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Newfoundland Pharmacist Gets Museum Display

Donated by The Pharmacy Post, February 2003 Edition

   Regiment honours Tommy Ricketts for WW I military bravery by Carol McLeod

   Late Newfoundland pharmacist Tommy Ricketts, who as a teenager became the youngest soldier to win the Victoria Cross in World War I, was honoured posthumously by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Ricketts' military career, which preceded his pharmacy career by almost a decade, is the subject of a display at the regiment's St. John's museum. His 89 year old widow, Edna, and son, Dr. Thomas Ricketts, attended the recent ceremony launching the Ricketts' exhibit.
   "My father... was very shy and maybe felt a little bit uncomfortable with the attention that the medal brought with it," his son, a retired physician, told the St. John's Telegram prior to the ceremony. "The Victoria Cross medal is exemplary, but the people who won it were, by and large, ordinary people."
   In 1916, when he was just 15 years old, Ricketts enlisted as a private in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment after claiming to be older than he actually was.
By 1918, he was fighting near Ledeghem. During a battle on the morning of October 14, his platoon came under enemy fire at point blank range and suffered heavy casualties. Ricketts volunteered to take a machine gun and move forward with his section commander in an attempt to outflank the enemy's position.
When their ammunition ran out before they reached their target, Ricketts voluntarily doubled back 100 yards, under heavy fire, to a trench where more ammunition was stashed.
   Returning to his machine gun, he drove the Germans back, enabling his platoon to advance without further casualties and capture four field guns, four machine guns and eight prisoners.
   Ricketts was credited with saving numerous lives and was presented with the Victoria Cross - the highest honour for bravery in the British Commonwealth - by King George V. After speaking privately with Ricketts, he turned to those attending the ceremony and said: "This is the youngest V.C. in my army."
   On January 20, 1919, the King wrote in his diary: "Yesterday I gave the V.C. to Private Ricketts, Newfoundland Regiment, who is only 17 and a half now, a splendid boy."
   Ricketts was promoted to sergeant on January 29 and sailed for Newfoundland in early February. As his troop ship lay overnight in St. John's harbour waiting to dock, an enterprising reporter for the Evening Telegram rowed out to interview Ricketts and scoop the competition. (The reporter, who found Ricketts shy and reluctant to discuss his exploits, was J.R. (Joey) Smallwood, the future premier of Newfoundland.)
   After his return home, Ricketts went on to become a pharmacist and opened his own drugstore in St. John's in the mid-1930s. He died in 1967.

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