Submariners honoured in Anglesey during HMS Thetis commemorations

The people of Anglesey chose the anniversary of one of the Submarine Service’s darkest hours to grant it their highest honour.

Hundreds of submariners paraded through the streets of the port of Holyhead as the Freedom of the County of Anglesey was conferred on the Royal Navy’s underwater warriors.

They were joined by men and women committed to hunting them down: the crew of frigate HMS St Albans, taking a break from recent anti-submarine activities by putting into Holyhead for the weekend.

The Freedom Scroll was presented to the Casket Party led by Warrant Officer Stirling Way, who carried the scroll through the town to the applause of Holyheaders.

Behind him, carrying the Colour, was 50-year-old Petty Officer Tony Madden who hails from Anglesey.

"I’m quite proud to be here for this event and be in the Parade,” he said. “It gives my local friends an insight into what I do. I’ve been away from my home town for a long time and it shows them a bit of my Navy life."

The head of the Silent Service, Rear Admiral John Weale, thanked Cllr Margaret Murley Roberts, vice chairwoman of Anglesey Council, for granting the civic honour.

"This is a special day for the Submarine Service, he said. “This is not something that happens often to us.

"As submariners, we don’t get out much! “Looking at them assembled here today I thank them for all they have done – and do – in the Submarine Service.

"Standing on parade reminds me of why we do our job: to defend and protect the UK’s interests and to defend us all from those who wish to harm us and our way of life."

"The parade was followed by a solemn ceremony remembering the gravest disaster in the 118-year history of the Silent Service: the loss of HMS Thetis, on the eve of World War 2.

Ninety-nine men died – not just crew, but dockyard workers, Admiralty inspectors and numerous guests – when the boat sank in Liverpool Bay during trials due to a faulty torpedo tube; only four men survived, the rest died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Thetis was salvaged and brought to Holyhead; 44 of the crew were buried in the port’s Maeshyfryd Cemetery.

What unfolded in that submarine was astounding

Rear Admiral John Weale

In a moving ceremony, wreaths were laid by local dignitaries and the Armed Forces and a special floral tribute was laid on behalf of 100-year-old Mary Beard – widow of crewman James Arthur Morgans and the last direct living link with the tragedy. She was unable to attend in person, but had visited Holyhead two years ago, and sent a message of gratitude.

It was the Thetis connection which prompted islanders to grant submariners Freedom eight decades later.

"What unfolded in that submarine was astounding," Admiral Weale said. “Re-invigorated and re-named she went on to serve in World War 2. It is a tribute to her that we are all back here again today 80 years on remembering HMS Thetis.”

HMS St Albans, which brought Welsh Guards with her to attend events ashore, opened her gangway to the public.

“Although we are clearly not a submarine, it is not possible to bring a submarine to Holyhead, I hope that St Albans is the next best thing,” said the Saint’s Commanding Officer Commander John Cromie.