Square named in honour of teenager whose bravery helped shorten Second World War

A town square has been named in honour of a teenager whose heroics retrieving crucial documents at sea helped to shorten the Second World War.

The regenerated centre of North Shields, North Tyneside, has been named after Thomas Brown following a public vote in recognition of his incredible story.

Aged just 15, he was awarded the George Medal while he was a civilian on a warship who somehow become involved in retrieving codebooks from a sinking enemy submarine.

They were later used to crack the Enigma codes by experts at Bletchley Park, enabling the British to decipher Nazi messages.

Two brave men died while searching the stricken sub but Thomas survived and managed to save the books from the sea.

More than 30 family members were present to see the unveiling of a 6ft 6in granite memorial to the local hero.

The inscription reads: “A memorial to Thomas Brown GM.

“A North Shields boy who helped shorten World War Two by capturing vital Enigma code books from a sinking German U-boat.

“Two of Thomas’ shipmates drowned in the operation carried out from HMS Petard during October 1942 in the Mediterranean.

“Thomas was awarded the George Medal but died before he could receive it.

“The medal was presented to his mother by King George VI in 1945.”

Thomas, who won the medal while he served in the canteen on HMS Petard, died in a house fire before he could receive the honour.

His proud niece Lynn Melville said: “When it came to the naming of the town square, for us Thomas was the only choice and we were confident but relieved that the vote was his.

“Lots of people in North Shields still don’t know his story and we want to change that.”

The hero’s nephew Andrew Miller explained how Thomas ran away to sea after lying about his age.

He said: “Thomas was not meant to be there on that day.

“He was never in the Navy, he was only in the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes).

“He was a civilian who worked on board the HMS Petard in the canteen service.

“What’s more, when he signed up for the NAAFI he lied about his age, he’d only just turned 15.”

Mr Miller said Thomas had a tough upbringing and learned to swim when his father and brothers threw him in the Tyne.

He said: “At that moment when he jumped from the Petard into the water, we don’t know if he’d asked permission or if he was supposed to be accompanying the two naval men.

“As far as we know Thomas just appeared on deck and joined them, jumped in and swam over to the U-boat.

“The two other men went under the water into the submarine and he stayed above water.

“They passed the books up to him, making three trips to the surface.

“The submarine was sinking. It went down with the two men inside.

“The papers had to stay dry and Thomas did manage to protect them.

“He got them back on board the HMS Petard so they could go on to Bletchley Park where they were used to crack the naval Enigma code.

“We don’t know why Thomas took such a big risk. But when you’re 15 you don’t think anything’s going to happen to you.”

The family has pieced together his story which had been subject of the Official Secrets Act for 50 years until 1992.

North Tyneside’s elected mayor Dame Norma Redfearn said Thomas Brown was the clear winner of the public vote.

She said: “He’s a young lad whose heroic actions helped shorten World War Two.

“We can’t say for sure how many lives he saved by that moment of bravery, it could be many thousands.”