Each soldier tells a story.
Tommy Ricketts left his birthplace, an isolated fishing hamlet, to answer the clarion call of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in September 1916. He claimed to be 18 years old. He was 15.
Two years later, a seasoned soldier and still underage, Ricketts’ action in battle earned him the Victoria Cross. As described in the citation:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on October 14, 1918. During the advance from Ledeghem the attack was temporarily held up by heavy hostile fire, and the platoon to which he belonged suffered severe casualties from the fire of a battery at point blank range. Private Ricketts at once volunteered to go forward with his Section Commander and a Lewis gun to attempt to outflank the battery. They advanced by short rushes while subject to severe fire from enemy machine guns. When 300 yards away, their ammunition gave out. The enemy, seeing an opportunity to get their field guns away, began to bring up their gun teams. Private Ricketts at once realized the situation. He doubled back 100 yards, procured some ammunition and dashed back to the Lewis gun, and by very accurate fire drove the enemy and their gun teams into a farm. His platoon then advanced without casualties, and captured four field guns, four machine guns and eight prisoners. A fifth field gun was subsequently intercepted by fire and captured. By his presence of mind in anticipating the enemy intention and his utter disregard for personal safety, Private Ricketts secured the further supplies of ammunition which directly resulted in these important captures and undoubtedly saved many lives.
Ricketts was the only member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment to receive the Victoria Cross, and remains the youngest army recipient fighting in a combatant role.
He returned to Newfoundland to a hero’s welcome. He trained as a pharmacist and opened a pharmacy on Water Street in St John’s NL. This billboard occupies the corner where his shop stood.
A long-departed British monarch still lends her birthday for a holiday that marks the unofficial start of summer, and her name to the highest military honour awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Victoria Day weekend – a good time to remember Ricketts and other VCs.
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