New evidence reveals more details on Sunderland soldier’s final resting place

Fosseux's residents are pictured tending to the grave of the Sunderland man.
Fosseux's residents are pictured tending to the grave of the Sunderland man.

A French woman has renewed her bid to find out more about a Wearside soldier who died in her home village during the Second World War.

It is nearly three years since we last featured Regine Verguier’s plea to Wearside Echoes to find out more about Private William Thomson.

Now, she has got back in touch with the Sunderland Echo after more information came to light on the fallen hero.

The former grave of Private Thomson.

The former grave of Private Thomson.

And she is hoping that, if someone does come forward, she can invite them to France to join her in a ceremony for a tribute to one of Wearside’s own.

What we do know is that Private William ‘Willie’ Thomson, of 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, was wounded by machine-gun fire at Fosseux.

He was wounded on May 21, 1940, and died soon afterwards.

He was buried in the village cemetery, in accordance with his final wishes, and his Commonwealth War Grave (CWGC) – the only one at the site – is still carefully tended by locals.

I remain hopeful to find family members, to invite them to my home to pay tribute to this brave soldier, by organizing a ceremony.

Regine Verguier

But a recent death of a villager in Fosseux has revealed a little more detail which Regine hopes will make a difference to her research.

She told us: “My friend lost his mother some weeks ago. She was over 90-years-old and she had this picture.”

The photograph shows the original resting place of Private Thomson, as well as the place he was later moved to.

Regine explained: “According to old people of Fosseux, William Thomson has been buried first at the place where he fell.

The current resting place of Private Thomson which is regularly tended by the people of Fosseux.

The current resting place of Private Thomson which is regularly tended by the people of Fosseux.

“Then, after the liberation, in September 1944 or early 1945, he has been buried in the Communal Cemetery. It is all I know ... unfortunately.”

She told us more about the recently discovered photograph and said: “This was his first grave before the one installed by the CWGC.

“I remain hopeful to find family members, to invite them to my home to pay tribute to this brave soldier, by organizing a ceremony.”

“William was the son of Margaret Bell and William Thomson. Margaret and William were married in Deptford, Sunderland District, on December 21, 1917.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have more information. I don’t know his date of birth, where he was born, or where he lived before the war. It’s really nice to make a new article.

“When he was killed, according to villagers, he was alone. I don’t know why. I would like to be able to answer all these questions.”

We are hoping Wearside Echoes followers can help.

Research does show that William lived with his family in Deptford Terrace for many years.

No mention of other siblings is made in archive documents, but he is known to have had two cousins – Charlie and Margaret Warburton, who lived close by.

A previous Wearside Echoes story told how he 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, Willie was wounded by machine-gun fire – shot from what was probably a German reconnaissance motorcycle combination.

Regine’s own search for more information has lasted for years.

She has kindly sent us numerous photographs from Fosseux, including the one which was recently discovered.

She has also kept us informed of the way Fosseux locals have diligently looked after the grave and remembered the Englishman who died on their soil.

In 2015, she told us: “We regularly blossom his grave,”

A year later, determined Regine renewed her attempts to find more information.

Now, she has contacted us once more and we would love to be able to help her research.

If you can shed any light on Private Thomson, email chris.cordner@jpimedia.co.uk and we will pass on your information to Regine.

Let’s see if we can make a real difference to one woman’s painstaking bid to commemorate a man of Wearside.