Tom Dresser VC statue unveiled

The newest statue to a local Victoria Cross (VC) winner has been unveiled outside the Dorman Museum.  The statue was commissioned to mark 100 years since Private Tom Dresser was awarded a VC for his heroic actions in a battlefield in France, and was created by sculptor Brian Alabaster, who also created the amazing Stanley Hollis VC statue which stands opposite the Dorman Museum.

Tom Dresser was born in Yorkshire, around the beginning of the 1890s.  There are conflicting accounts of where, specifically, he was born, and in which year – it varies between 1891 and 1892.  According to the Beck Isle Museum in Pickering, which claims to have a copy of Dresser’s birth certificate, he was born near Easingwold on 9th April 1891, so hopefully this is a reliable record!

We do know that Tom was educated at Hugh Bell school here in Middlesbrough. He worked for Dorman Long, both before and after the war, before taking over his father’s newsagents, which stood at 65 Marton Road.  Many older residents of Middlesbrough still remember him, and the fact that he kept his VC in a tobacco tin behind the counter!

Tom Dresser’s VC was awarded for his actions on a battlefield near Roeux, France, on 12 May 1917, when he was aged just 24 years old and a Private with the 7th Yorkshire Howards Regiment.

His official VC citation gives more information:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Private Dresser, in spite of being twice wounded on the way, and suffering great pain, succeeded in conveying an important message from Battalion Headquarters to the front line of trenches, which he eventually reached in an exhausted condition. His fearlessness and determination to deliver this message at any cost, proved of the greatest value to his Battalion at a critical period.

Private Dresser was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 21st July 1917.

A fun fact for you: Tom Dresser VC is distantly related to Christopher Dresser, the visionary Victorian designer, to whom a fantastic (and extensive) gallery in the Dorman Museum is dedicated.

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On This Day.. Stan Hollis VC

It was 72 years ago to this day that Stan Hollis of Archibald Street, Middlesbrough became the only person awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry on D Day.

stan hollis 1On 6 June 1944 Company Sergeant-Major Hollis landed at Gold Beach on D Day, he went to investigate two German pill-boxes as the company moved inland from the beaches.

stan hollis tall“Hollis instantly rushed straight at the pillbox, firing his Sten gun into the first pill-box, He jumped on top of the pillbox, re-charged his magazine, threw a grenade in through the door and fired his Sten gun into it, killing two Germans and taking the remainder prisoners.”

“Later the same day C.S.M. Hollis pushed right forward to engage the [field] gun with a PIAT [anti-tank weapon] from a house at 50 yards range… He later found that two of his men had stayed behind in the house…In full view of, the enemy who were continually firing at him, he went forward alone… distract their attention from the other men. Under cover of his diversion, the two men were able to get back.

Wherever the fighting was heaviest… [he].. .appeared, displaying the utmost gallantry… It was largely through his heroism and resource that the Company’s objectives were gained and casualties were not heavier. ….he saved the lives of many of his men.”

You can read about Stan’s bravery as well as a potted history of his own life and that of his regiment the Green Howards at the magnificent monument unveiled last year outside the Dorman Museum and close to the cenotaph in Middlesbrough. There are also plaques to the other members of the historic North Yorkshire regiment whose bravery has been rewarded by this highest accolade; these names include another Middlesbrough man, Tom Dresser.

I would urge everyone to spend a few minutes by the memorial and have a read of the information.

I thank historian Ian Stubbs for bringing this historic date to my attention and spreading the word through facebook.

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D-Day Hero Stan Hollis VC Receives Special Hometown Award

The 70th anniversary of D Day has been marked by a special award to the family of a Teesside war hero who was the recipient of the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day.

The son and daughter of the late Stanley E Hollis VC were presented with a Teesside Heroes Award to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings when the Middlesbrough-born sergeant displayed heroic gallantry in the face of the enemy.

The award was presented to Brian Hollis and Pauline Armistead by Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation in memory of a man charity chairman Andy Preston described “a hero in the truest sense of the word”.

The Teesside Heroes Award includes £1,000 for a local good cause, which the family plan to donate towards an exhibition commemorating her father’s heroics at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum.

A fundraising campaign led by Teessider Brian Bage for a bronze memorial statue of Stan to be erected outside the museum has recently reached its £150,000 target.

Born on Archibald Street in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, Stan later lived in Robin Hood’s Bay before moving back to his hometown before the outbreak of World War II.

He won his VC on June 6, 1944, in two tremendously brave actions for which he was twice recommended for Britain’s highest military award.

First he single-handedly charged a hidden pill box with his Sten gun as his Green Howards comrades of the 6th Battalion spearheaded the invasion of Gold Beach to silence the key Mont Fleury gun battery.

Then later at Crepon, he saved two comrades trapped by deadly, concealed enemy fire which had killed eight comrades.

I spoke with Brian and Pauline about the presentation of the Teesside Heroes Award.

