Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Remembering Uncle Tom

This is a week of Remembrance and I would like to share with you some of the family who served in WWII. On Sunday, I wrote about Uncle Tom here and today, I am going to tell you a little bit more about him.

Uncle Tom was born in 1898 in Widnes, Lancashire. His father, William, had part ownership in a sailing sloop called the Irene, who I am named after. Tom and his brothers all learned to sail on that boat and at the age of 14 he joined his brothers and became a deck-hand and cabin boy on SS Irene, helping his father carry salt from Northwich to Liverpool.  

At a very young age, Uncle Tom joined the Merchant Navy and during the 1914-1918 War worked for the Alfred Holt Line, carrying troops. In 1922, he obtained his 2nd Mate's Certificate in Liverpool, and continued working for Alfred Holt who traded between Birkenhead and the Far East. Around 1923, he decided to stay in the Far East and joined Jardine Matherson, sailing on the Yangtse River and to other Far Eastern Ports. At this stage, he obtained his 1st Mate's Certificate in 1924 and Master's certificate in 1925 in Hong Kong and was made up to Captain. 

During peace time

In 1941, his ship the Li Wo was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and commissioned as HMS Li Wo, an auxiliary patrol vessel, and Uncle Tom appointed Lieutenant R.N.R. There are many accounts of what happened on the 14 February 1942. This is the citation from the London Gazette of 13 December 1946 :

On 14 February 1942, HMS Li Wo, a patrol vessel of 1000 tons, formerly a passenger steamer on the Yangtse River, was on passage from Singapore to Batavia. Her company consisted of eighty-four officers and men, mainly survivors from H.M. ships and Army and Air Force units...  Since leaving Singapore she had beaten off four air attacks and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger being escorted by Japanese fleet units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. Lieutenant Wilkinson, with the unanimous backing of his mixed company, decided to engage the convoy and to fight to the last, inflicting what damage he could... After a little more than an hour HMS Li Wo was critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson decided to ram the damaged transport. It is known that this ship burned through the night and was probably sunk. Having ordered his ship to be abandoned, Lieutenant Wilkinson himself went down with her. Lieutenant Wilkinson's valour was equalled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The Victoria Cross is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition of the heroism and self-sacrifice displayed not only by himself but by all who fought and died with him. 

from a painting of the attack

Uncle Tom's name appears on the Liverpool Naval Memorial, Panel 1, Column 2. On July 15, 1961, The Victor, had a front and back page comic strip of his bravery headlined The Li Wo Went to War. I am most fortunate to have a copy of this comic having found it on e-bay!

As a family, we are extremely proud of Uncle Tom and he will never be forgotten.

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