Visitors to Salisbury Guildhall and War Memorial may be interested to read more about the Salisbury man who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in World War I. Here we have abridged information from the The Bedford Regiment and VC Online.
Tom Edwin Adlam (1893-1975) was born at Waterloo Gardens, Salisbury, Wiltshire on 21st October 1893. His father, John, was a wheelwright, and his mother was Evangeline, a tailoress. They married in 1882 in Alderbury. Tom had five siblings – born between 1882 - 1900.
Tom was educated at St Martin’s Infants School, Bishop Wordsworth’s School and the Pupil Teachers Centre, all in Salisbury. He then attended Winchester Training College from 1912-14. He was a keen sportsman and regularly turned out for Salisbury City FC with his brother Edward in the Southern League Second Division 1906-11. He became a teacher at Brook Street Council School, Basingstoke.
Tom enlisted in the 4th Hampshire Territorial Force in September 1912 and served with 2/4th Hampshire early in the Great War, serving in India from December 1914, returning to Britain late in 1915. He was commissioned into the Bedfordshire Regiment on 16th November, joining the regiment at Sittingbourne, Kent, where he was trained as a Bombing Officer due to his unusual talent of being able to throw Mills bombs '40 yards' with both arms, which he put down to years spent playing cricket.
On 21st June 1916, Tom married Ivy Annette, at St Mark’s Church, South Farnborough, Hampshire. The couple went on to have four children – born between 1918 - 1929. Tom was posted to 7th Battalion, joining C Company at Maricourt, France on 18th July 1916.
His mother died in July 1916 while he was on the front, but as the burial and service would have been finished by the time he returned to England, he chose to remain with his platoon. This decision would ensure he was with the battalion while they stormed Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt, otherwise he would not have been with them during the action that saw him win the Victoria Cross.
The 7th battalion had served with distinction on the Western Front, suffering heavy losses since the opening day of the battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916. They had been in the front assaulting waves on that notorious day, which saw them storm and hold the German positions on the southern edges of the battlefield. Not only had they been one of the few British battalions to successfully get into the German trenches, but they had taken the front three lines of enemy trenches as well as the heavily fortified and stubborn Pommiers Redoubt that bristled with machine guns.
Two weeks later they were again mauled during the assault on the deadly Trones Wood, after which battle a further draft of reinforcements saw the new Second Lieutenant Tom Adlam join them in the field on the 18th July 1916.
He was posted to C Company and, other than two weeks in August spent in the front lines opposite Lille, spent the period leading up to the storming of Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt in reserve positions. Here the battalion initially rested after their ordeal on the Somme, then started training for their involvement in the Somme battles that September.
The trailer for They Shall Not Grow Old - Tom's voice is the last one you hear on the video
Tom joined what he called a 'very happy platoon' and remarked how he was never bitten by a bug during his time on the Western Front, although his impression of it all was that it could be 'bloody awful at times'.
On 27th September 1916 at Thiepval, France, a portion of a village which had defied capture had to be taken at all costs. During fierce fighting, Adlam sought the Company O.C. in another shell hole to debate what the best course of action was. He decided to 'have a go at getting in' to the German trenches, to which the O.C. solemnly shook his hand before departing, expecting to not see him again.
Having played a lot of cricket, Tom had a stronger than normal arm and was capable of throwing grenades further than most. The men fed him with bombs and he threw them from his shell hole until it was feasible to rush the surviving defenders. Moving in short bursts, his platoon made it into the German trench and, charging along the trench 'like a lot of mad things', they bombed the more stubborn German posts including a well defended machine gun position.
On arriving at a second machine gun post which was causing havoc among the attacking troops, Adlam had already run out of bombs but his platoon collected every German stick grenade they could lay their hands on. Stacking them up next to him, Adlam threw one after another in a continuous stream, silencing the post and allowing his platoon to clear it with their bayonets, before moving on to clear the entire section of trench in the process.
Adlam was wounded in his leg and his throwing arm during the phase that saw them pushing through the heavily defended trench but he simply reverted to using his other arm which was just as effective! He led his men from the front and they continually bombed their way deeper into the German first line positions, remarking how even the gentlest and calmest men in his platoon lost both personal control and all shreds of mercy whilst in the heat of a battle like the one they were embroiled in. When the C.O. arrived in Adlam's section he insisted Tom retired due to his wounds, so he retired, escorting a dozen POW's to the rear when he went back.
Second Lieutenant Adlam's Victoria Cross was gazetted in the London Gazette on the 25th November 1916. He was recovering in Colchester when news of his VC reached him. No one had mentioned him even being proposed for a medal but he returned to the Orderley Room from a night out only to find himself swamped with telegrams. Calling his father to ask what everyone was congratulating him for and why newspaper people wanted to get his photograph, his father was the one to give him the news!
The VC was presented to Tom by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 2nd December 1916. On 16th December he was presented with a gold watch by the Mayor of Salisbury, on behalf of the people of the city. He was also awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Military Valour on 26th May 1917.
Tom was not fit to return to active duty and became an instructor at No 2 Officer Cadet Battalion, Cambridge. He was appointed Temporary Lieutenant on 19th April 1917 and became Lieutenant on 1st July. He was transferred into the newly formed Royal Air Force and ready for embarkation to Singapore when news of the Armistice came. Being stationed in Cambridge, he joined the celebrations and, getting carried away, climbed the flagpole in the main market square. In his interview he revealed he was more terrified then than at any stage of his assault against the Redoubt but could not climb down and lose face!
He returned to the military though, being commissioned as Lieutenant in the Army Educational Corps on 11th December 1920, and served in Ireland during the Troubles.
He was confirmed as Lieutenant in December 1921 and in February 1922 he unveiled the war memorial outside Salisbury Guildhall. The service was conducted by the Reverend WRF Addison VC.
Tom transferred to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers on 20th February 1923 as a Captain. Tom was then employed as an Assistant Master at Sandy Church of England School in Bedfordshire and was the first Chairman of the Sandy British Legion 1922-1926. While there he was a Scoutmaster and a member of Biggleswade Football Club. In 1926, he became Headmaster of Blackmoor Church of England School, Liss, Hampshire.
On 24th August 1939 Tom was recalled as Captain and served with the Royal Engineers as a Staff Captain with the Movement Control Section at Avonmouth Docks. In February 1940 he was appointed Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General at Glasgow until August 1943. He later was Commandant at Dover, Kent and Tilbury, Essex from 1943-1946, including involvement in the Normandy invasion.
He returned to Blackmoor Church of England School after the war, and remained in post until 1952, when it closed and he retired. He bought the school and converted it into a family home. He became Clerk to Whitehill Parish Council and Secretary of the Blackmoor Flower Show Club. Tom attended every VC/GC Reunion between 1920 and 1974.
In 1933 he led the Remembrance Day Parade at the Cenotaph with Christopher Cox VC, also formerly of 7th Bedfordshire. In July 1966, he was one of 12 VCs invited to take part in the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. On 6th April 1970, he was one of the “10 VCs on a VC10” inaugural flight from London to Nairobi.
Tom died whilst on holiday at Hayling Island, Hampshire on 28th May 1975 and was buried with his wife in St Matthew’s Churchyard, Blackmoor, Liss, Hampshire.
In addition to his VC, he had been awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the Italian Silver Medal for Military Valour.
On 27th September 2003 the medals were presented to Salisbury Guildhall by his grandson, Sergeant Martin Adlam RAF, on loan from the family. You can see them on display in the Crown Court when you visit.
You can listen to audio recordings of TE Adlam being interviewed about his life and experiences on the Imperial War Museum website >>