Thomas Adlam, a Salisbury Hero

on Monday, 19 September 2016. Posted in Archives, Military, Wiltshire People

In the past I carried out some research on behalf of Salisbury City Council into Thomas Edwin Adlam, a native of Salisbury, who won the Victoria Cross in 1916. In the course of my research I uncovered a fascinating story, which I thought I would share with you, although I am sure there is a lot more still to be learned, in family papers not yet deposited at the History Centre.

Tom (as he preferred to be known) was born at 14, Waterloo Gardens in Salisbury, on 21 October 1893 to a coach-builder, John Adlam, and his wife, Evangeline. Tom began his education at St Martin’s school, Salisbury, then gained a scholarship to Bishop’s Wordsworth’s School, for which we hold the school admission register showing his admittance on 12 September 1906:  

WSA ref F8/700/19/1/10/5

Tom was training to be a teacher when he joined the Territorial Force (precursor to the T.A.) in September 1912, and had only spent one month as assistant master at a Basingstoke School when war broke out, and he was mobilised. Originally stationed in India, he applied for a commission and became Second Lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regiment in November 1915. At school he had excelled at sport, including cricket, which benefitted him in the war owing to his ability to throw bombs further than many of his peers! On 21st June he got married to Ivy Mace, a month before he arrived at the Western Front on 18 July 1916, having, fortuitously, missed the 1st Battle of the Somme on 1st July in which his battalion received heavy casualties. He received his VC for his part in the assault on the Schwaben Redoubt at Thiepval, at the end of September 1916. This well-guarded defensive position had been held by German forces for several months, and they did not give it up without a fierce and bloody fight.

The full details of Adlam’s part in the assault are to be found in the regimental history of the Bedfordshire Regiment (see but his role can be summed up in the London Gazette entry for 25 November 1916:   

“Second Lieutenant 7th Bn, Bedfordshire Regiment. For most conspicuous bravery. A portion of a village which had defied capture had to be taken at all costs, to permit subsequent operations to develop. This minor operation came under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. Second Lieutenant Adlam, realising that time was all-important, rushed from shell-hole to shell-hole under heavy fire, collecting men for a sudden rush, and for this purpose also collected many enemy grenades. At this stage he was wounded in the leg, but nevertheless he was able to out-throw the enemy, and then seizing his opportunity, and in spite of his wound, he led a rush, captured the position and killed the occupants”

Adlam received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Salisbury – the Salisbury and Winchester Journal for 2 Dec 1916 recorded:

“He will arrive at Salisbury on Monday by the mid-day train … and will be met at the Railway Station by the Mayor … and Town Clerk… by whom he will be accompanied to the Council Chamber, where the members of the Corporation will assemble and a public welcome given. It is proposed to make a presentation to Lieutenant Adlam. Citizens wishing to subscribe are invited to send contributions to the Mayor at the Council Chamber.”

This event is also recorded in the Council minutes for January 1917, held at WSHC:  

Later on in the same article the newspaper records that: “On Monday Morning Mr Bracher (head teacher) announced to the assembled school the honour gained by Lieutenant Adlam, of whose career he spoke, urging the boys to follow his example and in celebration gave the school a half day holiday. It is proposed that a testimonial from the boys and Old Wordsworthians shall be presented to Lieutenant Adlam…”

The Imperial War Museum in London has a series of very interesting interviews with Adlam, which are available on-line:

Following this it is believed Tom Adlam went into the Royal Air Force, but did not take part in active service until the Second World War, in which he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He became headmaster of a school at Blackmoor in Hampshire where he and Ivy raised their four children. His VC and the gold watch presented to him on his return from France are now on display at Salisbury Guildhall. It is fitting that, in the commemorations of the First World War taking place until 2018, the city and county of his birth should remember him and his amazing courage.

Claire Skinner, Principal Archivist


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