On the drive home from Scarborough one Sunday evening I got onto the A59 to get down to Ilkley. I’d seen a place called Blubberhouses on the map and just wanted to see if it existed (it does.) What a brill name - so brill I'm changing my name. In future call me Fairfax Blubberhouses. I made my way down to Ilkley Cemetery to look for Thomas Maufe who was born here in 1898 and was lowered into the soil aged 43 after an accident.
It was a large cemetery with only one field remaining for Ilkley’s dead and I searched for the headstone for about forty minutes. I had a photo of a grimy headstone and dismissed bright white ones. I was tired and hungry and wanted to head home for a late tea and watch The Durrells at 8pm. I had one last look and found the headstone - now bright white after a cleanup. It was partly hidden behind a tree that probably wasn't so big when Thomas was buried here in 1942.
He was born locally and the family name was Muff. His dad - Frederic Muff - was a draper but ambition would later propel him to become Chairman of Bradford’s leading department store called Brown Muff & Co Ltd (quite posh and known as “the Harrods of the North”.) Thomas had four siblings and was about 20 when the family name was changed by deed-poll to Maufe.
The family was wealthy enough to send Thomas away to be schooled. He attended the posh Uppingham School in Rutland and went from there to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich to become a soldier fit to fight. Aged 18 he was ready. Only days after one of this brothers was killed in the First World War Thomas was on a ship to France to join the war effort.
On Monday 4th June 1917 the 19-year-old was fighting in Feuchy (east of Arras). As with most trench warfare his battalion was under intense artillery. Thomas - now a second lieutenant - found that the telephone line between the front and back positions didn't work. This meant coordinated strategic attacks couldn’t happen (uncontrolled attacks usually caused more deaths.) Alone he ventured out of the trenches and, under heavy gunfire, repaired the telephone wire. How long this took is unknown. With communications working coordinated attacks could go ahead probably resulting in far less fatalities. Strangely not one bullet touched Thomas as he carried out repairs (soldiers were told not to watch out for bombs but for snipers.) Later he extinguished a fire that broke out in an advanced ammunition dump and prevented a heavy explosion. Gas shells could have exploded at any moment but again Thomas survived against the odds.
Thankfully the efforts of this teenager were witnessed and later King George pinned a medal on the chest of one of the youngest Victoria Cross recipients. Back at home in Ilkley Thomas was presented with a silver casket by the townsfolk and later promoted to Captain.
After the war he studied civil engineering at Cambridge University and went to worked at industrial mines at Gravesend and Cornwall. Aged 34 he married at St Margaret’s Church in Ilkley exactly fifteen years since the anniversary of his VC action and a boy and a girl arrived later. He joined the family business as a director of Brown Muff & Co Ltd of Bradford. As World War Two erupted he tried to rejoin the army but had been diagnosed with diabetes and was rejected. Wanting to help he served as a Private in the West Riding (Otley) Battalion Home Guard.
Sadly the deadly dice of destiny rolled against him and he was killed prematurely. After surviving the steam and smoke of trench warfare he died in a simple army accident. He was involved in a training exercise at Manor Farm on Blubberhouses Moor (which I’d passed that day) when a mortar bomb exploded while stuck in the tube. Another soldier was killed and another seriously injured. The VC is still owned by the Maufe family and I’m sure they visit this grave.
There wasn't a wreath under the headstone. I left one of my weatherproof leaflets over the brave bones in the hope that someone reads about the heart of the man that dwelled within them. I did a hearty salute and left.