The Battle of Somme was by far the bloodiest battle of WWI. And yet, it also tells a story of a man who single-handedly turned more than a hundred German soldiers into POWs.
Hero of our story is a North Englishman called Thomas Alfred Jones, nicknamed ‘Todger’. You probably wouldn’t remember, but back in the day, the Englishmen used the term as a slang word for ‘penis’. This will prove to be Mr. Jones’ least unusual characteristic.
When WWI broke out, Jones joined his local 1st Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment of British Army. As a private, he fought on the Western Front where he took part in one of the most ferocious battles in history – the Battle of Somme, in France.
The battle is historically notable for massive casualties and for the first use of tanks between the British and French empires on one side, and the German Empire on the other.
On 25 September 1916, Jones’ battalion successfully took the village of Morval and commenced with digging the trenches. All of a sudden, bullets started flying around. The Germans were some 200 meters away, across the no man’s land. They were simultaneously waving the white flag and killing British soldiers one by one. But the order remained – keep digging.
At one point, something snapped in Pvt. Jones. He threw down his entrenching tool, grabbed his rifle, got out of the trench and started walking toward the enemy line, disobeying his commander’s order. The rest of the story reads like a shooter video game.
While walking across the field, a German sniper spotted him and pierced a hole in his helmet. His head intact, he quickly responded, shooting the sniper down from a tree. A few dozen meters later, he saw three German soldiers in a trench. Encouraged by his initial success, he simply jumped in, quickly shooting all of them, one at a time.
German soldiers came at him with bullets and bayonets, but he was trigger-happy. “I always believe in firing from the hip”, as he later recalled.
He continued walking along the trench, making as much noise as he could while shooting anything that moved. Soon, everything went quiet and he found himself standing before a pile of hand grenades. No German soldiers in sight. After throwing a few of them into the nearby dug-outs, several unarmed enemy soldiers started running out of the trenches, begging for mercy.
He ordered them to make the others put down their guns and surrender. Thousands of his comrades are just around the corner, he claimed, so they risk a lot if they try to mess with him. His comrades were, of course, still digging the trenches, completely unaware of his whereabouts.
At first, the Germans claimed it was only around fifteen of them. But as they started cropping up from their hiding places, Jones realized that this bite might prove to be too big to swallow. In a matter of minutes, he had some 150 unarmed German soldiers, among them, several officers, standing before him. But, stars still seemed to be on his side.
The Germans were very cooperative, but he knew that he couldn’t bluff for too long. Luckily for him, one of them tried to escape and gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his gun skills in front of everyone else. After that, he knew he had them. He let them take some winter jackets and started escorting them across the no man’s land.
Not everyone survived that short journey, though since the British were shooting all over the place, unaware of Pvt. Jones’ remarkable stunt. Some 40 Germans were killed, and Jones himself ended up with a shrapnel in his neck. In the end, 102 German soldiers officially surrendered to the British troops in Morval.
He was awarded the most distinguishable UK medal, the Victoria Cross, by King George himself. “How the dickens did you do it, Jones?” asked the King. His answer sums up perfectly the spirit that made him a legend: “If I’ve got to be killed, I’ll die fighting, not digging.”
In 2014, a bronze statue of Thomas Jones was unveiled opposite to the War Memorial in his hometown Runcorn.