Saltwell Park in Gateshead crowded. Some local newspapers reported that 10,000 people were present, others 15,000. All agreed, however, that it was the largest crowd seen in the park since the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria over twenty years before. On a raised platform was the Mayor of Gateshead, the Earl of Durham^ as Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, and many other local dignitaries. There was a guard of honour from the 1st Durham County Volunteers, Boys Scouts and Church Lads Brigade, plus the Northumberland Fusiliers band from Fenham Barracks and the Tyneside Fife Band. Standing alone before this huge crowd was a twenty-three year old miner from High Spen. His family was sitting proudly below him on the front row. The Earl of Durham had just presented him with an inscribed watch and silver cigarette case and War Bonds. The cheering had died down and now it was his turn to speak.
"I am not much of a speaker. There's not a man of' the Durham's who wouldn't have done what I did; it was just what any one of them would have done if he could. The thing happened to come my way and I did it. That's all"
Three months before, he had saved the lives of nine men lying wounded in no-man's-land. The day before, he had been in the Quadrangle of Buckingham Palace with King George V, but, on 30th June 1918, he was back home in County Durham, as the people of Galeshead honoured Thomas Young VC.
The real name of this young miner, however, was not Thomas Young. He was born, Thomas Morrell, at Boldon Colliery, County Durham, on 28th January 1895. Young was his step-father's name, which he appears to have used when he joined the 9th Battalion DLI at Gateshead in 1914, aged nineteen years. At the time of his enlistment, he was working as a hewer at High Spen, near Blaydon, just one of the thousands of Durham miners who were to serve in their County Regiment during the First World War.
The 9th Battalion DLI was a Territorial unit with its headquarters at Burt Terrace in Gateshead. At the beginning of August 1914, this battalion, along with the four other DLI Territorial battalions, had been at camp in North Wales. Ordered at once to return home to Durham, the battalion soon settled to months of hard training to prepare for war. 9 DLI finally landed at Boulogne on 20th April 1915 and was immediately thrown into the deadly confusion of the Second Battle of Ypres. In the ranks as a stretcher bearer was 9-1975 (later 203590) Private Thomas Young.
9 DLI, as part of the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division, served at Ypres, on the Somme, at Arras and at Passchendaele. On 16th September 1916 near High Wood on the Somme, Thomas Young was wounded in the left thigh by a bullet and was evacuated to England. He did not return to the Western Front until May 1917.
On 21st March 1918, the German Army launched a massive offensive on the Somme, breaking through the British defences. At dawn on 26th March, 9 DLI, now the Pioneer battalion of the 62nd Division, was ordered into a support trench south of Bucquoy, near Arras. Within hours, the Germans attacked there and overran the front line. 9 DLl's position then became the front line. For the next five days, until the battalion was Finally relieved on the night of 31st March, 9 DLI, with the 2/5th Duke of Wellington's Regiment, held up the German advance at Bucquoy.
During all that time, soldiers, wounded in the initial attacks, lay in no-man's-land, without food or water, waiting for somebody to help them. Nine of these men were saved by the bravery of just one man, Thomas Young. On nine separate occasions, this young stretcher bearer climbed out of his trench to search the shell holes for the wounded. Ignoring heavy rifle and machine gun fire and even shell fire from the German lines, he carried back the fortunate men he found. Some, who were very badly injured, first had their wounds cleaned and dressed by Private Young before he carried them alone back to safety.
He was the sixth, and last, soldier of The Durham Light Infantry to be awarded this highest of honours during the Great War.
With the end of the war, Thomas Young VC returned to his work as a hewer underground at High Spen. In 1920, he rejoined 9 DLI, as a Sergeant, when the Territorial battalion reformed but was discharged in 1921. In 1939, he re-enlisted in a National Defence Company. The following year his wife, Rachel, died aged just 45 years. He continued to work as a miner, finally as pithead baths' attendant, until ill health forced him to retire. He then moved from his home in East Street, High Spen to Chopwell, and then in July 1966, to an old people's home - The Hermitage - at Whickham. He died there on 15th October 1966, aged seventy-one years, and was buried in St Patrick's Churchyard, High Spen, four days later.
In the DLI Regimental journal of October 1966, one of Thomas Young VC's old 9 DLI officers wrote
"Tommy to all who knew him died suddenly..... With his fair share of normal human frailties, he was a modest and kind man with an intense love of his Regiment......Whilst his gallantry was certainly in the heat of battle, that heat was around him and not in him. He did not capture any machine gun post lone handed, he did not kill any of the enemy, he had in fact no lethal weapon, just his quiet determination to bring in the wounded, his weapon, his stretcher, and nine times he went calmly out, unarmed, to what ought to have been certain death..... We must always be proud of any VC, but perhaps extra proud of selflessness like this."
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