Tommy Ellis Cummings - Bsqn 1 SAS, Former Scout Section: Royal
13th May 1920 - 30th December 2012
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Obituary & images kindly provided
by his close friend David Blair.
Thomas (Tommy) Ellis Cummings was born on the 13th May 1920 into a large family living in Ferrier
Street Leith, Edinburgh. He was the son of an electrician and former Air mechanic with the Royal Flying Corps.
Tommy was an industrious youth and soon signed up for service with the Royal Scots who primarily recruited from the
Lothian’s area. His father had been a Sgt with the Royal Scots from 1914-17 later transferring to the Flying Corps
1917-18, so a military life was already in evidence with TC joining the colours in late 1939.
During his time with the Royal Scots Tommy was ‘volunteered’ for Special duties he had been part of
a demonstration platoon who were usually very good at fieldcraft and weapon handling skills. This was picked up on
by senior officers recruiting for what was to become known as Scout Sections, usually consisting of 12 men,
including senior NCO’s whereby this nucleus would form a training team whose job it was to train the newly formed
Auxiliary units, Britain’s Resistance network.
Based at Pitskanly house in Angus Tayside and Melville House Fife the Royal Scots Scout
Sections worked tirelessly to bring up to speed many Units from Tayside and Fife who had been selected for duty
with the Auxiliary Units. When the Auxunits were stood down in 1944, TC and his section found themselves at a bit
of a loss and stayed at the two locations on a care and maintenance basis, but, soon would be posted back to their
respective companies and platoons, on hearing of a special unit recruiting for men with a sense of adventure and
spirit as well as self discipline, he decided to answer that call along with some members of his Scout Section.
Leaving Waverly station Edinburgh on a cold damp evening in 1944 they travelled down to London
where the Curzon Cinema was the venue for a large contingent of men and officers from all cap badges who were
seated in front of Lt Colonel Paddy Mayne and General Browning. Paddy Mayne was with the Special Air Service and
interested in the fact that within the audience there were men from former Auxiliary Unit backgrounds, something
that would stand many in good stead for the type of work coming up, if they met the criteria. They were shown a
film of parachutists jumping from aircraft and a given a talk by Paddy Mayne on the work of the SAS. Advised that
the lights were to be turned off and those that wanted to join stay seated the rest who were not interested anymore
to leave…..the lights were switched off, a few expletives later with people tripping over to leave, the lights
turned on again revealed a few empty seats but still enough bums on seats to form a cadre that was to arrive at
Darvel in Ayrshire Scotland in 1944.
Some were rejected on aptitude and fitness grounds and such like, but TC and some of his fellow
Royal Scots stuck it out and were finally accepted in to the Regiment. Forming part of B Sqn 1 SAS the next stage
was parachute training at Ringway, now forming part of Manchester airport.
Planning for Operations to drop men and equipment into France was taking priority within the SAS HQ
planning staff; one such Operation code named Bulbasket was now in full swing with the coming invasion of
France looming. This was one such operation planned, many others came and went during the days before D-Day and the
Regiment at full throttle dropping men and equipment into occupied France.
Soon, Tommy aged 24 was in occupied France and well behind enemy lines. Tommy and the rest of the
group were tasked with blowing railway lines near to Poitiers, which was designed to slow down re-enforcements
heading to the Normandy area. Tommy and his small team were successful in blowing one of the lines on the 12th July and disruption of vital supplies
and men were stopped for a while. Unfortunately the SAS mission was compromised and during this phase a number
of men were captured. Tommy was lucky in the respect that he was close to Sgt Johnny Holmes who told him to
stay close and keep running, when the Germans attacked the men as they rested in a wood, what initially woke
Tommy and his 4 team members was the leaves of the trees above falling on to their faces and wakening them up,
the reason was that a massive force of automatic gunfire had caused those leaves and branches to fall onto
them. The sudden shock and a cold, standing start made their hearts pump with adrenaline and the sudden burst
of flight or fight kicked in…..sprinting through a forest in the middle of July with a mass of gunfire raking
above them was frightening enough, deciding what way to run made it all too real and the hunted deer in full
flight was not that different to those men that morning….so, those sharp words from Johnny Holmes to stay
close and keep running, made sense now……..
Sadly 34 men which included one USAAF airmen were executed within the woods at St Sauvant.
