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February 10, 1919. SERGT THOMAS RICKETTS, V.C., C. de G.
"Yesterday a NEWS representative had the privilege of an
interview with Sergt. T. Ricketts, V.C., C. de G. the hero of the Royal Newfoundland
Regiment and the youngest holder of the Victoria Cross in the British Army.
With the modesty and reticence of the true soldier, he was disinclined to
talk, but finally furnished the following facts of his military career and
the deed which won him the highest military honour.
Enlisting on September 2, 1916, when only fifteen years and 6 months of
age, he left here with the contingent by the Florizel on January 30, 1917.
After the usual training at Ayr, he left there on June 10 for France, and
went through all the fighting with Ours until the Cambrai stunt on November
20, when he was wounded, receiving a bullet in the right thigh. Being sent
back to England he spent 18 days in Wandsworth hospital, and after visiting
Winchester returned to France on April 4, remaining with the regiment until
October 14, when came the action that brought him and the oldest colony fame.
The engagement took place near Ledgehem, Belgium, and was in the nature of a general advance to take part of a railroad which was of great tactical importance. The 29th, 51st and 9th Divisions with French and Belgian troops were engaged, Ours attached to the 9th being on the extreme right and connecting with the 29th. Sweeping over a ridge and through the barbed wire entanglements, Ours descended the other side, crossed a field sown with beet, and reached a shallow ditch about 300 yards beyond.
Here they were held up by a battery of field guns and machine guns, which opened at point blank range from the shelter of two farm houses. Little protection was afforded by the ditch, and men began to fall in large numbers. Advance or retreat was impossible, as either would mean the wiping out of the battalion, the enemy guns having a complete sweep of the ground.
It was now that Ricketts, at that time a private, displayed his initiative and daring. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, he volunteered to go forward, and try to put the enemy guns out of action. With his section commander L.-Corp. Brazil of B Company, he started on his heroic mission. Circling from the extreme right of the ditch with a Lewis gun, they advanced by short rushes over the broken ground in an effort to outflank the enemy, and had reached to within 300 yards of the battery when their ammunition gave out. Without delay, Ricketts started back for more over the shell torn ground, and securing two carriers, again returned. When he reached the Lewis gun, his companion had disappeared in the fog, and opening fire with his machine gun once more, Ricketts again advanced towards the battery, and as he did so the gunners retired and took shelter in the partly demolished farm houses.
Here was his chance and he seized it. Dashing forward and firing from the hip, he planted the gun in the doorway, when the whole crew promptly surrendered, throwing up their hands and crying 'Kamerad'.
As soon as the battery had ceased firing, Ours started to advance and quickly met and took charge of the prisoners sent back by Ricketts. As a result of his heroic conduct the four field guns of the battery, four machine guns, one officer and seven men were captured. A fifth field gun was also taken, Ricketts turning his Lewis gun on the crew, who were trying to get it out of the danger, compelling then to unhook their horses and leave it behind.
The objective was obtained easily once the enemy battery had been put out of order. Ricketts in his gallant conduct was inspired by the hope of getting even with the Huns, his brother Private George, who enlisted in June 1915, having been killed in the Cambrai battle.
It was not till December 14 that the young soldier learned he had won the coveted honour, the Victoria Cross. On that date the announcement was made at a full battalion parade by Major Bernard, who read the official declaration and warmly congratulated him, as did his brother-in-arms.
On January 13 he left the Regiment at Ailden, Germany and proceeded to London for the investiture at the hands of His Majesty, which took place on Sunday January 19th at 2 p.m. at Sandringham Palace, or correctly speaking in a sitting room at York Cottage.
Present on the occasion were His Majesty, H.R.H. Princess Mary, Prince George, Captain B.J. Godfrey Faussett and Lord Marcus Beresford and an Australian Bishop. His Majesty who was attired in civilian garb, shook hands with the young soldier and after reading an official description of the action for which he was about to be honoured, pinned the medal on his breast.
He chatted with more than ten minutes with Ricketts and commented on the fact that out of some 7,000,000 million British soldiers, only 500 Victoria Crosses had been won during the war, also remarking that Ricketts was the youngest holder of the honour in the world.
In the Castle grounds Sergt. Ricketts met H.R.H. Prince Olaf of Norway, and also Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, Queen Maud of Norway, and H.R.B. Princess Victoria all of whom engaged him in conversation. The Queen Mother, after chatting with him for a few moments, pinned a rose upon his breast.
Later he was introduced to General Sir Dighton Probyn, V.C. the oldest holder of the Cross in the world, he having won it 63 years ago in India. He is now over 80 years of age and described how he had won the honour, after getting from Ricketts an account of his feat.
During his stay in London until leaving for home, arrangements for his entertainment were made by Lord Morris, Sir Edgar Bowring, Lady Outerbridge and other Newfoundlanders.
On September 27 last he was presented with the Croix de Guerre, with Golden Star at Holickshen by General Jacobs, Commander of the Second Army, but has not yet received his D.C.M.
The young hero is of a very reserved disposition, as evidenced by the fact that instead of taking rooms at the Crosbie, as proposed to him, he preferred to take up quarters at 53 Colonial Street with whom he boarded before going overseas, and who is justly proud of the honour conferred on her.
Saturday Sergt. Ricketts was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. J Browning at lunch, and in the afternoon visited Jensen Camp. Tuesday evening he will be the guest of honour at the City Club, and other receptions are being prepared in his honour.
His father still resides at Middle Arm, White Bay, but the young hero has decided to enter Bishop Feild College as a student.
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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