Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Greatest Personal Sacrifice

Photographs (Top to bottom):

1. Pte Thomas Quinn: "To Mother, From Tom"

2. Pte Thomas Quinn, 4th R.W.K., SEAC
(Killed in Action 4 June 1945)

3. Pte Thomas Quinn, 4th R.W.K.
(Memorial in Rangoon War Cemetery)

(Family photographs of Pte Thomas Quinn)

Private Thomas Quinn, 4th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment made the greatest personal sacrifice in WW2: he gave his life while trying to rescue two of his comrades. He was 23 years old.

According to his Commanding Officer Private Thomas Quinn's great gallantry and self-sacrifice had been an inspiration to his platoon.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(a) Brief Biographical details

Thomas Quinn was born at Whitehaven, Cumberland (now Cumbria) on 5 January 1922. Thomas was the second son of Alexander Quinn and Mary Elizabeth Quinn (nee Pyle). During WW2 the Quinn family home was at 65 Cambridge Road, Rosebank, Hensingham, Whitehaven.

Thomas Quinn was baptised at St Begh's R.C. Church, Whitehaven. He received his education at Quay Street School (St Gregory's & St Patrick's) and St Begh's R.C. School, Coach Road, Whitehaven. Immediately prior to enlisting to the army, Thomas Quinn worked at a West Cumbrian Ordnance Factory, which is believed to have been Drigg R.O.F.

Thomas Quinn was killed in action in Burma (now Myanmar) on 4 June 1945. His final resting place is at Rangoon War Cemetery (Grave Ref. 1.G.8). At the time of writing this article, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission citation does not record his next of kin or his home town.

Nevertheless, Thomas Quinn is commemorated in his hometown of Whitehaven. His name is listed in the WW2 Borough of Whitehaven 'Book of Remembrance' and the WW2 War Memorial for St Begh's Parish.

(b) Thomas Quinn's WW2 service record
(1942 - 1945)
(Summarised from his service / pay book)

15 January 1942:
Posted to 8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment

18 May 1942:
Sent to Cleethorpes Training Centre (Lincolnshire)

26 August 1942:
Granted home leave to 4 September 1942
Allowed "SLRRA" = "Standard Local Rate Ration Allowance"
(i.e. the food ration allowance while on home leave).

5 September 1942:
Arrives back at Cleethorpes camp - a day late!
Time of arrival at camp recorded as 20:45 h

8 September 1942:
Fined a day's pay for late arrival at camp!

1 November 1942:
Transferred to Royal Fusiliers (R.F.).
Posted to 20th Battalion

14 January 1943:
Embarked UK bound for the Far East

19 March 1943:
Disembarked India
(Believed to have been the 'SS Mooltan'

1 December 1943:
Posted X (iv) A List, India

4 December 1943:
"S.O.S." & Transferred to Royal West Kent Regiment (R.W.K.R.)
"S.O.S." = "Struck off Strength of a unit".

19 December 1943:
Posted to 4th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment
[NB - Formed part of General Slim's "Forgotten Army" in Burma.
They repelled the Japanese at Kohima].

28 December 1944:
Evacuated sick (hospital?)

5 January 1945:
Re-posted to 4th Battalion R.W.K.R.
(Thomas Quinn's 23rd birthday)

15 January 1945:
(Unable to read) ... "Rate of Pay"

4 June 1945:
Killed in Action (Hansi, Burma).
A.L.F. Casualty List No 70
Casualty No: 2480
Length of service: 3 years, 141 days.

17 June 1945:
Completion of 1009/180/100 form

19 June 1945:
Family notified of 7 shillings pay award until 23 September 1945.

21 August 1945:
Details sent to Ministry of Pensions

Sunday, 31 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(c) "Invicta, the unconquered" in Burma

Kohima was one of the key battlegrounds in the Far East campaign. In command of the Royal West Kents at Kohima was Lieutenant Colonel John Laverty. Upon their arrival, and in the 'Churchillian' style, Lt Col. Laverty made it plain to his men they would hold their position to the last man and to the last round. There would be no surrender by "The Unconquered" (a reference to the QORWKR motto of: "Invicta, the unconquered").

Private Thomas Quinn was posted to "A Company" of the 4th Battalion of the Royal West Kents at Kohima, which at the time was commanded by Major Tommy Kenyon, an officer commended for his bravery in this battle. After much fierce fighting, the Japanese were repelled at Kohima in the summer of 1944, although this was not the end of the war in the Far East by any means.

The following is an extract from a letter written by Private Thomas Quinn to his father which he signed as 'Toc', one of the familiar names by which he was known:

"You're right, it's b****y murder out here... We had a rough time at Kohima as you may already know, but we had a good laugh when we got out after 16 days, at some of the things that happened there. It's always the same hell which you are in, but a good laugh afterwards.

I got a nasty shock one night when 4 Japs jumped into to my trench. There was another bloke in with me and we got the 4 of them and had to sit on them all night...."

The letter is dated 29 June 1944.

