Tommy was a survivor of sinking of the Montrose

TORPEDOED ... the liner s.s. Montrose, later HMS Forfar.
TORPEDOED ... the liner s.s. Montrose, later HMS Forfar.

HE turns out to have been a naval hero of the Second World War.

So it really would be nice if the swimming trophy that was established in memory of Tommy Gillen could be found and restored to his family.

TORPEDOED ... Tommy Gillen, who survived the sinking of the Forfar.

TORPEDOED ... Tommy Gillen, who survived the sinking of the Forfar.

You may remember Tommy, whose name cropped up in reminiscences, a while back, of Percy Street and Harper’s Buildings, off Westoe Road in Shields.

We subsequently learned that Tommy was a champion swimmer and that the trophy, conceived after his death in the mid-1970s, for a distance swim alongside the South Pier, was last heard of in the care of South Shields Town Hall.

Only it’s been lovely to hear, via his daughter Liz, from Tommy’s son, Michael Gillen, in London – also a competitive swimmer in his day, who used to swim and win the quarter-mile race alongside the pier.

It was gratifying to hear that Michael was pleased to see the piece on his dad.

But here’s something. It transpires that his father, Tommy, was one of only a handful of survivors of the tragic loss of the armed merchant cruiser, HMS Forfar, early on during the last war.

The Forfar had been built in 1920 as the liner s.s. Montrose, seen here, and was requisitioned by the Admiralty on the outbreak of war.

In December 1940 she was on Northern patrol, 500 miles west of Ireland, when she was torpedoed and sunk by U-99 (skippered by the U-boat ace Otto Kretschmer).

A total of 36 officers and 136 men died.

Tommy was one of only 21 survivors, who endured an ordeal at sea before being rescued by, between them, the Canadian destroyer HMCS St Laurent, HMS Viscount, and a cargo ship, the Dunsley (built by Thompson and Sons, Sunderland).

So folks – any idea how, after nearly 40 years, we can track down Tommy’s trophy?