Man Who Fired the First Bullet of WWI

Many would consider the first bullet fired in the First World War to be the one that struck Archduke Franz Ferdinand, leading to a series of war declarations by the chain of alliances between the world’s major powers. Fewer may have given any consideration to who actually fired the first bullet at Mons, after Britain formally declared war on Germany. To a number of people, this is when the war truly began.

The First World War began on a number of dates, depending on who is telling the tale. On the 28th of June in 1914, Ferdinand was killed. On the 4th of August, Britain made their formal declaration. Then, eighteen days after their declaration was made, they saw a German scouting party and fired the first bullet. They were shortly outside of Mons at the time, and they were hoping for a small engagement with the enemy. Although it had been more than two weeks since they had made their declaration of war, the British were not yet mired in the trenches to the extent that they would be later in the conflict.

The shot in question was fired by Corporal Edward Thomas. Technically speaking, there was nothing significant about what Thomas did. He did not kill anyone notable, nor did he do anything that his comrades were unwilling to do. Still, he fired the first bullet in one of the deadliest wars in history. His great-grandson, Ben Thomas, knows his story and has been present at centenary events to share his knowledge with any who wish to ask, The Telegraph reports.

More specifically, Ben Thomas has been present at centenary events in Casteau, which is north of Mons and in the vicinity of the skirmish in which the shot was fired. He attended a small reenactment of the day that the first bullet was fired, and spoke of the actions taken by his great-grandfather. Corporal Thomas did not know that he had done anything remarkable, nor did he even know whether or not he took out the officer at whom he had fired.

When it comes down to it, the man who fired the first bullet in WWI is not necessarily known for his bravery or his military strategy. He is known for taking action in a seemingly minor circumstance, which would turn out to be the mere beginning of a much bigger event than he could have imagined at the time. Even if he had no way of knowing when he pulled the trigger, that first bullet fired by Thomas would be echoed millions of times over the following four years. A memorial now stands in Casteau to mark the location from which the shot was fired.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE