Thomas Witham ["Tales of the V.C."]
Title in English
1st Battalion Coldstream Guards V.C.
On 25 January 1915 the 29 year old Thomas Whitham enlisted at Burnley, Lancashire into the British Army becoming a Private in the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards. He embarked for France on the 26 October 1915 and joined the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards who had been serving in France and Flanders since their arrival on the 13 August 1914. The battalion that Private Whittam joined would have borne no resemblance to the original unit which had by now, suffered unimaginable casualties. Two years later, on the 31 July 1917 at Pilckem near Passchendaele, the opening day of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31st July - 2nd August 1917) the 1st Coldsteam Guards formed part of the 2nd Brigade of the Guards Division. At 3.50 a.m. - zero hour, the brigade attacked the German forces at the so called 'Blue Line'. Initially the advance met little resistance,arriving at this position after only 15 minutes of fighting. At 5 a.m. the Brigade continued its advance to its second objective, the 'Black Line', which it captured by 6 a.m. The third objective, the 'Green Line', was attacked at 7.15 a.m.; but now came under heavy machine gun fire from the blockhouses/positions on the old Ypres - Staden railway line, which also began to affect the advance of the 38th Division on their right flank. A particular enemy machine gun was seen to be, by enfilade, holding up a considerable part of the attack and causing many casualties. Private Whitham, on his own initiative, immediately worked his way towards this position, from shell-hole to shell-hole, and through a British artillery barrage, until he reached the machine gun and although under very heavy fire captured it together with an officer and two other ranks. This very brave action was of great assistance to the battalion and undoubtedly saved many lives. After the war he became a bricklayer, but times were hard, and he was rejected for other jobs by the Burnley Council even though he had served his King and Country and had won the VC. Consequently Thomas was forced to sell not only the medal but also a gold watch that had been presented by the same council (that now refused to employ him)in recognition of his bravery. Subsequently, both ended up in a pawn shop, but were retrieved by the same Authority. They now remain on display in the Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museums in Burnley. Shamefully, Thomas died in poverty aged only 36 The attached account of his actions was written by James Price Lloyd of the Welsh Regiment, who served with Military Intelligence. After the war, the government to destroyed all the archives relating to this propaganda (section MI 7b (1)). They were regarded as being too sensitive to risk being made public. Remarkably these documents have survived in the personal records of Captain Lloyd. Many of these papers are officially stamped, and one can trace the development of many individual articles from the notes based on an idea, to the pencil draft which is then followed by the hand-written submission and the typescript. The archive "Tales of the VC" comprises 94 individual accounts of the heroism that earned the highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross. These are recounted deferentially and economically, yet they still manage to move the reader. Date stamp: 31 May 1918.
Summary description of items
Article with annotations.
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- Number of items
- Person 1
- Thomas Witham
Born: May 11, 1888 in Worsthorne (near Burnley), Lancashire
Died: October 22, 1924 in Oldham Infirmary, Lancashire
- Person 2
- James Price Lloyd
- Origin date
- July 31, 1917 – July 31, 1917
- Propaganda, Remembrance, Trench Life
- Western Front
- Pilckem Ridge, near Ypres
- Jeremy Arter