Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Henry Edmund OAKES MC and Bar
7th Anti Tank Regiment, New Zealand Artillery

Date of birth: 24th March 1895
Date of death: 30th November 1941

Killed in action aged 46
Commemorated on the Alamein Memorial Column 99
Thomas Henry Edmund Oakes was born at Walberswick in Suffolk on the 24th of March 1895 the only son of the Reverend Thomas Harry Royal Oakes,Vicar of St Andrew's Church, Walberswick, and of Ada (nee Beloe) Oakes, of Walberswick.

He was educated at Lancing College where he was in News House from September 1908 to December 1911. He was a Corporal in the Officer Training Corps and was a member of the Shooting VIII in 1911.

In 1912 he went on to the Royal Military Academy Woolwich and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery on the 12th of August 1914. He embarked for France on the 16th of November 1914. He was wounded in 1915. He was awarded the Military Cross which was announced by the War Office on the 3rd of March 1917. The citation read: -

“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.”

He was promoted to the rank of Acting Captain on the 2nd of May 1917 and to Captain on the 3rd of November 1917. He was appointed as Acting Major for the period 20th of February to the 11th of March 1918. He was re-appointed as Acting Major while in command of a battery of Territorial Army artillery on the 18th of April 1918 and was promoted to the rank of Acting Lieutenant Colonel while in command of a Brigade of Territorial artillery on the 3rd of May 1918. He was gassed and wounded carrying on to the end of the war but was forced to resign his commission due to ill health. In all he was wounded three times during the war.

On the 29th of June 1919 he relinquished the rank of Acting Major when his posting was altered.

He was married to Yvonne Emily (nee Shoppee) and they had a daughter, Ursula Yvonne, who was born on the 19th of August 1922 and served with the WRNS during the war. They lived at 57 Ferry Road, Rye in Sussex. They later moved to New Zealand and lived in Auckland.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War he was granted the rank of Major and was asked to undertake the training of a battery of artillery. On the 2nd of May 1940 he boarded the SS "Aquitania" with the 7th Anti Tank Regiment for the journey to England and dropped anchor in the Clyde at Greenock on the 16th of June. When he arrived he was given command of G Battery. In February 1941 he and his unit were moved to Egypt arriving there on the 16th of the month. In early March the 7th Anti Tank Regiment was deployed to Greece to support Greek troops following the German invasion there. When Greece fell the regiment was evacuated to the island of Crete.

By the end of April 1941 the New Zealand forces on Crete were expecting an attack from the Germans following their recent success in Greece. On the 30th of April Major General Bernard Freyburg VC was appointed to command the island's defences and he immediately set about organising the units under his command. A collection of stragglers from the Army Service Corps were issued with a few small arms and other limited equipment and sent into the hills near Galatas. In time they were joined by artillery men and formed into a composite unit which was called “Oakes Force” under the command of Thomas Oakes. From here they established defensive positions from Galatas to the coast road although arms were so short that not all the troops had a weapon. "Oakes Force" was absorbed into the 10th Brigade Composite battalion after a few days. The Germans attacked shortly afterwards, on the 20th of May 1941. Oakes Force was ordered to defend a line from Staliana Khania to Cemetery Hill to protect the allied eastern flank but after fierce fighting the allies were forced to plan for an evacuation.

Oakes and his men were among the last to reach their allotted evacuation beach, codenamed "C Beach", and when they did, they found that their ship had sailed and the beach was deserted. He instructed his men to take cover among the trees above the beach and to get some rest. While the men were resting Oakes made a wide reconnaissance of the area, including of some nearby beaches. He found that there were plans for other troops to be taken off the beaches that night and arranged for the Navy to pick up his men as well. On his return to his men he ordered the destruction of their wireless sets. Some hours after darkness a motor launch was heard approaching the shore and the men waded through the shallows and were taken off the beach in groups to HMS Havlock which sailed from the bay at 3am on the 28th of May. The men landed at Suda Bay at 11am the following morning.

Following the withdrawal from Crete he moved to Egypt where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was appointed as Commanding Officer of the 7th Anti Tank Regiment, New Zealand Artillery with effect from the 16th of May 1941. The regiment was re-equipped with 18 pounders and received 152 men from the 6th Reinforcements, taking the number of men in the regiment to 774 men of all ranks.

Several successful actions took place on the move into Libya including the isolation of Bardia. The route from Bardia to Tobruk produced many confrontations including fighting at the Blockhouse, Belhamed and Sidi Rezegh. Heavy casualties were incurred in the successful bid to take Point 175 that has since been described as among the finest anti-tank actions in the war. Thomas Oakes was killed by shellfire and was replaced as Commanding Officer by Lieutenant Colonel J.M. Mitchell.

A brother officer wrote:-

"I have heard wonderful things about Edmund 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 was mentioned in despatches.