On 5 July 1916, Old Wellingtonian Thomas O L Wilkinson lost his life in the action for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Thomas was at Wellington 1908-1912, and became Head of the Hopetoun, a Prefect, and Head of the Gymnasium. On leaving school he emigrated to Canada, but on the day war was declared in 1914, he enlisted and went to England with the first Canadian Contingent. He was sent to France in July 1915 as an officer with the North Lancashire Regiment.
On 5 July 1916 he took part in the capture of La Boisselle, part of the Battle of the Somme which had started five days before. The citation for his VC records his actions on the day:
During an attack, when a party of another unit was retiring without their machine-gun, Lieutenant Wilkinson rushed forward and, with two of his men, got the gun into action, and held up the enemy until they were relieved. Later, when the advance was checked during a bombing attack, he forced his way forward and found men of four or five different units stopped by a solid block of earth, over which the enemy was throwing bombs. With great pluck and promptness he 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, and in the second attempt he was shot through the heart just before reaching him. Throughout the day he set a most magnificent example of courage and self-sacrifice.
Thomas’ body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. His VC and other medals are on display in the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum.
The photographs show Thomas as Head of Gymnasium (seated, centre) in 1912, and in military uniform as he appears in the Year Book Roll of Honour.