Tom Wilkinson: An introduction

OUR PATRONS :-   Bill Anderson MNM and Cdre Phil Waterhouse, RN.

 

 

Welcome to the Tom Wilkinson statue appeal website.
 Tom was born on Monday 1/8/1898 in 96 Mersey road West Bank Widnes Lancashire, now Cheshire.
He died Saturday 14/2/1942 in Java Sea, off Malaya.
 He is the only man from Widnes to be awarded the Victoria Cross in WW2.

Tom’s early life was a tough one, as was with everyone in those days. His father didn’t “spare the rod” on his children. His father, William Wilkinson was a ships Master on local river work, Northwich, Runcorn, Widnes, Liverpool and no doubt other areas.William would have expected his sons to have follow him into the family business, as a waterman working on the river Mersey.When Tom left West Bank School Oakland street at the age of 14, he went to work on the river full time. He worked with his father on the river. Sometime later he joined the Merchant Navy, this took him to sea, away from home.

 

When war was declared on 4th August 1914 Tom served right through this war as a merchant seaman ferrying troops to France, and crossing the Atlantic Ocean bringing food products and raw materials to this country.

In March 1918 his ship was torpedoed, but managed to limp back to port.

 

After the War he continued to be a Merchant seaman, working for the Blue Funnel line.

His travels were to the far east, mainly China. Eventually Tom became a qualified Master and worked for the Hong Kong company Jardine Indo-China Steam Navigation.

 

This work involved working around the China coast and the East indies. He was given a ship to command, the Hang Sang. Later on he was given Li Wo an upper Yangtse river steam passenger ferry.

 

He made several trips back to his home in West Bank, during one of his visits in 1939 War broke out, he returned to the far east, at this point Japan hadn’t joined the War, so there wasn’t any direct threat from them.

He was seconded into the Royal Naval Reserve (R.N.R.), which he was given an honorary rank of Lieutenant, at the same time as the Li Wo was requisitioned on December 8, 1941 as a patrol vessel, she was fitted with an old WW1 Japanese 4 inch gun, which was located on a platform below the bridge and two Vickers machine guns mid ship.

One of the crew, Ronald Stanton repainted the boat with different shades of greys and greens. The crew nicknamed her HMS Showboat.
 
Tom was known as Wilkie throughout the far east. He was a no nonsense skipper. He didn’t drink or smoke. He was his own man, even when the Li Wo became HMS Li Wo he carried on wearing a T shirt, shorts and slippers, even in the company of high ranking Royal Navy Officers, he never saluted anyone and used first names to everyone of all ranks, which did not go down well with the high ranking officers of the Royal Navy.
The last fateful trip for HMS Li Wo and Tom Wilkinson began on the 12th February. The Japanese were bombing Singapore, ships were leaving Singapore under orders, but the Li Wo was told to wait for orders. As the bombing was increasing people were flocking to the docks, eventually orders came through to leave with military passengers and head for Batavia, she set sail in the early hours of the 12th carrying 84 officers and men, mainly survivors from HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales.
During their voyage they were attacked many times by Japanese bombers, many inflicted much damage.
As they headed for Batavia they had to keep hiding in the mango groves and other shore line vegetation.
On the 14th their fate was sealed, a large Japanese convoy was sighted, there was no where to go, Tom told his crew they would go down fighting, no one objected, they had nothing to lose.
The convoy was guarded by heavy cruisers and destroyers.
Everyone went to battle stations, which ironically was to man a 4 inch gun and the two Vickers machine guns. Tom steered HMS Li Wo towards the Japanese convoy. The Japanese ignored the little boat as it neared them, a destroyer came close to them and then re-joined the convoy.
As the HMS Li Wo got nearer they hoisted their colours, a battered Ensign, still no response from the Japanese, They fired their 4 inch gun, the first shell fell too far, the second too short, their third shell hit the bridge of a troop ship which killed everyone on the bridge. The next shells struck home, the troop ship became ablaze, it was at this stage the Japanese started to fire at HMS Li Wo with small arms, she then rammed the troop ship causing a mortal wound to it, the Li Wo had made a large hole in the side of the troop ship, but in doing so, the Li Wo was damaged beyond repair, all power and the steering was gone, the Japanese fired every gun they could at her.
Tom ordered everyone who was still alive to abandon ship. The Japanese fired at the men in the sea, a destroyer came by and started to deliberately killing those in the water with it’s propellers.
The only two people left alive on HMS Li Wo was Tom Wilkinson and Ronald Stanton, Tom refused to leave what was left of the bridge, he ordered Stanton off the HMS Li Wo as it was sinking. Stanton jumped over board as the water was lapping the sides, and watched as the Showboat went down with Tom in true navy tradition.
They were only three men who survived the war from HMS Li Wo. Ronald Stanton was able to give details of the last days and actions of HMS Li Wo. Through the accounts of Ronald Stanton and verifications from Japanese reports Tom was awarded the Victoria Cross. HMS Li Wo became the most decorated small ship in the Royal Navy.