Today our series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients remembers Lieutenant Thomas Lawder Wilkinson of the 7th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the Somme battlefields one hundred years ago today on July 5, 1916.
Lieutenant Wilkinson was born in Shropshire, England, and immigrated with his family to Canada prior to the First World War. On September 23, 1914, he enlisted with the 16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), later transferring to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, to serve as a Gunnery Officer. It was with this unit that Wilkinson found himself fighting in the Battle of the Somme.
Four days after the most devastating single day in the history of the British forces, Wilkinson and two other men were fighting their way to a forward machine gun, recently abandoned by a retreating party of British soldiers. On their own they succeeded in holding up advancing German soldiers until another unit was able to reach and reinforce them. Later that day, Lieutenant Wilkinson reached several men of different units trapped at a wall of earth over which German troops were throwing bombs. His citation in the London Gazette recounts how:
With great pluck and promptness [Wilkinson] mounted a machine gun on the top of the parapet and dispersed the enemy bombers. Subsequently he made two most gallant attempts to bring in a wounded man, but at the second attempt he was shot through the heart just before reaching the man. Throughout the day he set a magnificent example of courage and self-sacrifice (London Gazette, 26 September 1916).
The body of Lieutenant Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson was never recovered. He is commemorated on the British Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, France.
Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson.