Here I at Solihull Crematorium to look for the grave of Thomas Turrall. After twenty minutes of fruitless searching around I was back at square one. A visiting chap with trousers too short for him (and who added “sir” onto every sentence) had told me where he thought the grave was. I should have trusted my instincts and ignored him but he seemed well-acquainted with the place. So far not one person who has said to me, "The grave is over there," has been right.
Thomas was born nearby in Yardley into a fairly poor family. His mum died when he was ten and his dad went through a series of manual jobs. His dad remarried and Thomas gained three step-sisters. When he left school he became a decorator. In his spare time he rode for the Smethwick Crescent Wheelers cycling club. Aged 28 he married Mary Lilian and they had a daughter (who died aged 28 - reason unknown.)
As World War One erupted the 29-year-old joined the army two days before the end of 1914 and the next year was sent to France. On Monday 3rd July 1916 he was fighting in La Boiselle south of Arras. He was part of a Battalion troop making a bombing attack which involved lots of hand-to-hand fighting. The officer in charge was Lieutenant Jennings but his leg was suddenly shattered and he dropped to the soil somewhere in No Man's Land. Soon their Battalion considered the firepower against them to be too fierce and retreated. Thomas wouldn’t leave Jennings though and dragged him into a shell hole. He bandaged Jennings's leg using his leg protectors and made a splint. At some point they were bombed from Germans behind them but Thomas shot two of them dead through a gap in a hedge.
They remained in the shell hole for three hours, sprayed with bullets and bombs and expecting to die at any moment - especially when their Battalion retreated even further. At some point they were cut off from being helped and the Germans advanced and reached the shell hole itself. Thomas saw that Jennings had fainted or was unconscious and he pretended to be dead. He remained floppy, could feel bayonets being pressing into his uniform and expected to receive a bullet to ensure he was dead at any second. Thankfully the Germans move away. Later the allied forces counter-attacked and drove the Germans backwards. Thomas was able to carry Jennings to safety under darkness. Sadly two hours later Jennings died while being operated on but he had told the medics about Thomas's bravery.
Thomas was presented with a Victoria Cross medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 9th September 1916. Returning home to Small Heath he was given a hero’s welcome by the mayor and townsfolk. He was given a £250 and a gold watch. After the war he worked as a barman and later was a partner in a decorating business. He wife died and aged 35 he married widow Daisy May Dennis. He died at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham on in February 1964 aged 78.
There was nothing near the grave to tell the onlooker that a noteworthy fellow was buried here. Sometimes there's a weatherproof A4 board summarising the occupant's feats but there was nothing here. I left one of my waterproof leaflets on the grave hoping one person would see it, go home and look up this fearless hero. I touched the "VC", saluted and left the cemetery. I'm glad I visited.
At the entrance to Solihull Crematorium...