Thomas Elmhirst

Air Marshal Sir Thomas Walker Elmhirst, KBE, CB, AFC, DL (15 December 1895 – 6 November 1982) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force in the first half of the 20th century and the first commander-in-chief of the newly independent Indian Air Force where he organised the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi following his assassination in 1948. He later became the Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Guernsey from 1953 to 1958.

Sir Thomas Elmhirst
Born(1895-12-15)15 December 1895
Yorkshire, England
Died6 November 1982(1982-11-06) (aged 86)
Dummer, Hampshire, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy (1908–18)
Royal Air Force (1918–50)
Years of service1908–50
RankAir Marshal
Commands heldCommander-in-Chief, Indian Air Force (1947–50)
AHQ Egypt (1942–43)
No. 202 Group (1941–42)
RAF Abingdon (1935–37, 1939–40)
RAF Leconfield (1939)
No. 14 Squadron (1934–35)
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Air Force Cross
Knight of the Order of St John
Mentioned in Despatches (4)
Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)
Croix de guerre (Belgium)
Commander of the Legion of Merit (United States)
Commander of the Legion of Honour (France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Spouse(s)Katherine Gordon Black (m. 1930–65; her death)
Marian Ferguson (m. 1968–82; his death)
RelationsLeonard Knight Elmhirst (brother)


Thomas Elmhirst was born on 15 December 1895 to Reverend William Heaton Elmhirst (b. 1856) and Mary Elmhirst (née Knight) (b. 1863),[1][2] a landed gentry family in Yorkshire, where the family seat is Houndhill. He was the fourth of eight boys and had one youngest sister. The children were:

Military career

Elmhirst studied at the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne, Isle of Wight in 1908, and at Dartmouth in Devon.[6]

First World War

In April 1912, Elmhirst joined his first ship, HMS Cornwall.[7] He was commissioned as a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1913 and was posted to HMS Indomitable in the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron under David Beatty.[8] When war came he served on HMS Indomitable as the ship took part in the initial bombardment of the Turkish Dardanelles forts and the Battle of Dogger Bank,[8] where he commanded 'X Gun Turret', the last one to fire at the German ship SMS Blücher before it sank. In 1915 he was selected to be in the first draft of the Royal Naval Air Service where he served until the end of the First World War. He celebrated the armistice by flying an airship (SSZ73) under the Menai Bridge with his friend Gordon Campbell as his passenger. By 1917, he was promoted to flight lieutenant and by March 1918 to major, commanding the Naval Airship Patrol Station on Anglesey in Wales.[7] He then became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force in 1919.[8]

Between the wars he trialled the first gyroscopic compass for aircraft in the RAF and became Air Attaché to Turkey in the run up to the Second World War.[8] In January 1940 returned to the Air Ministry as Deputy Director of Intelligence.[8]

Second World War

During the Second World War he ran the operations room at RAF Uxbridge during the Battle of Britain. He then commanded the Egypt Command Group under Air Marshal Tedder before becoming Second-in-Command of the Desert Air Force.[8] He continued in this role through the battle of Alamein until after the Allied invasion of Sicily. He was then Second-in Command of British Air Forces in North West Europe until the end of the war,[8] serving in D-Day, Normandy, the Ardennes and the advance across the France and Germany. Finally he became Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Intelligence) in August 1945.[8]

Post war

After the war he was appointed as the Commander of the RAF in India.[8] As independence approached Pandit Nehru asked him to be the first Commander-in-Chief of the new Royal Indian Air Force upon its inception.[8]

In 1953, he ran Operation Totem, the first British nuclear bomb land tests in Emu Field, Australia.[8] Later in 1953 he became the Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey, welcoming Queen Elizabeth II on her inaugural tour of the island as the new monarch. He held the post for five years, retiring in 1958.

Personal life

He married firstly Katherine Gordon Black, daughter of William Black, on 16 December 1930,[9] and had two children before Katherine's death in 1965:

  • Roger Elmhirst (1935–1999)[10]
  • Caroline Jane Elmhirst (b. 1932),[10] who married Michael Frazer Mackie[7]

On 30 October 1968, he married Marian Ferguson (née Montagu Douglas Scott), widow of Colonel Andrew Henry Ferguson. Marian was the daughter of Lord Herbert Montagu Douglas Scott and Marie Josephine Edwards and the granddaughter of William Montagu Douglas Scott, 6th Duke of Buccleuch and Lady Louisa Hamilton. From Marian's first marriage, she was the paternal grandmother of Sarah, Duchess of York, and maternal great-grandmother of Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Eugenie of York. Together they lived at Dummer Down House, at Dummer in Basingstoke, Hants, her dower estate from her first marriage.[11]

Thomas Elmhirst died at Dummer, Hampshire, on 6 November 1982, in his 87th year. He was survived by his second wife, and his children and grandchildren from his first marriage.[7]


  1. Rhodes, Michael Lawrence. "James Victor Elmhirst". MyHeritage. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  2. Lundy, Darryl. "Major Leonard Knight Elmhirst". The Peerage. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  5. Lewis, Stephen (27 January 2014). "Extraordinary account of life in the First World War". The Press. York Press Co. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  6. "The Papers of Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst". Janus. Churchill Archives Centre Cambridge University.
  7. "The Papers of Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst". Janus. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  8. Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst
  9. Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003, volume 1, page 562.
  10. Friedman, Ofir. "Roger Thomas Elmhirst". Geni. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  11. "Elmhirst, Marian Louisa Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady – (1908–1996)". A Bit of History. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
Military offices
Preceded by
Frank Inglis
Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Intelligence)
Succeeded by
Lawrence Pendred
Preceded by
Sir Hugh Walmsley
As AOC in C, RAF India
Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Air Forces in India
Post upgraded
New title
Indian Air Force became an independent service
Commander in Chief, Royal Indian Air Force
Succeeded by
Redesignated as Commander-in-Chief, Indian Air Force in January 1950, after India became a republic
New title
Redesignated from Commander-in-Chief, Royal Indian Air Force
Commander in Chief, Indian Air Force
January – February 1950
Succeeded by
Sir Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Philip Neame
Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey Robson
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