First Brian, who today lives in Linthorpe.

It is so nice the way everybody has been and they have made such a good thing of it. We are really pleased and thanks to everybody.

Q: Is it special that this award had been given in Middlesbrough?

B: Well all I can say is my dad would have thought it was getting a Middlesbrough honour and he was a Green Howard and he was very, very proud of being a Middlesbrough man and a Green Howard. The two go together.

Q: Do you think it is good that people are learning again about D-Day and the heroic part your father played.

B: It’s frightening to look at, that people could go through it. Do you know we were very lucky with our men.

Q: His VC is in the Green Howards museum in Richmond isn’t it?

B: It is yes. I go there fairly regularly. I have got two boys, one was in the Green Howards in Northern Ireland and if they come up we always make a visit to the Richmond museum and we have a look at the medal.

Q: Standing here at the Dorman Museum we are close by to Ayresome Park where there was always a match day presence of the Green Howards wasn’t there. Nice to keep the associations going with the town.

B: Yes. Oh it is. They are a good regiment. We all feel that way automatically. He was very proud of being a Green Howard.

I then chatted with Stanley’s daughter, Pauline Armistead.

“I think it is wonderful. After all this time. We always used to say in all the books it would say that my dad was born in Robin Hood’s Bay, he wasn’t, he was born in Archibald Street in Middlesbrough. He was a Middlesbrough man,” Pauline told me.

Q: So would he have been very proud to get this Middlesbrough award? I asked.

Pauline: “Oh he would, yes.”

Q: Of course this week we have been commemorating the D-Day anniversary.

P: I’ve been reading it in the paper and watching it on the telly. I was up at quarter past nine watching and two hours last night when it was on. I really surprised when I realised how much they were making of it.

Q: But your father is very special nationally, isn’t he?

P: Yes.

Q: You must have been very proud growing up.

P: Oh I was and he was a lovely dad.

Q: Did he say much about the war, many people didn’t did they?

P: No he didn’t. I heard most when he had his stroke. We were living at Liverton Mines then and I had a boyfriend that I later married. We were going out to a nightclub after we had closed up and got as far as the Waterwheel pub and I just knew there was something wrong. Of course we didn’t have mobile phones then. And I said we’ll have to go back. And we went back and my mam was stood on the doorstep and she said I knew you would come. We had an open fire in the living room and everytime there were sparks from the wood burning he was back in Normandy.. Every spark was gun fire.

And when I was very young he used to stay in the bedroom and scream at night, it used to be terrible, of course I was only 4 or 5 year old and I didn’t understand. But he used to push money under the door to my mam to take us out.

Q: A nice sunny day like this and a proud day for you.

P: I know it is nice we do remember him on a day like this.

Finally I asked Teesside Philanthropic Foundation Chairman, Andy Preston to say a few words about his feelings on presenting this Teesside Heroes Award.

“The foundation charity makes an award every month to someone on Teesside who gives their time and energy on a voluntary basis and makes the community better. We call them Teesside Heroes because they are heroic in a way. But when I heard about the genuine heroism of Stan Hollis… I remember where I was, I was no the stairs in my house, I thought he is the Teesside Hero. And it is not to belittle the achievements of the others, this is a different kind of act. This is the only VC awarded on D-Day from the many men who were there and many who died. The fact that he came from this town and not enough people know about that . We need to make people here aware of it and we need to make people across the UK aware that he came from here and that he was proud to come from here. So I can’t wait to see the statue and I think I will feel a bit proud and it will be nice for all of us.

“It must be a very emotional thing for his family. I am talking to them today and I don’t want to invade their emotional experience. I think it must be a nice thing to have from a family’s perspective.

“This charity works on raising money from publicity but actually we don’t really want to encroach on their space, it’s their day. This is a lovely thing and when that statue is there it will be great for the town. And we have got to then make a fuss on social media of having the statue to the only man awarded a VC on D-Day.

“This Friday on the anniversary there is going to be loads of stuff going on that this great man who was born, lived here and a statue is going to be raised to him is going to be erected to him. Raised by local money for a local hero. Hopefully it will bring in people to come and look at it.”

As part of the award, Stan will also receive a place on the Boro Brick Road outside Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium, featuring an inscribed brick that will read “Stanley E Hollis VC – Teesside Hero”.

Middlesbrough FC and Steve Gibson’s company Bulkhaul are patrons of the Philanthropic Foundation, along with many other generous local businesses and individuals including Cleveland Cable Company, AV Dawson, Erimus Insurance Brokers, Macks Solicitors, Glanbia Nutritionals, Devereux Transporter and Distribution, Evolution Business and Tax Advisors, px Group, Visualsoft, First Choice Labels and The Endeavour Partnership.

The Philanthropic Foundation would like to receive nominations for the Teesside Heroes Award. For more details visit www.teessidecharity.org.uk

Photos by Tracy Hyman

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