(d) Killed trying to help a comrade

In June 1945 although the war in Europe had ended, fierce fighting was still going on in Far East. Tom Quinn was one of those in the "Forgotten Army" still fighting a determined Japanese opposition. Private Tom Quinn made the greatest personal sacrifice, giving his life while trying to help a severely wounded comrade. By June 1945, "A Company" was commanded by Major P.E. "Dodo" Watts, M.C., Service No 138044, who had earlier commanded "C Company" at Kohima.

On 8 June 1945, Major Watts wrote the following letter to Private Quinn's mother expressing his sympathy at the family's loss and explaining the circumstances of her son's death:

Major P. Watts,
"A Coy",
4 R.W.K.R.,

8 June 1945

Dear Mrs Quinn,

I cannot lessen the bitterness of the news that your son has been killed in action. But I can give you fuller details of how he died than can be given the War Office Telegram that you have now received.

Your son was killed in some fierce fighting when the Japanese tried to break out from his encircled positions in Burma. During that attempt your son's platoon was repeatedly attacked and eventually the platoon commander gave the order to move to another position. It was during this move that your son performed an action of great gallantry and self-sacrifice.

He saw another man dragging a comrade out and, of his own initiative, covered them down the slope of the hill on which the position was. He then realised that one man was not enough to carry the wounded man and went to help. Even as he reached him, a grenade exploded in the midst of the party and killed them outright.

The act was a great inspiration to the rest of the platoon and though at first it will be a small consolation to you, you will later realise that there is no finer way to die than in helping others.

With my deepest sympathy,

P. Watts

Sunday, 31 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(e) "Always remembered"

Dates, facts and figures tend to be somewhat impersonal and unemotional. Yet, every casualty had kinfolk who would have been distraught at the receipt of the terrible news their loved one had been killed. For Thomas Quinn's family the news came at a time when the hope was that the war in the Far East was drawing to a conclusion and the expectation was that Thomas would soon be back home. Unfortunately, this expectation would remain unfulfilled.

Nevertheless, Thomas Quinn has always been remembered by his family and friends, particularly around the time of his death in June each year. The following family notices were placed in 'The Whitehaven News' by his family:

'In Memoriam' (Roll of Honour)

(i) Thursday 30 May 1946:

Quinn - Treasured memories of Pte Thomas Quinn, who was killed in Burma, June 4th 1945.

June comes round with deep regret,
A month, dear Thomas, we will never forget;
Some may forget you now you are gone,
But we will remember him, no matter how long.

St Theresa pray for him.

Always remembered by Mam, Dad, Brothers and Sisters, 65 Cambridge Road, Rose Bank, Hensingham.

(ii) Thursday 2 June 1955:

Quinn - In treasured memories of my dear son, Thomas, killed in Burma, June 4 1945, aged 23 years.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,
In Whom we trust and pray,
Grant the soul of my dear son
Eternal Rest.

From his loving Mother and all at 71 Cambridge Road, Hensingham.

(iii) Thursday 31 May 1956:

Quinn - In loving memory of my dear son, Thomas, killed in Burma, June 4 1945.

They say time heals all sorrow
And helps you to forget;
But time so far has proved
How much I miss him yet.

Always remembered by his loving Mother and all at 71 Cambridge Road.

Sunday, 31 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(f) Other QORWKR casualties at Rangoon War Cemetery

The Rangoon War Memorial lists 80 casualties from the 4th Battalion Q.O.R.W.K.R. who died at this phase of the fighting in Burma, mainly in the area in and around Rangoon (now Yangon). Additionally, there are 14 Q.O.R.W.K.R. identified casualties buried in Rangoon War Cemetery. There is also one officer from the of the East Surrey Regiment who was attached to the West Kents buried in the cemetery.

Of the 14 identified Royal West Kent casualties buried in the cemetery, 8 of them (including Thomas Quinn) died on the same day and are buried in the same row (Plot 1, Row G). One can therefore assume that the two comrades Thomas Quinn gave his life trying to help are among those buried on this row.

These are the identified 4th Royal West Kent Regiment soldiers buried in Plot 1 Row G of Rangoon War Cemetery:

Rangoon War Cemetery, Burma (Myanmar)
Location: Plot 1, Row G
Regiment: Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment
Battalion: 4th Battalion
Date of death: All those listed here died on 4 June 1945

(i) Grave Ref: 1.G.4
Private Alfred Denis EAMES
Service No: 14742814
Age: 19
(Next of kin details not listed by the CWGC)

(ii) Grave Ref: 1.G.5
Private James William DENHOLM
Service No: 6410866
Age: 21
Next of Kin: Son of James and Elsie May Denholm, of Bishopstone, Sussex.

(iii) Grave Ref: 1.G.7
Private Ronald JEAL
Service No: 14337805
Age: 21
Next of kin: Son of Henry and Mary Jane Teal, of Croydon, Surrey.

