A tribute to a great man, personal friend and Grandfather

 My Grandfather Mr William John Thomas (Bill to everyone) grew up in a small mining town in the Rhondda Valleys called Maerdy. He was the son of a miner and one of five children. He sadly passed away at the age of 87 but left behind a legacy that all of my family are proud of. the following is only a small extract of his life but one which I want to share with you:

In 1942  Bill volunteered for service in the RAF. After joining up and completing initial training with the RAF his experience in Morse code which he was taught in school in Maerdy (his teacher was a retired Royal Artillery Seargent WWI) soon became apparent and he was initially posted to 2 Group 140 wing (bomber command), however he was quickly transferred to the newly formed joint operations unit and continued specialised training in Denholm film Studios in preparation for a large offensive which we now know as the Normandy landings. At the time the only information that he was given was that he was about to embark on a dangerous mission which would probably get him killed.

Bill (Ringed) at the end of his basic training

He was transported at night from Torquay ( a town on the English coast) to the coast of France on a small Royal Navy vessel where his unit’s job was to disrupt and destroy German lines of communication prior to the Normandy landings. On D day his unit broke into two smaller sections; one of them proceeded to Juno beach and the other to Sword beach (where Bill was). Their job was to relay information to the ships in the channel and direct Naval fire and RAF Aircraft to support the landings whilst trying to stay hidden from the German forces on the beach head and not get killed by friendly fire.
A photo of Bill taken at Denholm

Following the Normandy landings Bills unit was involved in a series of small skirmishes in and around Normandy until his unit was ordered to proceed to Caen where he would be involved in the battle, this is where after encountering a small German patrol; Bill was shot in the leg and before another shot could be taken his best friend “Big Eric” killed the soldier (who it turns out was a past member of the Hitler youth after Eric "recovered" his Hitler youth dagger) saving Bills life (he later named his first born son, my uncle Eric after his friend). After getting patched up in the field, the radio section of his unit; Bill, Eric and Shipero flew from a makeshift grass runway just outside Caen in a small RAF transport aircraft which following engine troubles crashed on landing at Ghent and ended upside down on the runway. Shaken up but not badly injured,  his unit then proceeded ahead of the main British Spearhead and established communications with the Parachute regiment at Arnhem (Operation Market Garden) who were trapped by German forces. Bill and the other operators maintained radio contact between the Parachute Regiment and the main British forces right up to the end of the battle, where the Parachute Regiment escaped under the cover of darkness across the river; all the while Bills unit was behind enemy lines and at times under fire.

Shortly after he became desperately ill, the infection which was a direct result of the bullet wound in his leg and had remained untreated forced him away from his unit and he was transferred to a military hospital to recover from his wound and infection. He was to remain there to recover until the surrender when he was released from hospital and rejoined his unit in Berlin.

Bill with some of his unit just before de-mob in UK (airbase not known)

Shortly after his release from hospital, his unit along with some other combined operations units were to be combined with David Sterling's unit in Africa to form what is now known as the Special Air Service (SAS).

Following the war, Bill was de-mobbed from the RAF and shortly after joined the Royal Naval Intelligence service and became part of a newly formed unit commanded by Ian Flemming (author of James Bond). After being interviewed by Flemming in the admiralty in London, Bill was accepted into DSD9 (later to be combined with other similar units into what is now known as MI6) to a facility just outside of Scarborough. This facility was created to listen to Russian naval broadcasts code-named “pixie” and report back to the admiralty in London. He was to remain part of DSD9 until one summer on his return to Maerdy to visit his parents he met my grandmother Lilian and fell in love. He then left the service and returned home to marry her. He took employment initially as an insurance salesman to support his wife and recently born son (Eric) in Cardiff (Capitol city of Wales UK) and later moved back to Maerdy and became a supervisor in the Corona pop (soda) works in Porth (another Welsh mining town). Later he applied for and became a miner and then trained to become an electrician of the mines. He did find that the most enjoyable part of his job was teaching the young apprentices and when the opportunity arose to do this full time at Pengam Mining School in South Wales, he jumped at the chance. He enjoyed his time at the school but his thirst for knowledge and self improvement drove him on to higher qualifications and eventually an honours degree and a teaching post at Rhondda College of Further Education as a senior lecturer of mining electrical engineering where he remained until his retirement. 

Bill at his University Graduation
Bill at Christmas 2010 wearing his RAF tie. Still proud to have served his country

Some of the most endearing and life long memories I will hold of Bill is his pride of having served his country in the armed forces at such a terrible time in our history, his thirst for knowledge and encouragement of others to seek it, that he was a true gentleman, respected by everyone who knew him, his love for his family and even after losing his wife Lilian, in his eyes he was still married to an "irreplaceable woman whom he would love till the day he died".

At the time of his passing, he and his wife Lilian had three children, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Bill was a remarkable man with an infectious personality, quick to humour, intelligent and respectful of others. He still remains one of my nearest and dearest friends whom I respect, love and admire.

Rest in peace Bill, we'll all be OK 
Your loving grandson


  1. Thanks for sharing this fascinating history of your grandfather. I never knew RAF personnel were involved in the fighting on the ground during the D-Day period!

  2. Thanks for your kind words. RAF personnel were involved on the ground in Normandy and throughout the campaign to Germany in small Tri-service units formed especially for D Day and onwards. I also know that RAF personnel were also used in the various ships in the channel during D Day as well providing a vital communications link between RAF, Navy & Army forces