Tommy Thompson (rugby union)

Last updated
Tommy Thompson
Birth nameGerald W. Thompson
Date of birth(1886-10-04)4 October 1886
Date of death20 June 1916(1916-06-20) (aged 29)
Place of deathKangata, German East Africa
School Rondebosch Boys' High School
Rugby union career
Position(s) Forward
Senior career
Somerset West RFC ()
Provincial / State sides
1912 Western Province ()
National team(s)
1912 South Africa 3
Military career
Dar es Salaam War Cemetery, Tanzania
Allegiance South Africa
Service/branch South African Infantry
Battles/wars East African Campaign (World War I)

Gerald "Tommy" W. Thompson (4 October 1886 – 20 June 1916) was a South African rugby union player. Thompson, who played club rugby for Somerset West Rugby Club, was selected for the provincial team of Western Province in 1912. He was then selected to participate in the 1912–13 South Africa rugby tour to the British Isles and France, and was capped in three tests, against Scotland, Ireland and Wales all in 1912. He played in a further 12 matches against club sides. He was considered to be one of the two best of an outstanding pack of South African forwards.


At the outbreak of the First World War, Thompson volunteered for service, first in South West Africa, and then in the German East Africa campaign, with the 5th South African Infantry. He was killed in action at Kangata, taking a bullet in the neck. He is buried in the Dar es Salaam War Cemetery, near his fellow countryman and teammate Jacky Morkel, who died a few weeks before him.

Early life

Tommy Thompson was born on 4 October 1886, in Carnarvon, Cape Colony, and attended Rondebosch Boys' High School. [1]

Rugby career

Thompson played rugby for Somerset West Rugby Club, and in 1912 was selected for his provincial club Western Province. [2] He was a member of the South African rugby team that toured the British Isles and France in 1912–13. The team won all four of its international matches against the Home Nations, and against France. [1] Thompson played against Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and in a further twelve matches against other teams. [2] He was considered to be one of the two best amongst one of the 'finest pack of forwards'. The contemporary rugby journalist and author E. H. D. Sewell recounted seeing the game against Ireland at Lansdowne Road on 23 November 1912, and said of Thompson: "I have never seen a better individual performance than his on that frost-bound pitch... Only a few have I seen to equal that all-round display". Thompson played "like one possessed" en route to a 38 point to zero victory. [1]

International appearances

Flag of Scotland.svg  Scotland 0–16Won23 November 1912Inverleith [3]
IRFU flag.svg  Ireland 0–38Won30 November 1912Lansdowne Road [4]
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales 0–3Won14 December 1912Cardiff [5]

Military service

At the outbreak of the First World War, Thompson volunteered for service in South West Africa. At the conclusion of that campaign, he responded to the call for recruits to serve in East Africa, and was drafted into the 5th Regiment of the South African Infantry. [6] In April 1916, Thompson contracted malaria and was hospitalised. [7] The troops, who had to march hundreds of miles through difficult terrain, cutting their way through dense bush, suffered greatly from malaria and a shortage of rations. [8]

On 19 June, the 5th South African Infantry, under the command of Colonel J.J. Byron, was sent in pursuit of German forces, to occupy Kangata, 8 miles south of Pongwe. [lower-alpha 1] They found the Germans entrenched in a concealed position in dense bush. During the firefight that ensued, Byron's forces took heavy losses, but sustained the attack until night, when the Germans retreated. [8] Thompson was killed in action the following day, 20 June 1916, after a bullet pierced his neck. [9]

Thompson is buried at Dar es Salaam War Cemetery (Grave 8. A. 3.). [10] His grave lies near that of his fellow countryman and teammate, Jacky Morkel, who died on 15 May 1916 in East Africa. [11]

See also


  1. McCrery (2014, p. 225) has made a transcription error, changing Kangata to Katanga.

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  1. 1 2 3 Sewell 1919, p. 208.
  2. 1 2 "SA Rugby Player Profile – Gerald Thompson". South African Rugby Union. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  3. "Scotland vs. South Africa – Rugby Match Summary – November 22, 1912". ESPN.
  4. "Ireland vs. South Africa – Rugby Match Summary – November 29, 1912". ESPN.
  5. "Wales vs. South Africa – Rugby Match Summary – December 13, 1912". ESPN.
  6. Sewell 1919, p. 209.
  7. McCrery 2014, p. 225.
  8. 1 2 "No. 29906". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 January 1917. pp. 687–702.
  9. Sewell 1919, pp. 208–209.
  10. "Casualty Details: Thompson, G". Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  11. Cooper 2012.


Further reading