Valor Friday

| May 27, 2022

Ivor Thord-Gray

Continuing my series of people have fought for more than one army in modern times, this one is a doozy. Buckle up for the tale of Ivor Thord-Gray.

Born Thord Ivar Hallström in 1878 in Stockholm, Sweden, he would later change his name to Gray in 1899 and to Ivor Thord-Gray in 1917. In 1893 he had set out for a life of adventure by joining the merchant marine. He served on three ships over the next several years before landing himself in Cape Town, South Africa in December 1895.

The city of Cape Town was the bustling hub at the southern tip of Africa. After a gold rush in 1867, the city’s population had risen sharply. At the time that Thord-Gray settled there, the city was in the midst of a more than doubling in its population, going from 67,000 in 1891 to 171,000 in 1901.

Thord-Gray took a job as a prison guard on the city’s Robben Island in 1896. Apparently looking for still more adventure, he enlisted as a private with the Cape Mounted Riflemen.

The Cape Mounted Riflemen were a colonial militia unit of the Cape Colony (which would form the bulk of the country of South Africa in the 20th Century). Cape Colony was under Great British colonial rule. During peacetime, the Mounted Riflemen were utilized as a police force.

Cape Town’s success during the 19th Century, at the heart of the Cape Colony, was directly tied to the expansion of the colony itself. As the European settlers moved further inland it created conflict with the native peoples. This boiled over every few years, and in 1899 the two Boer Republics (the South African Republic and the Orange Free State) attacked the British colony of Southern Africa.

This conflict became known as the Second Boer War (or just Boer War) and would last for just more than two and a half years. After the Boer’s successful assaults against British positions, the British steamrolled and occupied the Boer Republics. Unwilling to accept defeat, many Boers went underground and engaged in guerilla warfare.

It was during the Second Boer War that Thord-Gray would first see combat, as a member of the Cape Mounted Riflemen. After the war, he took a position with the colonial South African Constabulary from 1902-1903. He attained the rank of corporal there.

In 1903 he moved to Transvaal Colony, to the north and east of Cape Colony. Transvaal was also a British colony and after South Africa was organized as a nation, became a province in the new country. Thord-Gray went to work for the civil service in Transvaal.

Residing in Lydenburg, a village that dates back to 500 AD, Ivor was a member of the local militia, where he served as a captain.

In 1906, Thord-Gray joined Royston’s Horse, part of the Natal Mounted Rifles.The unit was named for their commander, John Royston. The South African-born Royston was a veteran of the Zulu War, the Second Boer War (in which he received the Distinguished Service Order, the second highest award for combat bravery), and would go on to serve in World War I. The Natal Colony was yet another British colony that would later become a province of Unified South Africa.

While with the Natal Mounted Rifles, Ivor, commissioned as a lieutenant, fought in the Bambatha Rebellion. This was a Zulu rebellion led by Zulu chief Bhambatha kaMancinza. Bhambatha was one of the 10,000 Zulu warriors who had guarded Shaka Zulu’s grave for a year, but he is more famously remembered for leading a rebellion against the crown for an increase in the poll tax from a per hut tax to a per person tax.

Natal officials knew he was likely to resist the poll tax increase, so they sent 150 men to arrest Bhambatha. Instead, they were ambushed and four policemen were killed. In response, thousands of colonial troops, including Lieutenant Thord-Gray, responded. The resulting conflict resulted in more than 3,500 casualties (virtually all of them Zulu) before Bhambatha was either killed in action or fled to Mozambique.

Thord-Gray next made his way to Kenya, where he served as a captain in the Nairobi Mounted Police. The East African city was also a British colony and 1907, when Ivor was serving there, it became the capital of Kenya.

In 1908, Thord-Gray made his way further east. He joined the Philippine Constabulary (PC) as a captain. This was his first association with the Americans (who had occupied and were ruling the islands). The PC would, in the inter-war years, be reorganized as a military branch. During World War II they would become legendary for their defense of the Philippine islands and their subsequent suffering at the hands of the Japanese after the defense failed.

After serving here for a year, Thord-Gray kept his job-hopping up and became a farmer in Malaya for a few years. He joined up and fought in the Second Chinese Revolution in 1913 for a bit, before making his way to North America.

