Ernest William Thompson
March 1894 -24th. May 1915
Ernest William Thompson was born in Gt. Ryburgh, in March 1894 and died at Ypres on Monday 24th May 1915, aged 21 years. He lived in Fakenham Road Great Ryburgh, with his mother and father, Agnes and Matthew Thompson:
They lived in the area of the Fakenham Road at the junction with what is now Highfield Lane. The map is from 1906 and the photograph from the 1970’s showing the houses that used to occupy the corner plot. The other dwellings in that area still exist and a number of them can be discounted because of other known inhabitants or more interestingly house names. This still leaves a good number of possibilities so if anyone reading this has any information as to which house used to be occupied by the Thompson family we would be very pleased to know
He was the third of eleven surviving children, two others having died in infancy.
Three of his older brothers, Albert Edward, Percy Douglas and Victor Herbert,also fought through the war and their names are recorded on the Roll of Honour in St Andrew’s Church.
After attending the Village School he began work as a cowman, at Arthur John Savory’s Farm, at Highfield.
The farmyard viewed from the open window in the photo above
Arthur John Savory
He enlisted in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, on Wednesday, 2nd September 1914, at the age of 20 years 5 months. After 6 months training at Walton, near Felixstowe, he was posted to France to join the 1st Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, who were in the 15th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Division of the 2nd Corps.
On Monday 24th May 1915 he was "Killed in Action - sniped through the brain", between Hooge and the Ypres Canal, at Hollebeke.
According to "family history" Ernest was sitting on a biscuit tin in the trenches, when he was shot by a sniper, possibly sitting in a tree. The bullet apparently ricocheted off another soldier's rifle, before striking him in the head. His last words were reported to be "Give mother my love".
This account of Ernest's death was from a letter to his mother sent to her by his best friend "Bunkey" from Gt Ryburgh, who enlisted with him, in 1914.
To date, the only other Ryburgh lad to be found to have enlisted on the same day, 2nd. September 1914, was Percy Henry Neale who died later in the War on April 23rd. 1917.
The following items have been passed down the family and are now in the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum (Entry no: E16663).:
A photograph of Ernest, in his uniform.
His last letter written to his mother.
His mother's photo he carried with him.
His Soldiers Small Book (Paybook).
Tobacco Tin (Princess Mary's gift to the troops).
Letter from the Bishop of Norwich, dated 20th July, 1915.
His medals, 1914-1915 Star, Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
The Death Plaque (sent to the next of kin).
The 1st Norfolks War Diary for May 1915 describes a relatively quiet period. It reads as follows:
1st - 3rd. For trenches Sector iv 34 to 37
4th. East Surrey regt. relieved the regiment in 34 trench and 34 support trench
Lt C.M. Clode arrived with draft of 112 men.
5th At 8.30 a.m. our trenches were gassed for the first time and the gas
came down from Hill 60 opposite 37 and opposite 35. The men in
the latter suffering considerably owing to the very close distance at
which the gas was emitted from the cylinders. Our casualties were 75.
The Germans did not attack.
6th. Relieved by Middlesex and returned to G Camp OUDERDOM.
The regiment had then been in the trenches for a continuous period
of 26 days.
7th - 11th Resting at OUDERDOM. 2/Lt. Toogood arrived 10th.
12th Resting near OUDERDOM during the day moved
to KRUISTAAT chateau dugouts.
Working party digging at night near TROIS ROIS
13th La chateau dugouts- working party at night digging near ZILLEBEKE.
14th Returned to D Camp OUDERDOM.
Digging party at night near ZILLEBEKE
15th In huts OUDERDOM Draft of 300 men arrived
16th - 19th In huts OUDERDOM Captain Oldman joined from East Surreys
20th - 21st Took over 35,36 and 37 trenches from Middlesex regiment.
22nd Draft of 81 men arrived
23rd Took over 34 trench from East Surreys.
24th 2/Lt Boston joined. Lts. Knowles and Burelton rejoined
25th - 28th blank
29th Draft of 50 men arrived. Capt. Wall joined.
30th - 31st blank
Casualties during above period –
H.R.Done Major Commanding 1st Norfolk regt.
In spite of the death of John Cremer the previous year, the Revd. Hugh Tatham writes in the June issue of the Ryburgh Parish Magazine for 1916 reporting Ernest’s death as being “the first of our Ryburgh lads to give his life for us.”
The text is quoted below in full:
First let me on your behalf express our deep sorrow with Mr. and Mrs. M. Thompson and their family in the loss of their son at the Front. The “Times” Newspaper calls the Casualty List the Roll of Honour and though we sympathise and mourn the losses we must also be----like those who die at the Front---- brave and remember that they are giving their lives for us. Ernest Thompson is the first of our Ryburgh lads to give his life for us. All honour be to him and may he rest in peace. I feel must quote a few words from one of our boys at the Front. I will not mention his name, but I was much touched by his letter to me and I feel what he says may be helpful to others. First he writes to me as “ one who was my friend as well as advisor whilst I was in Gt. Ryburgh”. “I am often placed in a very perilous position and that is the time when one thinks most of the hereafter………I have been lately with men who have been snatched up by death……. I pray I may be spared such a death. But if it pleases God I should be taken so, it will be an honourable death and I shall have died for my country’s honour.” It seems to me this war , with all its horrors, is bringing to the front with our lads , who have answered to the call to serve their King and Country, the true manliness of the Englishman, and also arousing in them true Christianity. It is hard to part with our lads but for our Country’s honour, nay, more for the sake of our Christianity let no one hold back. In a leading article of a Liberal Paper the following words occur “It is said that certain of our young men are waiting to be fetched.” The image which that phrase brings to our mind is that of little children waiting to be taken home by their nurses when a party is over. If there are any such young men, we would say to them that they are fetched when Lord Kitchener says he wants 300,000 more of them, and that all honour and pleasure of service will have departed if they wait till an emissary of the Government comes and takes them compulsorily.”
Below is a copy of the last letter that Ernest wrote home:
"Think and Thank Screen" Norfolk Regiment panel
.......shared with his friend Percy Neale
Was his nickname Bunky?
These printed letters accompanied each of the death plaques
that were sent to a soldier’s next-of-kin.
Grateful thanks are due to Ernest Thompson for the generous sharing of his family archive and source materials that has made this article possible.With thanks also to Kate Thaxton, Curator, The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, for scans of Ernest's archive material donated to the Museum and currently on display there.