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  • Image courtesy Simon Williams
Person Details
10 Jan 1886
Cropwell Butler Nottinghamshire
Thomas Christopher was the son of William and Fanny Miller (née Smith). Both his parents were born in Cropwell Butler, William in about 1846 and Fanny in about 1848. They were married at Nottingham St Mary in July 1869 and had 10 children, nine of whom survived infancy. Their surviving children were born in Cropwell Butler and baptised at Tithby cum Cropwell Butler Holy Trinity: Catherine Mary b. 1870, Herbert b. 1871, William Edward b. 1873, Walter Smith b. 1875, Margaret Brett b. 1877, Ethel Gwendoline b. 1881, Hilda Maud b. 1883, Thomas Christopher birth registered 1886 (J/F/M) bap. 9 March 1886 and Evelyn Grace b. 1887. William and Fanny were recorded in Cropwell Butler two years after their marriage in 1871, and continued to live in the village until their deaths although they did move house and premises on a number of occasions. William was a baker and grocer on his own account and in 1891, having moved from Main Street where they were recorded on the 1881 Census, was living on Town Street with his wife and seven of their children: William (17) a stationer's apprentice, Walter (15), Margaret (13), Ethel (9), Hilda (7), Thomas (5) and Evelyn (3). The eldest child, Catherine (21), was a scholar and boarder in Malew, Isle of Man, while Herbert (19) was an account's clerk and living in Cropwell Butler with his maiden aunts Mary Smith, a victualler, and her sister Jane. By 1901 the family business and home was on Village Street. Only Walter, a baker's assistant (presumably assisting his father), Hilda and Thomas were in the home on the night of the census. Catherine was joint principal (own account) of a school in Alford, Lincolnshire, where her sister Ethel was recorded as one of the school governesses and their younger sister Evelyn as a visitor. Margaret had married Walter Shipside in 1900. Herbert and William have not yet been traced on the 1901 Census. By 1911 there were just three children living with their parents: Walter who was still helping in the bake house and Ethel and Evelyn who were both teachers at elementary schools. Margaret, her husband Walter Shipside a boot dealer and repairer, and their only child Edith, were living on Main Street, Cropwell Butler. Hilda had married Alfred Shipside in 1904 and they were living in Upton, near Southwell. Thomas had enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery in 1906 and was serving in India. Only Catherine and Herbert have not yet been traced on the 1911 Census. Fanny died in 1920 and William in March 1930; administration of his Will was awarded to his son, Herbert, a retired farmer.
Thomas was a baker before joining the army in January 1906
23 Oct 1915
29
1647965 - CWGC Website
40530
Driver
Royal Field Artillery
29th Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery Thomas Christopher enlisted in the Royal Artillery on 18 January 1906 on a 12 years Short Service Engagement (3 years with the Colours, 9 years Reserve). However, on 13 August of that year he extended his service to complete 8 years with the Colours. He joined No. 6 Depot at Seaforth and served at home until volunteering for service in India where he served from 21 September 1906 until 2 January 1913. He returned to the UK on 3 January and transferred to the Reserve on 18 January. Thomas was mobilised at Woolwich on 31 August 1914 and posted to France on 14 September. However, in early November 1914 he was medically evacuated to the UK where he received treatment for a knee wound ('slight') at Norwich Hospital, Norfolk, probably being discharged by 11 December. On 8 February 1915, while serving at home, Thomas was posted to the 29th Division Ammunition Column and embarked at Avonmouth on 21 March 1915 when the Division was posted to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. The 29th Division served in Gallipoli from April 1915 but its Divisional Ammunition Column remained in Egypt, where Thomas was charged on three occasions between March and September for various derelictions of duty or drunkeness. In October 1915 the DAC transferred to the 10th (Irish) Division for Salonika and the DAC embarked HMT Marquette at Alexandria for Salonika on 19 October 1915. Thomas was lost at sea on 23 October when the ship was sunk by torpedo fired from German U-Boat 35. (See 'Extra information'). His body was not recovered for burial and he is commemorated on the Mikra Memorial, Greece. Thomas served for 9 years 279 days: Home 18 January 1906-20 September 1906 (246d); India 21 September 1906-2 January 1913 (6y 104d); Home 3 January 1913-13 September 1914 (including Reserve time); France 14 September 1914-7 November 1914 (55d); Home 8 November 1914-20 March 1915 (133d), MEF 21 March 1915-23 October 1915 (217d). Thomas was awarded his 1st Good Conduct Badge on 18 January 1908 and 2nd Good Conduct Badge on 18 January 1911. He qualified for the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. CWGC - History of Mikra Memorial (extract): The memorial is inside Mikra British Cemetery in the city of Thessaloniki, Municipality of Kalamaria. 