The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

A4279 Private Roland William Thoms

The Royal Canadian Regiment

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR

Roland William Thoms was born in St. Jacob's, Ontario, on 22 Apr 1915. He was the fourth of five children of Alvin and Elizabeth Thoms. Thoms' siblings were Jerold (b. 1910, d. 1922), Marschell (b. 1912), Elfrieda (b. 1913), and Mildred (b. 1919).

Three days before he joined the Army for service in the Second World War, Roland Thoms married Edith Louise on 29 Jun 1940. The ceremony took place at Elora, Ont.

Thoms enlisted in the Canadian Army on 2 Jul 1940, at the Regimental Depot of The Royal Canadian Regiment at Wolseley Barracks, London, Ont. At 25 years of age, Thoms stated his trade as shoemaker and claimed to have been working in the trade for eleven years. Thoms had attended public school for eight years before entering the work force, his trade was defined on an occupational history form as "shoe finisher" with the C.J. Smith Shoe Co., at St Jacob's, Ont.

On his medical examination form, Thoms was described as 5 feet 6 inches in height, weighing 165 pounds, with good physical development, a 38 1/2-inch chest, a fair complexion, grey eyes and fair hair. Found fit to serve, Thoms was given a Medical category of "A." He had a scar from an appendectomy performed in 1936. His documents noted that his languages were English and Pennsylvania Dutch. Thoms identified his wife, Mrs. Edith Louise Thoms, living in Elora, Ont., as his next of kin. His religious denomination was Lutheran. The Thoms had no children. On enrollment, Thoms was given the service number A4279.

As part of his enrollment paperwork, on 4 Jul 1940, Thoms completed a military Form of Will. In this will he left all of his estate to his wife in the event of his death while serving.

On 11 Jul 1940, Thoms was struck off the strength of the Regimental Depot. He was transferred to No. 1 Infantry Reinforcement Training Centre (I.R.T.C.) at Camp Borden, Ont. Thoms remained at Borden for over a year. The Canadian units in England, including The RCR with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, would have had little need for regular reinforcement drafts, resulting in potential replacements remaining in Canada for lengthy periods after recruitment and training.

While undergoing training, Thoms was hospitalized from 11 to 19 Oct 1940 with laryngitis. Still at Borden, Thoms proceeded on furlough from 8 to 21 Feb 1941. He was again in hospital, from 8 to 16 May 1941, suffering from influenza.

In his one recorded brush with the military's judicial system, Thoms was away without leave in June 1941. The cryptic note in his service record which refers to this incident only provides a date (2 Jul 1941), the charge (A.W.L.), and the duration (5 days). While details of his punishment are not recorded, for a first offence it may have been only an admonishment in addition to the forfeiture of pay for the period of his absence.

On 28 Aug 1941, Thoms was sent On Command, i.e, a temporary duty assignment without changing parent units. He was sent to the Canadian Small Arms Training Centre (C.S.A.T.C.) at Long Branch, Ont., for demonstration purposes. By the fall he was back at Borden and, on 3 Oct 1941, Thoms was struck off the strength of A-10 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Reinforcements), Camp Borden, in order to proceed overseas.

Thoms was struck off the strength of the Canadian Army (in Canada), on 5 Oct 1941 when he embarked for England. The following day, he was taken on the strength of the Canadian Army (Overseas). Thoms was soon in England and on 19 Oct 1941 he was taken on strength of No. 1 Canadian Infantry Holding Unit (C.I.H.U.). he would remain here for a little over two months before he would be struck off the strength and transferred to The RCR on 26 Dec 1941.

With a file clean of the all too common incidences of minor crimes, e.g., absences and drunkenness, that appear in many soldier's records. Thoms' file has three entries for 1942, showing three occurrences of "Privilege" leave, a label to distinguish to from other types of leave. Thoms enjoyed leave from 18 to 25 Feb 1942, 19 to 26 Jun 1942, and 19 to 28 Oct 1942.

On 1 Jan 1943, regimental rates of pay increased and Thoms' daily pay rose to $1.50 per diem. Out of his pay, Thoms had assigned $20 per month to be sent home to his wife. In April, 1943, once his own back-pay from the 1 Jan 1943 increase caught up to him, he increased this to $23 monthly inclouding providing to Edith the extra $3.00 for the months since the increase took effect.

Thoms proceeded on "Privilege" leave one again in the new year from 4 to 13 Jan 1943.

In April, 1943, Thoms was briefly hospitalized, although his record does not specify the cause. On 6 Apr 1943, he was admitted to No. 4 Field Ambulance and then transferred to No. 4 Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.). On 15 Apr 1943, he was discharged from No. 4 C.C.S.

On 13 Jun 1943, Thoms was struck off the strength of the Canadian Army (United Kingdom) on embarkation. Once aboard ship, he was taken on the strength of the Canadian Army (Central Mediterranean Force). While on ship in the final stages before sailing to the Mediterranean, Thoms was recorded has having completed the Six-Week Regimental N.C.O.'s Course.