Seeking war on his third continent in 16 years, Thord-Gray sought glory with Pancho Villa’s army in the Mexican Revolution. Thord-Gray was captain and commanded Villa’s artillery.

American support in the revolution initially supported Pancho Villa. From 1911 on, the US supported the overthrow of the elected President of Mexico Madero. When a bloody coup took him down and installed the Huerta, the US did not recognize them. This led to the 1914 Occupation of Vera Cruz (we’ve previously talked about some of the men involved there) and the Mexican response of arresting several US sailors in the Tampico Affair.

While serving under Pancho Villa, Thord-Gray made a name for himself. He was promoted major, lieutenant colonel, and then colonel all in 1914. By the end of the year he was chief of staff for the 1st Mexican Army.

As a colonel in command of the cavalry for Mexican General Lucio Blanco’s expedition on the west coast, Thord-Gray fought in the taking of Guadalajara. This would be one of the hardest?fought battles of the revolution.

By 1915 and into 1916, angered at losing American support, Pancho Villa famously crossed the border and attacked the American city of Columbus, New Mexico. In response, the US Army sent General John Pershing (who would soon lead America in the war in Europe) and 10,000 men into Mexico to capture or kill Pancho Villa.

With the Great War starting in the summer of 1914 in Europe it was singing a siren’s song to the 36-year-old Ivor. He took his considerable war experiences to his fourth continent. He joined the British Army in 1914 where he was commissioned a major and posted as second-in-command of 15th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.

The Northumberland Fusiliers was a regiment of foot (that is in British parlance an infantry regiment) that started the war at a somewhat traditional seven battalions. As the war would progress, they expanded to 52 battalions, 29 of which saw overseas service. Earning 67 battle honors and five Victoria Crosses, the regiment paid for those awards with 16,000 killed in action and many thousands more wounded.

The 15th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers were slated for overseas service with Lord Kitchener’s Fourth New Army (K4), but were instead classified as a reserve battalion and used to provide replacements to the already engaged first three new armies.

Thord-Gray was promoted to lieutenant colonel and made officer commanding 11th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers in 1915. The 11th (Service) Battalion had been attached to Lord Kitchener’s Third New Army (K3) in late 1914. In August 1915 they were moved to the Western Front.

Colonel Thord-Gray in 1916 though was moved to 1/26th Royal Fusiliers. This battalion had been raised from the British banking sector. It too saw action on the Western Front with the 41st Division. The 41st Division was part of the fifth wave army (K5).

Both battalions Thord-Gray had served with saw action, but he didn’t join them. They fought in the Somme Offensive, the Battle of Messines, and the horrific Battle of Passchendaele before being moved to the Italian Front in 1917.

Thord-Gray was instead sent to New York in 1916, where he would remain until the end of the war. He worked as a liaison with the US Shipping Board. It was there, in a Manhattan restaurant one night, that Thord-Gray, an accomplished archer, argued that archery was just as accurate as modern pistol and rifle fire. He challenged them, saying that he could beat the best marksman they had. It was then arranged, with Thord-Gray a few days later besting the top shot of the Ninth Coast Artillery at their armory, using an English longbow.

He was also allegedly approached by former president Teddy Roosevelt in 1917. At the time, Roosevelt, himself a legendary adventurer who probably very much liked Thord-Gray’s bona fides, was trying to raise two volunteer divisions of Americans to go to Europe to join the war effort. It is said that Thord-Gray, then still a lieutenant colonel in the British Army, was offered a battalion command. When President Wilson refused to give his assent, the plan fell apart.

During the war, both US and British military intelligence spent months operating under the assumption that the colonel was a German agent. His Swedish heritage and name change made him an obvious suspect. It took some time to clear up the confusion, but it seems as if Thord-Gray (then just known by the last name Gray) was confused with another Colonel Gray, an actual German agent, who had also served as a captain in Mexico. These accusations, despite his record of exemplary service to multiple British colonial forces, would haunt him throughout the war and into the 1920s.

Thord-Gray was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal, and the Allied Victory medal for his British service during the conflict. Having received the three “standard” British war medals of the First World War, colloquially known as “Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred” after a popular comic strip at the time. He then joined up with the Canadians in November 1918.

