THE FOUNDING OF W. THOMAS & SONS – GUN SMITH
Wilfred Thomas, the founder of W. Thomas & Sons, in the early 1950’s worked in Hunter & Co; Front Street, Colombo, as a Gun Smith. In his spare time, he was also engaged in the gun repair business in a room at his home in Kotehena. At the time, there were a few gun dealers, viz, Hunters Nimrods, Noordeen Hadjiar’s and Stanleys.
It did not take long for Wilfred Thomas to establish himself. Anyone who possessed a gun came to know Thomas and his abilities and his craftsmanship. Some of his customers were leading personalities such as Sir, John Kotalawala, Dr. M.D.H. Jayawardane, Mr. Walter Perera, RearAdmiral Kadiragama, Mr. Ravi Jayawardane, Mr. Hentley Joseph, Mr. Harney Koch, Dr. Bede Muller & brothers, Mr. Cedric Martenstyn and Dr. Nonis are just a few clients that could be remembered.
It is presumed that Thomas had some training in the B.S.A. Gun factory in Birmingham, England before setting sail to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Wilfred, had a eye to capture in detail any gun part, its mechanism and movement and was able to reproduce an exact replica of any gun part by hand. Furthermore, when the importation of fire-arms were greatly restricted in the 1970’s he was much sought after by those who owned expensive guns and rifles such as Purdy, Holland & Holland, Wembley & Scott and Winchesters. These needed the attention of a competent gunsmith. There were many around who called themselves “gunsmiths” but there was no one who could match the abilities of Tommy or Willey as he was fondly called by Some of his customers.
Even in the early days of his craftsmanship, he painstakingly made a table model canon which was functional. People borrowed it for weddings and fired confetti into the air when the bridal couple entered the house.
In the 1960’s he made another fascinating target, for shooting practice which was used for the first time at the shooting gallery at St. Thomas’s Junior school in Kollupitiya. The target was made of steel in the shape of a cowboy riding a horse with his hat held in the air. The target was the hat and an explosive cap was embedded in the hat. If anybody was successful in hitting the target the cap would explode and the horse will gallop for a few seconds.
This captured the eye of a well known marksman, no other than Captain Ravi Jayawardane (son of the late Mr. J.R. Jayawardane) He repeatedly hit the target and was fascinated with the movement that followed. The prize for hitting the target was a slab of chocolates. However, it came to the point where the organizers of the Shooting Gallery ran out of chocolates as Ravi had taken the lot. Despite being informed that there was no prize for hitting the target, he kept going until his pocket was empty.
Wilfred has three sons and a daughter. The sons Shirley, Kingsley and Royston worked with the father. However, Shirley & Royston took a keen interest to follow in their father’s footsteps. But, Kingsley went to Dubai in search of employment.
It must be said that Wilfred was very protective of his skills and did not part some of his knowledge and skills even to his two sons. The eldest son Shirley, was employed briefly in the Sri Lanka Police as an Armourer and held the rank of Sgt. Major, but soon left to the United States and worked in several gun factories there. Like his father, he too did repair and customize guns in his workshop at home.
Roysten and his wife Nirupa took the gun repair business to greater heights. The armed services and the Police had confidence in their ability to repair and refurbish their weapons. As such, they did not have to go looking for customers as the customers came to them because of their repute.
Furthermore, W. Thomas & Sons, filled the gap where shot guns were needed by farmers to protect their crops by importing airguns/rifles which did not require a permit for its use.
Now, they have taken a big leap into the future by obtaining permission from the Ministry of Defense, to manufacture air rifles/guns in this country. They have the resources and technology to start production immediately, thereby reducing the need to import these guns from abroad, thus, saving valuable foreign exchange. Above all, these guns are marketed at affordable prices for the farming communities and sporting bodies alike.
In the fullness of time, they aim to create an export market for their guns which will bring in much needed foreign exchange into the Country.
Appreciation is due to the Ministry of Defense, for their confidence in W. Thomas & Sons in granting them the license to manufacture air guns/rifles for the first time in Sri Lanka.