New research is revealing fascinating information about Thomas Rendle, the Bristol hero awarded the Victoria Cross in 1914, who will be commemorated at a ceremony on 20 November 2014, the centenary of the action for which he received his award.
Sheila Hannon, Creative Producer, Show of Strength, tells the story.
Born in Bedminster in 1884 his mother Charlotte died when he was 14. Charlotte was a servant before she married, his father worked in a series of unskilled jobs, and the family had several addresses in Bedminster. Thomas’s widowed father was left with three children: Thomas and his two younger sisters Charlotte and Victoria.
It’s not yet known when Thomas went to the Kingswood Reformatory, but he was there by 1901, so his mother’s death may have earned him a place to learn a trade. In 1902, aged 18, he joined the 1st Battalion The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry as a bandsman, serving with the occupying forces in South Africa after the Boer War. There he met and married his wife Lilian. By 1906 he was back in England with his regiment and his children were born in Plymouth and Gravesend.
When the First World War started, his duties at the front included stretcher bearing. On 20 November 1914 German artillery fire collapsed a trench near Wulverghem in Belgium. A number of men were buried, including 2nd Lt Colebrooke. Rendle freed casualties all day before crawling across the blown-in trench under heavy fire. He attended to Colebrooke’s leg and then, carrying the officer on his back, scraped away at the earth to get him back to safety. Wounded and invalided back to England, Rendle was celebrated as a hero and became actively involved in recruiting volunteers. In May 1915 he was in Bristol, speaking on Durdham Downs and at the Colston Hall. After the war he emigrated to South Africa with his family.
Some years later a newspaper in Lancashire reported that he’d settled in Burnley where he enjoyed many civic functions. And in 1938 Thomas Rendle read a report that he’d attended a ceremony in Helensburgh, Scotland. But he was still in South Africa - where he died of a coronary thrombosis in 1946. The streets of Cape Town were crowded for his funeral and he’s buried at Maitland No1 Cemetery in Cape Town.
So who was it in Burnley and Helensburgh? To find out join Show Of Strength on Thursday 20 November, the centenary of the action that earned Rendle his Victoria Cross. The event begins with a commemoration ceremony and unveiling of a plaque in St Johns Churchyard, Bedminster at 11am. At approx 11.30am we’ll move to The Assembly, East Street (2 minutes away; teas, coffees, drinks, lunches available) where actors Chris Yapp, Kim Hicks and Sheila Hannon will reveal the true, extraordinary, and unknown story of Thomas Rendle, Bedminster’s VC.
We’re still researching so if you have any information (What instrument did Bandsman Rendle play? Are there any family members still in Bristol?) please do get in touch.
Tel: 0117.902.0235 firstname.lastname@example.org
The performance by Show of Strength is one of the Bristol 2014 Arts Projects.
This will be the second ceremony to honour a Bristol VC holder from the First World War. The first event took place 26 August to commemorate Clifton-born Captain Douglas Reynolds. Read the story on the News page.