Sunderland man was named after First World War’s longest battle

Thomas McBride on guard during his war years.
Thomas McBride on guard during his war years.
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It was a war which claimed millions of lives.

Yet as the battle raged hundreds of miles away in Europe, Thomas Verdun McBride came into the world on Wearside.

Thomas McBride, centre, in Ghent with his pals.

Thomas McBride, centre, in Ghent with his pals.

He was born in April 1916 in Gladstone Street in Sunderland, and his parents decided to give him the middle name of Verdun after the battle which raged from February to December that year – the longest single fight of the whole conflict.

Thomas died in 2001. Had he survived, he would now be celebrating reaching 100.

But his family remember him fondly and son Rob has shared these fantastic photographs and memories of a man whose journey started with a reference to war – and then became so filled with wonderful aspects of life.

He worked in the shipyards and down the mines. He worked at Tuckermans the undertakers.

Thomas Verdun McBride - pictured in 2001, just months before his death.

Thomas Verdun McBride - pictured in 2001, just months before his death.

He served in the Second World War in the Pioneer Corps – perhaps not a frontline troop, but his service did take him to Normandy, France, Belgium, Holland and finally Germany.

And his time in the Army also created another memorable highlight.

Rob told Wearside Echoes: “He played Army football matches alongside Sir Matt Busby and always says he was one of the original ‘Busby Babes’.

“I met Sir Matt a few times at Old Trafford in the 1990s whilst on a course.

A photograph from Thomas McBride's 's own archives from his time in France. It shows Monsieur Caumont with his twin daughters Janine and Marie near Evereux.

A photograph from Thomas McBride's 's own archives from his time in France. It shows Monsieur Caumont with his twin daughters Janine and Marie near Evereux.

“The last occasion I met Sir Matt I gave him a letter from my dad. I did not know what it said sadly, as I have always wondered what Sir Matt’s reaction to being contacted by one of his old Army mates was.”

Like thousands of others, Thomas’s life was heavily influenced by those war years, and he never forgot the kind family from France who took him in for a while as his unit passed through Normandy.

Rob added: “As I attended a conference in Loire Valley, France, I met the ‘little girls’ in the photos from 1944-45. They were now 66, I think.”

Thomas met and married Winifred McBride during the Second World War while he was stationed in Ellesmere, Shropshire. The devoted couple had three children, Peter, Tony and Rob.

The Caumont twins Janine and Marie in the 1940s.

The Caumont twins Janine and Marie in the 1940s.

The links to football continued. Tony had trials to play for Sunderland.

“He was 15,” said Rob. “He trained with Jim Montgomery and Bobby Kerr and remembers vivdly playing a quick kick-about in the car park at Roker Park with Jim Baxter.

“He did not make it professionally and eventually we moved back to Shropshire.”

Rob has his own claim to fame and it concerns his occasional visits to the North East to watch Sunderland play. He’s never seen them lose a match.

And if Rob has a proud boast about the Black Cats, his dad does too. “He was fanatical about football! Of course he was a red & white,” he said.

He loved horse racing and art. “Tommy was a very skilled artist and oil painted a lot over the years and sketched an awful lot too.

Two of the boys - Erich and Tum Andenker - who Thomas played football with during his time in Rheinhausen.

Two of the boys - Erich and Tum Andenker - who Thomas played football with during his time in Rheinhausen.

It made for a fulfilling life for a man who began his time in the world with links to a battle to end all battles.