Thord-Gray took a commission as a lieutenant colonel to serve with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force in 1918. The CSEF was part of the Allied Forces intervention in the ongoing Russian Civil War where they took the side of the Russian Imperial White Army. Facing the Red Army of the Bolsheviks, Ivor again saw action.

In 1919, he accepted a transfer to the White Army itself as a colonel and commanded the 1st Siberian Assault Division. He led the division during heavy fighting in the Ural area, being wounded severely in the process.

In November 1919 he was made a major general and was the Siberian Government’s attaché to the Allied Expeditionary Corps in Vladivostok. After the fall of White Russia to the communists, Thord-Gray returned to his native Sweden.

He wrote a book in 1923 on Mexican Archaeology titled Från Mexicos forntid : bland tempelruiner och gudabilder (From Mexico’s antiquity: among temple ruins and idols). This might seem an odd change of pace for a former prison guard, policeman, soldier, and farmer, but his youngest brother Gustaf Hallström was a noted archaeologist. Gustaf had also served in Siberia during the Russian Civil War, where he was with the Swedish Red Cross, securing the release of prisoners of war.

In 1925, the man with perpetual wanderlust moved again. This time Thord-Gray went back to America, settling in Manhattan where he opened I.T. Gray & Co, an investment bank. He founded the bank with gold from Imperial Russian Sources. Back in 1920, while a major general for Russia he was entrusted to sell gold to foreign banks on behalf of the Koltschak Government in Vladivostok. When he returned to Russia with the receipts the Koltschak Government had been overrun by Bolsheviks and their leaders executed. It seems he kept those valuable receipts and put them to use.

He married Josephine Toerge-Schaefer in 1925 and had two children by that marriage before divorcing in 1932. He subsequently remarried to Winnifred Ingersoll in 1933.

In 1935 Thord-Gray, secured an appointment as a major general and chief-of-staff to the Governor of Florida David Shultz, having a winter home in Coral Gables, Florida.

Thord-Gray published two more books. In 1955 Tarahumara-English, English-Tarahumara dictionary and an introduction to Tarahumara grammar was published. The Tarahumara are an indigenous group in the Chihuahua, Mexico region. In 1961, his magnum opus was published under the most excellent title of Gringo Rebel: Mexico 1913–1914, which covered his experiences in the Mexican Revolution.

Thord-Gray died at age 86 in 1964, his wife predeceased him in 1961. “I have one distinction,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1927. “I think more people have shot at me with arrows than at any other man in the world.” He spent more than two decades in Imperial and colonial service with the British Empire. He also saw significant service in the armies of Mexico and Russia, and an advisory position in the United States.

Thord-Gray fought in 13 wars across four continents (Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe) and in allegiance to at least eight nations by my count. Here are the countries;

  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • Philippines
  • Mexico
  • Britain
  • Canada
  • Russia
  • United States

Category: Army, Historical, Real Soldiers, Valor, War Stories, We Remember

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Speaking of longbows and long arrows: It is said Wellington, when commanding British and Portuguese forces against the French in the Peninsula Campaign, requested a corps of long bow archers be sent to Portugal. The War Ministry declined his request, stating no such trained force existed. Archers make sense, given the effective range of the Brown Bess and its French counterpart vs a long bow, 100 yards and 200 yards. Also, a French force coming under fire from English archers might have shouted “Agincourt!” and fled the field.


Nothing like traveling the globe looking for a war to fight in. Good man to have your back in a bar fight. Not sure if I’d make him the Pay Roll Officer tho. Now-a-days, they just go and become a Board Member of a Defense Contractor.

Very interesting read, Mason. Thanks!

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Ivar was never content to sit back and be the Gray man, was he? He certainly did have a wandering foot.
He is the kind of man, and his is the kind of life, that adds spice and adventure to the humdrum of the majority of human existence.
Thx, Mason, for the riveting story.


Geez, did General Gray ever sleep? Are we sure that he didn’t have an identical twin that stood in for him from time-to-time?


ANOTHER great Valor Story shared by our very own Mason.

Thank You for doing the extensive research on this brave Warrior.


Are we sure he isn’t really the Warlord of Mars?