Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (11 & 12 December 2013)

Date of Auction: 11th & 12th December 2013

Sold for £1,000

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

A fine Second World War unescorted Arctic convoy D.S.M. awarded to Bosun R. H. Thomason, Merchant Navy

Distinguished Service Medal, G.VI.R. (Mr. R. H. Thomason, A.B.), edge nicks, good very fine £800-1000


D.S.M. London Gazette 30 March 1943:

‘’For bravery and seamanship in taking merchantmen on the hazardous passage to North Russia.’

Robert Hugh Thomason, who was born in the Shetland Islands in February 1903, commenced his wartime career as an Able Seaman in the Imperial Valley.

Removing to the Eskdene in October 1940, he was among her survivors when she was torpedoed and sunk on 8 April 1941 - the much damaged ship remaining afloat, the U-Boat engaged it with gunfire, before sending it to the bottom with a second torpedo. Luckily for Captain W. J. Thomas and his crew, they were picked up by the S.S. Penhale.

Next joining the Empire Scott, Thomason was employed on the Arctic run in the period August 1942 until January 1943, including an unescorted voyage in November of the former year that resulted in the award of his D.S.M. The bare facts of this hazardous operation were summarised by the Admiralty Honours & Awards Committee in the following terms:

‘These vessels sailed independently from Iceland during November 1942 for North Russian ports. Of the five vessels two arrived safe -the Empire Galliard and the Empire Scott. The others were lost so far as is known with all hands.

These sailings were part of special arrangements made for the maintenance of essential supplies to Russia. For this purpose it was considered necessary that in view of operations in other theatres of war, a number of British and American ships should be sailed independently to Russia. The only means of rescue that the Navy were able to provide consisted of trawlers and some submarines.

It was fully realised that in the event of any ship becoming a casualty, the chances of being picked up were remote, and owing to the climatic conditions in the area concerned, the chances of survival were almost nil.

In view of the unusual hazards of the enterprise, it was decided that the British ships should be manned only by those who, after having been told of the proposal and of the fact that the usual protection would not be afforded, were none the less willing to make the endeavour to get the ships through. The Masters were informed of the proposal and in all cases they volunteered to go. They returned to their ships and the proposal was put to the officers who in nearly all cases volunteered for the voyage. The position was then explained to the crews and a response of something like 98% was obtained.

As regards the two ships Empire Galliard and the Empire Scott which reached Russia, it is possible that further awards should be made and the Representative of the Ministry of War Transport in Murmansk has been requested to furnish his recommendations. They have not yet been received but the Committee may wish to consider at once the names mentioned above.

In view of the extremely hazardous nature of this undertaking the masters, officers and ratings of these five ships were given a bonus in addition to their normal wartime pay and also an undertaking that in the event of any of the vessels being lost by marine risk during the voyage, compensation would be paid under the Government War Compensation Schemes. It is considered that these additional benefits were fully justified having regard to the circumstances in which the voyages were undertaken and to the fact that the risks and perils to be faced were undoubtedly greater than those a fully escorted convoy would expect to meet.’

Having then attended a Buckingham Palace investiture in November 1943, Thomason was advanced to Bosun in the Empire Butress in the following month, and served in the Empire Deed from April 1944 to January 1945, when he was present in operations off Italy and Normandy. His final wartime appointment was aboard the St. Clair and he finally came ashore in April 1971; sold with a file of research.