Seaman survives the infamous Battle of the Jutland

Reprinted from The Packet, May 22, 2019
by Lester Green

(Click on images to enlarge)

Seaman George Thomas of Hodge’s Cove. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Tobin)

Seaman George Thomas’ war naval career began overseas at England. He fought at the infamous Battle of the Jutland while serving on the HMS Marlborough. He then returned home on furlough before spending time in the Caribbean. His final deployment was served on the newly launched Razzle Dazzle ship, HMS Kildangar.

The surname Thomas arrived in Hodge’s Cove during the 1860s when James and Mariah Drover adopted Henry Leach Thomas from the orphanage at St. John’s to work as a “winter boy”. He was given the task to shovel snow from the bridge and fetch firewood from the store.

Henry’s father, Captain George Thomas, had drowned when Henry was just a young boy.

Henry remained in Hodge’s Cove and married Mary Ann, daughter of John and Virtue Peddle of Hodge’s Cove on January 1, 1881.

George, born on February 12, 1890, was one of four boys. He had an older brother that was also named George who died as an infant.

In March 1909, George enlisted with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve. He spent five consecutive years during the months of March and April, completing 28 days of naval training. By spring of 1914, he had competed a total 140 days qualifying him as a well- trained sailor.

George married Sarah Jane, daughter of Simeon and Maria (Whalen) Smith of Island Cove during a ceremony at Hodge’s Cove on June 22, 1914. A few months later a Royal Proclamation was released informing all Naval Reservist of their recall to St. John’s in preparation for war overseas.

On November 6, he was among the first draft of sailors to depart for Liverpool aboard the SS Franconia.

Seaman Thomas was assigned to HMS Pembroke for five weeks before being drafted to HMS Carron, an armed boarding steamer. Onboard were two familiar faces, Abraham Avery, Long Beach and Elijah Price, Loreburn.

HMS Marlborough. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Tobin)

On September 14, 1915 he was transferred to the battleship, HMS Marlborough. The ship was primarily used for patrolling the northern waters of the North Sea enforcing the German blockade.

HMS Marlborough saw action during the infamous Battle of Jutland and exchanged gunfire with the German Cruiser, SMS Wiesbaden. When the smoke had cleared, the SMS Wiesbaden sank to a watery grave but the HMS Marlborough was crippled after receiving a torpedo hit from the German cruiser. This forced the ship to withdraw from the battle.

By the end of the Battle of Jutland, we lost one of “Ours”- Seaman John Hiscock of Hillview, who was serving on the HMS Invincible. It was a reminder to the people our area that war comes with a cost of human life.

Seaman Thomas was transferred to the HMS Pembroke in December 1916 and spent about 20 weeks before receiving orders that he was going home to HMS Briton on May 25, 1917. He spent three weeks at home on furlough before returning to St. John’s.

His new assignment took him to the Caribbean’s where he was stationed on the HMS Caesar at the Bermuda Naval Station with six other sailors from the Southwest Arm area. He spent five months at Bermuda before being sent overseas to the HMS Victory in England where remained until August 28, 1918.

The Razzle Dazzle ship, HMS Kildangan

George’s next six months were spent on a newly launched ship, the HMS Kildangar, referred to as the Dazzle Ships or more commonly by sailors as the Razzle Dazzle ships. The ship was painted in camouflage colors and was built with two stems to confuse enemy submarine observers. The submarine had to determine the direction of the ship before firing a torpedo.

His final months overseas were spent at the HMS Vivid III waiting orders to return home. On April 11, 1919 he was transferred home where he was demobilized on May 27. He returned home to Hodge’s Cove.

In 1923, George and Sarah Jane adopted a daughter, Lillian and were guardian to Douglas Baird.

Seaman George Thomas and his adopted daughter Lillian Whalen. (Photo courtesy Audrey Tobin)

On June 22, 1971 George passed away at the age of 81 years. His wife died 14 years later on February 6, 1985. Both are buried at the new St. Mary’s Anglican Cemetery Hodge’s Cove.