Private Adam Wakenshaw VC 1914 - 1942.
Adam Herbert Wakenshaw was born in Duke Street, Newcastle upon Tyne on 9 June 1914. He attended St Mary's Cathedral Parish School and St Aloysius Secondary School. During the Second World War, he was serving with an anti-tank platoon in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry in North Africa, as Rommel's Afrika Korps advanced on Egypt.
"In the action Private Wakenshaw lost his left arm but he managed to crawl back to his gun"
On 27th June 1942 in the Western Desert, South of Mersa Matruh, Egypt, Private Wakenshaw was a crew member of a two pounder anti-tank gun, during an attack by the enemy who silenced the gun and killed or seriously wounded all crew. In the action Private Wakenshaw lost his left arm but he managed to crawl back to his gun. With one arm he loaded the gun, firing five more rounds with some considerable effect. An enemy shell blew him away from the gun and he was again seriously wounded. He managed to crawl back once more, and was preparing to fire again, when a direct hit on the ammunition killed him and destroyed the gun.
He was buried in El Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His medal is engraved on his headstone there, as is the four-line Personal Inscription: "HE DIED A HERO/ HE ANSWERED HIS CALL/BROKE ALL OUR HEARTS/WHEN HE LEFT US ALL RIP." His wife Dorothy, 3 year-old daughter Lillian and her brother Thomas received his medal from King George VI at an investiture in March 1943, the only VC awarded to a Tynesider during the Second World War.
His medal and 2 pounder anti-tank gun are on public display at the Durham Light Infantry Museum in Durham. His name may be found in the DLI Book of Remembrance in the DLI Regimental Chapel in Durham Cathedral.
In St Mary's Catholic Cathedral at Clayton Street West in Newcastle upon Tyne may be found a stained glass window commemorating Adam Wakenshaw's life and sacrifice. The Wakenshaw Window, designed by Cate Watkinson, tells his story from humble beginnings in Newcastle, to his death in North Africa. The stained glass window, comprising two panels, each measuring eight feet by two feet was selected after a public competition organised by Northern Arts. The 2-light window is situated on the south side of the Cathedral. It was the first new stained glass window in St Mary's for more than 100 years and it replaced a window damaged during the bombing of Newcastle by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.
At the base of the left-hand window is a terraced street in Newcastle with the Tyne Bridge in the background. The bridge was built between 1925 and 1929 when Adam Wakenshaw was growing up and it was a new landmark on the Quayside. A silhouette of St Mary's spire, where Adam was baptised and married is included, as is a map of the area where he fought with the DLI. It depicts the North African coastline, along with the location of Mersa Matruh and El Alamein.
The top of the left-hand light contains the colours seen on the horizon at sunrise, the time of day when the attack on Mersa Matruh took place. Moving across to the right-hand light, the cross originally placed on Adam Wakenshaw's grave is depicted. Bougainvillea and white roses, the flowers that decorated his two-pounder gun in El Alamein Cemetery, are also shown.
The motto of the 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry is also included: "Be FAITHFUL until death and I will give a crown of LIFE" (Rev 2:10). In the tracery of the window is the cap badge of the Durham Light Infantry, a representation of the Victoria Cross and a heart pierced by a sword. Strenuous fund-raising efforts were undertaken by the Friends of St Mary's and the Service of Dedication took place on Sunday 27 June 2004, the 62nd anniversary of Adam Wakenshaw's death. The Service was conducted by the Rt Rev Kevin Dunn, Bishop of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Major Randall Cross, Regimental Secretary of the DLI said: 'This is the most distinguished medal of the lot. It is a posthumous Victoria Cross, which recognises Adam's conspicuous gallantry, self-sacrifice and courage. He was an extraordinary man.'