THEFT: Invaluable historic loss

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I can remember my granddad Thomas, always rather a dapper man, wearing a watch attached to his waistcoat.

It was always assumed that this was his watch and it was passed on to my dad as the oldest surviving son, also Thomas (1921-1979), and had been in a drawer ever since.

My mum and I opened it some time back and when we found the inscription referring to a James Thompson, we were rather taken aback.

The watch was presented to James by the people of Blyth at a special ceremony in the Theatre Royal in 1920 as a memento of his service in minesweeping trawlers during World War I and at Jutland, and his award of the DSM.

Anyhow, it was not mine and as I could not trace any descendants, I donated the watch to the Battery Museum in 2013.

From the citation in the then Blyth News and Wansbeck Post (Thursday, May 20, 1920), you can see that Trimmer James Thompson was a very brave Blyth man. A trimmer moved the coal in the ships’ bunkers to maintain a balanced ship as the fuel was burned.

“Trimmer J. Thompson, late of HMS Triton, before the war was employed for many years in the Blyth shipyard as a carpenter’s labourer. He originally joined the army, enlisting in the 10th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers in October, 1914, but was subsequently discharged on medical grounds in the following May.

“Nothing daunted, however, and determined to do his bit, he promptly offered himself, and was accepted for service in the Royal Naval Reserve a fortnight later.

“He passed through the historic Jutland battle whilst serving on HMS Hercules. About three months afterwards he volunteered for minesweeping duty and was accordingly transferred to Minesweeper No. 1043, which subsequently struck a mine and was completely destroyed, only four men out of the crew of 12 being saved. He was severely wounded in the left arm.

“Later he was sent to HMT Triton, which was engaged in minesweeping in the Dardanelles and off the Bulgarian Coast, and on which vessel he served until the armistice was signed. This ship, too, struck a mine, and he was blown up again. Fortunately, however, no lives were lost.

“The Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to him for ‘Services in Dardanelles mine-sweeping operations, and operations off the Bulgarian Coast, in 1918’.

“The chairman then presented him with a gold watch on behalf of the committee, representing the people of Blyth.“

I checked with a local watchmaker and was told that it was a decent, if not spectacular, American Waltham Hunter watch, with seven jewels in a ten-carat gold plated case – a so termed 25-year case.

He advised not to try to wind it as the lubricant base is long gone and the watch would require partial dismantling, cleaning and re-oiling before he would risk this. As it was to be an exhibit this was not necessary.

What has now been stolen from the Battery Museum is not very valuable in itself, but is an invaluable and historic memento of this man’s achievements and Blyth’s contribution to the Great War.

What manner of scum have stolen this? It beggars belief.

Whoever they are, they have shown no feeling for Blyth and its people.

I will donate £100 to the care of the Battery Museum as a reward for information leading to the watch’s recovery and hopefully the arrest of the thieves and would hope that others feel that they could add to the amount.

Alan Henderson