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18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Thomson - New Zealand Rifle Brigade
 
(Father and son at war)
 
Leslie, the first of Frank and Maggie Thomson's four children, was born on 14th April 1899 in Aden Cottage, Clyde Quay, Wellington.[i]

After leaving school Leslie was appointed to a sales assistant’s position with CM Banks, a wholesale and retail stationer with special interest in commercial and law documents[ii], based in Gray Street. CM Banks also had a printing works in Thorndon Quay.
 
Leslie Thomson was a 16 year old shop assistant when he enlisted on 4th April 1916 he was 10 days short of his seventeenth birthday, but he registered his age at 20 to ensure he meet the recruitment requirements for military service. The doctor examining him simply noted he ‘looked like a twenty year old’[iii].
 
The Thomson family oral history ‘he ran away to join the army.’[iv]
 
Frank Thomson was a 37 year old wharf labourer, married with four children, with his son Leslie being the eldest. The family history is that ‘Frank joined up so he could look after his son’[v] enlisting two months later than Leslie in June 1916.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Thomson family June 1916
Left to Right Frank, Orviss Naida, Margaret (Maggie), Francis Donald, Leslie (Les), Rubina May
 
Leslie was the first to arrive at the front on the 4th November 1916 being posted to the 1st Battalion of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade.[vi] The Somme Battle was drawing to a close at this time but regardless the Western Front conditions would have been a shock to the young rifleman.
 
With a major Allied push planned for April 1917 the tunnels had been
pushedout from the cavern system and mines had been laid under the
German trenches with other tunnels driven to positions just short of the
German trenches. This was so that following the explosion of the mines
troops could rapidly break through to the surface and storm the German
positions.[vii]
 
Leslie as part of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, within the New Zealand
Division,took part in the successful assault at Messines.
 
Following Messines the Allied forces prepared for the Third Battle of Ypres
launched on 31 July 1917. Passchendaele was the initial objective and the
nameof this village has become the synonymous with the horrors of the
Western Front. Rifleman Les Thomson with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
was involved in Passchendale when on 12 October 1917 New Zealand was
to suffer its blackest day, in terms of lives lost in a single day. In the assault
there were 2700 New Zealand casualties, of which 45 officers and 800 men
were either dead or lying mortally wounded between the lines.[viii]
 
On the 18th Ocotber 1917 the New Zealand Division was relieved by
Canadian forces. The New Zealand Division moved to rear of the front and
Les was given two weeks leave in the UK. He may have been able to see his
father in hospital, Frank  had been wounded at the start of the Battle of
Passchendael.
 
c 1917 Les  with a NZRB comrade in front of fabricated fortificaions.
Les is on the right.
 
On the back of the postcard is a message from Leslie to his mother living in Plimmerton.[ix]
 
Dear Mum
 
I am sending you this photo of me which I got taken while taking a bit of rest, it is not much of a
photo but it will do. I am getting on well and I am going down to see Dad, he is in a different
Company than me.
 
Loving Son
 
Les
 
Leslie was promoted to Lance Corporal in December 1917 and a full Corporal in January 1918. At this stage he was 18. Corporal Thomson was also attached to the Lewis Gun section of his company.
 
In March 1918 the Germans launched Operation Michael, their last major offensive. This initially was successful and the Allied Forces were pushed back and all reserve battalions were sent to France.
 
By late April 1918 Germany’s Operation Michael had been bought to a standstill on both the Somme and Lys fronts. There were a series of small actions to straighten and strengthen the positions held by the NZ forces. This was the beginning of the advance to victory.[x]
 
During this interval spent on the defensive, Allied Forces took every opportunity to rest and train and while their strength and efficiency were being restored, to execute with ever increasing frequency and scope, such minor operations that would maintain the fighting spirit of the troops, and at the same time effect local improvements in the line in readiness for the day when the Allied Armies could once more attack in strength.[xi]
 
Corporal Thomson was promoted to Lance Sergeant on the 17th June 1918 and was in involved in one of these 'small operations' on the 15th July 1918. The New Zealand Rifle Brigade was east and south-east of Hebuterne and an attack
was made by the by the 1st and 4th Battalions of the NZRB. The attack was on the Fusilier Trench, which ran roughly parallelto the front line. The attack was a success with the advanced battalion headquarters signalling, at zero hour plus twelve minutes, that
 
“Have secured our objectives” soon after the whole of the Fusilier Trench was in our hands.
In the subsidiary operations on the morning of the 16th, our casualties numbered three killed and ten wounded. Two machine-guns were captured and twenty of the enemy killed.[xii]
 
One of the casualties was Lance - Sergeant Leslie (Les) Thomson. Lance Sergeant Thomson as a machine gunner and NCO was a key element in defense and attacked in the trench warfare of the Western Front. The Thomson oral history was the Les died from a gunshot wound to the head, possibly a sniper.[xiii]
 
George Landymore,who had been wounded in France and returned to New Zealand, wrote a letter of tribute for Leslie Thomson on hearing of his death in action.
 
‘ Sergeant Thomson, machinegun section, 1st Battalion, New Zealand
Rifle Brigade went away quite a boy in years but a great athlete.
I had every opportunity of his acquaintence in the trenches. I feel I
must pay him a tribute. He was the keenest boy I have ever meet, a
great little soldier knowing no fear. Only a month ago (June 1918) he
wrote to me about his new gun and what he could do with it. He was
quick and clever and one of the finest soldiers a man could meet, and
one that New Zealand can be proud of.’[ivx]
 
The Evening Post carried a death notice from  his mother, sisters and brother
it simply noted that – ‘His Duty Nobly Done.’[vx]
 
 
L/Sergeant Leslie (Les) Thomson is buried in the Hebuterne Military Cemetery, France,
grave I.L.7[vix].
 
The original grave marker has been replaced by the standard New Zealand marble
war grave marker when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission consolidated
the cemetery in the 1920’s.
 
There are a total of 53 New Zealanders buried in this cemetery.
 
18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Tomson is also remembered in the stone wall that
remains in front of the old family home in Plimmerton. The wall was constructed by
Les's father Frank and simply has:
 
18719    Les    16/07/18
 
Leslie Thomson was aged only 19 years and 3 months when he died.
 
Notes:
The background photo is copy from an original tin plate photo of three soldiers
in France. They are very relaxed, Les is standing on the right with a cigarette in
his mouth. It is possible that the soldier on the left if Les's father Frank
 
Frank's story is 27993 Private Frank Thomson
 
References:
Archway Archives New Zealand - Military Files: 18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Thomson
Archway Archives New Zealand - Military Files: 27933 Private Franck Thomson
Paperspast Online
NZ BDM Online
The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
 
[i]     New Zealand Birth Certificate ref 20110121362
[ii]    Stones Directory for Hawkes Bay and Wellington 1914
[iii]   Archway  Archives New Zealand - Military Files; 18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Tomson
[iv]   Oral history - Carol Bowden (Frank's granddaughter )
[v]    Oral historu - Carol
[vi]   Archway Archives New Zealand -Military Files: 18719 Lance Sergeant Leslie Tomson
[vii]  New Zealand History Online – New Zealand Tunnelling Company
[viii] New Zealand Online – The Passchedaele Offensive.
[ix]   Bowden family photos
[x]    The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade pages 327-335
[xi]   The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
[xii]  The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
[xiii] Oral history - Carol Bowden (Frank's granddaughter )
[ivx] Roll of Honour, 3rd August 1918, Evening Post
[ivx] Roll of Honour, 2nd August 1918, Evening Post
[vx] Commonwealth War Graves
 
Comrades in France c1917