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CBC Newfoundland and Labrador - The Teen Age

CBC Newfoundland & Labrador

Web Features - Ricketts: The Teenage War Hero
CBC Newfoundland and Labrador | March 21, 2005

In 1916, Thomas Ricketts enlisted for duty in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and did something far from uncommon during those war-torn years: he lied about his age.

Tommy Ricketts

Tommy Ricketts was born in Middle Arm, White Bay, on April 15, 1901. He enlisted for service in September 1916, a grim time in the war. Just two months earlier, the Regiment was decimated at Beaumont Hamel, during the Battle of the Somme.

Barely 15, Ricketts was well aware of the risks of enlisting. However, he was certainly not the only teenager to tell recruiting officers he was older than he was.

Example after example of the youthfulness of the Regiment can be found in the company photos taken before recruits left for combat. Housed in the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, the collection shows the recruits posing formally in their new uniforms, their faces a mixture of confidence, pride and anxiety.

Decades later, the photos are also striking simply because so many of them feature soldiers who are obviously not yet men.

Like many others, Ricketts was not manly, but only in the literal sense.

Oct. 22, 2003: Lynda Calvert reports on the Ricketts family's donation of medal to the Canadian War Museum (runs: 2:13).Click to Watch to the RealVideo file

Tommy Ricketts is a household name, almost nine decades later, because of what he did in battle on Oct. 14, 1918, in Ledgeham, Belgium – an act of courage so remarkable he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour.

His citation tells the story:

"During the advance from Ledgehem 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."

Three months later, Ricketts was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V, who introduced Ricketts as "the youngest VC in my army." The King wrote in his diary on Jan. 20, 1919, the following entry: "Yesterday I gave the V.C. to Private Ricketts, Newfoundland Regiment, who is only 17 and a half now, a splendid boy."

Ricketts returned to Newfoundland a hero, but a modest one. For the rest of his life, he never boasted of his valour, and was content to keep a low profile in private life.

He studied pharmacy, and went on to open a successful business in St. John's. (The City of St. John's erected a plaque to commemorate Ricketts at the site of his business, at the corner of Job and Water Streets.)

Tommy Ricketts died Feb. 10, 1967. As a sign of respect, the provincial government held a state funeral. He is buried at the Anglican Cemetery in St. John's.

In 2003, Ricketts' family donated his war medals – including his VC – to the Canadian War Museum, so that his honours can be shared and preserved for future generations.

Related Links

From CBC.ca - Oct. 22, 2003: War hero's medals to be shared with all Canadians

External Link - Victoria Cross

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