King Edward’s School and the Great War

Memorial Roll of Honour 1914 - 1918


Barnsley, Thomas Kenneth

Captain ▪ Coldstream Guards

Thomas Kenneth ‘Tea Cake’ Barnsley, born on 10th October 1891, was admitted to King Edward’s School in January 1908. Thomas was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Barnsley (later Brigadier General) and Lady Barnsley, of 20, Westfield Road, Edgbaston. His father, also an Old Edwardian, was instrumental in the formation of the Birmingham Pals Battalions.

Thomas was a friend of JRR Tolkien and a member of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (this semi-secret School club, known as the TCBS, was formed by pupils at King Edward’s School in 1910. At the core of the group were four friends: Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Rob Gilson, and Geoffrey Bache Smith. All four fought in the Great War, but only Tolkien and Wiseman survived).

Thomas was a keen member of the Debating Society, and performed in Sheridan’s The Rivals with Tolkien whilst at School. Tolkien, as Secretary of the Debating Society, wrote of Thomas in the Chronicle of June 1911: “A loyal upholder of the Society who has never failed to display his unusual fluency (as distinct from argument) and remarkable talent for personalities of amiable virulence. Has never condescended to attempt to ingratiate himself with the Secretary.” Thomas was also in the shooting team and Officer Training Corps.

Thomas read History at Cambridge before enlisting in the 14th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, as a Second Lieutenant. He was buried alive by a trench mortar on the Somme in August 1916, and invalided home as a result. He was later sent to Belgium, only to be killed at Ypres on 31st July 1917, aged twenty-five, while consolidating a captured enemy position. He reached the rank of Captain in the Coldstream Guards, and is commemorated in Canada Farm Cemetery, Belgium. Thomas’ brothers also served: Donald Gordon was awarded the Military Cross, whilst Arnold (Old Edwardian) was wounded in September 1916.

After the war, his father, then a Brigadier General, erected the Hall of Memory in Centenary Square, Birmingham, to commemorate the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died and the 35,000 who were wounded in the Great War. The Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone on 12th June 1923.