British Rambo of the Somme: “If I’ve got to be killed, I’ll die fighting not digging.”


Thomas Alfred Jones

Thomas Alfred Jones was nicknamed “Dodger” in childhood because he was good at soccer. Unfortunately, they quickly changed that to “Todger” – which is British slang for “penis.” Worse, he never managed to shake that nickname off.

It’s probably why he went on a rampage in WWI – single-handedly attacking a German trench and taking over a hundred POWs. So in the end, Jones got the last laugh because that action earned him a Victoria Cross.

Jones was a private in the British Army, part of the 1st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. During the Battle of the Somme, his group was charged with retaking the villages of Morval, Gueudecourt, and Lesbœufs from the German 1st Army.

Jones and his men had secured Morval on 25 September 1916 and were on the outskirts digging trenches to prepare for their defense. As they did so, sniper fire hit one of his friends in the head, though not fatally.

More bullets whizzed past Jones, so he asked permission to fire back. But an officer said that the trench had to be prioritized, so Jones had to keep digging.

More sniper fire came at them – hitting someone else in the head and another in the thigh. Looking in the direction the shots were coming from, Jones saw a white flag being waved.

That was the last straw.

He yelled at the officer, this time demanding permission to shoot back.

But he got the same reply: “keep digging.”

Yet the white flag kept waving while the sniper kept shooting.

So Jones grabbed his rifle, threw down his shovel, and vaulted out of his trench. Several hundred yards away, the Germans were delighted at the easy target he made as he sloshed through the thick mud toward them.

One bullet punched a hole through his helmet, clanged toward the back, then burned its way down his back. Four more tore holes through his jacket, but Jones only had eyes on the sniper in a tree. Pausing only long enough to aim, he took the man out, then ran on.

Jone's helmet (complete with bullet-hole) kept at the Cheshire Military Museum
Jone’s helmet (complete with bullet-hole) kept at the Cheshire Military Museum

Looking over the mound of the German trench, he saw three men. To avoid getting hit by them all, he ran toward where the trench ended, jumped in, and shot the first. The body fell, presenting the second target who met the same fate.

Jones fired at the third man, but nothing happened. He was out of ammo.

He struggled to replace the cartridge as number three ran toward the entrance of a dugout and returned fire. Fortunately, the German missed, Jones didn’t – and another man bit the dust.

Jones ran deeper into the trench till he was forced to turn into a traverse. Running into it, he met five more soldiers all of whom he dispatched. Ahead were more, but Jones was still angry about that white flag. Nor did he want to get back to digging duty.

When King George V later invested Jones with the VC, he asked the private why he did what he did.

Jones replied, “If I’ve got to be killed, I’ll die fighting not digging.”

Yelling hysterically and firing from the hip, he surged ahead, causing panic. German soldiers began bolting into their dugouts, hoping to find some protection behind crude doors of wood and cloth. Not all made it in time, however, as Jones continued shooting at anything that moved.

Within minutes, the trench was silent as survivors huddled quietly, hoping the mad Englishman would go away.

But Jones had come upon a pile of bombs. Grabbing a few, he chucked them into the dugout closest to him and ran. German soldiers came out immediately… in bloody, mangled pieces.

Ahead, three soldiers boiled out of their dugout with their hands in the air screaming, “Mercy, Kamarad!”

Each had left their weapons inside to show they had no desire to resist.

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