Memorial Details

NEWMP Memorial Image
Photo: Tony Harding

Memorial

SGW Tommy Brown G.M. 1942 1939-45 Savile Exchange

Reference

N34.54

Place

NORTH SHIELDS

Map ref

NZ 356683

Original Location

Saville Exchange Building, Howard Street / Saville Street. The window faces onto an inner courtyard.

Which war

1939-45

Dedication, Creation or Publication date

Unveiled 16th February 2002 by the brothers and sisters of Tommy Brown. Dedicated by Rev. Richard Ford., AKG, RNR (Ret’d) in the presence of the Mayor of North Tyneside accompanied by the Vice Lord Lieutenant of North Tyneside.

Memorial Description

Memorial room, containing various framed mementoes, photos and newspaper articles.
There is a square stained glass window 8 feet high x 6 feet wide (2.43m x 1.82m) depicting a stylised sea scene. In the top left hand corner is a representation of the George Medal. In the centre is a black/white square-framed photo of Tommy Brown. The letters of the word “Enigma” are scattered on the left hand side. At the bottom are the words “Thomas Brown” and the dates “1926-1942” below, all in sans serif capitals.
On the sloping outside window ledge is a copper plate 8 inches high x 2 feet 6 inches wide (203mm x 762 mm) bearing the story of the award of the George Medal. The letters are in sans serif capitals throughout.

Materials used

Copper plaque.

Inscription

On window
1939-1945.


On outside plaque
Thomas Brown, G.M. North Shields War Hero
On October 30th 1942, Thomas Brown,
a 16 year old Naafi Canteen Assistant serving on H.M.S Petard,
risked his life to help capture the Enigma codes from a sinking German U-boat.
His incredible bravery shortened World War II by at least 12 months
thus saving countless lives world wide.
This stain glass window was donated by the Naafi as a tribute to his bravery

Names

See above

Who commissioned

North Tyneside Veterans' Memorial Appeal Committee

How money was raised

Family, donations from HMS Petard Association, NAAFI.

Sculptor, Artist or Designer

Maralyn O’Keefe, The Glass and Art Gallery, Consett

Notes

1. The story of Tommy Brown was told at the ceremony by his great-niece, Sharon Carley.

2. Tommy Brown dived with two older men Lieutenant Francis Anthony Blair Fasson and Able Seaman Colin Grazier to rescue papers from the control room of the U-boat U-559. The two older men died drowned as the U-boat sank.

3. Copper engravings were presented at the ceremony to various bodies, inc. by the NAAFI at Guildford, who already possess the George Medal which was presented to them by the family.

4. Thomas was the youngest person ever to be awarded the George Cross, but he did not live to receive it. He was killed trying to rescue his sister Maureen from a fire at their home at South Shields when he was on leave from H.M.S. Belfast, his last ship.

5. Among those present was Geoff Richards, sonar operator from the original H.M.S. Petard, and John Gallehawk from Bletchley Park who helped break the Enigma codes.

6. At Bletchley Park is a room featuring the H.M.S. Petard story with a portrait of Thomas Brown.

7. The role of Tommy Brown was re-enacted at the British Military Tournament in December 2013 in London

Newspaper cuttings, photos or archival material

Colour photos of parade and window: J. Brown

The Newcastle Journal 18/02/2002 reports unveiling; 01/05/2007 reports sale of mementoes from destroyer H.M.S. Petard; 23/10/2013 reports London Tournament display

Evening Chronicle 12/05/2000 reports proposal for a memorial.

External web link

Additional Research documents (click to download)

Research acknowledgements

J. Brown; the late John Maughan; the late Jim Winter; Tony Harding; James Pasby

Research In Progress

At the age of 15, Brown joined the NAAFI and was assigned as a Canteen Assistant on-board Petard, a P class destroyer, for service during World War II. Unlike other services, the NAAFI only accepted men from the age of 17 onwards, so Brown had to lie about his age to join. On the 30th October 1942, Petard was in the waters off the coast of Port Said, Egypt. They were being sent to relieve Hero, and to investigate radar contact with a submarine along with Pakenham, Dulverton, Hurworth, and Vickers Wellesley light bombers of No. 47 Squadron RAF. 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 such damage that the crew abandoned ship. Petard then launched a boarding party in a seaboat. Lieutenant Francis Anthony Blair Fasson and Able Seaman Colin Grazier dived into the sea and swam to the submarine, with Brown following them over. The German crew had opened the boat's seacocks, and water was pouring into the vessel. The two Navy men made their way into the captain's cabin where Fasson found a set of keys. They unlocked drawers and found two code books: the Short Weather Cipher and Short Signal Book. Brown carried these documents up the iron ladder of the U-boat's conning tower to Petard's whaler, climbing with one hand while holding the documents in the other. After his third trip down and up the ladder, he called for his shipmates to get out of the boat, but the submarine sank before they could escape. Brown himself was dragged under with the submarine, but managed to fight his way back to the surface and was picked up by the whaler. He was promoted to Senior Canteen Assistant following the incident. Due to the attention arising from his actions in the incident with U-559, his age became known to the authorities. That ended his posting aboard Petard, but was not discharged from the NAAFI. He returned to his family in North Shields, and later returned to sea on board HMS Belfast. In 1945, when he was home on shore leave from Belfast, a fire broke out in the family home at South Shields. Brown died while attempting to rescue his youngest sister Maureen. He was buried with full military honours in Tynemouth Cemetery.

For their actions, Fasson and Grazier were posthumously awarded the George Cross. Being a civilian due to his NAAFI employment, Brown was awarded the George Medal. His mother Margaret and brother Stanley travelled to London to receive his medal on his behalf after Brown's death in 1945. Prior to being told about the presentation ceremony, his mother hadn't been told that Brown had received a medal for his actions. Unknown to Brown, the documents that he, Fasson, and Grazier retrieved were extremely valuable in breaking the German Enigma code. They allowed British codebreakers to attack the "Triton" key used by the U-boats, which had been invulnerable for nine months. Allied convoys in the Atlantic could be directed away from known U-boat locations. Winston Churchill wrote that the actions of the crew of Petard were crucial to the outcome of the war. Brown never knew the contents of those documents; information relating to Enigma was not released till decades after his death.

In 1985, his brothers Stan and David presented the NAAFI with Brown's medals, to be displayed at the Bletchley Park Museum of codebreaking in Buckinghamshire. In 1987, a stained glass window was dedicated to his memory in his home town at the Saville Exchange building. The museum has since closed, and Brown's medals are now on display at the NAAFI headquarters in Darlington. They were brought there to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the NAAFI in April 2010, with a ceremony being held to celebrate the return of Brown's medal to the North East. In attendance were five of his siblings, Lillian, Sylvia, Norman, Nancy, and Albert.

SGW Tommy Brown G.M. 1942 1939-45 Savile Exchange (N34.54)

 
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