b. 28/03/1897 Wallasey, Merseyshire. d. 01/10/1918 Cambrai, France.
Thomas Patrick Neely (1897-1918) was born on 28th March 1897 in Wallasey, near Liverpool, Merseyside. He was the son of James and Agnes Neely who lived at 91 Claudia Street, Walton, Liverpool. James worked on the docks. Thomas was their only son, and was the eldest of 5 children. His sisters were called Ellen, Josephine, Catherine and Gertrude.
He was educated at St. Francis de Sale’s School, Hale Road, Walton, Liverpool. Prior to joining the Army, he was employed at Bibby’s oil cake mills. On the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted with the Cheshire Regiment in September, 1914, when only a month over 17 years of age. He was twice wounded in action in France. In March 1918, he was awarded the Military Medal and was allowed 14 days extra leave.
He returned to the front on his 21st birthday, and at Flesquières on September 27th 1918, his company was held up during the advance of heavy machine gun fire from the flank. Corporal Neeley, realizing the seriousness of the situation, at once under point blank fire dashed out with two men and rushed the positions, disposing of the garrisons and capturing three machine guns. Subsequently, on two successive occasions, he rushed concrete strong points. The splendid initiative on fighting spirit displayed by his gallant non-commissioned officer in dealing with a series of posts, in some cases single handed, was largely responsible for the taking and clearing of a heavy fortified and strongly garrisoned position, and enabled his company to advance 3000 yards along the Hindenburg support line.
His colonel wrote home after the event of September 27th, saying that before he went into action young Neeley, of whom he spoke in terms of high praise, was promoted to lance sergeant, and that for his brave deed subsequently he was being recommended for another decoration. Three days later he was in action again, and was killed, so that the VC will be awarded as a posthumous honour.
His captain had wanted him to go in for a commission, but his company offers sir persuaded him not to do so, saying he was of more use in the ranks. He was buried in the Masnieres British Cemetery, Marcoing, France, four miles south west of Cambrai.
Thomas Neely's parents were presented with his posthumous Victoria Cross by King George V at a private ceremony in Buckingham Palace on the 27th February 1920. Thomas Neely was additionally entitled to a British War Medal and Victory Medal; however, the frame in which the two gallantry medals were displayed for over fifty years at his parent's home give no indication of the family ever receiving them. On 25th November 2010, the medals were sold at auction at Spink’s, London for a hammer price of £110,000. The purchaser of the medals was not revealed.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: MASNIERES CEMETERY, MARCOING, FRANCE.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT II, ROW B, GRAVE 21
Neely's medals when sold by Spink in 2010.