Friday 23 June 2023

Thomas Arthur Nelson MiD (1876 – 1917) – Scottish International Rugby player

Portrait of Thomas
by Philip de László
Born on 22 September 1876 in St. Leonards, Edinburgh, Scotland, Thomas’s parents were Thomas Nelson, Head of the Nelson Publishing Company in Edinburgh, and his wife Jessie Nelson, nee Kemp. The family lived in the house that had belonged to Thomas’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Nelson - Abden House - in the south of Edinburgh. The grandfather died in 1861.

Thomas’s father built a new house – St. Leonards - in the grounds of Abden House and the family moved in there in 1890.   In 1892, the family purchased an estate in Achnacloich & Kilmaronaig, Argyll, Scotland, on the shores of Loch Etive near Oban in Scotland and spent a considerable part of each year there.

Thomas initially attended Edinburgh Academy, where he became a Rugby Union player, playing for a combined Edinburgh Academy /Watsons College schoolboy team in January 1895. He went on to study Classics at Oxford University, where he met and became friends with John Buchan.  Thomas played Rugby for Oxford University from 1896. He captained the side in 1900.

On 18th June 1903, Thomas married Margaret Balfour, daughter of the Liverpool merchant, Alexander Balfour. 

 John Buchan’s novel “The Thirty-Nine Steps” (1915) is dedicated to Thomas, who became head of the family publishing firm of Thomas Nelson and Sons. John Buchan was taken on by the firm as literary advisor.

During the First World War, Thomas was commissioned as a Captain into the Lothians and Border Horse Regiment, attached to the Machine Gun Corps, before moving to special service.   After eighteen months on the Western Front, Thomas was killed by a stray shell on the first Day of the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917.  

Thomas was buried in Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery, near Arras, France, grave reference VII.G.26, and is also remembered on the headstone to his parents’ grave in Grange Cemetery in south Edinburgh and on the Scottish Rugby Union War Memorial at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh.

CWGC headstone for grave of
Thomas Nelson, 
Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery


MiD – Mentioned in Despatches 

Portrait of Thomas Arthur Nelson, wearing a greatcoat over service dress of the Lothians and Border Horse, 1916 paintd by Philip de László  (1869 – 1937)

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, Wikipedia, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and