Case study

WW1 Canadian VC recipient Thomas William Holmes

The story of Canadian First World War Victoria Cross Recipient Thomas William Holmes.

Thomas William Holmes
Credit: National Defence Canada

70 men from Canada received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the British High Commission Ottawa. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Thomas William Holmes

DOB: 17 August 1897

Place of Birth: Montreal, Canada

Date of Action: 26 October 1917

Place of Action: Passchendaele, Belgium

Rank: Private

Regiment: Canadian Mounted Rifles, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Thomas Holmes was born on 17 August 1897 in Montreal, Canada. His family moved to Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1903. Holmes was working on a farm when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. During the First World War, he served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles.

Private Holmes was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery on 26 October 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium during the opening attack by the Canadian troops on German defences. His citation explains further:

For most conspicuous bravery and resource when the right flank of our attack was held up by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from a ‘pill-box’ strong point. Heavy casualties were producing a critical situation when Pte. Holmes, on his own initiative and single-handed, ran forward and threw two bombs, killing and wounding the crews of two machine guns. He then returned to his comrades, secured another bomb, and again rushed forward alone under heavy fire and threw the bomb into the entrance of the ‘pill-box,’ causing the nineteen occupants to surrender. By this act of valour at a very critical moment Pte. Holmes undoubtedly cleared the way for the advance of our troops and saved the lives of many of his comrades.

Private Holmes survived the war and returned to Canada where he worked as a pilot for the Harbour Commission for fifteen years. He died in Toronto in 1950. There is a historical plaque dedicated to his memory in Owen Sound.

Published 20 June 2016