Pachino Day: On 10 Jul 1943, The Royal Canadian Regiment was among the first units to land on the island of Sicily in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. Thoms' service record, in an traditional staff duties understatement, merely notes that he "Disembarked" on that date.

Thoms, a soldier of the Regiment's "D" Company, was among the first Canadian soldiers ashore in the invasion of Sicily. The RCR's first wave consisted of "C" and "D" Companies which, landing in LCTs and DUKWs, would secure the beach and make the first assaults on known enemy positions before "A" and "B" Companies passed through them and carried on. The first wave hit the beach at Pachino at 0530 hours. After securing the beach and reorganizing to continue the operation, the Regiment pressed forward and "D" Company advanced to clear the enemy pillboxes and positions on the higher ground beyond the airfield just inland from the landing beaches. By 1400 hours on 10 Jul 1943, the Regiment's War Diary reports:

"During the early part of the afternoon the entire Bn was reorganized around the position captured by A Coy, with B Coy on the left, D Coy forward on some high ground covering the enemy line of approach, A Coy on the Bty position and C Coy in Reserve. To gain their objective, D Coy had to run a gauntlet of some of the fiercest M.G. fire that the Italians had thrown at us. During the fight Lieut Walter Roy, leading his platoon in an attack on the enemy position without waiting for aid from the other platoons, was severely wounded in the shoulder, and during the whole engagement which involved Lieut Russ Watson's Pl (17) and Lieut Johnny Praysner's Pl (18) the Coy suffered several casualties, but gained the objective and took 40 prisoners."

It was during this assault to secure the high ground that Thoms fell in battle. He is identified in the narrative provided by Major Strome Galloway in his book on the Regiment's Italian campaign, "Some Died at Ortona":

"In the direction of "D" Company there was considerable small arms fire. Later we learned that Walter Roy, one of the platoon commanders, had received a nasty wound from a sniper's bullet. It went through his right shoulder, tearing a big hole, but apparently missing the apex of the lung. He was evacuated on a carrier in great agony. Pte. Roland Thoms, a first rate young soldier, and one of Walter's platoon, was killed. I was told this morning that by the time the stretcher bearers got out to Thoms to see if they could help him his boots had been removed! Johnny Praysner claims a Sicilian peasant took them off Thoms' body."

Roland Thoms was killed in action on 10 Jul 1943, the first day of the invasion of Sicily. He was one of three Royal Canadians to die that day. Thoms is buried in the Agira Canadian War Cemetery. His entry in the cemetery register reads: "THOMS, Pte. Roland William, A.4279. The Royal Canadian Regt. 10th July, 1943. C, D, 308."

A Last Pay Certificate was completed on Thoms' account. As of the date of his death, he had accrued a total of $63.18 in his pay account which was forwarded to his wife.

Thoms' death overseas was initially recorded and transmitted to his next of kin as 18 Jul 1943. This was corrected in a letter from the Director of Records, on behalf of the Adjutant-General, on 24 Sep 1943. the letter stated:

"Further to my telegram of the 5th of August, I sincerely regret to inform you that the latest information received from Overseas reports that your husband, A.4279 Private Roland William Thoms, was killed in action on the 10th day of July, 1943, and not the 18th as previously reported.

"You may rest assured that any information received as to the burial of Private Thoms will be communicated to you in due course.

"May I express sincere sympathy in your bereavement."

In Thoms' service record held by Library and Archives Canada are a few pages of correspondence regarding Thoms' effects recovered from his body. A letter by Capt. A.F. Mitchell, the Adjutant of The RCR, relates how, at the end of July, 1943, the effects of Thoms and a number of other Royal Canadians were checked and inventoried, then sealed in a bag for despatch to the Effects Section in London, England. On 9 Oct 1943, the Adjutant was notified that the bag had been received in poor condition and that effects in the bag no longer matched the provided inventories. A list of deficiencies was provided which identified missing items for 13 members of the Regiment. Under Thoms' name were listed his Soldier's Pay Book (Parts I, II, and III), his regimental cap badge, and a pen and pencil set.

On 7 Dec 1943, the remainder of Thoms' effects to be returned to his wife were checked at the Canadian Section, General Headquarters, 2nd Echelon. The inventory of effects listed three items; "snapshots," one pocket book, and one note book. A second inventory sheet listed a red identity disc and, again, "snapshots."

A War Service Gratuity for Thoms' service was calculated on 10 May 1945. His total qualifying service was 1099 days, with 624 days of overseas service. For these he received, respectively, $270 and $156, plus an additional supplement for overseas service on $96.41. This total, $522.41, was sent to Edith Thoms, under he new (re-married) name; Mrs. Jack Johnston, 329 Brock St., Fort Erie, Ont. Thoms also had a life insurance policy with Metropolitan Life Insurance. This policy paid $1000 to Edith after his death.

For his service in the Second World War, Thoms was eligible to receive the 1939-45 Star, the Italy Star, the Defence Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas Clasp, and the 1939-45 War Medal. Thoms' wife and mother would receive silver Memorial Crosses.

Pro Patria

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