Tribute to the Whitby hero of terror convoy

Thomas Waller
Thomas Waller

The brother and sister of a Whitby World War Two Arctic Convoy hero proudly hold the medals awarded to their sibling who died aged just 19 trying to save the lives of three injured comrades.

Thomas Waller took part in what Prime Minister Winston Churchill called “the most dangerous journey in the world” escorting ships ferrying weapons, food and supplies to Russia during the Second World War from 1941 to 1945.

Brian Waller and sister Elsie Bailey with their brother Tom's medals''w132806a

Brian Waller and sister Elsie Bailey with their brother Tom's medals''w132806a

Thomas later received the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery along with three fellow sailors who survived.

Now his brother Brian (74) of Kingfisher Drive and sister Elsie Bailey (85), who lives in Suffolk, want to share his incredible story with others and have recently donated his medals to Whitby Museum for visitors of all ages to see.

Brian said: “We are very proud of him and what he did. He gave his life for his country. He deserves recognition.”

One of nine children,Thomas joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 14 after leaving St John’s School but did not tell his parents straight away.

Tom Waller's medals''w132806b

Tom Waller's medals''w132806b

At the age of just 19, he took part in the PQ-17 convoy – the code name given to a convoy of 35 merchant ships crossing from Britain to Russian ports to aid their allies.

Hitler’s Nazis had Russia blockaded and crucial supplies had to be escorted by British sailors.

They suffered a significant defeat in July 1942 when 24 of its 35 vessels were destroyed during a week-long series of heavy enemy daylight attacks which killed 3,000 sailors.

Thomas was an assistant cook on the SS River Afton, when on June 27, the ships sailed eastbound from Hvalfjord in Iceland for the port of Arkhangelsk in Russia.

German U boats and aircraft were intent on stopping them and the convoy was located by German forces on July 1 after which it was shadowed and continuously attacked.

Thomas was killed in an explosion on July 4 when his ship was struck by torpedoes.

He refused to leave three injured men when the vessel was attacked.

Thomas gave his lifejacket to one of the injured men, then went down into the shattered engine room to help an injured engineer.

One of his shipmates, chief steward Percy Grey, described Thomas as a “hero” and told the Whitby Gazette in an article shortly after his death: “When Miller, Waller and myself got the second engineer out of the engine room where he was trapped, it was Waller who finally hoisted him out with a rope. He (Waller) could have saved himself even without a lifebelt if he hadn’t stayed behind to help the injured.”

The ship was torpedoed for a third time and Thomas was not seen again. A comrade told his mother in a letter that his body went down with the ship.

However, despite the tragic news and official confirmation of her son’s death, his mother would never accept her son was dead even after his uniform was returned to her.

Of the initial 35 ships, only 11 reached their destination, delivering 70,000 short tons of cargo.

There was no official British medal for veterans of the convoys until Prime Minister David Cameron announced in December an Arctic Star Medal would be awarded to those who survived.

Brian and Elsie hope Thomas might be awarded the Arctic Star Medal posthumously along with the others who lost their lives.