(often just Tommy
is a term for a common soldier in the British Army
that was already well established
in the nineteenth century, but is particularly associated with
World War I
. It can be used as a term of
reference, or as a form of address. German soldiers
would call out to "Tommy" across no man's
land if they wished to speak to a British soldier.
French and Commonwealth troops would also call
British soldiers "Tommies".
In more recent times, the term
Tommy Atkins has been used less frequently, although the name "Tom"
is occasionally still heard, especially with regard to
- or Thomas Atkins - has been used as a
generic name for a common British soldier for many years. The
precise origin is a subject of debate, but it is known to have been
used as early as 1743. A letter sent from Jamaica about a
mutiny amongst the troops says "except for those from N.
America (mostly Irish Papists) ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved
splendidly". The surname Atkins means "little son of red earth", a
reference to the soldiers in their red tunics. Tommy (a diminutive
of Thomas), meaning twin, has been a very popular English male name
since Thomas Becket
was martyred in
the 12th century
British defeat by the Boers at the Battle of
Magersfontein in December 1899, Private Smith of the Black Watch, wrote the following
, in his autobiography
Goodbye to All That
(1929), states that: "The original 'Thomas Atkins' was a Royal Welch Fusilier
in the American Revolutionary War
Graves was an officer in the Royal Welch in 1915, and mentions this
among other regimental history, but does not cite his
to Lieutenant General Sir William MacArthur, in an article in the
Army Medical Services Magazine (circa 1950), "Tommy
Atkins" was chosen as a generic name by the War Office in 1815.
in the prologue to Tommy
(2005), states that in:
- "1815 a War Office publication showing how the Soldier's
Pocket Book should be filled out gave as its example one
Private Thomas Atkins, No. 6 Troop, 6th Dragoons. Atkins became a
sergeant in the 1837 version, and was now able to sign his name
rather than merely make his mark. ."
The Oxford English Dictionary states its origin as "arising out of
the casual use of this name in the specimen forms given in the
official regulations from 1815 onward"; the citation references
Collection of Orders, Regulations, etc.
, pp. 75-87,
published by the War Office, August 31 1815. The name is used for
an exemplary cavalry and infantry soldier; other names used
included William Jones and John Thomas.
A common belief is that the name was chosen by the Duke of Wellington
having been inspired by the bravery of a soldier at the Battle of Boxtel
in 1794 during the
. After a fierce
engagement, the Duke, in command of the 33rd Regiment of Foot
, spotted the
best man-at-arms in the regiment, Private Thomas Atkins, terribly
wounded. The Private said "It's all right, sir. It's all in a day's
work" and died shortly after.
A further suggestion was given in 1900 by an army chaplain named
Reverend E. J. Hardy. He wrote of an incident during the Sepoy Rebellion
in 1857. When most of the
Europeans in Lucknow were fleeing
to the British Residency for protection, a private of the 32nd Regiment of Foot remained on duty
at an outpost.
Despite the pleas of his comrades he insisted
that he must remain at his post. He was killed at his post and the
Reverend Hardy wrote that "His name happened to be Tommy Atkins and
so, throughout the Mutiny Campaign, when a daring deed was done,
the doer was said to be 'a regular Tommy Atkins'".
published the poem
(part of the Barrack-Room Ballads
dedicated "To T.A.") in 1892, and in 1893 the music hall
song Private Tommy Atkins
published with words by Henry Hamilton
and music by S.
Potter. In 1898 William
wrote Lines In Praise of Tommy Atkins
which was an attack on what McGonagall saw as the disparaging
portrayal of Tommy in Kipling's poem.
It is also said that the name 'Tommy Atkins' was the example name
on conscription sheets during The First World War, and that
teenagers who were underage often signed up as "Tommy
The British were still called Tommies by the Germans in World War II
. The phrase "for you Tommy, the
War is over!" has become a stock phrase, expressed by a German upon
the capture of a British soldier or airman. They also nicknamed the
"Tommy cookers", because
early versions tended to "brew up" (catch fire) easily, due to the
way ammunition for the main gun was stowed inside the tank.
Today's soldier is nicknamed (within the Army) 'Tom' and the
British Army Magazine 'Soldier' features a cartoon strip character
The Last Tommy
On 25 July 2009, the death of the last Tommy from World War I
, left Claude Choules
of the British forces in
World War I
. There was a growing opinion
that the passing of the last of them should be marked in an
appropriate manner. This was the subject of a cross party campaign
led by the politician Iain Duncan
. It was originally proposed that the last veteran to die
should be given a state
. However, this met with opposition from the veterans
themselves, few of whom wanted to be singled out in this way. As of
28 June 2006, it was decided that a service at Westminster Abbey
would be held upon the death of the last veteran.
- Laffin, John
(2003) Tommy Atkins: The Story of the English Soldier, The
History Press Ltd. pp. vii 0-75-093480-8 Quoted from Soldier Magazine,
- Why were English soldiers called "Tommy Atkins" or
"Tommy"? Imperial War Museum
- Staff. Veteran state funeral 'difficult', BBC, 18 April
- Michael Evans, Memorial service to be held after death of last Great War
Times 28 June, 2006