Second Lieutenant Arthur Thompson
In the Wanderings of “D” in France, Edward Glanville Smith says his “best chum” was killed in the attack on Eaucourt l’Abbaye on October 1, 1916.
His identity is revealed in a pamphlet preserved by Smith’s family, which tells the story of an intensely religious young man called Arthur Herbert Thompson, who died at the age of just 23.
The pamphlet, entitled “Tommy” – An Appreciation of the Life of 2nd Lieut. Arthur H. Thompson, 1/17th Battalion, London Regiment”.
It includes a letter about his death from his “close friend and fellow-officer” Edward Glanville Smith, who had been in the same Bible class before the war, and wrote:
Tommy’s sudden and early call has been a tremendous blow to us all, but we can only look on it as God’s perfect will, that he has been called to a greater service, which God had in store for him... We must try not to grieve, and our faith should be increased by such a life of devotion to the Lord Jesus.
The pamphlet’s author is named only as Thompson’s “Friend and Bible Class Leader, M. G.” However, he is easily identified because the pamphlet contains many references to meetings at Merleswood, and the 1911 Census shows this was the home of a solicitor called Montague Goodman in Woodford Green, Essex.
In a 1958 obituary, The Times described Goodman as “a preacher of striking personality and great gifts. His ministry in his early years was mainly among children and young people, for whom he has written a number of books...”
Arthur Thompson was born in 1893, the same year as Edward Glanville Smith, and his family were also in the drapery business.5 They presumably met at the Merleswood Bible classes which Arthur began attending at the age of 13.
He was training to be a chartered accountant when war broke out, like Glan’s brother, and in December 1914 Arthur joined up as a private in the 2/14th Bn London Regiment, better known as the London Scottish.
While training in England he wrote to Mr Goodman: “I don’t know whether I told you I am trying to get a commission with Glan Smith’s lot, the 17th City of London.” That wish was granted in August 1915, and he finally left for the front on New Year’s Day, 1916.
From the start Arthur regarded war as an adventure, describing trench patrols as “really great sport”. This must have been agonising for his widowed mother, but he reassured her that he was under divine protection:
I expect you are fed up with me going on patrols, etc., for, of course, I volunteer for it and enjoy it; but it’s really not dangerous, besides, God takes care of me just as much there as anywhere else, and I am quite willing to die if He so desires, not that I have any anticipation of “snuffing it” just yet. But really that is how I feel out here: whatever is the danger, He will protect and does.
He emerged unscathed from the attack on High Wood on September 15, 1916, despite being hit several times by shrapnel and partially buried by a shell. After this he remained as brave as ever, though aware of the toll it was taking on his mother:
I must say I really don’t care a hang (at least not very much) if I get “pipped” now, but my constant prayer is, “Preserve me for my mother’s sake.” The thought of what it would mean for her is too awful to think of.
While admiring his faith and fearlessness, it is hard to avoid a mounting sense of inevitability. Edward Glanville Smith told how less than three weeks later, Arthur led his troops forward in the attack on Eaucourt l’Abbaye:
They were then met with very heavy machine gun fire, but the platoon pushed on till when within 50 yards of the German trench, Tommy was hit by two bullets and fell at once, death being instantaneous. He died leading his men, which is the greatest honour an officer can have.
After the war, Arthur’s body was brought from its battlefield grave to Warlencourt British Cemetery, where the headstone bears his mother’s epitaph: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”.
His mother Lizzie lived until 1943, but the circumstances of her death reveal a final, tragic aspect to the story. She died in Northumberland House in Green Lanes, in the Finsbury Park area of London, which was a private mental hospital.7 It seems that she, just as much as her son, was a victim of the war.
1 The Wanderings of “D” in France in Tank Corps Journal, March 1921
2 “Tommy” – An Appreciation of the Life of 2nd Lieut. Arthur H. Thompson. By His Friend and Bible Class Leader, M. G. Undated pamphlet in the possession of family of Edward Glanville Smith
3 1911 Census
4 The Times, November 3, 1958
5 Parents’ marriage certificate; 1901 Census
6 CWGC records
7 1939 Register; National Probate Calendar