Mar 21 2013 Ormskirk Advertiser
AUGHTON man Henry Francis Thomas was killed in action near the end of World War II when his ship was torpedoed.
Mr Thomas lived on Blackmoss Lane with his parents Percy and Margaret Ann Thomas.
He joined the Royal Navy and became a marine engineer on the Bibby Line. The first ship he served on, HMS Eagle, was torpedoed in August 1942.
Mr Thomas then joined HMS Lapwing, which was built by Scott’s Shipbuilding and Engineering of Greenock. She was launched on July 16 1943. On March 20 she was torpedoed byU-968 (Otto Westphalen) as she travelled toward Murmansk.
HMS Lapwing sank with the loss of 158 lives. A rescue operation pulled 61 men from the icy waters. Mr Thomas, aged 32, lost his life.
HMS Lapwing had played a direct role in the Normandy landings of 1944, and had completed nine return convoys to Murmansk in northern Russia. Churchill had described the journey, which was synonymous with atrocious conditions, as the 'worst in the world.'
Convoy JW65 had met little ‘opposition’ when she reached Kola Inlet, then a snowstorm restricted carrier operations from Campania and Trumpeter just as the convoy was passing a concentration of 13 U Boats. Losses were inevitable and ‘Westphalen’ sank Lapwing and a liberty ship named Thomas Donaldson.
A survivor’s account read:
"After the torpedo ripped through the ship's hull, I remained at post until abandon ship order". Then he jumped into the freezing sea, luckily pulled onto a raft that had been thrown overboard.
"Only six left were pulled aboard HMS Savage at rescue. And one of them died on the deck, I'll always remember that man."
Men such as this have few equals, lest we forget. My thanks to Norman Bampton for helping me write this story.