24 June 2009

The medals of Joseph Tombs

After the end of the First World War Joseph Tombs decided to emigrate to Canada which he did in 1921. He initially obtained work serving on Canadian Pacific Railway ships before gaining employment with the Sun Life Assurance Company in Montreal. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 Tombs enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force and spent five years serving at the Air Force Flying School at Trenton, Ontario, being discharged as a sergeant in 1944.

While in Toronto Joseph Tombs came to stay at a Mrs Frederica Johnson's house, and when the war ended he remained. It was Mrs Johnson who nursed him constantly during the last ten years of his life. He never fully recovered from an operation in 1952 to remove shrapnel from his stomach and in 1964 suffered from a minor stroke.

Joseph Tombs died, aged 78, on the 28th June 1966, at Mrs Johnson's house on Second Avenue, Toronto, which was also home to Tombs' distant nephew William Wheaton and his daughter Sheila. Tombs was buried in Toronto's Pine Hills Cemetery on the 4th July 1966 a small memorial plaque being placed over his his grave. The Toronto 'Globe & Mail' reported at the time of the burial ceremony:

"William Wheaton produced Joseph Tombs' six medals: the Victoria Cross with its faded violet ribbon, a 1914 Star, two service medals, one with a bar for being mentioned in despatches, a medal for service in the merchant marine and finally one small Russian cross."

Following the death of Joseph Tombs his Victoria Cross and campaign medals were inherited by his nephew William Wheaton and in the Autumn of 1966 he decided to donate his uncle's medal group to the Royal Regiment of Canada. At a prestigious ceremony held in Toronto's City Hall on the 27th October 1966, Joseph Tombs' Victoria Cross and campaign medals were presented into the care and ownership of the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Commanding Officer of the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Douglas, personally accepting the medals.

There has always been an alliance between the King's Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Canada and at the time of the handover the Commanding Officer of the Royal Regiment of Canada and the CO of the King's Regiment agreed that Joseph Tombs' Victoria Cross should be transferred back and forth between the two regiments as a means of continuing communication. As a result the Victoria Cross has travelled across the Atlantic many times. The VC is officially owned by the Royal Regiment of Canada Foundation and is kept in a secure and anonymous location.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 24 July 1915 ], near Rue du Bois, France, 16 June 1915 (*), Lance Corporal Joseph Harcourt Tombs, 1st Bn, King's ( Liverpool ) Regiment.

For most conspicuous gallantry near Rue du Bois, on 16th June 1915. On his own initiative he crawled out repeatedly under a very heavy shell and machine-gun fire, to bring in wounded men, who were lying about 100 yards in front of our trenches. He rescued four men, one of whom he dragged back by means of a rifle sling placed round his own neck and the manís body. This man was so severely wounded that unless he had been immediately attended to he must have died.

(*) There was an error in the citation for the award of the Victoria Cross. Tombs' VC action took place on the 16th May 1915 and not on the 16th June.

Joseph Tombs was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 12th August 1915.

Joseph Tombs' enlisted into the 1st Battalion, King's ( Liverpool ) Regiment on the 5th March 1912 when it was stationed at Warrington Barracks. After the outbreak of the First World War in early August 1914 the 1st Battalion was stationed at Aldershot and landed in France on the 13th August.

However, it appears that Tombs did not travel with the battalion for a letter was received from him by a Warrington newspaper in January 1915 when he was part of a Mobile Field Force based on the east coast of Scotland. Tombs rejoined his battalion in France in February 1915 and was with it on 10th March when heavy casualties were incurred in a diversionary attack at Givenchy.


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Iain Stewart, 24 June 2009