(iv) Grave Ref: 1.G.8
Private Thomas QUINN
Service No: 5126811
Age: 23
Next of Kin: Son of Alexander and Mary Elizabeth Quinn, of Whitehaven, Cumberland.
(Next of kin details not listed by the CWGC)

(v) Grave Ref: 1.G. 9
Lance Corporal Delville WILLIAMS
Service No: 5572698
Age: 28
Next of Kin: Son of Francis and Sarah Williams, of Pontypridd, Glamorgan.
Husband of Evelyn Doreen Williams, of Pontypridd.

(vi) Grave Ref: 1.G.10
Private Ronald THOMAS
Service No: 5126710
Age: 22
(Next of kin details not listed by the CWGC)

(vii) Grave 1.G.11
Private Dennis William HOUGHTON
Service No: 14681052
Age: 19
Next of Kin: Son of Frederick John Houghton and Ivy Lilian Houghton, of Merry Oak, Southampton.

(viii) 1.G.12
Corporal Arthur DICKINS
Service No: 6474621
Age: 30
Next of Kin: Son of William John and Ellen Dickins.
Husband of Lucy Irene Dickins, of Isleworth, Middlesex.

(g) The Kohima epitaph

Since the war, one often hears the 'Kohima epitaph' read out at many memorial services throughout the world, remembering not just those who gave their lives at Kohima or in Burma, but for all who died in the war. The epitaph was originally suggested to remember war casualties by the English Classicist, John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 - 1958) during the First World War, in 1916.

The following epitaph is etched on the Kohima memorial. It is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on behalf of the 2nd Infantry Division.

"When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today

In Memory of
Commonwealth Forces
who served in Burma
1941 - 1945."

It is also the motto of the Burma Star Association.

On 14 June 1945 there was a 'Victory Parade' in Rangoon to celebrate the recapture of the city from the Japanese. The following day, 15 June 1945 saw the end of the 'mopping up' of Japanese forces in the Shan mountains. In another two short months, on 15 August 1945 Japan surrendered and all hostilities ceased. The formal Japanese surrender took place on 2 September 1945.

The war in the Far East was over. It had been a hard won victory. Those who had given their lives would never return home. Those who did return would never forget. The family and friends of those who never returned would not forget either.

Sunday, 31 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(h) Acknowledgements & further reading

(i) Acknowledgements

Alyson Richardson
(Great niece of Thomas Quinn)

'The Whitehaven News'

Cumbria County Archives & Library Service, Whitehaven

(ii) Further reading

Burma Star Association website:
Burma Star Association

History of the QORWKR:
Chaplin, H.D., Lt-Col., (2006),
"Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment 1920-1950",
Naval & Miltary Press.
ISBN: 9781845741501

A book about Kohima and the aftermath in Burma:

Edwards, Leslie (2009), "Kohima: The Furthest Battle",
The History Press.
ISBN: 978-1862274884.

Background reading of personal stories from the BBC "People's War 'Archive' about Burma:
BBC People's War Burma Archive

Sunday, 31 July, 2011  
Blogger aly123 said...

My thanks go to the author of this article for ensuring that Thomas and his comrades in Burma are not forgotten.
Thomas' family expected his return home, safe in the knowledge that Germany had surrendered and the war in Asia was all but over. This only served to compound the devastating news of his death on 4th June 1945. My mother, only a small child at the time, vividly recalls the day the news arrived from Hensingham, informing her mother that Thomas had been killed ...... she was heartbroken.
Although it is now 66years ago, Thomas' life is still remembered and has faithfully been passed down through the families generations, so never to be forgotten.
Alyson Richardson

Tuesday, 02 August, 2011  
Anonymous Linda Robinson said...

Thomas was my Dad's Uncle, my Nana Frances's brother. I was so proud to hear of his endevours during the war, we have a copy of the letter sent by his commanding officer concering the details of his death and everytime I read it it makes me cry. To think that a relation of mine showed so much bravery and selflesness, well what can I say. We live in Blackpool now and my Dad often speaks of the family up in Cumbria and it would be lovely to one day journey to where My Great Uncle's grave is and pay my personal respects to a great man. Thank you for making this information available to us it was very interesting and much appreciated, it will be passed on to my children and then hopefully my great grandchildren so his sacrifice will never be forgotten. Linda Robinson

Wednesday, 13 June, 2012  
Anonymous Linda Robinson said...

Thomas Quinn was my Great Uncle my Dad's (Jimmy Robinson)Uncle and my Nana's (Frances Robinson Nee Quinn)brother. My Dad has told me about Thomas but your article provided some unknown information, so thankyou for all your efforts it is much appreciated. We have a copy of the letter sent by his commanding officer to his Mum (my Great Grandma Mae Lizzy Quinn) and it has pride of place on the wall in my home. I am very proud of the sacrifice he made and everytime I read the letter it makes me cry. One day it would be nice to visit his grave in Burma to pay my personal respects to him. His story will be passed on to my children and hopefully future generations will remember this brave man. Linda Robinson

Wednesday, 13 June, 2012  

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