5067 Private Thomas Whittam, VC.

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1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.

Awarded the V.C. in the London Gazette of 6 September 1917.

Thomas Whittam was born at Burnley, Lancashire on the 11 May 1888.

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914 he enlisted into the Coldsteam Guards at Burnley on the 25 January 1915. 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 Whittam joined would have bourne no resemblance to the original battalion which had by now suffered unimaginable casualties. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave conduct on the 31 July 1917 at Pilckem, Passchendaele - this being the opening day of the battle of Pilckem Ridge 31 July - 2 August 1917. The 1st Coldsteam Guards formed part of the 2nd Brigade of the Guards Division and at 3.50 a.m. on the 31 July 1917, zero hour, the brigade attacked the Blue Line, the 1st Scots Guards advanced meeting little resistance, as did the 2nd Irish Guards, who arrived at the Blue Line after only 15 minutes of fighting. The Scots who had come under artillery fire from Artillery Wood helped the consolidation whilst the British Artillery dealt with this threat. At 5 a.m. the brigade continued its advance to the Black Line, the Scots again met little opposition but the Irish came under heavy fire from Hey Wood. All managed to reach the Black Line by 6 a.m. The Green Line was attached by the supporting battalions of the 2nd and 3rd Brigades at 7.15 a.m. but the 3rd Grenadier Guards came under heavy machine gun fire from the blockhouses on the Ypres - Staden railway line which began to affect the advance of the 38th Division. However by 8 a.m. with the blockhouses captured, they were able to drive the enemy back from Vulcan Crossing. The 1st Coldsteam Guards were forced to extend their left flank to support the right of the 3rd Brigade which had been checked at Abri Wood. The wood was cleared with the help of a smokescreen, however, and they pushed on and took Fourche and Captain's Farms, where they consolidated their positions. It was during this time the Whittam won his Victoria Cross.

The citation for his V.C. Published in the London Gazette reads, "For most conspicuous bravery when, during an attack, an enemy machine-gun was seen to be enfilading the battalion on the right. Private whittam, on his own initiative, immediately worked his way from shell-hole to shell-hole through our own barrage, rushed the machine-gun, and, although under a very heavy fire, captured it, together with an officer and two other ranks. The bold action on the part of Private Whittam was of great assistance to the battalion on the right, and undoubtedly saved many lives and enabled the whole line to advance."

Whittam returned to England in October of 1917 and was finally discharged on the 7 March 1919. Unfortunately, he fell on hard times after the war and after unsuccessfully travelling the area looking for work he was forced to pawn the watch, his VC and other medals. Thomas died in Oldham Infirmary in 1924, aged 36, and was buried with full military honours in the Inghamite Burial Ground, Wheatley Lane, near Nelson, Lancashire. The Coldstream Guards Association dedicated a headstone on his grave in 1952 and restored the headstone in 1988. After his death the watch and VC medal remained with the pawnbroker until 1931 when Burnley Corporation, the former name for Burnley Council, redeemed Whittam's Victoria Cross, Allied Victory Medal and a gold watch he had been presented with by the Burnley Town Council from a local pawnbrokers for the sum of £50 to display at Towneley Hall. Worsthorne Parish Council kindly donated the clock to the hall to complete the display. A good portrait of Whittam in uniform along with his surviving medals, the watch and clock are on display at Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Towneley Park, Burnley, Lancashire. Whittam's Victoria Cross is in the Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley, Lancashire.