A story all Wiganers should know

Wigan-born amateur historian Terry Atherton, who now lives in Vancouver in Canada
Wigan-born amateur historian Terry Atherton, who now lives in Vancouver in Canada

A Wigan-born history enthusiast will return to his hometown to commemorate 100 years since a hero soldier was awarded the country’s highest military honour.

Terry Atherton, who now lives in Vancouver in Canada, has ambitious plans to mark the centenary of Thomas Woodcock being awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during World War One.

Thomas Woodcock who received the VC in WW1

Thomas Woodcock who received the VC in WW1

Mr Atherton will travel to Belgium and France to see the places where he fought, including the site of his act of bravery which earned him the VC, and where he is now buried.

He will also team up with Mr Woodcock’s surviving relatives to write the story of the hero’s life and also hopes to organise a large-scale commemoration week in September.

Mr Atherton, 72, said: “I’m going to trace his footsteps and that will give me a comprehensive story of what happened to him. I’m also going to record everything.

“I’ve been researching him all year and I think this is the right thing to do. I’ve been waiting to do this tribute to my hometown hero for a long time.

“I’ve known about Thomas Woodcock’s story since I was young but if I asked today’s Wiganers who he is, about 80 per cent would probably have never heard of him and the other 20 per cent would probably ask what position he played.

“I hope this is a story that will make Wigan proud of our forgotten hero.”

Mr Atherton is particularly keen to meet Mr Woodcock’s granddaughter Veronica Ashton to gain more details of the soldier’s family and personal life.

He has already done a large amount of research on his war exploits, including pinpointing to within a few yards where he was awarded the VC and where he died, while his cousin has already visited Wellington Barracks to study original World War One diaries.

Born in 1888, Mr Woodcock was brought up in Scholes and joined the Irish Guards in 1915 after volunteering to fight, carrying out his act of heroism which earned him military fame at Broenbeek in 1917.

He returned home in March 1918, shortly before being killed in action, and Mr Atherton says this is one episode he is particularly keen to find out more about.

He said: “He had two weeks of leave in Wigan, and apparently huge crowds lined the streets to see him. This is one thing I want to look into while I’m here.”

Mr Atherton has been keen on history all his life and has maintained an interest in the military past since he was young. Brought up in Norley Hall, he was an apprentice at Hough and Sons Boilermakers in Newtown and moved to Cross Street before uprooting his family to move to Canada in 1974, where he has lived ever since.