Captain Thomas Henry OBE

Published: 1st May 2020

Thomas Henry, was the oldest son of John Moar Henry and Christina Innes Mcgee. He was born in 1904 in Millbrae, Cullivoe, Yell.  His father, Captain John Henry was nine years of age at the time of the Gloup Disaster in 1881, when his father Thomas Henry was lost at sea during the disaster on the boat ‘Jessie Catherine’. John Moar Henry had his Master’s tickets for both steam and sail.

Tommy went to sea first with Christian Salvesens. He became a Master Mariner, and shortly before he died was the Commodore Captain of Glen and Company, which grew out of the old Scottish Navigation Company.

During the war many of the ships of the private shipping companies were taken under the control of the Shipping Controller. These merchant ships were used in the convoys. Captain Thomas Henry served mainly in the convoys, travelling through the Mediterranean.

Tommy was torpedoed several times.  One of the ships he was on was in port in Sorrento and was blown up by a limpet mine.  There were several incidents in which he displayed his bravery and concern for his men.  In one instance his ship the s.s. Narva was sailing alone from Naples to Alexandria when it was torpedoed.  The ship sank in less than two minutes and there was no time to lower the boats, but one of the rafts was released and the other three floated clear as the ship sank.  Eleven of the crew of twenty-seven managed to board the rafts but it was not possible to rescue the others who were in the water because of the bad weather conditions.

As the Captain he stayed on the ‘Bridge’ until everybody that was able, or alive, had managed to get off, however the ship sank very quickly (in a couple of minutes) and he was dragged down by a rope around his leg.  Tommy managed to get loose.  When he surfaced a sailor on the raft grabbed him by the hair and managed to get him aboard the raft. Tommy had taken a pet collie to sea with him and called her ‘Daphne’ after the character in the Broons, unfortunately, ‘Daphne’ the dog kept swimming away from the raft and Tommy couldn’t get her to come back.

The raft was reported in the newspapers as the ‘Ratty Raft’. Tommy, as Captain, refused to allow two rats which had made it onto the raft from the sinking ship to be killed or thrown over, as he said they were God’s creatures, and also he argued that when the rats left they would know then that they were lost. It was this incident which was reported in the London Gazette. However, other incidents led to him being awarded the OBE.

While sailing through a part of the Mediterranean, which was heavily mined he managed to sail unharmed, however, a convoy ship behind them was blown-up. Tommy as Captain spoke to the mate who was from Shetland, and said they should get volunteers to go with him, Tommy, to pick up the men in the water. The Mate urged him not to however Tommy and a few volunteers took a lifeboat and rowed back through the mines to pick up as many of the survivors as they could.

Compiled by Christina Jamieson niece of Captain Thomas Henry (June 2016)