Remebering Private Thomas Whitham: VC Hero who died in Poverty

Private Thomas Whitham was born in Burnley on the 11th of May 1888. He was one of seven Children brought up by Catherine Witham, who lost her husband when Thomas was only young. The family lived in Worsthorne, a small village in the borough of Burnley. Thomas trained as a mason and bricklayer in Burnley initially working for a local form before joining his brothers building firm, also based in Burnley.

Pte Thomas Whitham VC

A man of quiet disposition and imposing stature, Thomas immediately answered the call to arms and was enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in February 1915. He was posted to the first battalion and sent to France, becoming a respected and popular member of his battalion, being described by one of his colleagues as “one of the finest and bravest men in the army of heroes.” He also had several lucky escapes. On one occasion he was lost for three days, and officially reported missing, but was found by the Irish Guards. Even more miraculously, on another occasion he went out to look for a missing sergeant and left his kit bag behind in the trench. He had only got a short distance away when a German shell landed in the trench and exploded; no trace of his kit bag was ever found.  

On the 31st of July 1917 he was serving with his platoon in Pilkem, Belgium when a German machine gun got into a position where it was able to fire on the Battalion to the right of Thomas’. Without hesitation Thomas fought hi was from shell hole to shell hole until he was in a position to rush the machine gun. Under heavy fire Private Whitham and three other men were able to silence the machine gun. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the 6th of September 1917.

Thomas was one of four brothers serving in the army. His Brother Willie, with whom he worked as a builder was in training with the Royal Engineers at the time; John was in the Coldstream Guards serving as a military policeman, and Harry was serving with the Royal Field Artillery in France. He was married and had three children. Tragically during his one period of leave in October 1916 the family lost their eldest son aged just eight years old.

Thomas Whitham Sixt Form Burnley

Thomas died of Peritonitis in 1924 aged just 36. He passed away in Hospital in Oldham, leaving behind his wife and six children. He had fallen on hard times, and was out of work, having to sell his Victoria Cross just to earn a little money. While in hospital he also received gifts from the people of Oldham. A Sixth Form College in Burnley is named after him, and the Coldstream guards have funded plaques in his memory.