Students at ACHS attended Remembrance Day assemblies on Thursday 11 November to commemorate all who have fought in conflict. Students learned about different aspects of WW2 including D-Day, the Women’s Land Army, Bletchley Park and the work of Mathematicians during the war in Allied code breaking, the story of the poppy and Ms Da Prato told the story of North Shields boy, Thomas Brown.

The Thomas Brown Story

In 2000, Hollywood made the blockbuster U-571 with an all star cast, critics gave it good reviews and it performed well at the box office. It was an exciting movie which tells the story of the Americans capturing a German U-boat during WW2, on board which they seize an enigma code machine…Finally the Allies decipher the secret code messages from the Germans and thwart their efforts! Great story….but it’s not true!

There is a very real story behind this blockbusting movie. A story much much closer to home and one that makes the folk of North Shields extremely proud. This is the story of Thomas Brown, a 15 year old lad from the ‘Ridges’ / Meadowell in North Shields.

Thomas loved the sea and was always down on the quayside, he was a great swimmer and unlike the rest of the family who were all in the army, Thomas wanted to join the Navy. He was keen to get to sea and was very disappointed when he realised that at age 15, he was too young to sign up.

So, feeling that he couldn’t wait, off he set to try and join the Navy. Thomas had heard that younger people could join the NAAFI (Navy, Army, Airforce Institute) but still he was too young so Thomas lied about his age and told officials that he was 16. He was bright and keen and the Navy signed him up straight away. Thomas was going to sea!...and aboard HMS Petard, a P class destroyer!

Thomas found himself on board HMS Petard in the Mediterranean Sea. Petard had the distinction of sinking a submarine from each of the three Axis navies: Germany, Italy and Japan. But it was a German submarine U-559 that the naval commander on board Petard was after. He knew that it held the German enigma machine along with code deciphering books. On 30 October 1942, Petard was in the waters off the coast of Port Said, Egypt. After ten hours of depth charge attacks, U-559 came to the surface, it being identified by its distinctive white donkey emblem on its conning tower. Petard fired her 4–inch guns at the submarine, causing so much damage that the crew abandoned ship. Petard then launched a boarding party in a seaboat. 

Aboard were Lieutenant Fasson and Able Seaman Grazier. It was their job to board the U-boat and try to find the all important enigma code books. 

Thomas Brown asked his commander if he too could join the seamen in their search. Thomas was swiftly told no and to return to his duties. But Thomas didn't listen and dived into the sea, swimming to the slowly sinking U-boat.

Fasson and Grazier, already inside the U-boat had managed to locate the books they were looking for and passed them to Thomas who managed to climb back up the conning tower, keeping the books dry. This was incredibly important as the books had been written with special ink. If they got wet all the codes would simply disappear! Thomas shouted to Fasson and Grazier that they needed to get out as the U-boat was going down. Sadly, they didn’t make it. Fasson and Grazier went down with the German U-boat. Thomas made it back aboard Petard and handed over the books and documents he had captured. The codebooks they retrieved were immensely valuable to the Ultra code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England; just six weeks after the action, many U-boat signals were being read. Their contribution helped change the course of the Second World War, saving an estimated 1,250,000 tons of shipping in just two months and paving the way for D-Day in 1944 and the eventual victory of the Allies a year later.

Lieutenant Fasson and Able seaman Grazier were both posthumously awarded the George Cross for outstanding bravery and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of danger. Thomas Brown from North Shields was awarded the George Medal. Sadly Thomas never received his Medal…..

He did survive the war and returned to North shields. He was the grand old age of 19 by then. 

The tragedy is that Thomas died in a house fire along with his little sister before he could receive his medal. His Mother and a brother did travel to London to meet the King and receive Thomas’s medal on his behalf. Thomas remains the youngest person ever to receive the George Medal.

There is both a room and a stained glass window named in his memory in The Exchange in North shields. The Hotel Grazier in Tamworth has the Thomas Brown Bar and there is even a street named after Thomas in Tamworth too. Thomas still has family in North Shields. They are immensely proud of him.

Ms Da Prato

 

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