Unsolved Murders

Herbert Ernest Thomas

Age: 43

Sex: male

Date: 20 Aug 1927

Place: Shoeburyness

Herbert Ernest Thomas was found dead in a store shed which was part of a number of store sheds that had been destroyed by fire.

He had a revolver wound in his forehead and it was determined that he had died from the bullet wound and not from burning or suffocation but it was not possible to say how he had received the bullet wound.

Herbert Thomas was in the 11th Medium Battery RA.

The fire had spread across six large sheds in the Shoeburyness Garrison grounds.

The fire was discovered at about 3 o'clock but it was too much for the Garrison Brigade and the Southern Brigade were called for. They spent four hours dealing with the fire. After they found the whole of the mobilisation equipment in the stores, including thousands of rounds of small arms ammunition, gun-carriages, scores of machine guns, shell cases and steel helmets had been destroyed and only the steel frameworks of the sheds was left standing. The damage was estimated to be worth about £7,000. None of the main buildings had been in any way damaged.

Herbert Thomas had been a single man and lived in Limehouse. He had six medals including a Long Service medal and a Good Conduct medal. Several of his friends described him as a book lover saying that he loved to read in bed by candle light. He had been in the army for thirteen years. He was also said not to have drunk to excess, was always ready to do his duty and was on good terms with everybody in his battery.

He was a storeman for the 11th Battery and occupied one of the huts. A storeman who occupied one of the other sheds said that on the Friday night he awakened by smoke fumes in his hut. He said that he went to Herbert Thomas's hut and found the door was locked from the inside and that it was all ablaze. He said that he then went to warn the crowd.

The storeman said that the shed had electric lights and that there was a round stove for either coke or coal. He added that the electric light had to be out by 10.15pm which would have meant that Herbert Thomas would have had to have found another means to read after. He also said that he had never seen a candle or paraffin lamp in Herbert Thomas's hut. He also said that he had last seen Herbert Thomas between 5pm and 6pm on the Friday.

The Battery Sergeant Major said that there would have been two revolvers in an adjoining hut which Herbert Thomas would have had access to but said that he had no idea where the ammunition would have come from adding that they had checked all the ammunition in the store and found it to be correct.

Later on the Friday night Herbert Thomas had been seen at a pub in Southend where he had been with other soldiers. A Gunner said that he had been with Herbert Thomas in the pub where they had been singing and a piano was playing and that Herbert Thomas had stood up on stage and had sung a song.

Herbert Thomas was last seen by a Gunner who was on sentry duty who said that Herbert Thomas returned at 11.30pm, passing through the gates to the barracks and that he had given the password in the usual way.

A revolver was found near to Herbert Thomas with bullets in all the chambers. One of the bullets showed signs of having been struck and fired but the others all appeared to have exploded in the fire.

When his body was discovered there was a circular hole in the right side of his skull in the temple bone behind the ear that could have been made by a bullet, and a corresponding hole on the membrane of the inner side of the skull, however, the bullet could not be found.

His body was so burned that it was unrecognisable. The post-mortem stated that he had died from the bullet wound and not the fire. The revolver was found on his chest which was stated as being consistent with self-affliction.

It was noted that Herbert Thomas had had three attacks of malaria before the war and had later had sand-fly fever and pneumonia although had not been in hospital since 1925.

The Coroner stated that there was no evidence to establish any motive for Herbert Thomas to have taken his own life.

He was given a full military funeral at Shoebury Churchyard. There was no hat or bandolier draped on his coffin as they had been burnt and his medals which had also been burnt were replaced with wreaths. After the committal sentences a firing party fired three volleys over his grave and the 'Last Post' was sounded. In addition to chief mourners, the whole battery followed including the major and other officers. There was also a gun carriage drawn by six horses from the 11th Medium Battery.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Thursday 01 September 1927

see Essex Newsman - Saturday 27 August 1927