22 February 2009

Victoria Cross: T. Wilkinson


Temporary Lieutenant, Royal Naval Reserve; commanding HMS Li Wo

Born: 1 August 1898, Widnes, Lancashire
Died: 14 February 1942, at sea south of Singapore

Citation: On 14th February, 1942, H.M. Ship Li Wo, a patrol vessel of 1,000 tons, formerly a passenger steamer on the Upper Yangtse River, was on passage from Singapore to Batavia. Her ship's company consisted of eighty-four officers and men, including one civilian; they were mainly survivors from His Majesty's Ships which had been sunk, and a few from units of the Army and the Royal Air Force. Her armament was one 4 inch gun, for which she had only thirteen practice shells, and two machine guns.
Since leaving Singapore the previous day, the ship had beaten off four air attacks, in one of which fifty-two machines took part, and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon, she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger of which was escorted by Japanese naval units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. The commanding officer, Lieutenant T. Wilkinson, R.N.R., gathered his scratch ship's company together and told them that, rather than try to escape, he had decided to engage the convoy and fight to the last, in the hope that he might inflict damage upon the enemy. In making this decision, which drew resolute support from the whole ship's company, Lieutenant Wilkinson knew that his ship faced certain destruction, and that his own chances of survival were small.
H.M.S. Li Wo hoisted her battle ensign and made straight for the enemy. In the action which followed, the machine guns were used with effect upon the crews of all ships in range, and a volunteer gun's crew manned the 4 inch gun, which they fought with such purpose that a Japanese transport was badly hit and set on fire.
After a little over an hour, H.M.S. Li Wo had been critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson then decided to ram his principal target, the large transport, which had been abandoned by her crew. It is known that this ship burnt fiercely throughout the night following the action, and was probably sunk.
H.M.S. Li Wo's gallant fight ended when, her shells spent, and under heavy fire from the enemy cruiser, Lieutenant Wilkinson finally ordered abandon ship. He himself remained on board, and went down with her. There were only about ten survivors, who were later made prisoners of war.
Lieutenant Wilkinson's valour was equalled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The VICTORIA CROSS is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition of his own heroism and self-sacrifice, and of that of all who fought and died with him.


The following amendment is made:-
In London Gazette Supplement No. 37387 of 14th December, 1945, Page 6084, the Award of Mention in Despatches (Posthumous) to Lieutenant Thomas WILKINSON, R.N.R., is cancelled, this officer's services being now recognised by the Award of the VICTORIA CROSS, gazetted herein.

(London Gazette Issue 37819 dated 17 Dec 1946, published 13 Dec 1946.)

Note: The same issue of the Gazette also reported that Temporary Sub-Lieutenant R G G Stanton, RNR, First Lieutenant (and only surviving officer) of HMS Li Wo, was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. Acting Petty Officer A W Thompson was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, and Leading Seaman V Spencer and Able Seaman A Spendlove were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Spencer had manned the port machine gun on HMS Li Wo, and the other three men had served as crew for the 4-inch gun.
Temporary Lieutenant E N Derbridge, RNZNVR, Temporary Sub-Lieutenant J G Petherbridge, Malaya RNVR, Able Seaman D Palmer, Acting Chief Petty Officer C H Rogers, Leading Seaman W D Wilding and Able Seaman J Smith all received mention in despatches, posthumously in the case of the first three. (CPO Rogers, one of the survivors of Li Wo, had already survived the sinking of HMS Repulse on 10 Dec 1941.)


Anonymous said...

Hello Old Coot Thomas Wilkinson was my Grandfather's brother. I have been researching the family history for two years now. Thanks for keeping his name 'alive' on the web. He was an amazing person. I have a photograph of Thomas when he served out in the Far East before the War if you are interested.

Neil McNamara said...

We would very much to have a good quality copy of a photo of Thomas Wilkinson. Our Company is Jardine Matheson, and Thomas Wilkinson was our employee and the Li Wo was our ship.
We have models of the Li Wo in our Hong Kong office and would like to have a photo of her Captain to accompany them. I can be contacted on nmm@jardines.com.