TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #5

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

Thomas Young VC (1895-1966).

Thomas was recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. As a stretcher bearer Thomas saved countless lives of army colleagues on First World War battlefields. He was presented with his VC on the 29th June 1918. This is his story.

My name is Thomas Young although I was born Thomas Morrell on 28th January 1895 in Boldon, North East England. When I was young my father was killed in a mining accident so my mother remarried a man form Whitburn called Surtees Young. We lived at Cliff Terrace, Ryhope. I left school early to become a miner. When I was 18 I joined up with the Gateshead Territorials then in 1914 transferred into the 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. I was a stretcher bearer.

At the start of the War, I was posted to the Western Front and reached Boulogne in April 1915. We were immediately thrown into the Second Battle of Ypres. I also served on the Somme, at Arras and at Passchendaele. At the Somme I was wounded by a bullet in the left thigh and was evacuated to England. That put me out of action for a while but went back to France a few month later.

I was awarded my VC after a day on a battlefield in March 1918. It was all going off in broad daylight – rifles, machine-guns, shell fire, it was pretty heavy let me tell you. There was a number of casualties but I managed to bring back wounded comrades. Some I couldn’t move because they were badly injured, so I dressed them right there. When the wounds were dressed as much as I could I carried my marras back. I saved nine lives that way.

I went back to Durham for a spell of leave and they laid on a surprise for me. Officials from the coal mine took me home along the Scotswood Road in a pony and trap. My home was dressed with flags and bunting. I met The Earl of Durham who gave me a watch, some War Bonds and a silver cigarette case. A civic reception was laid on in Saltwell Park in Gateshead. There must have been thousands turned up that day.

After the war I went back to work in the mines but couldn’t keep my job because of my war wounds. I took on a new job at the mine as bath attendant and got £9 a week. But due to my health problems and financial worries I sold my VC medal, luckily a DLI officer saw it in a pawnbroker’s shop so the Regiment bought it back.

Thomas Young died at a hostel in Whickham on 15th October 1966, and buried in St Patrick’s Churchyard, High Spen, Durham with full military honours.

A memorial to Thomas Young was unveiled in July 2007 and can be seen in the grounds of High Spen primary school. In 2018 a commemorative memorial stone at Cotswold Lane in Boldon Colliery was unveiled to honour the memory of First World War hero Thomas. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Durham Light Infantry Museum & Durham Art Gallery.

Gary Alikivi  August 2020.

Sources : Ancestry, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross.