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Welsh journalist and novelist, Leslie Thomas (1931-2014), was in a children’s home from the age of twelve. 

Leslie Thomas was born in Newport, South Wales. He was the eldest son of David and Dorothy Thomas. 

After the death of his father in 1943 during WWII when a torpedo hit his ship, and the death of his mother from cancer six months later, Leslie (and his nine-year-old brother) were sent to a Barnardo’s children’s home at Kingston upon Thames, in Surrey.  

To avoid getting beaten up by the bigger boys, Thomas invented stories – and did it so much better than anyone else that his services were constantly called upon. After a visit to Norwich he won a 2s 6d prize for his description of the city (Barker). 

While in the children’s home, Leslie attended Kingston Technical to train as a bricklayer and later South-West Essex Technical College where he did a course in journalism. From there he was employed by the Wickford Times. 

Thomas served in the Royal Army Pay Corps from 1949 to 1950 and after being demobbed, worked for the Exchange Telegraph News. As a journalist for the Evening News, he wrote his first (unpublished) novel, My Name is Mudd.

His first published book, This Time Next Week (1964), was about his life at the Barnardo’s home. 

Thomas’ most successful book, The Virgin Soldiers (1966), enabled him to concentrate on writing as it sold 500,000 copies within the first six months and was adapted for film in 1969.  

The Virgin Soldiers’ tracks the joys, tribulations and absurdities experienced by conscripted British soldiers battling Asian Communists in the 1950s. Some likened its sardonic humor to that of ‘MASH,’ the novel about American draftees in Korea that became a film and a television series (Martin) 

Thomas wrote, on average, one per book every year for the next forty years, although none was as acclaimed as The Virgin Soldiers. 

Leslie Thomas was appointed an Order of the British Empire in 2015. 


Barker, Dennis. “Leslie Thomas obituary.” The Guardian, 7 May 2014. 

Kennedy, Maev. “Author Leslie Thomas Dies, Aged 83.” The Guardian, 7 May 2014. 

Martin, Douglas. “Leslie Thomas, Author of the Novel ‘The Virgin Soldiers,’ Dies at 83.” The New York Times, 20 May 2014.  

“Leslie Thomas – obituary.” The Telegraph, 7 May 2014. 

Image available here.