Sunday, 11 March 2001

The commemoration of the recently discovered gravesite of Private Thomas Edwards VC took place on Sunday, 11th March 2001, at St. Mary's Church, Chigwell in Essex, by the erection of a headstone near to his burial site in the churchyard. The London Branch of The Black Watch Association turned out in force, supported by the Royal British Legion, and many others to ensure Thomas Edwards was appropriately honoured and his gravesite recognised with dignity. Amongst the considerable number of Black Watch members were also a good number of both Argylls and Gordon Highlanders.

Pipe Major Elder played the "Flowers of the Forest" at the graveside, and a master from Chigwell School played both the Last Post and Reveille, and the standard bearers of the Royal British Legion paid the correct honours over the recently unveiled headstone. Three important individuals were responsible for the successful conclusion of the project, Winston Ramsay, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine "After the Battle", a historian David Tomlins, who had researched the project, and the service itself was taken by the Reverend Peter Trendall, the Rector of St. Mary's.

In 1880, aged 20, Thomas Edwards decided to join the Army and attested for service at York, joining the 6th Brigade for his training and general service. However, in August 1881 he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Highlanders ( The Black Watch ). The majority of his military service, which totalled about 12 years, was spent with this regiment, the first six or seven years spent in Egypt and the Sudan.

Edwards was soon involved in the Egyptian campaigns that were to take place from 1882-89. These various campaigns revolved around a particular individual known as the Mahdi who saw himself as the living reincarnation of the Prophet Mohammed. His rebellion which sought to remove the Sudan from Egyptian rule had already resulted in the defeat and massacre of at least three Egyptian expeditionary forces as they sought to advance up the Nile to capture the Mahdi and put down the rebellion.

The Battle of Tamaai involved both units of the British Army and the Navy who were attempting to move in support of the Egyptians. This battle again saw the enormous fanaticism of the Mahdi's Dervishes pitched against the disciplined but heavily out-numbered British and Egyptian troops.

Edwards was part of a naval gun team responsible for carrying the gun's ammunition on mules and defending the team. As the battle developed the Dervishes threatened to overrun some of the guns and Edwards' gun in particular became seperated from the main part of the British force. Several of his gun team were killed, including the naval officer in charge - but Edwards took charge of events, succeeded in saving the gun, the mules and the ammunition, whilst returning what remained of the naval gun team to safety despite bing wounded several times. His conspicuous gallantry was registered by the award of the Victoria Cross two months later on 21 May 1884.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 21 May 1884 ], Mahdi Rebellion, Tamaai, Sudan, 13 March 1884, Private Thomas Edwards, 1st Bn, The Royal Highlanders ( The Black Watch ).

"For the conspicuous bravery displayed by him in defence of one of the guns of the Naval Brigade at the battle of Tamaai on 13th March 1884. This man ( who was attached to the Naval Brigade as Mule Driver ) was beside the gun with Lieutenant Almack RN, and a blue jacket. Both the latter were killed and Edwards, after bayoneting two Arabs, and himself receiving a wound with a spear, rejoined the ranks with his mules and subsequently did good service in remaining by his gun throughout the action."

Thomas Edwards continued to serve in Egypt for two more years and then moved with The Black Watch back to Malta and then to the United Kingdom, where he was transferred to the reserve in 1892 as being of 'good' character. He remained a private throughout his service career.

After leaving the Army, Edwards married and had two children, a son and daughter. He moved from York to Essex late in life and lived in the village of Woodford Bridge. He died on the 27th March 1952, aged 91, and is registered has having been buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's at Chigwell, since the church at Woodford Bridge had no graveyard. Why he should have been buried in an unmarked grave is a mystery. Since the exact location of Thomas Edwards' grave within the churchyard of St. Mary's is not known, the Rector selected a prime site close to the entrance of the church where everyone arriving or departing would pass by and admire the memorial stone.

Medal entitlement of Private Thomas Edwards - 1st Bn, The Royal Highlanders ( The Black Watch )

  • Victoria Cross
  • Egypt Medal ( 1882-89 )
    • 5 clasps:
    • "Tel-el-Kebir" - "Suakin 1884" - "El-Teb-Tamaai" - "The Nile 1884-85" - "Kirkeban"
  • King George V Coronation Medal ( 1911 )
  • Khedive's Star ( Egypt )


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Iain Stewart, 29 September 2004