Sinking survivor Tommy was a real lifesaver

editorial image

THE trophy that carries his name has still to turn up, but it’s been nice to have more on Shields’s champion swimmer, Tommy Gillen.

He was a survivor of the sinking of HMS Forfar during the last war, you may recall, but his courage extended into peacetime, in his role as a lifeguard, I learn.

I’ve been hearing from Tommy’s daughter, Irene Gillen, who recalls some of her dad’s aquatic successes – a five-mile swim at Seaham Harbour, and the Durham one-mile swim, for instance.

He also worked on the beaches here at Shields as a lifeguard, after he came out of the Navy.

“He saved many lives,” says Irene, with whom Tommy went to live just prior to his death.

In fact he was saving lives before then.

A certificate from the Royal Humane Society records him saving a man from the sea in 1930, when he was aged just 19.

It’s in the collection of South Shields Museum, to whom Irene gave it a few years ago.

Of the trophy, she says: “Alan Forrest instigated the memorial ceremony which was held in Bailey’s, the former dance studio, in Beach Road.

“I have it in my head that the trophy went to the Amateur Swimming Association, based at Derby Street baths, as a prize in a swimming gala.

“If so, it would more than likely to have been for backstroke.”