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The Loss of HMS Thetis

The Barrow Connection

by Barrie Downer

On Thursday 1st June 1939 the brand new submarine HMS Thetis (Lieutenant Commander Guy H Bolus) sailed from the Birkenhead Yard of Cammell Laird into Liverpool Bay to carry out diving trials. In addition to the normal crew of fifty five Officers and Ratings there were a large number of passengers both uniformed personnel and civilians on board for Trials purposes. This took the total number of personnel onboard the Submarine up to one hundred and one. During the dive difficulties were encountered with the trim of the submarine.

During the investigations into why the Submarine could not dive properly it was decided to determine the condition of the Tanks and Torpedo Tubes. In this process the Rear Doors of all Tubes including No. 5 Tube were opened. Unknown to the crew the Bow Cap of No. 5 Tube was already open and the Tube was full of water.

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As the Rear Door was opened water rushed in and the forward compartments of the submarine were flooded. The Submarine inevitably ended up on the bottom and was unable to resurface. Eventually four of the trapped personnel were able to make an escape but, despite all the desperate efforts of both those remaining in the Submarine and all those on the surface in ships, aircraft and rescue vessels, the remaining ninety nine of the crew and passengers died in the accident.

As this was a Cammell Laird built Submarine it might seem strange that there was a Barrow connection however there was. There were four passengers on the Submarine that day all of whom had links to Barrow and the Vickers Yard and the Commanding Officers wife was also from the area.

The Commanding Officer Guy Bolus who had previously 'stood by' the Barrow built submarine HMS Osiris was married to Sybil Bolus (nee Poole). Sybil was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Frederick W Poole of Bankfield House, Urswick. Frederick Poole was the Furness Coroner. Guy and Sybil Bolus had one son, Martyn, who was nine years old at the time of the accident.

After the Submarine has been salvaged and the casualties removed Guy Bolus was buried at sea on 27th September 1939 his wife did not attend the burial but his sister was present. Many of the Crew and passengers were buried in a mass grave at Holyhead.

The three local men lost were:-

James Young who was employed as a Foreman Fitter by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd at the Barrow in Furness Shipyard. He was the husband of Florence Young of 8, Falmouth Street, Barrow in Furness and he was the father of Joan and Hugh who were nine and eight years old respectively. He was buried privately by his family.

Thomas Ankers who was an employee in the Submarine Department of Vickers Armstrong Ltd at the Barrow in Furness Shipyard. He was married to Martha Ankers of 19, Derby Street, Barrow in Furness. Thomas Ankers was also buried privately by his family.

Horace Cragg who was a Submarine Draughtsman at the Barrow in Furness Shipyard of Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. He married to Sarah Cragg of Broadgate, Victoria Road, Ulverston. Again he was buried privately by his family. April 2011

The North-Western Daily Mail of Thursday 8th June 1939 reported on Page 8:

Yesterday was a day of national mourning for the men who died on the submarine Thetis. Relatives were conveyed to the scene of the disaster in Liverpool Bay to take part in a memorial service that will never be erased from their minds.

Taking part in that sorrowful, poignant service were included the wives, mothers, and other relatives of the three local men who were victims of this greatest submarine tragedy in history.

By the sympathetic gesture of Vickers Armstrongs, the bereaved relatives from Barrow and Ulverston were conveyed to Liverpool by motorcars.

Three cars, with chauffeurs, were placed at their disposal by the firm, so that they should be put to as little inconvenience as possible. It was one of those thoughtful acts that helped to sooth those in sorrow and must tend to cement the happy relations between employers and employees.

Vickers-Armstrong have also given £5,000 to the appeal fund and have let it be known that the dependants of their employees who lost their lives will be provided for.

Barrow joined in the great national memorial yesterday, for nowhere was the tragedy more regretted than in this town the birthplace of British submarines.

The same paper reported (in part) on Page 9 that:

The spacious church of St. John's, Barrow Island, was filled to overflowing, seats having been placed in the aisles and down the side walls of the building, for the memorial service yesterday afternoon for those who lost their lives in the Thetis disaster.

Her commander, Lieut-Commander G H Bolus as the son in law of the Furness Coroner, Mr F W Poole, and also well known by many of those who attended the service were the three employees of Messrs. Vickers Armstrong who were onboard.

Sir Charles Craven, chairman and managing director of Vickers Armstrong Ltd, was unable to attend as he was representing the Company at the memorial Service at St. Martin's-in-the-Field in London.

Naval uniforms were much in evidence mingling with the sombre dress of the officials and the overalls of the workmen, but however great the diversity of the outward appearance all hearts were as one in the thought of what had drawn them together.

The service was conducted by the Rev. C Williams, Vicar of Walney assisted by the Rev. J A Frankland, Curate of St. Matthew's, and the Rev. A T Bartlett, Curate of St. Luke's.

On Page 10 there were four photographs showing ceremonies at the Cenotaph in Barrow Park in which were shown:

(1) Naval Officers and members of the public at the Cenotaph

(2) Commander Stirling Hamilton (the Commanding Officer) and Chief Petty Officer Herbert Hammond (the Coxswain) of submarine Thistle about to lay a wreath


(Herbert Hammond later died in the loss of HMS Thistle which was torpedoed off Norway on 10th Apr 1940.)

(3) Mr J Callendar, director and general manager of Vickers Armstrong Ltd about to lay a wreath

(4) Navy League Sea Cadets sounding 'The Last Post'.

One other casualty lost in HMS Thetis was also connected to the Shipyard at Barrow. He was Engineer Captain Stanley Jackson who was the Senior Engineering Officer on the staff of the Rear Admiral (Submarines) at Gosport. For the four years until 1935 he had been the Engineering Overseer for the Admiralty at the Vickers-Armstrong's works at Barrow


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