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Gassed, hit by a mine and deployed across the world: Thomas Bridger's Great War
He was gassed, hit by a sea mine and deployed to France, Belgium, Hong Kong and Russia.
He worked with horses on the Stickleys’ farm in Hook, and was father to a six-month old baby when he enlisted.
Pt Thomas Bridger was even inspected by Lord Kitchener personally during basic training, after joining the Middlesex Regiment.
His story was told this month at the 1st Hook Scout and Guide band’s annual concert at Epsom Playhouse, who performed a brand new piece of music composed by Bridger’s grandson, Ray.
Mr Bridger – middle name Thomas, like his father – dedicated the 45-second percussion piece ‘Machine Gun’ to the men of the 25th Middlesex, including his grandfather.
It depicts a battle between two machine gun nests, with one percussion section echoing the other’s bursts of fire.
Mr Bridger, who has been involved with 1st Hook for 48 years, said: “The idea was to make it playable for all the members of that particular section, because we get youngsters in as young as eight or nine.
“One side plays it and then the other side repeats it.
“When I told the percussion section the story behind the actual piece of music they said, ‘You’ve got to tell that at the concert.’”
And he did.
Pt Bridger was born in Tolworth in 1891, and enlisted following Lord Kitchener’s famous ‘Your Country Needs You’ campaign.
The Middlesex Regiment was involved in fighting in the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele and more. During the campaign Bridger was hit by a gas attack, but survived, and was sent back to Britain.
The 25th was retrained as a garrison unit and sent to Hong Kong in February 1917 – but, while sailing around the tip of southern Africa their troop ship, the SS Tyndareus, struck a German mine.
A report in Cape Times on the Tyndareus' ordeal
The ship sinking, the men were paraded on deck and began singing popular songs including The Long Trail and Tipperary, before the Tyndareus was saved.
A Daily Chronicle reporter in Cape Town, quoted in the New York Times, wrote: “Every man immediately realised his danger, for apparently the steamer was going down by the head and threatening to take the final plunge.
“It was a moment to test the nerves of the bravest, and these young men, fresh from civilian life in London and surrounding towns, stood the test superbly.
“Not a man flinched. All responded to the commands of their officers as briskly and as orderly as if on parade and quietly lined up.”
Everyone on board was saved, including the regimental dog, Paddy, who was rescued by a sailor who dove from a lifeboat to grab him.
Thomas Bridger's medals. Courtesy of Karen Shortland
The regiment eventually made it to Hong Kong, where Bridger might reasonably have expected his war to be over.
But the 25th was sent as a machine gun unit to Vladivostok, in Siberia, to aid Russian forces in their fight against the Bolshevik uprising in 1918.
He was eventually honourably discharged from the Army in May, 1919, after his health deteriorated.
Thomas Bridger died in January, 1940, aged 48, of acute heart failure and several respiratory illnesses.
- Why are we writing these features?
Both Kingston Museum and the Rose Theatre will host exhibitions looking back at our area’s involvement in the Great War.
Some of the stories have been discovered in the archives of the Surrey Comet.
The Rose Theatre will host an audio-visual exhibit, to open in September, based on the campaign by Edwardian author John Galsworthy for better conditions for injured servicemen.
Kingston Museum’s exhibition, Remembering Kingston at War, will run from May 16 to August 16, and has benefited from heritage lottery funding.
Researchers have uncovered stories about nurses, underage soldiers, and aircraft builders and their experiences.
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