Monday, July 20, 2009

Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson

Thomas Wilkinson VC (1 August, 1898 - 14 February 1942) of Widnes was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealthforces.

He was 43 years old, and a temporary lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

A native of Widnes, Lancashire, Wilkinson was a Lieutenant (Temp.) in the Royal Naval Reserve, serving as captain of the 1000-ton patrol vessel HMS Li Wo, a former Yangtze River passenger steamer, in the days leading up to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. From his citation: “On 14th February, 1942, HMS Li Wo . . . was on passage [in the Malayan Straits, Java Sea] from Singapore to Batavia. Her company consisted of eighty-four officers and men, mainly survivors from HM ships and Army and Air Force units. Her armament was one 4-inch gun (with 13 practice shells) and two machine-guns. Since leaving Singapore she had beaten off four air attacks and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger being escorted by Japanese fleet units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. Lieutenant Wilkinson, with the unanimous backing of his mixed company, decided to engage the convoy and to fight to the last, inflicting what damage he could. He knew that his ship faced certain destruction. In the action that followed the machine-guns were used effectively, and a volunteer gun-crew fought the 4-inch gun to such purpose that they hit and set on fire a Japanese transport. After a little more than an hour, HMS Li Wo was critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson decided to ram the damaged transport. It is known that this ship burned throughout the night and was probably sunk. Having ordered his ship to be abandoned, Lieutenant Wilkinson himself went down with her. Lieutenant Wilkinson's valour was equaled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The Victoria cross is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition of the heroism and self-sacrifice displayed not only by himself but by all who fought and died with him.” Wilkinson’s name is listed on the Liverpool Naval Memorial; his V.C. medal is on display at the Imperial War Museum, London. (bio by: Paul F. Wilson)

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