b. 14/10/1898 Montreal, Canada. d. 04/01/1950 Owen Sound, Canada
Thomas William Holmes (1898-1950) was born on 14th October 1898 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was known as Tommy. His father, John Robert Holmes, was a labourer. He married Edith Mary Scarff in 1891. They began married life in Montreal but in 1903 moved to Owen Sound, Ontario. It is believed Tommy’s father may have died young, as by 1915, Edith was living in Owen Sound and was listed as Tommy’s next of kin. Tommy had three siblings – Charles John, born in 1892, Anna Elizabeth, born in 1894, and Almer Roy, born in 1896.
Tommy was educated at Ryerson School, Owen Sound. He worked for JR Boyd, a butcher, then as a poulterer at Templeton Farm, Annan, Ontario. When he enlisted he gave his employment as chicken picker and also a labourer. He enlisted on 12th December 1915 and attested in 147th (1st Grey) Battalion on 20th December at Niagara Camp, where he undertook basic training. A diphtheria outbreak delayed the Battalion’s departure for Europe and they eventually sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on RMS Olympic on 14th November 1916. It arrived in Britain on the 20th.
Tommy transferred to 8th Reserve Battalion at Shorncliffe, Kent on 1st January 1917 and to 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles on 7th February. He went to France on 9th February and was attached to 3rd Entrenching Battalion from 9th March to 1st April. He was in action with the machine gun section during the assault on Vimy Ridge on 9th April. On 11th April, he was wounded in the arm by a gunshot, which fractured his ulna. He was evacuated to Britain to 2nd Southern General Hospital, Bristol on 15th April. He then recovered at hospitals in Uxbridge and Epsom.
He returned to 8th Canadian Reserve Battalion at Shorncliffe on 28th May and while there travelled to Hastings to meet his brother Roy. He transferred to 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles on 23rd September and returned to France on the 30th. He rejoined his unit on 9th October.
On October 26th, 1917 near Passchendaele, Belgium, he performed a deed for which he was awarded 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.
At the time Tommy was the youngest VC in the Canadian forces and the second from Owen Sound, the first being air ace Billy Bishop VC. He was granted two weeks’ leave from 25th November 1918, which was extended to cover his investiture. He was presented with the VC by King George V at York Cottage, Sandringham on 31st December 1918. He was appointed acting Sergeant on 24th January 1919 and was attached to the Canadian Concentration Camp, Kinmel Park, Rhyl on 20th March, and sailed from Glasgow aboard SS Saturnia on the 30th. He was discharged on his return to Canada. As a result of his time in the trenches he developed tuberculosis and had to fight several federal government departments before being granted a pension.
He married Annie Middaugh and they had two children – Roy and June. He worked as a secretary for the Northern Business College Veteran’s Club in Toronto. He then worked as a pilot for the Toronto Harbour Commission. In 1942 he was lucky to escape death when a launch exploded and he suffered burns. He became a chauffeur for fourteen years before ill health forced him to retire. He attended the VC Dinner at the House of Lords in 1929, and was presented to the King and Queen in Toronto in 1939 alongside fellow VCs. He contracted cancer in the last three months of his life and spent them in Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto, where he died on 4th January 1950. He was buried with full military honours in Greenwood Cemetery, Owen Sound.
In addition to the VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. The medals were stolen from his house in 1935 and never recovered. A replacement VC was issued on 6th August 1935. His daughter donated it and his other medals to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch in Owen Sound. In August 1978 the replacement VC was also stolen, but eventually found. It is back in the hands of the Royal Canadian Legion, Owen Sound.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: OWEN SOUND ROYAL CANADIAN LEGION.
BURIAL PLACE: GREENWOOD CEMETERY, OWEN SOUND, CANADA.
1st Avenue West, Owen Sound, Ontario.
National Memorial Arboretum