Thomas Ricketts, Victoria Cross
by Frank Gogos
Ricketts' Victoria Cross and Croix de Guerre (France)
Thomas Ricketts was born on April 15, 1901 to John and Amelia (Cassels) Ricketts in a small isolated fishing hamlet of Middle Arm, White Bay. He was the youngest of three children, he had an older brother George and a sister Rachel. The village of Middle Arm was a sparsely populated isolated community of a handful of families with no post office or school.
When Thomas Ricketts heard the devastating news of the near annihilation of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916 he rushed to join the war as his older brother George did a year earlier. This young fisherman was determined to enlist, despite being under age. Youthful he may have been, but standing at 5’ 6” he could easily pass for 18. Being a fisherman from an early age would have made him strong and fit; an ideal candidate for a man hungry regiment.
On September 2, 1916 an underage Tommy Ricketts placed an X on his enlistment papers claiming to be 18 years and 3 months, physically marking a turning point in his life that he could never have foreseen.
Ricketts joined the 1/Newfoundland Regiment in the field on July 2, 1917 near Ypres, Belgium. Joining B Company he saw first action in the Battle of Langemarck on August 16, 1917. He would fight twice more before the year was out at the Battle of Poelcapelle on October 9 and the Battle of Cambrai on November 20 where he was wounded in the leg on the first day of the battle. His brother George was killed during the last day of fighting on December 3.
Ricketts rejoined the Regiment in the field four months later.
On October 14, 1918 Ricketts took part in action around Ledeghem, Belgium where his actions would be chronicled in the annals of Newfoundland history. It was here that he would advance alongside Cpl Matthew Brazil capturing four machine guns, four artillery and eight prisoners.
More than two months later, in Hilden Germany, on December 23, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment learned Private Thomas Ricketts was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions near Drie Masten, Belgium.
Rickett’s received the Victoria Cross from King George V on January 19, 1919 in a private investiture at the King’s private estate in Sandringham. Ricketts described his meeting with the King as “one of the most pleasant experiences of my life”. The King wrote in his diary the next day: “Yesterday I gave the V. C. to Private Ricketts, Newfoundland Regiment, who is only 17 ½ now, a splendid boy.”
When Tommy Ricketts stepped off the S. S. Corsican on February 8, 1919 and onto Furness-Withy Pier in St. John’s thousands of people were there to greet him. Ricketts was spotted and the crowd erupted into cheers alerting the Church Lads Brigade Band who then struck the harmonies of the ollicking Regimental quick march The Banks of Newfoundland (AKA Up the Pond). Newfoundland’s war hero was home.
After receiving some education while in the Regiment Ricketts continued his schooling when he returned to Newfoundland. Within several years he attended the first class of instruction in the newly opened Memorial College. Soon after, he began a pharmacist apprenticeship before opening his own pharmacy on Water Street across from the railway station.
On February 10, 1967, Tommy Ricketts, died from a heart attack while at work in his pharmacy. He was given a state funeral and was buried in the Anglican Cemetery on Forest Road.