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The Thetis Disaster Relief Fund

Thetis after being  raised in November 1939
Thetis after being raised in November 1939

The following chronicles the communication between the Chairman of the Barrow Branch of The Submariners Association and the office of The Lord mayor of London.

Thetis Disaster Relief Fund
FAO The Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Clive Martin

Dear Sir,

I am the Chairman of the above association and have been asked by members of my branch to enquire about the whereabouts of the Fund, raised by the Lord Mayor of London for the Survivors and Relatives of HM Submarine Thetis.

The media has produced many articles on this Submarine subject, the latest being in the centre pages of last weekends Mail on Sunday. This story holds interest for many people and the content of this particular article is one I personally agree with strongly.

Books and newspaper articles regarding Thetis have been abundant in recent years, however one point that always dies a death is the whereabouts of this fund. As far as we can ascertain the money was only partially spent, reluctantly, may I hasten to add, owing to the draconian method adopted by the then Government.

The surviving relatives of those poor souls lost in this tragic event have struggled throughout the years to make ends meet with little or no assistance from the Admiralty or the so-called Government.

Therefore I would appreciate your investigation into the surprising disappearance of the information regarding this matter, and hope that you can resolve it.

We believe that the fund must be in the region of £500,000 taking into account interest that must have accrued over the years. The funds stood at £115,000 on June 10th 1939, within a week of the disaster.

Martin's Bank was the original bankers, swallowed up by what is now known as Barclays, from whence all monies went to Mansion House in London. This money, the Thetis Appeal Fund, should it emerge, would assist the surviving relatives in, and add quality to, they're remaining years, providing the fund is shared out amongst them.

As a retired Submariner and Falklands veteran I would like nothing better than to see justice done in rewarding these worthy recipients.

Yours sincerely,
Ken Collins, Chairman Barrow-in-Furness SA.

Mansion House, London EC4N 8BH

Dear Mr Collins,

The Lord Mayor has asked me to thank you for your recent letter about the Thetis Disaster Relief Fund.

My office has now investigated the details of this fund and I am now in a position to answer the concerns that you raised.

The Thetis Disaster Fund was launched by the then Lord Mayor, Sir Frank Bowater on 5th June 1939 and raised approximately £150,000. The whole of the capital and income was intended for distribution to the beneficiaries, comprising 106 adults and 86 children. Children benefited to the age of 18. The money was distributed to the dependants by the Central Bureau of Naval Officers' Charities; the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust; the Civil Service Benevolent Fund and the shipbuilders Messrs Cammel Laird & Co.

The fund was administered by an Executive Committee of which latterly Sir Herbert Tetley, the Government Actuary, was Chairman. The City firms of Turquand Youngs & Co and Freshfields acted for the Fund as auditors and solicitors respectively. The bankers to the Fund were Lloyds Bank and the Bank of England also assisted. Under the trust deed the Lord Mayor and the Governor of the Bank of England were trustees ex officio.

In view of the decreasing number of beneficiaries, it was eventually decided to buy annuities to provide for the remainder and wind up the fund. Fifty four annuities were bought at a total cost of £60,356 from the Provident Mutual Life Assurance Association. The final meeting of the Fund took place at the Mansion House on 1st March 1966.

For your information the Provident Mutual Life Assurance Association was taken over by General Accident which has now become CGU Life.

I am enclosing a note from the Corporation of London Records office from Mr R G Pinney, who was the Secretary to the Fund in 1966 to the then Lord Mayor Sir Lionel Denny, and also a press release from 1966 detailing the winding up of this Fund.

I hope that you find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely, Peter Tribe,
Private Secretary to Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor 14th February, 2000

Notes for the Lord Mayor from R.G. Pinney, Secretary of the Fund

Thetis Disaster Relief Fund

The Thetis Disaster Relief Fund was launched in a broadcast by the then Lord Mayor, Sir Frank Bowater, on the 5th June 1939, following the loss of the submarine in Liverpool Bay four days earlier.

