Lance Sergeant Thomas Pearson (2721484) served in 1st Battalion, Irish Guards during the Second World War. He was the son of John Pearson and Elizabeth Pearson of Derby, England, and the husband of Margaret Harper Pearson of Belfast.
The strapping 6’2 Pearson played as a goalkeeper for Glentoran Football Club in East Belfast, signing for manager Sam Jennings in 1937. “Big Tom” had played for Hull City and Derby County before making the move to Northern Ireland to form part of Jennings’ new-look squad. Pearson played 98 games for Glentoran Football Club in the lead-up to the Second World War.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Pearson enlisted in the British Army. With 1st Battalion, Irish Guards he trained in Scotland before deployment to North Africa and engagement in the Tunisia campaign. In Tunisia, Guards patrols had forced the enemy to abandon Sidi Naceur. One such patrol on the night of 24th March 1943 included Lieutenant Keigwin, Sergeant Roberts, Lance Sergeant Pearson, and 13 other soldiers from No. 3 Company. During the following action, Pearson and his comrades reached the foot of Sugar Loaf (Point 305), and the Glentoran goalkeeper’s gallantry resulted in the awarding of the Military Medal.
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.
Lance Sergeant Thomas Pearson died on 28th April 1943 aged 30 years old during an attack on Djebel Bou Aoukaz. An enemy combatant manning the turret of an armoured personnel carrier gunned down the 6’2 N.C.O. Glentoran Football Club received a letter on 14th May 1943 confirming his death.
Pearson’s death came before the ceremony to award the Military Medal although his name remained in the plans for the award ceremony. He was to be recipient number 32 at the event on 25th May 1943 but died before it took place. Some reports suggest that Pearson met King George VI and received his medal but this is untrue.
A memorial plaque and documents relating to Pearson’s military career form a display at The Oval, home to Glentoran F.C. Eddie Donnan, a lifelong fan of the team who served alongside Pearson at his time of death unveiled the plaque on Saturday 10th October 2009. Organised by 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 F.C.
Thomas Pearson’s grave is in Section 1, Row C, Grave 24 of the Oued Zarga War Cemetery, Tunisia. His name is also on a Remembrance Cross placed in Pitt Park off Newtownards Road, Belfast.