Convict Lied Way to Trenches and Died

Westbrook Pegler

The Capitol Journal (Salem, OR)/September 23, 1916

Story of a Confirmed Criminal Who Turned Out a Real Hero

London, Sept. 12. (By mail) An ex-convict, veteran inmate of the British prisons, today is mourned by his regiment and Scotland Yard alike as one of England’s war heroes. With a whole list of convictions behind nis 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 treasurers of a crack regiment of fighters.

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.

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 reformed 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 V.C. and a furlough. The London police shook hands with him and bought him cigarettes.

Tommy went back to France and went over the parapet again in the big push. A big shell killed him.

“He was a real enthusiast,” said a detective who used to round up the 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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