By Joseph Bray
A paving stone will be unveiled to commemorate Springhead’s Sergeant Thomas Steele, 100 years after his acts of bravery during the First World War earned him a Victoria Cross.
Courageous Sgt Steele was awarded the honour for his role in attempting to lift the Turkish siege at Ku-al-Amara on February 22, 1917.
At a critical moment, he used a machine gun to beat off an enemy attack and then risked his life to rally a party of Indian soldiers who had lost all their officers.
Now, he will be honoured in a ceremony at 11am on February 22 at St Anne’s Church, Lydgate, where the commemorative paving stone will be unveiled by members of Sgt Steele’s family and Councillor Derek Heffernan, Mayor of Oldham.
Following the commemoration, Michael Fox from Saddleworth Museum to give an illustrated insight into what it was like in this area when Sgt Steele was a young man.
In the lead up to the event, Oldham Council had appealed to members of Sgt Steele’s family to come forward to take part in the ceremony and share their stories.
Councillor Barbara Brownridge, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Cooperatives, said: “Sergeant Steele was born in Oldham and we are proud to remember him.
“We have an obligation to preserve his memory and bravery for generations to come – something we hope the paving stone will do.”
Sgt Steele, of the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, who was born in Springhead, fought at La Bassee, Ypres, Neuve Chappelle and Loos, before he was sent to Mesopotamia in 1915.
It was there, in February 1917, where he was severely wounded while earning his medal.
The London Gazette reported on 8 June 1917 that Sgt Steele had “rushed forward and assisted a comrade to carry a machine gun into position.
“He kept the gun in action until being relieved, being mainly instrumental in keeping the remainder of the line intact”.
A few hours later, Sgt Steele responded to another enemy attack by rallying Indian troops who were wavering. He encouraged them to stay in their trenches and move forward, all while facing heavy artillery and rifle fire.
The commemorative service is part of an on-going national campaign to lay lasting reminders in the birth places of Victoria Cross medal recipients from the First World War on the 100th anniversary of their award.