First World War graves to be restored

Pte Thomas Whitham
Pte Thomas Whitham

The final resting places of two Burnley First World War heroes are to be restored to their former glory.

Pte Thomas Whitham and 2nd Lt Hugh Colvin were awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest British military decoration – and both are buried in Britain.

2nd Lt Hugh Colvin

2nd Lt Hugh Colvin

Now, their graves will be restored as part of a £100,000 Government project.

Both men displayed supreme acts of bravery to earn their VCs.

Pte Whitham, of the 1st Coldstream Guards, was awarded the VC for “most conspicuous bravery” when on July 31st, 1917, near Ypres he rushed an enemy machine gun post under heavy fire “undoubtedly saving many lives.”

2nd Lt Colvin, of the Cheshire Regiment, earned his on September 20th, 1917, east of Ypres, “when all the other officers of his company and all but one in the leading company had become casualties, he took command of both companies and led them forward under heavy fire with great success.”

Although both men survived the war, peacetime life proved to be very different for them.

Bricklayer Pte Whitham endured hard times after the war and was forced to sell his VC, which ended up in a pawn shop. He died in poverty aged just 36 on November 22nd, 1924, and is buried at Wheatley Lane Inghamite churchyard in Nelson.

Rosegrove-born 2nd Lt Hugh Colvin, of the Cheshire Regiment, eventually rose to the rank of Major.

He died aged 75 on September 16th, 1962, and is buried at Carnmoney Cemetery, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Now, both men’s headstones will be cleaned or replaced.

The new funding will boost that already being raised by the Victoria Cross Trust – a charitable organisation that works to ensure the graves of every Victoria Cross recipient are maintained.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “An entire generation of men fought for Britain’s freedom in the First World War and all fought valiantly. But for hundreds of those men their bravery was of such an exceptional nature they were bestowed with the highest military award, the Victoria Cross.

“As these men were honoured then for their extreme bravery on the battlefields, they should be honoured still.

“This will make sure the graves of our Victoria Cross heroes become places to reflect on their selfless service to the nation.

“Alongside the creation of commemorative paving stones we will create a fitting tribute to honour these heroes.” A national campaign of commemorative paving stones are also to be laid in the place of birth of First World War Victoria Cross winners so that communities will have a permanent memorial of their local heroes.