Turrall in later years proudly wearing his medals. The picture was taken in his living room, beh... ()Newspaper report on Turrall receiving his VC. His little girl was the object of much interest. ()The offical portrait. ()Gallaher

 

Thomas George Turrall was born at Speedwell Road. Hay Mills, Birmingham on 5thJuly 1886 (sometimes incorrectly given as 1885). Unusually his birth certificate gives no specific house number at all. His mother Ellen registered the birth on 20th August but was unable to sign her name, this was not uncommon but it also meant the Registrar had to do his best on how to spell the surname - he opted for "Turrill" with an "I".

Thomas's parents were William, a brick labourer from Coventry, and the afore-mentioned Ellen (nee Adams). William married Ellen in June 1882 and apart from Thomas they had two other children - William Junior and May.  A later address for William and Ellen was 1 Back of 63 Hawkes Street, they are said to have lived here after Thomas Turrall was born.

Following the death of Ellen Turrall, William remarried - this time to Louisa E. Slater - in May 1896. Louisa had herself already been married (her name then was Louisa Adkins) and she had several children of her own. To the children from the couple's first marriages were added their own - these being Violet, Rose and Lily, the latter two being twins.

By 1901 they are at 2 Back of 44 Baker Street  with their children: Frederick (16), Thomas (14), May (8), Rose (4), James (3) and Lillie (4 months).  Also present in the house were Louisa's children by her first marriage: William Adkins (15), John Adkins (13) and Charles Adkins (10). Father William Turrall eventually worked at B.S.A. in Small Heath as a labourer; he was working there during the First World War. The Turrall's subsequently moved to 23 Oakley Road in Small Heath.

Thomas attended Dixon Road School and on leaving became a painter and decorator. In1913 h e married Mary Lilian Mansell at Aston. A daughter, Lilian May, was born on 25th May 1914, also in Aston. The family of three moved to Wroxton Road in Yardley and Turrall found work working for the Council (said to be Worcestershire which might be possible as Yardley may well have been in Worcestershire at the time). Work proved to be short in the winter of 1914 and so Turrall joined up in December as a Private (number 20572) with the 10th battalion Worcestershire Regiment. After nine months of training the 10th left for France in the Summer of 1915. Joining Turrall in France was his younger brother James who was serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

 Shortly after arrival in France news reached Turrall that his wife was very ill. Turrall was given compassionate leave to return to be with her for a few days but the leave ran out and he had to return to France. About a fortnight after he had returned to the front Turrall received the news in December that Mary had died. She passed away at her mother's cottage opposite Yardley Church. She was just 26 and was buried at Yardley Cemetery on 28th December 1915. Urgent cables had been sent informing Turrall but he was unable to secure leave for the funeral. Little Lilian Turrell was cared for by her grandmother Mrs Mansell at first but at some point her care was transferred to Turrall's parents. This was probably when he returned on his next leave. Tom's great-nephew Kevin Olds recalls a family story that Tom's mother would not let him into the house when he was home on leave until he had stripped off all his clothing, for fear of bringing lice into the house. This presumably took place in the backyard and not at the front door! Turrall was a popular figure in the Worcesters and has been described as being "quite a character".

During the last few months of 1915 the 10th Battalion held trenches in the area to the north of Bethune. The 10th Worcesters were held in reserve for the ballet of Loos but never actually engaged the enemy. The following February the Germans opened an offensive against the French at Verdun.  In order to relieve pressure on the French defences it was decided that the British armies should mount a counter offensive. The area selected for the attack was the open country of Picardy, north of the River Somme. The force assembled for the task included the 19th Division, of which the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment were a part.  Turrall was at that time serving an unspecified period in the Guard House for some offence. It could not have been major and he was released to take part in the offensive; his abilities and prowess were widely recognised and the regiment were going to need men of his calibre for the attack.

Following eight days of continuous bombardment, the British mounted an infantry assault on July 1st. On the left flank the attack failed with heavy losses but the right flank experienced some degree of success. Fricourt and Montauban were captured and the german front lines were broken. In the centre of the attack fighting raged over the two fortified villages of Ovillers and La Boisselle.  The first attack on La Boisselle was made by  the 8th Division and failed with heavy losses. A renewed attack was made and the 19th Division was brought up from the reserve. The first attack proved that the German defences were strong. The machine guns had remained undamaged throughout the long bombardment and had annihilated the attacking 8th Division. To support the attack the 19th Division (including the 10th Worcesters) were brought up from reserve. To minimise the effect of the German machine guns it was decided that the second assault would be made at night and so, accordingly, the troops deployed on the night of 2nd/ 3rd July. The 57th Brigade, including the 10th Worcesters, formed up opposite the village with the companies lying down in the open ground waiting for the order to attack. It is said that Turrall was "on a charge" at this time but was released from custody on the request of Lieutenant Richard William Jennings, whose request was to prove extraordinary.

