William John Thomas

A Survivor of the sinking of the SS Tregenna


Date: 10/03/2007 19:06

Have just found your web-site about the SS Tregenna. My father, William John Thomas, born 18.01.1918 Bargoed, Glamorgan was one of the 4 survivors of the tragedy on the 17.09.1940. He wrote a short report on the sinking and his survival which I an sending.. Unfortunately, my father passed away in 2002, shortly after his 84th birthday in New Quay, Ceredigion.
Richard Thomas



W.J Thomasís account of the torpedoing of the SS Tregenna.
"I joined the SS Tregenna of St Ives at Swansea on the 26th of June 1940. Soon after leaving, each member of the crew were issued with a Kapok filled waistcoat type lifejacket which we were to wear or keep with us at all times. The voyage took us to USA with a cargo of coal. Homeward, we loaded a full cargo of steel railway lines at Philadelphia. On the 17th September 1940 when nearing the UK we were torpedoed by a German U-boat. This was about 2.30pm. I was asleep at the time and was awakened by the explosion and shuddering of the ship. I put on the lifejacket which I was using as a pillow and rushed out on deck. I could see it was hopeless to go for the lifeboats as I could see they were going under so I decided to jump over the side and get clear in case I would be sucked under with the ship. I saw the stern of the ship disappearing with her propeller still turning. Then the debris started coming up all around me. Fortunately a life raft came up near me and I was able to get on it. That was a stroke of luck. Another crew member joined me shortly after. Within one hour we were picked by another ship of the convoy the SS Phileigh".



Dear Richard,
Further to my earlier reply, which I hope that you received. We would be most grateful to receive any details regarding your father and the Tregenna, also an idea of his life afterwards, that we may use in tribute to him and all others that have crossed the bar. The crew list took a little time to get hold of and did not include the survivors, which took a little longer. Our tribute site is new and growing and we welcome you. if you could forward us a photo of your dad that you would like added to the website alongside his story. Perhaps a picture of him at sea/on board ship during the war.We would honour and preserve his memory.
Await your reply.
Keith Greenway
My father W. J. Thomas, rarely spoke of that day as it obviously pained him to do so. He once took me up to see the Merchant Navy Memorial at Tower Hill, London and talked about some of the names listed under SS Tregenna and the tears flowed as he talked about the 15 year old cabin boy and others who were even younger than himself.
He told me that he had once received a letter from the mother of one of those missing begging him for news and asking whether there was the remotest of possibilities that her son could have survived.
Many years later he was having a drink in the Buck Inn, Pontlliw, near Swansea (As he used to say "he was never one to pass the Buck"!), he met a man wearing a Merchant Navy tie and they started talking. The other man said in the conversation "I knew a Will Thomas from New Quay, I helped pull him out of the water onto the SS Filleigh during the War after his ship, the SS Tregenna was sunk.
I lent him some of my clothes and he never gave them back to me!" My father brought that man (a guy from the Llandeilo area) back home to meet my mother, went up the attic and gave him a parcel containing the clothes that had been lent him those many years ago. Now I wasn't a witness to this but my mother swears it's a true  story and not a seaman's yarn!
Now I'm writing this from Berlin, Germany where I now live (another of life's ironies) and where that U-Boot Kapitšn was killed in 1943! and so I have no pictures here of Dad in uniform. I've spoken to my mother (she's 86 ) and she'll be coming over with a brother of mine next month. I've told her to bring any photos and letters she can find. I'll be able to scan and send any suitable ones to you.
Richard Thomas



Thanks for the info. I wish I could be able to tell you the name of the relative who wrote to my father asking about her son. My mother says the name Rouncefield seemed to ring a bell when I read to her the list of those that been killed.
My father's parents were from southern Ceredigion (farming stock) who went down to south the Rhymney valley in search of work (I still have relatives in the Caerphilly area). My grandfather found a job as a coal miner at Britannia Colliery, Bargoed where he was injured and subsequently died of his injuries 3 days later in June 1917. My grandmother had two small daughters and was pregnant with my father (he was born the following January). My father, therefore never got to know his father. After surviving for some time taking in washing for other miners' families, she eventually moved back to Cardiganshire and my father and his sisters were brought up in New Quay where my father took an interest in the sea and eventually left school at fifteen to start his career as a cabin boy. He worked his way up to become a master mariner and was deputy harbour master in Swansea Docks for many years. I was brought up, with my three brothers, in the Swansea area.
Typical life and history of a South/West Walian family in a nutshell!