Their bodies later found in 3 mass graves. Tommy and a few very lucky survivors escaped back to the UK in an RAF
aircraft send to extract them. Debriefed and then given leave, he headed back to Leith Edinburgh were his wife Edna
was waiting for him, they were married in 1942. Edwardina Taylor Bruce, shortened to Edna. When they first met
Tommy was 16 and Edna was 14, they were to be in love from then until her death in 2009, even when Tommy was in
France and Germany the communication between them was never lost for long and as childhood sweethearts the love was
as strong as ever. Passionate about each other and very much in love, that love would be as strong as the day it
Once hostilities ended and the Regiment disbanded, Tommy was demobbed, but later asked to join the
newly formed SAS TA, which he declined, or never answered their letter asking him of his interest. Leaving some of
those memories behind, but not that distant from his memory, he worked at the local flour mill in Leith until his
retirement. Leaving many friends and workmates remembering his good nature and hard work as well as unstinting
enthusiasm as well as his love for Hearts football team, who he diligently watched every Saturday.
Both Tommy and Edna had many holidays together and visited many
countries he had been in when with the SAS, this time it was more pleasurable and also when his son Bruce was
working in South Africa he and Edna lived out there for about 3 months, well travelled and always recounting
their adventures to Edna on an evening, they both enjoyed the life they had made and always grateful for how
things had turned out, for Tommy’s name could easily have been on one of those grave stones in the Rom
cemetery in France, which always strengthened the love between Edna and Tommy.
Age catches up with us all at some point in life and we are only here for such a short time, making
the most of that time is not always easy. But Tommy did say to me in one of those moments that he would never
change it for the world. When Edna died to cancer in 2009 he was devastated and actually had a stroke which had him
lying in his flat in Leith for a few days until he was found and taken to hospital, Edna was in hospital when this
happened and both ended up in the same hospital. Devastated by his loss, he soldiered on, but part of him was gone,
in fact a large part of him was gone for ever, in the physical sense. His independence was lost and he relied on
some superb home help carers who cleaned his flat and gave him good moral support, slowly his ability to get about
unaided was beginning to get stronger. He was still weak from the stroke and his massive loss. I had met Tommy
before Edna died and going back to 2002 was in contact with him. I had lost touch with him through no fault of our
own, life, family and work etc played a part. During 2010 we met again and had a lot to talk about. Coming to terms
with his loss and his stroke was not easy and heartbreaking for me seeing how he was. But inside he was the same
old Tommy and that’s what was important, his background and his stubbornness won through and he was beginning to
enjoy certain things in life. The love and never ending support from his family was the kingpin of his moral and
constant visitors to his flat in Leith kept him going. Although latterly loneliness was starting to creep in and
despite the many visits from me and his family were very frequent, he did miss one person, Edna of whom he
worshiped, and spoke to every night when he was in bed, simple words like I love you.
During 2011 Tommy and I visited the David Stirling memorial statue and even down as far as Darvel
to trace his beginnings within the Regiment. He was very fortunate to attend two very important events one in
Hereford and Stirling which made him very happy indeed, as a bonus to that he was featured in a BBC documentary
which was filmed in his flat in Leith by Robert Hall and with me sitting in the wings giving support. This was for
the release of the SAS War Diary, and we even managed to fit in a few
Regimental Association Scottish lunches. He was so pleased to have been able to attend so many events in 2011; I
could just tell that from the way he was with me, that spirit was rekindled within him and almost ticking off
things he wanted to do, hindsight is a great thing, but looking back on those last few months, I see now what he
meant by certain words and comments and my sixth sense picking up on things. The image above was taken at
the David Stirling memorial during the Regiments 70th anniversary event.The maroon Beret was issued when they
became part of airborne forces, so TC was not eligible for the sand one as he joined the SAS in 1944.Some stalwarts
such as Paddy Mayne wore the sand one until disbandment such was his nature!!
My weekly visits and outings were always enjoyable and our many chats about life and the universe
and all things complex never got boring, in fact it strengthened our friendship. He opened up to me in a way I have
never experienced before even with my own father. He talked about his time on Bulbasket often recalling incidents
which had been buried deep in his memory and his thoughts of the time in France. Before he became ill he and Edna
visited Rom cemetery many times along with other veterans and this pilgrimage kept the flame alive for those he
lost that morning, never recovering from it, but learning in a way to live with it. They will all meet again.
Tommy, you have gone from this physical world, but you have entered another world and you and Edna
are now together again, forever young and with many adventures ahead…. You are a true hero and will be forever in
my heart. Thank you for all you have given and for all your unstinting hard work for your family and the Regiment
you so dearly loved…………Once a Pilgrim always a Pilgrim.
30th December 2011
We Will Remember Them