Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1941, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Henry Edmund Oakes M.C. and bar, 7th Anti Tank Regiment, New Zealand Artillery, and formerly the Royal Field Artillery, was killed in action in Libya.
The only son of a vicar, he was educated at Lancing College where he joined the Officers’ Training Corps. He then attended the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery a few days after the outbreak of the Great War.
He was wounded in action in France in 1915 and awarded the Military Cross, the citation for which reads: “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He maintained communication under most trying conditions. He repeatedly carried messages under very heavy fire. He has on many previous occasions done fine work.” Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes was appointed Acting Major in 1918 and commanded a battery of the Territorial Army artillery and was mentioned in despatches. He was wounded twice more and gassed, but refused to be sent home to recuperate.
By the outbreak of the second world war he had moved to New Zealand. He was granted the rank of Major with the New Zealand Artillery and undertook the training of G Battery in England in June of 1940. The following year his unit was moved to Greece to support the Greek troops following the German invasion. At the end of 1941 the New Zealand forces on Crete anticipated an attack by the Germans, so a composite unit called “Oakes’ Force” was formed and established defensive positions, although not all troops had weapons, supplies being so short. After fierce fighting the Allies were forced to evacuate. After the withdrawal from Crete, Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes moved to Egypt where he was appointed Commanding Officer of the 7th Anti Tank Regiment, and then on to Libya. He was killed during the successful bid to take Point 175, which saw heavy casualties and has been described as “among the finest anti-tank actions in the war”.
A fellow officer said of him: “I have heard wonderful things about him and his part in the campaign. He was in command of one end of Crete and very loath to retire and give up his “chunk” of island, as he called it, when the order came….His name has become legend. He fell as he would have wished, in action, and for his country.” He is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial.
Thomas, from Walberswick in Suffolk, was 46 years old and married with a daughter who also served during the war, with the WRNS.