British Convict Wins Praise in War

Westbrook Pegler

Evening Missourian/September 19, 1916

One-Time Burglar Enlists Under Assumed Name and Pays with Life


Disciplined for Roughness Then Commended–He Dies a Hero


(United Press Staff Correspondent)

LONDON, Sept. 19. (By Mail) An ex-convict, veteran inmate of British prisons, today is mourned by his regiment and Scotland Yard alike as one of England’s war heroes. With a list of convictions behind his name he lied his way into the army, won the Victoria Cross and finally made the great atonement during the Big Push. The story was told here today.

As a tribute to the burglar-hero the War Office is shielding his name, but Scotland Yard remembers him of old. His bunkies in France recall him as a hollow cheeked man, slightly stooped, who took life and death as lightly as he did the prison sentences imposed from time to time by glowering judges. He had no relatives; his only friends, who took part in his forays against the law, are still in the game of cracking safes and evading arrest. Therefore his medal will become one of the treasurer of a crack regiment of fighters.

Goes Direct to Front From Prison

The dead Tommy had just been released from prison when the war broke out.

“Shaving water at nine,” he said with a grin as the turnkey slammed the door behind him the night before his release. “I’m leaving early for the front.”

“You’ll be back again in a month,” growled the case-hardened warden as he switched off the lights in the tier.

But the convict shed his name and police record with the prison greys and eased by a lax recruiting officer.

In a few months he was ankle deep in the icy slush of the trenches, sniping through a loophole and running-in with his officers for taking rash chances. He was used to taking chances and couldn’t see why they didn’t go over the parapet and mix it with the Germans.

He Kills an Entire Gun Crew

At last his opportunity came. The battalion went over with a howl and the burglar-Tommy yelled with glee as he ran firing his rifle from the hip. In the excitement of the fight he became separated from the battalion. A few yards away a German machine gun crew in a pit was pouring death into the charging ranks. Tommy ran to the brink of the pit and killed the crew.

When the lines were re-formed he was first disciplined for disobeying orders—he shouldn’t have gone astray—and then commended for his daring. Tommy merely smiled. Shortly later, he received the Victoria Cross and a furlough. The London police shook hands with him and bought him cigarettes.

Even a Detective Commends Him

Tommy went back to France and went over the parapets again in the Big Push. A big shell killed him.

“He was a real enthusiast,” said a detective who used to round up the dead hero in the old days. “He never went after a little job when we had dealings with him and he played the game to a finish in war.”

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