Thomas Anderson was born in 1908 and grew up in Belfast. His parents lived in Londonderry before moving to Belfast to find work.
Like many Protestant families that moved to that booming industrial city, they were steeped in the Orange Tradition and attended the Twelfth celebrations every year.
Thomas was a skilled craftsman and made a wooden King William for the top of the Orange Arch in Hanna Street. As a skilled musician, Thomas joined Duncairn Flute band. This passion for music would remain with him throughout his life.
In 1939 he and a friend joined the Territorial Army, not only for the excitement but also because they got a free pair of boots! As the political situation deteriorated in Europe, Thomas was mobilised and deployed with the 8th (Belfast) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, to protect the city. With the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force to France, Thomas and his comrades soon found themselves caught up in the ‘phoney war’, and then the mad dash to escaped German encirclement in France.
In May and June 1940, thousands of Allied troops were evacuated from ports in France and Belgium. The 8th (Belfast) HAA was one of the few units to be evacuated from the port of Cherbourg, along with their weapons. Back in the UK they were deployed to protect Coventry and then London during the Blitz.
At the beginning of 1942, the Regiment was redeployed to the Far East and would see action in several battles against the Japanese. It was during the Arakan campaign to push the Japanese from Burma that the force earned a fierce reputation for accuracy and gained the nickname ‘The Twelve Mile Snipers’. James was finally demobilised in 1946.
Like many old soldiers, he did not reveal much about his wartime exploits after he came home.
One incident was, however, too good, not to retell. As the war was ending, he and his fellow Orangemen celebrated the Twelfth of July in the Jungle. They got local women to make them collarettes, erected an Orange arch and held their own parade! It was a little taste of home amidst the chaos of war.
Thomas was a member of LOL No. 1947.