The VC hero who died after three heroic rescues

Thomas Wilkinson became a relentless lifesaver in a battle five days into the Somme. The 22-year-old gunnery lieutenant bravely rushed into three separate rescues that won him the Victoria Cross but cost him his life.

Born in 1894 in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, Wilkinson was a boxer and gymnast at Wellington School, Berkshire, before emigrating to Canada with his family aged 18. He was working as a surveyor in Vancouver when war came and enlisted in the Canadian Scottish Regiment before travelling to Britain and joining the 7th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

By July 1915 he was in France. Wilkinson was urging on his gun crews in an attack at the village of La Boisselle on July 5, 1916, when one had to retreat under heavy fire. They left the gun behind and he dashed forward with two men and recaptured the weapon, holding out until help arrived.

“Throughout the day he set a magnificent example of courage and self-sacrifice.” Wilkinson's VC citation

Later that day Wilkinson went to save five men pinned down by a grenade attack, mounting a machine gun on a parapet and seeing off the enemy bombers. Further on in the battle, he scrambled out into no man’s land to try to reach a wounded comrade. He had nearly reached the man when he was shot in the heart and killed instantly.

Wilkinson’s VC citation said: “Throughout the day he set a magnificent example of courage and self-sacrifice.” His body was never found and his name is on the memorial at Thiepval.

His VC is in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Remembering the Somme

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The Royal British Legion is calling on communities across the UK to take the time out from their daily lives to honour those who fell. We have created a Somme 100 toolkit which contains everything you need to organise a Remembrance event in your community.

Make your own commemoration to Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson or one of the other casualties of the First World War by simply placing a virtual poppy in their memory on our Every Man Remembered website.

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