b. 08/05/1895 West Derby, Lancs. d. 18/10/1978 Rhostryfan, Caernarvonshire, Wales.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 06/12/1917 Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Thomas Neil Davis (1895-1978) was born on 8th May 1895 in West Derby, Lancashire. Sadly his parents died when he was young possibly due to a fire on board a ship. As a result, Thomas had to spend some time in the orphanage at Weston Point in Cheshire. He attended Weston Church of England School and was a chorister at Weston Church. He was then taken in by the local Reverend and his wife who realising his potential (particularly in Maths) entered him for the London Matriculation Examination.
At the age of 14, he became a Boy 2nd Class in the Royal Navy. He was small in stature but his confidence was noted. In 1914-15, he was AB on HMS Defiance, moving to HMS Collingwood and by 1916 was Leading Seaman. He then joined the Submarine Service at the Chatham Torpedo School. He was on HMS Sub E23 when it torpedoed the German battleship “Westfalen” on 19th August 1916 under Captain Turner, who was later awarded a DSO.
Davis left the service soon after this action, joining HMS Highflyer in December 1917, little realising what was about to happen. A few days later on 6th December 1917, off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the French steamer Mont Blanc, carrying high explosives, and the Norwegian steamer Imo collided. Fires broke out on the Mont Blanc and a few minutes later a tremendous explosion took place. The tug Musquash was seen to be on fire forward and there was a danger of her drifting into another ship. The captain of the Highflyer hailed a private tug and asked her captain to take the Musquash in tow, but his crew were unwilling to board the blazing tug, which was brought alongside the Highflyer instead. Thomas Davis and Able Seaman Stones volunteered to board the Musquash, and were transferred to the tug, which by this time had broken adrift; they secured a line from her stern and she was towed into midstream. When this line parted, they passed another line from Musquash to the pumping lighter Lee, which had now arrived. Both men then went forward and succeeded in getting to the ammunition, which was by this time badly scorched; pulling it away from the flames, they threw it overboard. Next they broke open the door of the galley and a cabin, which were both on fire, to enable the Lee to play her hoses into the flames.
On 26th March 1918, six awards were announced in the London Gazette for the incident. Captain T. K. Triggs was awarded a posthumous Albert Medal in Gold, whilst Leading Seaman Thomas Davis, Able Seamen Robert Stones and W Becker of HMS Highflyer and A C Mattison and Able Seaman E S Beard of HMS Niobe were all awarded the Albert Medal in Bronze, which was posthumous to Beard and Mattison. Sadly, Stones died shortly after the explosion, and Becker died in 1970.
In 1920, Thomas entered the Chinese Customs Service and in 1921 was posted to WHHu with seniority as he had attained his certificate of competence, being able to speak, read and write Mandarin Chinese. In 1927 he was involved in tracking down and pursuing pirates and looters around the waters of Hong Kong, China and Sarawak. Shortly afterwards he joined the Merchant Navy and while on leave in Liverpool, he met, fell in love with and subsequently married a young nurse from Fishguard in West Wales, Olwen Mabel Jenkins. They bought a house in Cheshire and had three sons Peter, Neil and Michael.
Thomas served for a time in World War II in the Atlantic and North Africa theatres but was invalided out in 1943 with a final rank of Lieutenant Commander. For the next 20 years he commanded the 365 Unit of the Sea Cadets in Cheshire. Not wishing to retire, he took a job with a large chemical company and then when retirement age finally came the family moved to Liverpool where he taught Chinese and worked with a firm of bridge builders on the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge and Barton Bridge in Lancashire.
In 1966, he became a founder member of the Albert Medal Association. In 1971, Thomas chose to exchange his Albert Medal for a George Cross. He donated his Albert Medal to the Royal Submarine Museum, Gosport, Hampshire. In his later years, he lived in Rhostryfan, in Caernarvonshire, North Wales, where he enjoyed walking with his sons. He passed away on 18th October 1978, aged 83 and in accordance with his wishes, was buried at sea in the English Channel. His GC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, War Medal 1939-45, Cadet Force Medal and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal 1977 are held by the family.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL NAVY SUBMARINE MUSEUM, GOSPORT, HANTS. (AM ONLY).
GEORGE CROSS IS HELD BY THE FAMILY.
BURIAL PLACE: BURIED AT SEA IN ENGLISH CHANNEL.