Thomas William Holmes

Last updated
Thomas William Holmes

VC
Thomas William Holmes.jpg
Born14 October 1898
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died4 January 1950
Toronto, Ontario
Buried
Greenwood Cemetery, Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada
AllegianceCanadian Red Ensign (1868-1921).svg  Canada
Service/branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Years of service1915–1919
Rank Sergeant
Unit 147th (Grey) Battalion, CEF
4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles
Battles/wars First World War
Awards Victoria Cross (UK) ribbon.png Victoria Cross
Other work Harbour pilot

Thomas William Holmes VC (14 October 1898 4 January 1950) was a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, during the First World War. Holmes is the youngest Canadian to ever win the Victoria Cross.

Victoria Cross Highest military decoration awarded for valour in armed forces of various Commonwealth countries

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces. It may be awarded posthumously. It was previously awarded to Commonwealth countries, most of which have established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command although no civilian has received the award since 1879. Since the first awards were presented by Queen Victoria in 1857, two-thirds of all awards have been personally presented by the British monarch. These investitures are usually held at Buckingham Palace.

Canadian Expeditionary Force field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War

The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was the designation of the field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. The force fielded several combat formations on the Western Front in France and Belgium, the largest of which was the Canadian Corps, consisting of four divisions. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Independent Force, which were independent of the Canadian Corps, also fought on the Western Front. The CEF also had a large reserve and training organization in England, and a recruiting organization in Canada. In the later stages of the European war, particularly after their success at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, the Canadian Corps was regarded by friend and foe alike as one of the most effective Allied military formations on the Western Front. In August 1918, the CEF's Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force travelled to revolution-torn Russia. It reinforced an anti-Bolshevik garrison in Vladivostok during the winter of 1918–19. At this time, another force of Canadian soldiers were placed in Archangel, where they fought against Bolsheviks.

Canadians citizens of Canada

Canadians are people identified with the country of Canada. This connection may be residential, legal, historical or cultural. For most Canadians, many of these connections exist and are collectively the source of their being Canadian.

Contents

Early life

Although Holmes was born in Montreal, Quebec, his family was from Owen Sound, Ontario. His father's work had taken them to Montreal; however, they returned to Owen Sound when Tommy was about six years old. During his last year of school, he worked for the butcher J.R. Boyd, and just before enlisting Holmes was working on the farm of Templeton Day at nearby Annan, Ontario.

Montreal City in Quebec, Canada

Montreal is the most populous municipality in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second-most populous municipality in Canada. Originally called Ville-Marie, or "City of Mary", it is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city. The city is centred on the Island of Montreal, which took its name from the same source as the city, and a few much smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which is Île Bizard. It has a distinct four-season continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold, snowy winters.

World War I

On 20 December 1915, No. 838301 Tommy Holmes enlisted as a private soldier in the 147th (Grey) Battalion, CEF, at Owen Sound in Grey County. The 147th Battalion was raised by the Grey Regiment, which also later raised the 248th Battalion, CEF. As was common practice at the time, Tommy lied about his age - he was actually 17 years old when he joined-up. He was sworn-in by the 147th Grey Battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. McFarland.

The 147th (Grey) Battalion, CEF was a unit in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, raised by the 31st Grey Regiment. Based in Owen Sound, Ontario, the unit began recruiting in late 1915 in Grey County. It departed to Camp Niagara 19 May 1916 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel G.F. MacFarland, where it trained until 4 July when it moved to the brand new Camp Borden. The 147th left Camp Borden on 5 October for embarkation overseas, sailing on the sister ship to RMS Titanic, RMS Olympic, arriving at Liverpool, England on 20 November. After sailing to England in November 1916, the battalion was absorbed into the 8th Reserve Battalion on 1 January 1917. The 147th (Grey) Battalion, CEF had one Officer Commanding: Lieut-Col. G. F. McFarland.

The 248th Battalion, CEF was a unit in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. Based in Owen Sound, Ontario, the unit began recruiting in the late summer of 1916 in Grey County. After sailing to England in June 1917, the battalion was absorbed into the 7th and 8th Reserve Battalions later that month. The 248th Battalion, CEF had one Officer Commanding: Lieut-Col. J. H. Rorke.

Prior to embarking for England, the battalion trained at Camps Niagara and Borden (today CFB Borden) in Ontario, and at Amherst, Nova Scotia. The battalion was at Camp Borden from 4 July 1916 until 5 October 1916, when it departed for Halifax. Embarkation was delayed, leading to the 147th encamping at Amherst. Finally, on 20 November 1916, Tommy Holmes arrived with the 147th (Grey) Battalion at Liverpool, England. The 147th had sailed in RMS Titanic's sister ship RMS Olympic. Like the other 35 CEF battalions that trained at the newly opened Camp Borden in that hot summer of 1916, the 147th (Grey) Battalion was broken-up for reinforcements to units already in the field. Consequently, Tommy Holmes was transferred to the 8th Reserve (Holding) Battalion on 1 February 1917, and then to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles on 16 February 1917.

