Recognising A Hero Once More, 100 Years On
Military valour is a subject that has cropped up more than once during talk about Wolves’ rich history, notably in the case of Bill Shorthouse and his role in the infamous D-Day landings.
What we perhaps didn’t expect to be writing about on this site was the link between major global conflict and another 1950s Molineux figure – a man who will this autumn unveil a tribute to the heroic relative he never met.
This moving story touches Scotland and Canada but will end in Liverpool, probably with a tear in the eye of Robert Gillies McKenzie Thomson.
That is the full name of the Dundee-born inside-forward who achieved much with Aston Villa and Stan Cullis’ Birmingham after making his way in the game as a reserve and occasional first-teamer at Molineux.
We were delighted when contacted out of the blue this spring by a First World War expert seeking to contact Bobby to invite him to a special ceremony on Merseyside.
The Scot turns 80 next week and has indicated his pleasure in accepting the offer to speak on the day about his family’s pride at the short but extraordinary life of his great uncle, Hugh McKenzie. Knowing Bobby as we do, we can be sure his comments will be heart-felt.
The subject of his address is a war hero in every meaning of the term; a winner of the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the French award, the Croix de Guerre. Lieutenant McKenzie is already commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres and is now to be honoured in the city of his birth as part of a Government project.
“It is 100 years this October since Hugh was killed in battle and Bobby has agreed to come up here on the centenary of that day and speak about his great uncle,” said historian and author Bill Sergeant.
“Sadly, he never have met him but I hope he might have heard some stories about him from the family and possibly be able to bring us bits of information we are not aware of.
“Hugh’s military career is very inspiring. I am sure there is a lot of pride among the generations who have followed.”
Thomson was born only two years before the outbreak of the Second World War and was a week or two from leaving his teens behind when he faced Newcastle at Molineux in his only League appearance for the club.
His own life has been colourful enough to prompt him to have written an autobiography, The Real Bobby Dazzler (published in 2010), but this tale from a century ago reminds us of football’s modest place in the greater scheme of things.
Hugh was born in Liverpool in 1887, his father James having served as a seaman in the city despite his strong Scottish roots.
The younger man subsequently headed north of the border to live and work on the railways near Dundee, then moved on in 1912 to Canada, where he eventually joined the armed forces.
A talented boxer and wrestler before enlisting, he trained as a machine gunner and advanced from private to sergeant to temporary lieutenant.
Alas, when in command of a small attachment of men in the Battle of Passchendaele on October 29 and 30, 1917, he was killed by a single bullet to the head.
He was buried near where he fell on that field in Belgium, the VC he was posthumously awarded sadly being lost in a house fire back in Ontario. His other medals are on permanent loan to a museum in Calgary.
“I am a retired police officer and my particular interest in all this is the Victoria Cross winners from the First World War,” Bill Sergeant added. “I was delighted to help the City Council up here when they asked me for advice, knowing I had written a book on the subject.
“The stone Bobby Thomson will unveil is going to be in Prince’s Park because it’s the nearest public space to where his great uncle was born.
“We might also have a representative of the Canadian High Commission with us. Hugh’s life and career is a very big story over there.
“Our Government are commissioning the making of these stones to commemorate a lot of men up and down the country who won the VC. It is being done to mark the passing of 100 years since the awards.
“I haven’t seen the one to Hugh as yet and it is probably still being made but it will be about 3ft tall by 18in wide and will have his name and a depiction of the Victoria Cross. It will also show the date he won it.”
We plan to write again on this subject around the time of the ceremony in the autumn.