A French woman's moving lockdown tribute to a Sunderland war hero on the 80th anniversary of his death

A French woman has single-handedly kept up a tribute to a fallen Sunderland war hero despite the pandemic.

Monday, 29th June 2020, 12:36 pm
Updated Monday, 29th June 2020, 12:37 pm
Every year, the people of the French village of Fosseux have held a ceremony to pay their respects to Private William ‘Willie’ Thomson, of the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.
Every year, the people of the French village of Fosseux have held a ceremony to pay their respects to Private William ‘Willie’ Thomson, of the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.

Private Thomson was wounded by machine gun fire on May 21, 1940, and died soon afterwards.

The coronavirus meant the official annual tribute to ‘Willie’ could not be held this year but Regine Verguier was determined to ensure that he was honoured on the 80th anniversary of his death.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Regine's own tribute to Private William Thomson, from Sunderland, who died 80 years ago in Fosseux in France.

She said: “Unfortunately, the ceremony has been cancelled but on May 21, I put poppies on William Thomson 's grave. It was the 80th anniversary of his death. I was alone.”

It meant Fosseux has kept up its record of never having missed paying tribute to a man who originated from Deptford in Sunderland but gave his life in France. Despite there only being around 140 residents in the tiny community (according to online statistics), locals have always remembered the Englishman.

Private Thomson was part of a labour division which was sent to France to build airfields. The men were not there to fight, but ended up right on the front line – despite not having the necessary kit or artillery.

And when German armoured columns attacked the 70th Brigade in Mercatel and Ficheux on May 20, 1940, dozens of the ill-equipped labourers lost their lives.

Regine pictured at the 2019 ceremony.

It appears Willie was left on his own, but was trying to make his way back to British lines when he was shot.

Private Thomson’s search for his comrades led him to the outskirts of Fosseux a day after the attack, where a villager spotted him seeking cover from an approaching enemy column.

Tragically, just minutes later, he was wounded by machine-gun fire – shot from what was probably a German reconnaissance motorcycle combination.

Regine has also made it her mission to trace relatives of Willie’s and the Sunderland Echo has helped her in her quest.

The tribute to Private William Thomson

We published a full-page feature in December 2018 which included a bid to find out more about the Wearside man.

She praised the Sunderland Echo and said Willie was buried in the village cemetery, in accordance with his final wishes, and his Commonwealth War Grave - the only one at the site - is still carefully tended by locals.

Information according to old people of Fosseux, showed that William Thomson was buried first at the place where he fell. Then, after the liberation, he was buried in the Communal Cemetery.

How the ceremony looked in the years before the lockdown.

William was the son of Margaret Bell and William Thomson who were married in Deptford, Sunderland District, on December 21, 1917. Research does show that William lived with his family in Deptford Terrace for many years.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.

Thank you

How to subscribe to the print edition

It’s easy to subscribe to your local newspaper. We have arranged a special 20 per cent off subscription offer for people to take advantage of. Visit www.localsubsplus.co.uk, choose the newspaper title, the type of subscription and enter your details.