The medal group of one of New Zealand’s last surviving World War II soldiers has recently been donated to the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
Major General Walter Babington ‘Sandy’ Thomas CB, DSO, MC and bar, ED, Silver Star (USA) is most well known for his heroic and daring exploits during World War II which saw him receive several gallantry awards including a Military Cross (MC) and a Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
Museum Curator Windsor Jones said “The donation of Major General Sandy Thomas’ medals compliments some of the other great New Zealand commanders groups we currently have on display here at the National Army Museum. His medals will sit nicely alongside the likes of inspirational Kippenberger, Weir and Reginald Miles in our Medal Repository.”
Sandy was severely wounded during the Battle of Crete and consequently taken prisoner by the Germans. Lucky not to lose his leg, he spent many months recuperating in a prisoner of war hospital in Greece. During this time he made several unsuccessful attempts at escape in all types of ways from cutting the wires, to feigning death, hiding out in a ration wagon and even simply striding purposefully past the guards. Determined to escape he managed to convince the doctors to pass him as ‘fit’ and was sent to the transit POW camp Thessaloniki in northern Greece where he made a final successful escape.
He evaded capture for over a year as he made his way to neutral Turkey and then onto Syria, reaching the Allies and going on to command the 23rd New Zealand Infantry Battalion, fighting in North Africa and Italy.
At the end of the war Sandy transferred to the British Regular Army and rose through the ranks. He finished his career as Britain’s final commander of Far East Land Forces in Singapore in the 1970s.
Sandy has published a number of books detailing his wartime adventures including ‘Dare to be Free’ and ‘Pathways to Adventure’.
Sandy’s medals have been kindly donated to the museum by Mary Weston, daughter of Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger KBE, CB, DSO, ED. They will undergo some refurbishment before being put on public display in the Museum Medal Repository later this year.