- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Lillian Henderson (nee Brown), Thomas Brown GM, Lieutenant Anthony Fasson GC, Able Seaman Colin Grazier GC, Margaret Brown; Stanley Brown; and Maureen Brown
- Location of story:
- The Mediterranean Sea, Port Said, River Tyne, Bletchley Park, and North Shields
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 August 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Northumberland on behalf of Mrs. Lillian Henderson (nee Brown). Mrs. Henderson fully understands the site’s terms and conditions, and the story has been added to the site with her permission.
Mrs. Henderson takes great pride in the fact that one of her brothers played a crucial part in the retrieval of Enigma code books. Thomas Brown was sixteen years old when he joined the NAAFI. Unlike other arms of the services, the NAAFI accepted men from the age of seventeen, which still meant that Thomas had to lie about his age in order to be accepted. They came from a large family of seven sisters and five brothers. Thomas was the oldest brother and Lillian was the seventh oldest sibling.
Thomas served on HMS Petard, a ‘P’ class destroyer built on the Tyne by Vickers Armstrong and commissioned in 1942. Later that year, on 30 October, HMS Petard was on patrol in the Mediterranean off Port Said (Egypt) when, with three other destroyers, she undertook a lengthy, sustained depth charge attack that eventually forced U-559 to surface. Shortly after it surfaced the submarine’s conning tower was hit by a shell, which caused its crew to abandon ship.
Thomas Brown was the only one of three men to swim across to the U-Boat, to survive. Before the U-Boat sank suddenly the men recovered numerous documents that turned out to be Enigma code books that were invaluable to the code breakers at Bletchley Park. The men who were lost when the submarine sank, Lieutenant Anthony Fasson and Able Seaman Colin Grazier, were both awarded the George Cross, posthumously, while Thomas Brown was awarded the George Medal. As things turned out, Thomas, too, was awarded his medal posthumously. His Mother, Margaret, and one brother, Stanley, travelled to London to receive it but, until she was told about the presentation ceremony, his Mother had little or no idea that Thomas had been awarded a medal for his part in the retrieval of the code books.
Thomas Brown died in 1945, along with his youngest sister, four and a half year-old Maureen, when the family home, in Lily Gardens, North Shields, was consumed by fire. Both were buried with military honours. Thomas has also been honoured by having a room named after him in the Exchange Building, Howard Street, North Shields, in which he is depicted on a stained glass window, and his photograph and a presentation clock are on display. Lillian has twice been to Bletchley Park, to see the Enigma display there.
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