THE family of a hero sailor who helped to end the Second World War say they are delighted his medals are making a return to the North East after 25 years.
Tommy Brown from North Shields was just 16 when he fearlessly dived into a sinking German U-Boat to get his hands on secret codes in 1942.
The two other men on the HMS Petard, mission Able Seaman Colin Grazier and First Lieutenant Tony Fasson, lost their lives. But galley assistant Tommy escaped with the vital documents – that went on to be used to break the Enigma codes and helped to bring the war to an end.
Tragically he died just three years later in a house fire at his family home in North Shields.
After the war, his family were presented with the George Medal on his behalf to recognise his courageous feat, although the full details were never revealed due to the Official Secrets Act.
Then 25 years ago his family decided to hand the medal back to the Navy, Army and Airforce Institutes (NAAFI) for safe keeping and it was placed on display in Bletchley Park, where the codes were cracked.
But now the medal has been brought back to the North East where it will be placed on display at the NAAFI HQ in Darlington and his family have been invited to join naval chiefs to celebrate the organisation’s 90th anniversary.
“It’s brilliant news” said brother David Brown, 80, of Shotton Colliery, Durham.
“We gave the medal to NAAFI as now his brothers and sisters are getting old we wanted to make sure it was kept in safe hands and didn’t end up getting sold or lost.
“We have been to Bletchley Park a few times and seen it there, but it is much better it is back in the North East.
“His brothers and sisters have a lot of children, grand children and great grandchildren and they have all heard about Tommy so it will be nice for them to be able to go to Darlington and see the medal there. We are all very proud of what Tommy did.”
It was not until more than half a century after the war that the full extent of the sailors’ bravery came to light.
Staffordshire journalist Phil Shanahan picked up on the tale of the three forgotten heroes and began a campaign to get them the recognition they deserve.
This includes a memorial to the men and streets named after them in Staffordshire. In 2002 Tommy’s heroism was marked in his home town with a stained glass window which was unveiled in the Saville Exchange, North Shields.
THE story of the Real Enigma Heroes, researched over 12 years by Phil Shanahan, is one of heroism and tragedy.
The British had already captured an Enigma machine from a U-boat when HMS Petard drew alongside the crippled U-559 in October 1942.
The crew abandoned the rapidly-filling U-boat but three members of the Petard’s crew – Tony Fasson, the ship’s first lieutenant, from Jedburgh, Colin Grazier, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, and Tommy Brown, a 16-year-old canteen assistant who had given officers the slip to join the mission – went in search of the codebooks.
The men smashed open cabinets with a machine-gun. Fasson found keys and used them to open drawers containing the vital codebooks. These were handed to Tommy Brown, who passed them up the conning tower.
The men had just started to get out when the submarine suddenly took in huge volumes of water and sank. Grazier and Fasson drowned but Tommy survived, popping out of the conning tower like a cork.
To contact Phil Shanahan email firstname.lastname@example.org