Born: 24 September, 1887 in Tewkesbury
Died: KIA at Guinchy, 26 February,1915, aged 27. He had been at the front line for only three weeks.
Regiment: 2nd Lieutenant in the Irish Guards
School: Cheltenham College
Commemorated: Cuinchy Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France (Plot II, Row B, Grave 34)
It was said of Thomas Allen by one of his fellow officers: “I have never known a man so absolutely ready to give his life.” He did just that only three weeks after arriving on the front line in France as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 1st Battalion, the Irish Guards. He died at Guinchy when a shell exploded in his trench and was interred in Guinchy Communal Cemetery. He is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Thurmaston, and on a family tomb that is within the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angels Church, Thurmaston. He was 27.
The only son among six children born to Thomas Allen and his wife Mary Cooke Allen, ‘Tom’ was born on 24 September, 1887, and began his education at Horton Preparatory School. He won a scholarship to Cheltenham College and was in Christowe House from September, 1901 through to December, 1906. He reached the Special VI form in his final year, became the Senior College Prefect and was captain of the College XV.
His career path seemed to be veering towards the army and he was due to enter Sandhurst when he left school, but the prospect of winning a ‘Blue’ for rugby at Oxford was too appealing and he opted instead to go to Trinity College, Oxford, to read history.
His dream of winning a Blue at rugby football was finally realised in 1909, when he played in the winning Oxford team at Queen’s Club. The Dark Blues were in one of their greatest eras when Allen first went up to Oxford and it was no surprise he failed to make the Varsity Match side in his early years.
There were two England caps in the pack of 1907, Harold Hodges and Geoff Roberts, and two players making their third appearance against Cambridge, the skipper Will Hoskin and R.S Wix. Both Hodges and Roberts remained for the drawn game in 1908 and future internationals Fred Turner (Scotland) and Reggie Hands (England) came into the side.
Behind the scrum Oxford were blessed with some of the greatest talent in the game. In 1907, six of the seven backs were eventually capped, while it was a full complement of seven in both 1908 and 1909. The fact that Allen was able to make the grade in 1909, when Oxford paraded no fewer than 10 current and future internationals, shows he had to be a player of a very high calibre.
He played in the wins over Moseley, Glasgow Academicals, United Services, Edinburgh Academicals and The Army, the draw with hitherto unbeaten Harlequins and the defeats to Edinburgh University, Blackheath and then London Scottish in the build-up to the Varsity Match. There can be no doubt he established himself as a key member of the pack and he was praised in The Times for his front row skills: “R.W Evers and T. Allen are both very clever at hooking the ball.”
There was also keen competition to get into the side. As well as the future internationals in Turner and Hands, and the returning Blues, Allen had to contend with future England start Bruno Brown, who had arrived from Australia, and the Edinburgh Academy forward J.G Monteath, who had to wait until 1912 to win his Blue.
The game itself went down in folklore as ‘Poulton’s Match’. The Oxford wing marked his debut in the Varsity Match by scoring five tries in a 35-3 rout of the Light Blues. The crowd of 15,000 saw history in the making, and one of the world’s greatest players bridging the gap between schoolboy potential and first-class rugby
At one stage during the game Oxford were reduced to 13 men due to injuries, but Turner returned after a time on the sidelines. The same couldn’t be said for the centre Frank Tarr, who broke his collarbone in the opening few minutes.
But there was simply no stopping the Dark Blues on that day and Allen was able to cherish one of the greatest days in Varsity Match history. The Times said of the match: “It was a great day for the Oxford fifteen, every one of whom distinguished himself, and on this form they are entitled to rank as one if the best teams Oxford have turned out. Their play on Saturday will long be remembered, and roused, as it deserved, the greatest enthusiasm.”
The next season we see him playing for Harlequins, one of the leading clubs of the time, and no doubt rejoicing once again in a major victory over Cambridge following the 38-6 triumph on Saturday, 29 October, 1910. He also helped Quins beat Oxford University 19-11 at Iffley Road in 1911.
Allen made many friends during his time at Oxford and was said to have made a deep impression on Trinity College by his character. He left Oxford in June, 1910, with a fourth in History and spent a year at the Oxford Bermondsey Mission. At the end of 1911 he became Warden of the Trinity College Mission in Stratford East, where for three years he ‘threw himself with single-minded enthusiasm and complete forgetfulness of self into the social work of the Borough as well as that of the Mission’. Just how great an impact he made at the Mission can be seen by the post-war action when a new building at Grove Crescent Road was named ‘The Tom Allen Club’.
When war was declared, Allen spent a few weeks taking care of some essential relief work in Stratford before enlisting as a private in the Grenadier Guards. As a private, he hoped to get overseas earlier. He spent the first month of his war living with 16 other men in a bell-tent before receiving a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant into the Irish Guards on 24 September, 1914.
His brief time in the Irish Guards is chronicled, along with many other periods of his life, in a biography dedicated to him that was written by his mother, “Tom Allen and his Ideals”.
He spent his last Christmas in north Wales as the book reveals: “He spent his Christmas leave at Rhowniar, his Uncle’s house, where his Mother and a Sister were staying. He went to the eight o’clock service with them on Christmas Day in the old church of St. Cadvan. He tramped in the mountains all day and sang songs to his friends in the evening, leaving for Warley in the deepening twilight of Boxing Day. That was a last “Good Bye”.
Just prior to leaving for France he wrote to his mother on 6 February, 1915: “Yesterday we went out in the drizzling rain a draft of one hundred men and eight officers. I should be in the next half dozen. They are keeping strictly to the rule of seniority, bless ‘em.“It is a good life here – more like a holiday than anything else. I am teaching the N.C.O.s map-reading and field-sketching. Our men are really excellent. Even the General had to admit on parade that we were perfectly magnificent, and didn’t we smile? Not a single man was drunk during the Christmas holiday, which constitutes a record.“The men back from the front are ripping, and some D.C.M’s among them. They are just out to beat the Germans well, and don’t you think everything is going well? We are feeling very happy about it all! I am thoroughly happy, except that at present there are not enough towels – for ourselves or the men!“I am all in favour of making my platoon (i.e., when I get one) do any amount of extra work. I found that there were any amount of lazy men in the ranks, and I shan’t be content till they have shown up the rest of the Battalion. I don’t think we can do much better than give them a modified Boy Scout training. My half dozen Scout boys whom I left behind in Stratford were one of the joys of my life. Their brightness and general intelligence was a revelation to all Oxford men.”He wrote again from the train that took him to the front line in February, 1915. They travelled from Warley barracks in Brentwood, via London and then Southampton and across the channel to an unidentified port on the French coast. From there his company travelled onward by train again and he was first billeted at Bœuvry, near La Bassee. He survived his first spell in the trenches at Cuinchy, just a few miles east, but was killed a few days after returning to the front line for the second time when a shell exploded in his trench.
He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal for his war service.