Major (retired) Tom Shannon TD
We are very sad to have to record here the death of Tom Shannon on August 13th - a most effective, painstaking, determined and enthusiastic trustee of the Museum. He fought a valiant battle against cancer over the last 6 months of his life but never lost his sense of humour or his positive outlook on life. Many of his museum colleagues will smile at the recollection of his Australian twang, his booming laugh and his seemingly indomitable cheerfulness.
After many years of Territorial Army service in the 5th Battalion Royal Green Jackets in both Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and also as an officer in the Buckinghamshire Army Cadet Battalion, Tom joined the SOFO board in 2015 and immediately made a valuable contribution in guiding the technological development of the Museum’s operations as Oxfordshire’s only military museum. He also made his mark as our coordinator of the Museum’s in house talks and lectures and many who delivered talks on behalf of the Museum or those who attended the evening talks will remember him and his enthusiastic approach to outreach, that is getting word of the Museum out into the county and beyond. He was also a compelling public speaker in his own right and delivered a number of talks both in the county and elsewhere on the subject of his famous 19th Century Lawrence and Napier ancestors who had fought in the 52nd Light Infantry in the Peninsula and also as very senior administrators and military leaders during the Indian mutiny. Tom was also for a time a trustee of the Buckinghamshire branch of the Army Benevolent Fund (The Soldiers’ Charity) where he proved himself an admirable coordinator of fundraising events and long term chairman of the Oxford Lunch Club based at Edward Brookes Barracks in Abingdon.
To meet him you might have been surprised that he claimed to be a soldier because Tom was rather unsoldierly in appearance; his Green Jackets beret apparently dumped on an unruly mop of dark hair, an open and friendly expression, invariably dominated by a beaming smile. Yet in that head and behind the smile was a brilliant analytical brain, full of ideas, driven by determined enthusiasm which really was infectious. He also seemed to be possessed of boundless energy which underscored his readiness to support and to get involved in almost anything and everything. This, together with his common-sense approach and somewhat rogueish sense of humour meant that at every level he was a most effective volunteer officer.
A few months ago the remains of an unidentified Oxf and Bucks Lt Inf officer from the Great War were finally confirmed as being those of 2nd Lieutenant Osmond Bartle Wordsworth, a descendant of the poet, who had been killed in action on the Western Front in 1917 whilst on attachment to the Machine Gun Corps; this story is told elsewhere on this website. The body had been unearthed in a garden in 2013 (together with a few personal items including a pocket watch and a regimental button). In response to an appeal to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre to help prove its identity, the detective work by Tom Shannon, Ingram Murray and other SOFO volunteers took nearly 8 years. The grave of this young officer was finally marked by his named headstone only in June 2022; until then he had simply been “Known unto God’. Tom identified completely with this story but unfortunately was not well enough to travel to France for this ceremony. His interest in this and his determination to complete the story was intense partly perhaps because of parallels in the life of this young officer and Tom himself – Wordsworth gave up a teaching job to return to England from Canada as a volunteer to fight for King and Country in the county regiment - Tom Shannon came to England from Australia (where he had been brought up) on a short term attachment to Oxford Metrics as a medical physicist and in his spare time opted to serve with the local TA unit. He was adamant that this research fitted exactly with his role as a volunteer in a military museum.
Many will remember Tom as a charming and amusing companion; wherever he went it seemed that gales of laughter were never far behind. Few who knew him will forget his sense of humour and his sense too of the ridiculous, he rarely took himself very seriously.
Brigadier (retired) David Innes OBE, SOFO Museum Trustee