Barnoldswick prisoner-of-war escapee Tom dies aged 101

Tom Hirst
Tom Hirst

A POPULAR and well known Barnoldswick man has died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 101.

Tom Hirst was born in the town in 1911 and grew up there, attending Gisburn Road School until the age of 14 when he finished he education to work in a mill.

He grew up into a poor family and one of the reasons behind him joining the armed forces in 1938 was hunger and the access to a free meal.

Mr Hirst was based in Catterick, North Yorkshire, and was deployed to India, Syria and other countries in the Middle East during the Second World War.

He was also one of a remarkable few to escape a prisoner of war camp in German-occupied Norway in early 1942.

He skied across the Norwegian countryside to the coast where he avoided detection to catch a “Shetland Bus”, a secret Norwegian operation run under the disguise of fisherman on trawlers which took refugees and prisoners of war from Norway to the safety of Lerwick on the Shetland Islands.

After the war, Mr Hirst returned to Barnoldswick to work in the mills where he met his wife of 60 years, Jean.

Mr Hirst later worked for Briggs and Duxbury in Barnoldswick before moving to Colne and Laneshaw Bridge where he worked at Hartley Hospital as a porter.

He changed roles at 65 when he went to work on the switchboard, staying there until the age of 70 when he retired.

Outside work, he enjoyed trips to Canada, Gibraltar and Spain and lived independently with his wife in Burnley and Worsthorne until the age of 99 when was taken into care at Nelson Manor.

According to his son David, his father’s tough upbringing made him the man he was and said he was “coming home” to be buried at Ghyll Cemetery.

David said: “He was a forthright man, very honest and a person who loved life, enjoying outings with family, both in the country and on the coast.”

Mr Hirst’s funeral will be held at the Mission Church, Nelson, at 1-30pm on Monday before a burial at Ghyll Cemetery.