Gilbert Thomson

Gilbert Thomson

The Battle of Jutland brought only a few casualties to Shetland. One was Gilbert Thomson, son of Thomas Thomson and Catherine Gray. He was born on 21 May 1895 at Papil, Haroldswick, Unst. Already at sea in the Merchant Navy, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve in Lerwick on 7 December 1914, enrolling for five years, Service No. L 429. He was to serve on HMS Barham, the new Queen Elizabeth class battleship, along with over twenty other Shetlanders.

Gilbert, who was also known as "Gibsie" was at the Battle of Jutland. The Barham was hit six times in action. Gilbert’s turret was struck by a shell. He was picked out from among the dead by another Shetlander. His naval record notes:--

Thomson invalided R.N. Hos. Haslar with injury to eyelids burns of face and eyelids.

A later note adds:-

burns of face, neck, hands forearm.

He had become twenty-one on the day of the battle. Comprehensively hurt, discharge and a long period of treatment followed. Returning to Aberdeen from Shetland during that time he survived the sinking of the St Magnus steamer in February 1918. He was a survivor twice.

He got a motor car and did taxi work in Unst. He married Margaret Craigie in 1923 and they were to have four children. In 1926 he got a job with the Customs and Excise there, and retired as Coast Preventive Officer in 1965. He got the BEM on retiring. He had numerous interests - football, trout fishing, the Unst Working Men’s Society, and was sergeant in the local Boys Brigade. In World War Two he was Company Sergeant Major for the Unst company, and of course, he was in the British Legion, who sent a wreath to his funeral after he died suddenly on 13 August 1968.

A man who had been rescued from among the dead had lived his life, rather well really.

Gilbert Thomson
Gilbert Thomson, courtesy of Michael Thomson.
HMS Barham.
St Magnus
SS St Magnus.