Woman believed to be the last widow of the 1939 Thetis submarine disaster pays tribute in Holyhead

Reporter:

Dale Spridgeon

A 99-year-old Essex woman believed to be the last surviving widow of the 1939 Thetis submarine disaster made a moving pilgrimage to Holyhead on Wednesday.

Mary Beard - formerly Morgans - of Great Bentley, with her daughter Jenny Curtis-Beard, made a poignant trip to lay flowers at the grave of her first husband Able Seaman James Arthur Morgans, some 78 years after he was buried at the Maes Hyfryd Cemetery in Holyhead.

Mary and Jenny, her daughter by her second marriage in 1947, were also given a VIP tour of the Holyhead Maritime Museum, where there is a permanent display to the HMS Thetis.

James, “Jimmy, or Jim,” as Mary knew him, was one of the 44 men to be buried at the cemetery after the ill-fated Thetis, an (N25) Group 1, T-class submarine, went down off the coast of Anglesey on June 1, 1939.

It sank in an accident during diving trials 18 miles off Moelfre, and 17 miles of the Great Orme. Of the 103 men aboard, which included naval crew and civilians, only four men survived.

The Royal Navy submarine, which had  been built at Cammell Laird, in Birkenhead, was eventually recovered and brought ashore at Traeth Bychan, at Red Wharf Bay, and was later towed into Holyhead.

Due to the number of bodies, funerals were held at the cemetery in batches between November 7 and and 27, in 1939. Due to a lack of vehicles to transport the coffins, local coal trucks had to be used to carry the dead.

Mary, who was only 20 at the time, had only been married to Jim for about 11 months. He was only 26 when he died. She was staying in temporary accommodation in Birkenhead when the disaster happened.

“He was lovely. He had bright blue eyes, and a wonderful sense of humour. My last memory of him, is seeing him walking away to board, then he turned back, he’d forgotten his watch. It was engraved with his initials. I got it back afterwards and I’ve treasured it,” said Mary.

“I did come back to see the grave about 50 years ago. I wasn’t sure whether I should come or not, but my daughter suggested it. It is my last chance really. He wouldn’t have wanted a lot of fuss, he was a very modest man.”

“I remember at the time, I went down to the docks to wait for him coming back, no one knew anything, there were hundreds of people gathering. It was a terrible time for everyone involved. But it is a very long time ago now. It’s been a trip down memory lane coming here and very nice to meet everyone.”

Jenny said: “Mum is over the moon she made the trip. Thanks to everyone in Holyhead who made the day so special for her.”

During her visit, Mary was presented with submariner’s badge by Holyhead resident and former sub-mariner Dave Percival.

The Mayor of Holyhead Ann Kennedy and town clerk Cliff Everett also presented her with a plaque during a ceremony at Holyhead Town Hall.

Email:

dale.spridgeon@nwn.co.uk

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