CFB Borden

Canadian Forces Base Borden, formerly RCAF Station Borden, is a Canadian Forces base located in Ontario.

RMS <i>Titanic</i> British transatlantic passenger liner, launched and foundered in 1912

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making the sinking one of modern history's deadliest peacetime commercial marine disasters. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.

RMS <i>Olympic</i> transatlantic ocean liner

RMS Olympic was a British ocean liner, the lead ship of the White Star Line's trio of Olympic-class liners. Unlike the other ships in the class, Olympic had a long career spanning 24 years from 1911 to 1935. This included service as a troopship during the First World War, which gained her the nickname "Old Reliable". She returned to civilian service after the war and served successfully as an ocean liner throughout the 1920s and into the first half of the 1930s, although increased competition, and the slump in trade during the Great Depression after 1930, made her operation increasingly unprofitable.

In April 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he received a through-and-through bullet wound from a machinegun in his arm and was temporarily invalided to England. While in hospital, he met up with his older brother Roy, who had enlisted earlier in the 58th Battalion, CEF and who had also been wounded, losing an eye.

Battle of Vimy Ridge World War I battle

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, during the First World War. The main combatants were the four divisions of the Canadian Corps in the First Army, against three divisions of the German 6th Army. The battle took place from 9 to 12 April 1917 at the beginning of the Battle of Arras, the first attack of the Nivelle Offensive, which was intended to attract German reserves from the French, before their attempt at a decisive offensive on the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames ridge further south.

58th Battalion, CEF

The 58th Battalion, CEF was an infantry battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War. The 58th Battalion, which was authorized on 20 April 1915 and embarked for Great Britain on 22 November 1915. It disembarked in France on 22 February 1916, where it fought as part of the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war. The battalion was disbanded on 15 September 1920.

Holmes was 19 years old, when as a private serving with the 4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles, Canadian Expeditionary Force, he won the Victoria Cross. On 26 October 1917 near Passchendaele, Belgium, he performed a deed for which King George V awarded Tommy the Victoria Cross: "when the right flank of the Canadian attack was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from a pill-box strong point and heavy casualties were producing a critical situation, Private Holmes, on his own initiative and single-handed, ran forward and threw two bombs, killing and wounding the crews of two machine-guns. He then fetched another bomb and threw this into the entrance of the pill-box, causing the 19 occupants to surrender." [1]

A private is a soldier of the lowest military rank.

4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles

The 4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles was authorized on 7 November 1914 as the 4th Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF and embarked for Britain on 18 July 1915. It disembarked in France on 24 October 1915, where it fought as part of the 2nd Brigade Canadian Mounted Rifles until 31 December 1915, when it was converted to infantry and allocated to the 8th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. The regiment was redesignated the 4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF on 1 January 1916 and was disbanded on 6 November 1920.

Passendale Deelgemeente in West Flanders, Belgium

Passendale or Passchendaele is a rural Belgian village in the Zonnebeke municipality of West Flanders province. It is close to the town of Ypres, situated on the hill ridge separating the historical wetlands of the Yser and Leie valleys. It is also commonly known as a battlefield and the name of a campaign during World War I, the Battle of Passchendaele.

It was during the investiture at Buckingham Palace that Holmes admitted to King George V that he had lied about his age and joined the army at age 17.

Sergeant Tommy Holmes, VC, returned to Owen Sound after the war to great fanfare and receiving a hero's welcome. On 16 September 1919, he was chosen to be part of the Colour Party for the laying-up of the 147th (Grey) Battalion, CEF Colours in the Carnegie Library, Owen Sound.

Later life

After the war Holmes was a pilot for the Harbour Commission for fifteen years. In 1936 he and another officer saved the lives of three persons whose auxiliary cabin boat upset in the harbour. In 1935 his home was robbed and the Victoria Cross was stolen. In 1942 Holmes narrowly escaped death when his launch exploded.

Holmes died of cancer on 4 January 1950 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Owen Sound, Ontario, on 7 January 1950 with full military honours. His memorial service was attended by Victoria Cross winners Henry Howey Robson, Colin Fraser Barron and Walter Leigh Rayfield. Annually on Remembrance Day, a firing party from The Grey and Simcoe Foresters, which perpetuates the 147th (Grey) Battalion, CEF, fires a volley over his grave. Of significance is that two other VC winners are also buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Air Marshal Billy Bishop and Major David Vivian Currie.

A replica of Thomas Holmes VC medal is now on display at the Owen Sound Royal Canadian Legion Branch #6.

In the 1986, the Owen Sound Armoury, being the Grey County home of The Grey and Simcoe Foresters, was renamed the "Tommy Holmes, VC, Memorial Armoury."

Thomas Holmes plaque.jpg

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References

  1. "No. 30471". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 January 1918. p. 724.

Further reading