In 1939 "Sandy" Thomas was a young bank clerk in New Zealand. The following year found him in England, second lieutenant of the 23rd New Zealand Battalion. To this day, it holds one of the most distinguished military histories. In July 1945, Vice Admiral Sir Bernard S. Fryberg, VC (later Lord Fryberg), who had commanded the Allied Forces in Crete, wrote:
"...I watched him rise through the ranks until the last year of the war, as a very young Second Lieutenant who developed into one of the most daring and experienced Infantry Commanders of the 2nd New Zealand Division."
He rose to become Major General WB “Sandy” Thomas, CB, DSO, MC and Bar, ED, Silver Star (USA), Military Commander, Land Forces Far East.