First World War Hero Dies in Poverty

In the book, and later a film, Born of the Fourth of July, Ron Kovic was paralyzed while he fought in the Vietnam War. He later became a pro-human rights activist and very anti-war because he felt as though he had been betrayed by his country–a country that he sacrificed for. The biography shows the personal milieu of the returning soldiers once the war has ended. For one gentleman from Lancashire, the experience of war was very different to his life during times of peace. He had no choice but to sell his prized Victoria Cross–a testament to his bravery and courage. Thomas Whitham VC was awarded the Victoria Cross, which is the highest honor a British or Commonwealth soldier could hope to achieve.

Whitham enlisted into the army on January 25, 1915 and the age of 29. He became a private in the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards. Two years later, on July 31, 1917, after scrambling through shellholes filled with mud, he managed to seize a machine gun that had been killing his comrades. When the war ended, he became a bricklayer–but work was not easy to find. In order to survive, he had to sell his prized Victoria Cross and a gold watch that had been given to him by Burnley Council to recognize his bravery.

Both of these items ended up in a pawn shop; however, the council was able to recover them. They are now on display at the Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museums. The Lancashire Evening Post reports that Whitham died at 36 years-old, living in poverty. He was buried at Whieatley Lane Inghamite Church on October 27, 1924.

A grave memorial was erected for him in 1952 by the Coldstream Guards Association.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE