Victoria Cross Commemorative Stone laid for Lt Col T E Adlam V C.
Early years in Salisbury
Tom Edwin Adlam was born at 2 Farley Rd, Waterloo Gardens, Salisbury on the 21st October 1893, son of John and Evangeline Adlam. Tom attended St Martins Primary School and gained a scholarship to Bishop Wordsworth School. He was a keen sportsman and won the school championship in 1910. After leaving school he and his brother Edward played football for Salisbury City during the winter months while in the summer Tom played cricket for Wiltshire 2nd X1.
His brother Edward was later to become Mayor of Salisbury in 1956 and 1966. Later, after joining the army, Tom was introduced to Rugby football and such was his sporting prowess that he was selected to play Rugby at International level for the Army versus the New Zealand All Blacks. Another of Tom's sporting abilities was that of being able to throw a cricket ball almost equally well with either hand to a distance of around 40 yards. This ability later proved invaluable when fighting in the trenches.
Off to war
Tom trained as a teacher at Winchester and whilst there joined the Territorial Army in 1912. When war broke out in 1914 Tom had just started work at a school in Basingstoke. It was here that he met and fell in love with Ivy Annette Mace but after a very short time at Basingstoke he was called up into the Army and posted to India. After working his way through the ranks he became a sergeant and when stationed at Quetta he applied for a commission as he wanted to see active service. This was granted and he was sent back to England to train. After a course in bombing instruction he joined the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in November 1915.
On June 21st 1916 Tom married Ivy Annette Mace at St. Mary's Church, South Farnborough. A short time later aged 22 he sailed for France. Sadly soon after arriving in France news reached him that his mother had died. News at that time travelled only slowly and as the funeral would have been over before he could return to England Tom stayed in France with his platoon.
The Battle of the Somme
The battle began on July 1st 1916 and turned out to be one of the worst disasters ever suffered by the British army. It was both ill conceived and badly organised. On the first day it started with the most massive bombardment in history. The first mistake was the type of shell used by the British guns which exploded with shrapnel designed to kill or injure the opposing forces. Unfortunately the Germans were so well entrenched that the shrapnel had little effect. The British High Command predicted that after such a massive bombardment the advance would meet with very little resistance. It was left to the poor unfortunate infantrymen to discover that not only had the shrapnel shells had little effect on the enemy but had also done very little to clear the barbed wire. As a result the advance was reduced to a crawl and under murderous rifle and machine gun fire the British forces were cut down in their thousands. More than 19,000 killed and over 35,000 wounded.
The attack on Thiepval
The fortified village of Thiepval, a German stronghold, stood on a high ridge that dominated the surrounding countryside overlooking the River Ancre. The German troops had built redoubts (meaning 'a place of retreat'; complex tangles of barbed wire, trenches and machine gun posts designed to defend fortified positions) on either shoulder of the ridge. Capturing the village was an objective of the British troops during the Battle of the Somme, however despite valiant attempts by various divisions during the previous three months resulting in heavy losses, the village and redoubts remained under German control.
On the morning of the 26th September 1916, Tom and the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment were held in reserve in Thiepval Wood while three other battalions attacked the village. At 1:00 am on the 27th September orders were given for the battalion to prepare to attack the northern portion of the village. The route to the front line was unclear, the ground was unknown and the battalion were given no time to prepare for the assault. Each house in the village was heavily fortified and under heavy machine gun fire the battalion split into two companies and had to fight in the dark. After almost three months of defence the German stronghold of Thiepval fell, and supporting companies quickly moved up to help fortify the new front line in readiness for a German counter attack, allowing the British to attack the second line of German defences along the ridge including the Schwaben Redoubt.
Winning the Victoria Cross.
On the morning of September 28th 1916 Tom found himself leading an attack on the German held trenches defending Schwaben Redoubt. Having attended the briefing prior to the attack he was aware that the attack was planned to take place under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately the guides for his company lost their way, which so delayed the attack that after the initial bombardment the assault finally took place in broad daylight.
The deeply entrenched German troops opened up with a hail of rifle and machine gun fire, and unsurprisingly, the British troops dived for cover and the attack came to a halt. Tom then decided to make his way under continuous fire to consult with the officer leading the next company. This officer told Tom he thought their best plan would be to stay put until dark and then make their way back to their own lines. Tom was not impressed by this and told the officer that he and his men were only about 50 yards from the German trenches and he thought they could get in there. The officer then shook Tom firmly by the hand and said 'Good bye old man', convinced that if that was Tom's intention he was never likely to see him again. Tom replied, 'Don't be so damn silly, I'm sure we can do it'.
On returning to his men Tom organised a rush forward, and with his men throwing grenades in front of them, successfully gained a foothold in the German trench. Once there and having run out of grenades they discovered the Germans had left large quantities of their own grenades behind them in their effort to escape. With his men collecting these bombs and passing them on to him Tom led his men along the trench as he hurled the Germans own bombs after them and with his small band of men cleared the German front line trench. At this point he was approached by his Commanding Officer who suggested it would be a good idea to clear a further two German held trenches which would give the British forces a good vantage point for their assault on Schwaben Redoubt. Once again Tom led the way and by the end of the day the two trenches were in British hands.
When relief arrived Tom and his men went back to their lines for the night. On the next day several waves of British troops carried on the assault until once again Tom and his men were called forward into the attack. On this occasion the attack was held up by a number of enemy troops firing away from a large crater in front of the German trenches but Tom and his men, in his own words, 'were soon able to bomb the them out'. By this time Tom had received a bullet wound in his leg and one of his men took over the bombing. Unfortunately the poor chap was killed almost immediately and despite his wound Tom said, 'Oh damn it, I've done it once I'm sure I can do it again'. Not long after he was wounded in his right arm but such was his determination that he continued throwing grenades with his left until he and his men were within striking distance of the Schwaben Redoubt. It was at this point that Tom was approached by his Commanding Officer who said, 'Tom, you're wounded; you go on back, you've done enough'.
During his bomb throwing exploits Tom discarded all his equipment with the exception of his compass which he had purchased himself and can be seen on display here today.
Tom was sent to Colchester to recover from his wounds and it was here that news of his VC reached him. No one had told him he was being proposed for a medal, but when he returned to the Orderly Room one evening he found a large number of congratulatory telegrams waiting for him. Contacting his father he sent a telegram 'What are congratulations for, and why do newspapers want my photograph?' It was then that his father John was the first to inform him that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross.
Victoria Cross Citation
"For most conspicuous bravery. A portion of a village which has defied capture had to be taken at all costs, to permit subsequent operations to develop. This minor operation came under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. Second Lieutenant Adlam, realising that time was all-important, rushed from shell-hole to shell-hole under heavy fire, collecting men for a sudden rush, and for this purpose also collected many enemy grenades. At this stage he was wounded in the leg, but nevertheless he was able to out-throw the enemy, and then seizing his opportunity, and in spite of his wound, he led a rush, captured the position and killed the occupants. Throughout the day he continued to lead the men in bombing attacks. On the following day he again displayed courage of he highest order, and though again wounded and unable to throw bombs, he continued to lead his men. His magnificent example and valour, coupled with skilful handling of the situation, produced far-reaching results".
What followed were perhaps two of the proudest moments of Tom's life. First when he received his VC from King George V on the 2nd December 1916, and two day's later when he was invited to Salisbury to attend a civic reception. At this reception the Mayor of Salisbury James Macklin presented Tom with a Gold Hunter watch on behalf of the citizens of Salisbury. That watch can be seen here on display today.
Armistice day and Tom is frightened!
On Armistice Day, 11th November 1918 Tom found himself in Cambridge. During the rather wild celebrations waving a Union Jack he led a group of revellers until eventually he found himself in the market square. Spotting a flagpole in the square Tom, rather foolishly, started to climb. Half way up he began to regret his impulsiveness; three quarters of the way up he was close to blind panic, admitting that he was far more frightened climbing this flagpole than he had ever been when winning the VC in the trenches. Should a holder of the VC flunk it or should he continue to the top of this swaying pole? Fear of humiliation finally won the day and as he fixed his flag to the top of the pole and slid back down, in his own words, he was never more thankful than when his feet finally touched the ground.
After World War 1
For a few years Tom remained in the army. serving for a time in Ireland before transferring to the Army Education Corps on its foundation in 1920. Two years later in 1922 Tom helped unveil Salisbury's War Memorial outside the Guildhall.
In 1923 Tom retired from the army having reached the rank of Captain. He did not immediately return to teaching, but with his gratuity, joined with a partner investing in a Travelling Cinema. With cinema in its infancy it should have proved a good investment. Unfortunately Tom awoke one morning to find his cinema, his partner and his money all gone never to be seen or heard of again. After this set back he returned to teaching and gained a post at Sandy in Bedfordshire; whilst there he became the first Chairman of the Sandy branch of the Royal British Legion.
After three years in 1926. Tom successfully applied for the Headmastership of Blackmoor C of E School in Hampshire. It was here that he and wife Ivy (always known as Ve) raised their four children Josephine, Stephanie, Roger and Clive.
Five years after arriving in Blackmoor in 1931 Tom was involved in possibly what might be considered the most foolish action of his life. At that time the main school classroom was heated by a large anthracite stove with an iron pipe chimney going up and through the roof. One morning one of the pupils approached Tom and told him he could hear a peculiar noise coming from the roof. A ladder was obtained and Tom climbed up to the school roof. Once there he decided to remove a couple of tiles to find out what was happening.. The noise was in fact smouldering roof timbers caused by the overheating of the iron pipe. Tom's action lifting a couple of tiles allowed in a draft of air and almost immediately the roof was ablaze, after which the entire school was left without a roof.
World War II
Tom's life in this peaceful village was sadly interrupted by the outbreak of World War II and in 1939 Tom was recalled into the army two weeks before war began. This time to serve in Movement Control in Avonmouth, Glasgow, Dover and Tilbury. Tom ended the war having risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before resuming his life as Headmaster of Blackmoor School in Hampshire.
Tom was one of a number of VC holders invited to return to Thiepval in 1966 by the Ministry of Defence to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. And in 1971 he was one of 10 VCs who flew to Africa on a VC10 where they met President Kenyatta and enjoyed a 10 day safari trip around Kenya and Uganda.
Tom always regarded himself as a schoolmaster first and a soldier second. A very modest man, when asked about his VC he often made the point that others had suffered far more than he, and had nothing to show for their efforts, and thousands had died doing what he had done. He was always conscious of the terrible price that his comrades had paid in the battles of 1914 to 1918.
A keen gardener and cricketer, Tom kept wicket for his local cricket team until the age of 71. He died on May 28th 1975 aged 81, and is buried at St Mathews Churchyard, Blackmoor, Hampshire.
Commemorative Victoria Cross Paving Stone
A paving stone to commemorate the award of Lt Col Tom Adlam's Victoria Cross (VC) medal for gallantry was unveiled in Salisbury on Tuesday 27 September.
As part of a nationwide programme, VC commemorative stones have been laid at 469 towns and cities in honour of those who were awarded the prestigious medal. The paving stones are made of York stone Scoutmoor, a very hard-wearing British stone that is quarried near Ramsbottom. Each stone will include the name of the individual, the rank and regiment of the individual (at the time the VC was awarded) and the date of the action for which the VC was awarded.
The commemorative stone was unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire and Clive Adlam (son of Lt Col Tom Adlam VC) during an event led by the Mayor of Salisbury Cllr Derek Brown OBE. The unveiling took place at the War Memorial in the Guildhall Square, Salisbury at around 11am on Tuesday 27 September.