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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.