Tommy was (and still is) the nickname of the British soldier – the typical private. The custom began with the use of the name in specimen forms laid down in Army Regulations after the Napoleonic Wars, to show how forms should be filled in with the soldier’s name and other details about him. As Rudyard Kipling wrote:
Oh, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ Tommy go away;
But it’s ‘Thank you, Mr Atkins’, when the band begins to play.’
When Tommy went off to fight in the First World War (1914-18) he wore a khaki field service dress with web equipment, and he was armed with the famous Lee Enfield rifle.
Was there ever a real Tommy Atkins? One theory is that a soldier of that name was mortally wounded under Wellington in Holland, and that many years later Wellington, when Secretary of State, adopted the name in the army form.