Turrall's "conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty" took place on 3rd July 1916 during this offensive.  Turrall's citation reads: "During a bombing attack by a small party against the enemy, the officer in charge was badly wounded and the party was compelled eventually to retire. Private Turrall remained with the wounded officer for three hours under continuous and heavy fire from machine-guns and bombs. Notwithstanding that, both he and the officer were at one time completely cut off from our troops, he held his ground with determination and finally carried the officer to our lines after a counter-attack had made this possible". This brief version of events does not do Turrall justice.  Events started when the strongly fortified village of La Boisselle, France was captured in a night attack, but with very heavy loss.

Under fire from shells from both German and British gunners the 10th Worcesters fought their way through the German defences. The village proved to be heavily fortified with warrens of dugouts and machine gun nests from which enemy counter attacks were launched. Fighting was soon reduced to hand to hand combat with bayonets and grenades - all still in darkness punctuated by light flashes from shells and gunfire. As the attack wore on Lieutenant Colonel George Arthur Royston-Piggott along with the Adjutant, Captain H.A. Gillum-Webb, and all the senior officers were all killed or wounded.  Control was impossible for the platoons and the men did the best they could.  By dawn on the 3rd most of the german defenders were killed or captured and the village secured. Parties of the Worcesters then advanced further out of the village bombing forward and capturing more prisoners. One of the parties was led by Lieutenant Richard William Jennings. Jennings had assembled a group of bombers from the men available and amongst them was Thomas Turrall. Turrall was apparently a powerfully built man and a noted character in the Battalion. He had also previously formed part of the "Battalion grenadier squad" which Jennings had commanded and thus the two men were already well acquainted. As the daylight grew stronger the party suddenly found itself hit by a hail of machine gun bullets from in front of them. Turrall had thrown himself flat at the first sound of the gunfire; on looking around he found himself the only one not to have been killed or wounded by the burst. In fact the only other living survivor was Jennings who lay nearby with a shattered leg. Turrall pulled him to a shell hole, bandaging his leg with one of his puttees, and using the helve of his entrenching tool as a splint.  As he worked they were bombed from behind a hedge by the Germans; Turrall shot two of them dead through a gap, and the others retired. Later in the day the Germans made an unsuccessful counter-attack on the village but a mass of German infantry advanced towards the shell hole the two men were lying in; the officer had fainted, so Turrall shammed dead successfully, enduring being prodded by German bayonets to see if he was dead! Throughout the rest of the day till nightfall Turrall tended to Jennings' injuries.

Once night had fallen Turrall slowly made his way back to the trenches, carrying Jennings on his back.  Lieutenant Jennings had his arms round Turrall's neck with his feet dragging on the ground. Progress was slow over the shattered earth and there was also a new bombardment of shells to be avoided too.  Turrall kept going until at last he reached the British lines to be greeted by a cry of "Halt! Hands Up!" Turall complied quickly but of course Jennings could not do so despite a further warning from the sentry. Just in time Turrall shouted they were  British and that he was carrying a wounded subaltern who was now unconscious. The sentry had been on the point of shooting him for not putting up his hands but the English voice was recognised and the rifles were lowered. Jennings died on an operating table in the field hospital barely two hours (some say 48 hours) later, but not before he had time to dictate an account of Turrall's action, which merited and received the Victoria Cross. Jennings lived at Kings Stanley Rectory, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire and one of the first things Turall did was to write to Jennings' mother giving an account of her son's last hours:

"I hope you will not think me taking a liberty writing to you in this manner but I feel it my duty to do so, as I was with him the whole time and I think you would like to hear the part we played. I must first of all congratulate you in possessing such a plucky son, for he led our company with unflinching pluck that we were not long in taking the enemy's front line.

I might say that when we reached it we came across a dugout held by the Huns. Here your son remarked: "Give me a bomb I will clear them out". He did so. From there we went on to the second line. This proved to be an easy thing for we did not find anyone there, so that made us more enterprising. We were not long before we were in the third line. This is, I am sorry to say, the starting of our hard times, for it was here he received his first wound; a rifle shot in the muscle of the left arm.

Nothing daunted him. He kept on until he received another wound, a bomb this time which caught him in the right thigh. I might say that it was from this time that we found ourselves practically cut off from the remainder of the battalion. It was here that a brother officer advised your son to seek medical aid, but he very pluckily refused, although had he chosen to act as advised I am afraid he could not have done so as we two were now completely cut off. It was advisable to get what cover we could. So we retired to a shell hole some distance in the rear. In doing so your son, I am sorry to say, received two more wounds, one in the right knee, and the other shattered his left leg a little below the knee. As we could get no further I did all I could for him, using my entrenching tool handle and bayonet scabbard as splints, and my puttees as bandages. It is hard to tell you that we were obliged to remain like this for something like three and a half to four hours before I at last carried him in.

How he bore his pain was surprising, for he continually chatted and smoked with me until I at last managed to get him to the dressing station. It was here that we parted, but not without him thanking me for the part I played. I am sure in the success of the Worcesters at (blanked by censor) your son played a very prominent part although badly handicapped by his wounds. Hoping this little but thrilling account will afford you some small consolation in your great loss and at the same time tending mine and all his comrades' sympathy".

Turrall's award of the Victoria Cross was gazetted on 9th September 1916.

On the 10th Turrall's parents were interviewed by the local press for background information. Mrs Turrall expressed sadness that on account of his only having had one leave:

"He has not seen the spot where his wife is at rest".

 

The press noted that his parents had received no account from him of his actions or award; instead he had  merely told them to expect good news of him and that he had met the King recently when he was in France. This visit by the King must have been between 3rd July and 9th September 1916.

 Probably his parents  first awareness of the award came with the official news. It traspired that Turrall had been called out of the ranks to meet the King when he had visited the trenches in France. The Birmingham Gazette reported on the 13th September that the Lord Mayor, Alderman Neville Chamberlain, had written to Turrall's parents congratulating them on their son's heroism. Chamberlain's letter stated that the citizens of Birmingham had read with deep feelings of pride of the gallant exploit of their fellow townsman. He further congratulated them on the bestowal of the V.C. which he pointed out, with justification, was seldom awarded even though acts of courage and heroism were a daily occurrence in the war. Chamberlain concluded with best wishes for continued health and a request that he let him know when he was next on leave. This of course would be so that a civic ceremony could be arranged.

A touching aspect of the award came in the wake of the newspaper coverage which, as was usually the case with V.C. awards, printed his home address.  Mrs Jennings sent Mrs Turrall a booolet she had had printed in memory of her son along with a letter saying in part that:

 

""Will you let me know when your brave son is in England? I will go anywhere in England to see him and give him some special thing in memory of Lieutenant Jennings. Your son must be a hero and so strong, for my son was over six feet".

King George V and Turrall met again  when Turrall finally  went to receive his VC in January 1917 at Buckingham Palace. He took his young daughter and his parents with him (see second left picture above). An official picture was taken of him with his VC and this can be seen in the third picture. In common with many other VC awardees he was commemorated on a cigarette card, part of a series produced by Gallahers (see above right picture). His home address now was with his parents at 23 Oakley Road in Small Heath.

Turrall returned to the front and fought on with the Worcesters until the armistice. He was finally demobilised in April 1919 and returned to Birmingham to resume his painting and decorating. Prior to his return it was announced on 24th February 1919 in the local Birmingham press that a committee had been formed in Small Heath for the purpose of making a presentation to Turrall in recognition of his achievements. It was mentioned that all of the Birmingham MPs and City Council members were to be asked to assist. Possibly the plan got changed or else Turrall was the benficiary of at least two schemes as a testimonial football match was played for Turrall at Birmingham City's St Andrews ground on 10th May 1919. The two teams playing were the Birmingham Colts and a representative team from the Birmingham Works F.A.  Turrall made an unusual public appearance on 9th June 1919 at Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham. The Birmingham Peace Pageant was on over serval days at the park, raising funds for the work of the St Dunstan's charity for blinded solidiers and sailors. A series of displays were organised and one of the most eagerly awaited was the recreation by Turrall of his VC winning actions. How this was managed is not stated but no doubt he got a tremendous reception.

After the loss of his first wife Turrall remarried, this time to Daisy May  Davis in the September Quarter of 1920 in Aston. He was a keen attender of military reunions. He was at the Afternoon Party at Buckingham Palace on the 26th June 1920 for Recipients of the Victoria Cross. His Majesty, George V, was accompanied by Queen Mary. Another occasion was the dinner for all the holders of the Victoria Cross on 9th November 1929 in the Royal Gallery at the House Of Lords. Guest of honour was the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII). Turrall was there, on table seven seat 196.  The Birmingham Gazette of 23rd September 1932 carried a picture of him painting some railings in what looks to be a churchyard. No other information was given with the picture other than to say he was a Birmingham VC from Hall Green.