The amount subscribed was approximately £150,000 and the number of victims was almost 100.

The money was sent in direct to the Mansion House, and through supporting funds organised by civic heads.

The administration of the fund was governed by a Trust Deed and Scheme, with Sir Frank Bowater a Trustee and future Lord Mayors and Governors and the Bank of England Trustees ex officio.

The operation of the fund was entrusted to an Executive Committee who obtained the money they needed from the Trustees from time to time.

The Executive Committee in turn relied on four voluntary distributing agencies, namely the Central Bureau of Naval Officers' Charities, the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, the Civil Service Benevolent Fund and Messrs Cammel Laird & CO Ltd. These deserve special thanks.

A Schedule of widows and children of the victims, and of dependent relatives, was drawn up and arrangements were made to distribute the whole of the capital and income of the fund during the lives of the adult dependants and for the assistance of the children up to the age of 18. There were 106 adult beneficiaries and 86 children at the outset.

The scheme has operated smoothly, and it has proved possible gradually to raise the rate of pensions, to some extent, if not entirely, to offset the rising cost of living. This achievement must be attributed to the prudent policy advocated by the Honorary Actuaries of the fund and, more particularly, to Sir Herbert Tetley who has occupied this office for the greater part of the life of the fund as well as becoming the customary chairman at the half yearly meetings of the Executive Committee. He deserves the greatest credit.

Recently, with the diminishing numbers of beneficiaries, it was decided that the funds should be wound-up and beneficiaries provided for in the future by annuities. The number of annuities bought was 54 and the cost of the policy was £60,356.6s.6d.

From the start Messrs. Turquand Youngs & Co., have acted as Honorary Auditors and Sir Leslie Peppiatt, and more recently his firm Freshfields, as the funds voluntary legal advisors. The co-operation of the Bank of England has been equally valuable.

The final meeting is for the purpose of adopting the last audited statement of accounts which shows that the fund has no remaining resources of its own, after receiving from the Trustees the final balance in the possession following the realisation of securities, and after buying the annuities from the Provident Mutual Life Assurance Association, who offered the best terms from among many generous quotations obtained by Mr Tetley (who has recently received a KBE in his capacity as Government Actuary.

Lastly, if the accounts are adopted, the Executive Committee should record that the Trustees have fulfilled their trust and are discharged from any further responsibility.


The Thetis Disaster Fund launched in a broadcast by the then Lord Mayor, Sir Frank Bowater, on June 5 1939, four days after the submarine was lost in Liverpool Bay, was wound up at the meeting presided over by Sir Lionel Denny, Lord Mayor and Trustee of the Fund, at the Mansion House yesterday.

Approximately £150,000 was subscribed as a result of the Appeal to help the dependants of the one hundred lost on board.

The whole of the capital and income was intended for distribution to the original 106 adults and 86 children who were beneficiaries; children benefited to the age of 18.

In view of the decreasing number of beneficiaries, it has been decided to buy annuities to provided for the remainder and to wind up the Fund. 54 Annuities were bought at a cost of £60,356.

In his speech at the final meeting, Sir Lionel Denny thanked those who had administered the Fund so efficiently over the years and carried out the actual distribution of the money, and said that " There was no doubt that the Fund had been a tremendous success, and was a splendid example of how willingly the public would respond to an appeal for a worthy cause" .

Reproduced with kind permission from
Submariners News


1 comment

My Great Uncle Frank Bresnen an engine fitter at Lairds went down with the Thetis,the families were treated badly,his body when recovered was transported from Anglesy to birkenhead in a lead lined coffin (due to the smell) and the families had to pay for onward transport from the railway station.hIs Widow and Daughter received very little from this fund as my Great Aunt would not found applying for grants for School shoes/uniforms humiliating due to the grilling that it entailed

   Mike Parsons Sat, 15 Aug 2020

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