Lance Sergeant Thomas Pearson (2721484) served with the Irish Guards during World War Two. He was the son of John Pearson and Elizabeth Pearson of Derby, England. He was the husband of Margaret Harper Pearson, also of Belfast, Co. Antrim.
Pearson played as a goalkeeper for east Belfast’s Glentoran Football Club. In 1937, Glentoran manager Sam Jennings signed the strapping goalkeeper. “Big Tom” played for Hull City and Derby County before moving to Belfast. He played 98 games for Glentoran FC.
At the outbreak of war in September 1939, now living in Belfast, he enlisted in the Irish Guards.
The Irish Guards in Tunisia
While serving with 1st Battalion Irish Guards, he received the Military Medal. Patrols from the Guards had forced the Wehrmacht to abandon Sidi Naceur in Tunisia. This allowed the Battalion to concentrate on Recce Ridge.
Probing patrols dispatched included one on the night of 24th March 1943. Lieutenant Keigwin, Sergeant Roberts, Lance Sergeant Pearson and thirteen men from No. 3 Company reached the foot of Sugar Loaf (Point 305). The citation for Pearson’s Military Medal described the action as the patrol came under attack.
On the night 24/25 March this NCO was in a patrol which was working 3,000 yards behind the enemy lines at Point 305 and he was left with his Bren Gun to protect with fire a further forward movement of the patrol. As the patrol advanced five enemy Machine guns opened up on it. Lance-Sergeant Pearson immediately opened with his Bren Gun firing tracer at each in turn to draw their fire onto himself and thus save his patrol. This he did so successfully that the patrol was able to disengage and withdraw, he himself firing until his ammunition was exhausted and at several moments during this action his Bren Gun was being hit by enemy fire.
Lance-Sergeant Pearson showed very great bravery in drawing the fire of five enemy Machine guns and completely disregarded his personal safety in order to distract the enemy and save the lives of his comrades. By this gallant action most of the patrol was saved and German deserters have subsequently confirmed that Lance-Sergeant Pearson killed four enemy and wounded two others.
Death in North Africa
He died in Tunisia on 28th April 1943 aged 30 years old. On this date, 1st Battalion Irish Guards were attacking Djebel Bou Aoukaz. A Wehrmacht soldier manning the turret of an armoured personnel carrier gunned down Pearson. Glentoran Football Club received a letter on 14th May 1943 confirming Thomas Pearson’s death.
Pearson’s death came before the ceremony to award the Military Medal. His name still remained in the plans for the award ceremony. He was to be number 32 at the event on 25th May 1943 but died before it took place. Some reports suggest that Pearson met the King and received his medal but this is untrue.
Remembering Thomas Pearson
A memorial plaque and documents relating to his military career form a display at The Oval. Eddie Donnan, a 1st Battalion Irish Guards veteran unveiled the plaque on Saturday 10th October 2009. Donovan himself is a lifelong Glentoran fan and served alongside Pearson witnessing his death. The Irish Guards Corps of Drums attended the ceremony. When not performing in a ceremonial role, they are all frontline troops. The event was the result of planning from the Glentoran Community Trust. A parade left the East Belfast Mission at 1330hrs making its way down Dee Street to the ground before Glentoran’s 1-0 win over Portadown FC.
Thomas Pearson’s grave is in Section 1, Row C, Grave 24 of the Oued Zarga War Cemetery, Tunisia. A Remembrance Cross placed in Pitt Park off the Newtownards Road commemorates Pearson.