Turrall met the Prince of Wales one more time when he paid a Royal Visit to Birmingham on 23rd October 1934. The purpose was for the Prince to lay the foundation stone of one of the buildings to be erected at the city's new Hospitals Centre. This he did on the morning of the visit and then, after a visit to the Art Gallery and lunch at The Council House, he inspected a Guard of Honour drawn up in Victoria Square. This Guard comprised of members of the British Legion and D.C.M. League, including four Midlands VC winners - Onions, Tandey, Vickers and Thomas Turrall. The Prince apparently took the time to speak to all four of these men. Sadly for Turrall his only child, Lilian, died on 12th July 1942. She had never married.

He was also at the end of World War II Victory Day Celebration Reception. This  was held at the Dorchester Hotel, London, for holders of the Victoria Cross on 8th June 1946  He was also in attendance for the VC Centenary Review held in Hyde Park on 26th June 1956 with HM Queen Elizabeth II as Guest of Honour. A drawing by Gilbert Holiday of Turrall defending the shell hole against the Germans was presented to the regiment and this was loaned out for the Centenary VC Exhibition  at Marlborough House in London. The exhibition ran from 15th June to 17th July 1956. Turrall was also one of the many holders of the VC who were on parade in Hyde Park on 26th June 1956 for the centenary of the Victoria Cross. Guest of honour was HM Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Queen Mother.

Turrall was always proud of his status as a VC and there is a story that he used to sign his cheques "Tom Turrall VC" with a flourish. His local branch was believed to be Lloyds Bank in Shirley, West Midlands.

HM Queen Elizabeth II gave an afternoon Garden Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on 17th July 1962 for holders of the VC and Turrall was in attendance Later in December of that year he sold his VC medal group to the Worcestershire Regiment for £500 to eke out his pension for himself and wife Daisy. The Worcestershire Regiments Association collected about £480 towards reimbursing the regiment for purchasing the medals. The group comprised of:

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 - 15 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal 
  • King George VI Coronation Medal
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 

In his final years he became a well-known and widely respected person in the Hall Green area where he lived at 44 Arcot Road. He kept up his appearances too at Regimental functions where he was always one of the main attractions due not only to his VC status but also due to his cheerful disposition and ready wit. He was at most Branch dinners in the Midlands area and also in London, accompanied usually by Daisy.  The top left picture above is of him in his living room at Arcot Road. He was always on parade whenever possible too. One of his final appearances was at the presentations of the Freedom of Entry to the County Borough of Dudley and Oldbury to the Regiment.

 He died suddenly aged 78 on 21st February 1964 in Selly Oak Hospital, Birningham. Although he was obviously ill it still came as a great surprise. Only two days before his death he had been visited by Lieutenant Colonel C.P. Vaughan and Lieutenant Colonel J.D. Ricketts from the Worcestershire Regiment Headquarters. The two men had found him to be in good humour and there seemed no reason to expect his untimely death. The funeral was held at Robin Hood Cemetery on 28th February. Alderman Ernest W. Horton, the Deputy Mayor of Birmingham, attended along with members of the Worcestershire Regiments Association and the Regiment itself. The Colonel of the Regiment was represented by Lt Colonel C.P. Vaughan and amongst the others in attendance were Brigadier C.P.G. Wills (representing the Chairman of The Worcestershire Regiments' Association), Lt Colonel J.D. Ricketts, Lt Colonel F.G. Parrott (representing the London Branch W.R.A.), Major G.D. Baker, Major R.H. Leslie Jones, Major R.G.A. Leman, Major S.G. Goodman, Captain Victor Jones (representing Coventry and South Midlands Branch W.R.A.), Mr E. Greenway (representing Birmingham Branch W.R.A.) and Mr W. Murray (representing Oldbury Branch W.R.A.) The Brigade Depot at Lichfield provided the eight pallbearers for the coffin, which was draped in a Union Flag. Two buglers played the "Reveille" and "Last Post".

His grave can be found in section A-4 North, grave 193.  Coming up the main drive towards the Chapel , A4 North lies halfway up on the right hand side. The headstone reads: "In honoured memory of T.G. Turrall  V.C., the Worcestershire Regiment,  5th July 1885 21st Feb 1964, erected by the regiment".

On 7th September 2006 the VC and GC Association carried an article on the maintenance of Turrall's grave. A local resident named Len Copsey had it seems taken it upon himself to look after the grave including cleaning the headstone. This he had done despite being 77 years old and slightly disabled. His motivation had been from admiration for a brave man, but he now sought help from the Association and Turrall's regiment. The Regiment duly obliged and sent out their Museum Attendant who continued the work started by Mr. Copsey.  The Regimental Secretary, Major Bob Prophet, promised they would continue to keep an eye on the grave as they felt there were no living relatives. Whether there are any or not is open to question. Turrall was survived by his wife Daisy.