In Season two, Episode one of Downton Abbey, after having spent two years on the battlefront, Thomas deliberately gets shot in the hand by holding up a lighter and inviting the enemy's bullet. However, different synopses frame the motivation of this event differently:


Matthew and Thomas share tea in the midst of the fighting, and when Thomas expresses the irony that the footman is sharing tea with the lord he once served, Matthew tells him that "War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don't." Thomas, who was already clearly sick of the war, takes these words to heart and purposely gets himself wounded so that he no longer has to fight.

Another comes from PBS.org's page for Masterpiece Theatre:

But after two years in the trenches, [...], he must use his scheming ability to devise a plan to escape the Battle of the Somme. Should he survive, he won't return unchanged.

My questions are thus:

  1. Was Thomas' plan to get injured/leave the battlefront suggested in any way prior to his meeting with Matthew?

  2. How does Thomas' conversation with Matthew compel him to act, whether a pre-mediated plan or an impulsive one?

    In other words, are we to believe that he may not have done this (that moment or at all) if not for the happenstance of reminiscing with Matthew?

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure why the Wikipedia synopsis as you quoted it puts a link between Matthew’s final words during their conversation (“War has a way of distinguishing [...]”) and Thomas then getting himself wounded. I think the link lies clearly in the exchange they have just before those words:

Thomas: Miss O'Brien keeps me informed. Lady Edith's driving. Lady Sybil's training as a nurse. Miss O'Brien tells me the hospital's busier than ever with the wounded coming in. That true?
Matthew: Certainly is. They had a concert when I was there to raise extra funds.
Thomas: I'm curious, sir. Do you think I could ever get a transfer back to the hospital, seeing as it's war work?
Matthew: Well, you'd have to be sent home from the front first. And then you might have to pull a few strings.

Source: complete transcript at Script Line.

As I understand it, Matthew both implies that there aren’t a lot of ways for Thomas to get himself sent home, while also confirming that wounded men are being sent back to England. So Thomas puts those two things together and sees getting himself wounded as his only option for getting sent home.

There’s an earlier scene that serves as a prelude to the above scene: O’Brien mentions having received a letter from Thomas and says “I don't think he’d mind coming home” to which Cora replies “Oh, I wish he could, O’Brien.” The scene introduces both Thomas’s desire to come home as well as his inability to do so.

I didn’t review the entire episode, but I don’t think there was any suggestion that Thomas was, as the PBS page puts it, “using his scheming ability to devise a plan to escape” prior to his conversation with Matthew. However, in the previous episode (the last one of season 1), he did “scheme” in an attempt to avoid being sent to the front altogether, by getting Dr. Clarkson to put him up as a volunteer for hospital work. That this didn’t have the outcome he had hoped is alluded to in a scene where he’s in the trenches, carrying a man on a stretcher together with another soldier. Before being shot in the head, the other soldier says: “I thought, ‘Medical Corps. Not much danger there.’ How wrong can one man be?” Thomas was acting upon the same thought in the previous episode.

So summarizing, I would say that Thomas had a plan to avoid being sent to the battle front, which failed. Once at the front, he didn’t have a plan to get away from it before his conversation with Matthew.

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