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Private Tommy Holmes – The youngest Canadian soldier to win the Victoria Cross

Young V.C. winner was in local regiment
Published in the Barrie Advance
23 November 2008
The highest award for bravery in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to members of British and Commonwealth forces is the Victoria Cross.

The V.C. was first awarded by Queen Victoria in 1856 and since then 1,356 medals have been awarded, with three people being awarded the medal twice.

The Grey & Simcoe Foresters regiment of Barrie and Owen Sound holds the distinction of having the youngest Canadian soldier* to win the Victoria Cross as a part of their regimental history : Tommy Holmes.

Born in Montreal in 1898, Holmes moved with his family to Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1903. In 1915, he enlisted in the 147th Grey Infantry Battalion, a composite battalion formed from members of the 31st Grey Regiment, one of the predecessor regiments of the Grey & Simcoe Foresters. Holmes lied about his age in order to join, as he was only 17 years old at the time.

Two years later, Holmes was serving with the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, 2nd Central Ontario Regiment, at Passchendaele, Belgium. On Oct. 26, 1917, Holmes’ unit was pinned down due to heavy machine-gun fire. On his own accord, Holmes ran alone and under heavy fire, up to a pillbox bunker and threw two grenades inside it.

He then ran back to his comrades, armed himself with another grenade and raced back out to the pillbox again. After he lobbed the third grenade, knocking out two machine-gun crewmen, the 19 remaining occupants of the bunker surrendered.

Holmes received his Victoria Cross from King George V on 31 December 1918, at Buckingham Palace.

After the war, Holmes worked for the Toronto Harbour Commission where in 1936, he showed his heroism again when he helped to save the lives of three people whose boat capsized in the harbour.

Tommy Holmes died 4 January 1950 and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound.

In 1986, the Owen Sound Armoury, home to A Company, The Grey & Simcoe Foresters, was re-named the Thomas Holmes, V.C. Memorial Armoury.

Sergeant Tommy Holmes’ medals are on display at the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Owen Sound.  A replica set are in the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum in Barrie, Ontario.

*Author’s note: Although Sergeant Thomas Ricketts is now recognized as the youngest Canadian to win the V.C.,¬†winning it in 1918 when he was only 5 months short of his 18th birthday, he won it serving with the Newfoundland Regiment. Newfoundland was an independent country at the time, and didn’t join the Canadian Confederation until 1949, so Holmes still technically qualifies as the youngest “Canadian soldier” to win the V.C.

Ricketts’ medals are on display at The Rooms; the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, located in St. Johns, NFLD.

Sources: http://www.vconline.org.uk/thomas-w-holmes-vc/4587033060, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_William_Holmes, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Ricketts, https://www.therooms.ca.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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