His second child, Emily was born two years later. Later that year, his Battery was moved to Ireland where he served until 1866. Whilst in Ireland, Thomas and Ann had their third child, Mary Ann, who was born in Ballincollig, County Cork.
In late 1866, Thomas was now in D Battery, 8th Brigade and they were posted to India. Whilst serving in India, Thomas’ wife gave birth to four more children between 1868 and 1873, Britannia, Alice, Agnes Phoebe and Aileen Ruby. During his time in India, Thomas also changed his name to McArthur, and his wife changed her name to Britannia (reasons are unclear). Thomas retired from the Army on 19th May 1874 after over 20 years’ service. The family left India and returned to Devon, where their 8th child, Sophia was born in 1876. In 1879, the couple had their final child, Nelly in Pucklechurch, Bristol. This coincided with the marriage later that year, of their oldest child, Jeanetta.
By 1881, Thomas and his family were now living at 7 Cadley Square, Savernake, Wiltshire and by 1891, Thomas was listed on the Census as being a Chelsea Pensioner and living at 28 Salisbury Road in Cadley. Thomas died on 2nd March 1902 and was buried in Cadley Churchyard, which is now a private residence. Thomas’ medals were sold shortly after his death on 19th July 1902 for £47 and were later purchased by the Royal Artillery Institute. The medals are still held by the Royal Artillery, but not currently displayed.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ARTILLERY MUSEUM, WOOLWICH, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: CADLEY CHURCHYARD, WILTSHIRE.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of Thomas Arthur VC’s grave.