THOMAS, Charles Ernest
(Service number 3/118A)

First Rank Lieutenant Colonel Last Rank Lieutenant Colonel


Date Unknown Place of Birth

Enlistment Information

Date Age
Address at Enlistment Timaru, New Zealand
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Married
Next of Kin Mrs C.E. Thomas (wife), Sophia Street, Timaru, New Zealand
Medical Information

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation Main Body
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Medical Corps (Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance)
Date 16 October 1914
Transport Star of India
Embarked From Auckland, New Zealand Destination Suez, Egypt
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With New Zealand Medical Corps

Military Awards

Campaigns Gallipoli
Service Medals
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations


Date 28 August 1915 Age
Place of Death Gallipoli, Turkey
Cause Killed in action
Memorial or Cemetery Embarkation Pier Cemetery, Turkey
Memorial Reference I. A. 17.
New Zealand Memorials On Memorial wall, Timaru; Memorial plaque, St Mary's Church, Timaru

Biographical Notes

Son of H. Thomas, of Devon, England; husband of Mildred Julia Thomas(nee Rhodes, of Timaru, New Zealand.

Thomas was a keen sportsman. He not only represented South Canterbury in rugby union from 1890 to 1891 (from the Timaru Football Club), but also played for the South Canterbury Cricket team in the 1890s (from the Timaru Cricket Club).

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Thomas, known locally as The Little Doctor, was a doctor at Timaru who left his wife Mildred and 11-year-old son to serve as the commander of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance, NZ Medical Corps. Nearing 50, Thomas had previously served in the New Zealand Volunteer Fiorces and in the South African (Boer) War as a surgeon in the fifth contingent, so was perhaps more prepared than many for what might lie ahead.

Thomas was however killed in a disastrous attack on Hill 60 in late August, 1915, at Gallipoli. Instead of remaining in the relative safety of a dressing station, he had gone with stretcher bearer parties to help the wounded men in the front trenches. While sheltering in a trench a shell exploded above him, killing him outright. So the life of a well-respected officer, father, and medical man was cut short.

A collection of letters from Thomas to his wife and 11-year old son are part of a collection held by the South Canterbruy Museum, which offer considerable insight into his excperience. As werll as more banal comments about the food, he also wrote about the campaign. On 1 March her wrote "It seems to be an endless, hopeless mess we are in now." He commented on the difficulties of their situation "The safest place on land is in the fire tenches. Some are still killed and wounded before even they put a foot on shore ... There is a great deal of sickness on account of the damp dugouts and the flies, which are even worse than here on account of the unburied and partially buried." (24 July) and that he had "...30 men employed all day and every day digging graves for New Zealanders."

The collection also includes a letter from Sergeant Bill Tait (of Timaru) on the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Thomas:

"The death of Lieut.-Col. Thomas will, no doubt, have come as a great shock to Timaru. I can assure you that it gave me a great shock. I was sitting talking to him in the trenches when he was killed. We were up in the New Zealand Mounted trenches while they were attacking three Turkish trenches, and the shells were falling thick and fast all around us, till at last one burst above us. Col. Thomas was killed outright, and died without speaking. I was badly hit, and rolled over towards him, while three or four stretcher-bearers were also more or less badly hit. I thought I was finished, and could do nothing for the Colonel, but after some time they managed to plug me and get me away. The trip back to the dressing station was almost as lively as in the trenches, as shells and stray bullets were dropping all round us. We had some narrow escapes, but managed to get back safety. Our little company was broken-hearted on hearing of the death of our dear Colonel. I could talk for months about him, but you know what he was, and what he has done for me, and for our company. I am proud to have been with him when he died. He was absolutely fearless, and would go anywhere in the face of danger."

Charles' medical kit bag from the South African (Boer) War, made of Springbok skin in South Africa, is now part of the Waihi School Museum collection.


Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph Database, August 2013, CWGC; Correspondece from Charles Ernest Thomas, South Canterbuiry Museum 2015/106.02; SCroll web submission by J Sutherland, 29 MArch 2021

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