Tributes to Burnley's amazing 'Marine Tom' who has died aged 100

A loving son has paid tribute to his remarkable war veteran father who died last year aged 100.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 8:32 pm

Decorated Second World War veteran and father-of-six Thomas Richard Edmondson was well known throughout Burnley and enjoyed a long and fulfilling life.

His son, John Edmondson, paid tribute to his "private and shy" dad a year on from what would have been his 101st birthday.

A D-Day veteran, Thomas landed on 'Gold' Beach in 1944 with his unit after three days at sea under fire. Although he never spoke about his wartime experiences until later in life, Thomas made pilgrimages back to the Normandy beaches in his older years, and was interviewed by David Dimbleby during a night of commemorations on the anniversary of the end of the war.

Thomas Edmondson celebrating his 100th birthday

Following the retreat from Dunkirk at the start of the war, Thomas volunteered for the Royal Marines with his brothers Les and Leo, and later spent the next three years defending Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from the Japanese.

Paying tribute, his proud son John said: "My father was a truly gentle man and a gentleman, who will be very sadly missed.

"Born and bred in Burnley, dad lived in Stoneyholme and Fullege. He left school after compulsory education at the age of 14 – but, due to the Great Depression, he was enrolled into ‘Instructional School’, known locally as ‘Dole’ school.

"Within a few days he gained emplacement as a delivery/shop boy working at one the Hopper Chain of grocery stores, on Plumbe Street – working 74.5 hours a week at a rate a little over half an old penny an hour, and all deliveries conducted on foot throughout the Burnley Wood area.

Taking the salute at the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

"At 16 he passed his driving test and was then permitted to use the shop van and deliver to a wider clientele – from Fullege to Rosehill. In 1936 he became a shop assistant with ED Kays on Standish Street.

"Dad joined the Royal Marines following the fall of Dunkirk and served in conflicts in Egypt, Ceylon, as well as the D-Day and Market Garden campaigns – returning to Burnley in 1946."

In 1947, Thomas met the love of his life, Celia, at Mass in St Mary's RC Church, and went on to have six children in a happy 73 year marriage.

The couple went to live on Kirkgate, but being a simple two-up two-down, on the birth of their fifth child they managed to buy a three bedroom house on Lyndhurst Road, where they went on to live for over 50 years.

"Dad later became a postman, soon delivering and collecting mail from the rural villages and farmsteads surrounding Burnley, the archetypal 'Postman Pat'. He retired aged 60 after 21 years as a postman."

In his later years Thomas finally ‘opened up’ about his military career as a marine and was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by the French Government in 2017, the medal being awarded to him by the French ambassador in 2018.

Among many emotional memories of his dad's wartime experiences, including seeing malaria-stricken bodies being carried from British camps while high in the mountains of Ceylon, John recalled an even more evocative memory from the final years of the war.

"Towards the end of the war, dad found himself in Belgium with his artillery unit of seven men who had been together since their training back in 1940 and travelled the world together. They had a 12-hour pass and decided to visit the pubs of Ostend.

"As they entered Ostend, dad saw his younger brother Leo for the first time since they had joined up in 1940, so left his mates to spend some time with Leo – this ultimately saved his life as he discovered the day after the rest of his unit had been killed by Germans hiding in the pub they’d entered."

Peacetime led to a long and happy family life for Thomas including caravanning around Britain, but like so many in this country, the coronavirus lockdown proved difficult for this devoted family man.

John added: "Growing up, my sisters, brothers and I only ever remember loving parents who cared for us, fed and clothed us and every year provided us with a holiday.

"Lockdown was difficult for dad to understand, the sudden loss of weekly gatherings on a Sunday hit him and my mother hard.

"But as the nation quite rightly celebrated Captain Tom’s exploits, walking his garden to raise funds for charity, my own family cheered on dad, or Marine Tom, as he took took his daily stroll of their own 24 foot garden with the aid of a walking frame.

"Restrictions also prevented the send off he should have expected, but cards and comments received from near and far all said the same thing about dad, a lovely man and a gentleman.