Private Volander Thomas, 4688517, 2nd/4th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Volander "Val" Thomas was born in Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, South Wales in spring 1914, the son of Edward (Ned) Thomas, born 1892, and Winifred Cecilia Jones, born 1890, who married in Llanelly in early 1913.
They appear to have moved into the Wakefield area by early 1924 when Edward Thomas first played rugby league football for Wakefield Trinity in February of that year. Between 1919 and early 1924, Edward had played for Oldham R.F.C. and was capped once for his country in the same year. He finished his playing career with Wakefield Trinity in 1929 having played 82 games and scored 36 tries.
By 1939, the Thomas family were living at 36, Westwood Road, Ossett and comprised Edward a sewage works labourer, his wife Winifred and a son, Vernon born in the Wakefield area on the 14th November 1925. A fourth name in the Thomas household was redacted. Westwood Road was built between 1922 and 1933 and the Thomas family may have moved in early during this window. Edward Thomas was still living at 36, Westwood Road in 1961. He died in late 1968 aged 75 years.
In summer 1939 Volander had married locally to Caroline (Carrie) France, born the 27th October 1915, and the couple had a son, Volander F. Thomas who was born in late 1940 or early 1941. Sadly he was born after the death of his father in June 1940.
By September 1939 Caroline was married and a feeder at a printing works. She was living at her parents’ home, 2, The Avenue, Stanley, with three of her siblings and her parents, 64 year old Joe, a coal hewer (invalid), and Ada France aged 56 years. Two of their children were miners and their daughter was a nurse at the West Riding Mental Hospital. The absence of any evidence of Volander in the 1939 Register suggests that he had already been called by the Army as a reservist.
Throughout WW2, the 2nd/4th Battalion of KOYLI served in the 138th Infantry Brigade of the 46th Division, and was the first in action in France in 1940. It was then a partially-trained L. of C. unit in the GHQ Reserve where Major-General H. C. Curtis was in command of the 46th Infantry Division.
In April 1940, seven months after the outbreak of the war, the 138th Infantry Brigade, commanded at the time by Brigadier Edward John Grinling, DSO, MC, TD, a Territorial Army officer, and division, minus the artillery, engineers and other support units, were sent to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The 'division', sent at the same time as the 12th (Eastern) and 23rd (Northumbrian) divisions, was very poorly equipped and trained, so was assigned mainly as a labour and training unit, to build defences and construct airfields.
Armed with rifles and a few Bren guns, they fought a rearguard action on the Seine after the Battle of Dunkirk when fighting the German Army, before eventual evacuation in Operation Ariel from Cherbourg and St. Nazaire in June 1940. It was during this rearguard action, having been cut off by the Germans and not being evacuated at Dunkirk that Private Val Thomas lost his life. The poorly trained and poorly equipped 2nd/4th Battalion of KOYLI stood no chance against the onslaught of the German Army who succeeded in pushing the British Expeditionary Force out of Europe and back to England with many casualties. These were Britain's darkest days in WW2, and especially so for the family of Private "Val" Thomas.
Above: Last days of May 1940 on the beaches of Dunkirk.
The "Ossett Observer" had this report on the death of Volander "Val" Thomas:1
"Ossett Footballer Killed in Action - Private Val Thomas - K.O.Y.L.I. - Official intimation has been received from the War Office that Private Val Thomas, 2nd/4th K.O.Y.L.I., son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward (Ned) Thomas, 36, Westwood Road, Ossett, has been killed in action. For a considerable time prior to the outbreak of war he figured regularly as stand-off half for the Ossett Rugby Union F.C., and was one of the team's most reliable and effective players. Popular and respected, both on and off the field, the sad news will be received with great regret by a wide circle of friends, and the deepest sympathy goes out to his widow, his six-month-old boy, and his parents in their sorrow.
Born at Llanelly, South Wales, 27 years ago, "Val" was only a child when he came northwards with his parents. He received his education at St. Mary's School, Wakefield, and was captain of both the football and cricket teams. Joining the regular Army as a youth, 1st K.O.Y.L.I., he served three years at Gibraltar, and throughout that time played with the Battalion Rugby Union team.
On leaving the Army, he obtained a post as attendant at the West Riding Mental Hospital, Wakefield, and it was during this time that he threw in his lot with the Ossett Rugby Club and rendered valuable service to the side. He was recalled to the Colours, as a reservist, on the outbreak of hostilities, and went out to France. He had one leave, and on returning to France was attached to the 2nd/4th K.O.Y.L.I. He took part in various engagements and fell fighting a rearguard action in the retreat to Dunkirk. He was officially reported missing at that time, but it was not until now, 13 months later, that he is posted as "killed in action", the date of his death being given as June 9th 1940. One the eve of the war he married Miss Carrie France of Outwood, where she, and her baby boy, are at present living with her parents.
"Val" inherited his fondness for Rugger from his father, familiarly known throughout Rugby circles as "Jumper" Thomas. A Welsh international player, "Jumper's" clubs were Llanelly, Oldham R.L., and finally for five years before his retirement, Wakefield Trinity".
Private Volander "Val" Thomas, son of Ned and Winifred Cecelia Thomas of Ossett and husband of Caroline Thomas, of Outwood, Wakefield died on Sunday, 9th June 1940 aged 26 years and is remembered at the St. Sever Cemetery Extension at Block "S". Plot 4. Row U. Grave 15.
As in WWI Rouen was again a hospital centre during WWII. The extension was used once more for the burial of Commonwealth servicemen, many of whom died as prisoners of war during the German occupation. The cemetery extension contains 8,348 Commonwealth burials of the First World War (ten of them unidentified) and in Block "S" there are 328 from the Second World War (18 of them unidentified).
Volander’s widow, Caroline nee France, married Harry Sellars in Wakefield in early 1946.
1. "Ossett Observer", 26th July 1941