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Wreath laid at grave of Burnley war hero

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A wreath has been laid at the final resting place of a courageous First World War Burnley soldier.

Pte Thomas Whitham was one of only four Burnley men in the Great War to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest British military award, for his daring action in July 1917 when he single-handedly captured a machine gun post at Captains Farm near Ypres, Belgium.

Born in Worsthorne, Thomas joined the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards in 1915, but struggled to adapt to civilian life and died in poverty just six years after the end of the war.

To mark this year’s centenary of the beginning of the First World War, members of the Burnley, Padiham and Nelson Royal British Legion branches and Coldstream Guards Association laid a wreath at his grave in Fence.

Mr David Cross, from the Burnley branch of the RBL, said: “We thought that the centenary was a fitting time to honour again one of Burnley’s heroes.

“We were very pleased to welcome Mr Lawrence Chew, from the Coldstream Guards Association, who said a few words, as did our chairman Mr Bill Ashcroft. Lawrence was actually present during the Queen’s Coronation.

“We paraded from the Sparrowhawk in Fence to the churchyard where we laid a wreath at Pte Whitham’s grave.”

Despite surviving the war and being presented with his VC at Buckingham Palace, Thomas found civilian life difficult.

He became a bricklayer but struggled to find work and was forced to sell his VC and a gold watch that had been presented to him by Burnley Council in recognition of his bravery.

Both ended up in a pawn shop but were rescued by the council and remain on display in Towneley Hall.

He died in poverty aged 36 and was buried on October 27th, 1924, at Wheatley Lane Inghamite Church.

His bravery has been recognised in more recent years with the naming of a Burnley sixth form in his honour.

 

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