'At the invitation of the Greek Prime Minister, M.Eleftherios Venizelos, Salonika (now Thessaloniki) was occupied by three French Divisions and the 10th (Irish) Division from Gallipoli in October 1915. Other French and Commonwealth forces landed during the year and in the summer of 1916, they were joined by Russian and Italian troops. In August 1916, a Greek revolution broke out at Salonika, with the result that the Greek national army came into the war on the Allied side. The town was the base of the British Salonika Force and it contained, from time to time, eighteen general and stationary hospitals ... The British cemetery at Mikra was opened in April 1917, remaining in use until 1920 ... Within the cemetery will be found the Mikra Memorial commemorating almost 500 nurses, officers and men of the Commonwealth forces who died when troop transports and hospital ships [5 ships] were lost in the Mediterranean, and who have no grave but the sea. They are commemorated here because others who went down in the same vessels were washed ashore and identified, and are now buried at Thessaloniki.' (www.cwgc.org)
SS Marquette (formerly SS Bodicea) was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914. As HMT Marquette, under command of Captain John Bell Findlay, she left Alexandria Harbour, Egypt, in the late afternoon on 19 October 1915 for Salonika, Greece. Her departure was not run of the mill. A rousing send off with cheers and songs by British and French sailors manning warships in port was interrupted by a fault in the steering gear which caused the Marquette to suddenly swing round. A fire in a case on the deck caused a further diversion until it was thrown overboard. At dusk the transport was joined by its escort and the portholes were blacked out. The passengers and crew carried out lifeboat drills, as there were rumours there were German U-boats in the area. On the evening of the fourth day the escort, the French destroyer "Tirailleur", left the convey. At 0915 the next morning, October 23th, Capt. Dave N. Isaacs NZMC (the Quartermaster) was out strolling on deck with several nurses and drew their attention to a "straight thin green line about 50 yards away streaking through the water towards the ship", a periscope was seen cutting the water, and a terrific explosion on the forward starboard side signalled the ship had been struck by a torpedo. At once the steamer Marquette began to list to port, but righted herself and then began to sink by the bow. Someone had talked! Both in Cairo and Salonika the news that the Marquette had been struck was released some hours before the happening took place. She sank in thirteen minutes with a heavy loss of life - 128 troops including (17 NZMC staff), 10 nurses and 29 crewmen. Total loss 167. She had 14 lifeboats and 35 rafts - combined carrying capacity 1196. Rafts and lifebuoys were thrown overboard. No aeroplanes went to search, even though the Greeks, who in 1915 were not participants in the war, had knowledge that the ship had been torpedoed down the Gulf of Salonika just in the entrance to the inner bay of Saloniki near the river of Axios. Why did the escort leave her? Maybe because she was practically in the harbour. She was due into port by midday on the 23rd. The ship was a legitimate target as she carried 22 officers and 588 other ranks of the 29th Division Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery with its vehicles and animals, and staff (eight officers, nine NCOs, 77 other ranks of the NZMC), equipment and stores of the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital including the thirty-six nurses of the NZANS as well as the HMT Marquette crew (95). A total of 741. She was also loaded with ammunition and 541 animals including many horses and mules. The ship was torpedoed off Platanona Point, 30 to 36 miles (57.5 kilometres), south from the anti-submarine net at Salonika Bay, which would have meant safety, by the U.35 under Kapitänleutnant Waldemar Kophamel (1880-1934). [Wartime Disasters at Sea by David Williams] The NZANS lifeboat stations were forward with eighteen allotted each side. Some lifeboats were not lowered efficiently and overturned as they were launched. One of the lifeboats on the port side fell on another already in the water, and the nurses from that boat spilled out in the confusion, Catherine Fox was flung into the sea. Matron Cameron was severely injured and never fully recovered from her injuries. Eyewitnesses said Mary Gorman, a strong swimmer, saw this happen and knowing that her friend, Catherine, could not swim she jumped into the water to save her. They were not seen again. On the starboard side a boat filled with nurses was lowered at one end but not the other leaving it hanging vertically sending the occupants into the sea. This boat had to be abandoned as it had huge hole on one side. Other lifeboats were not seaworthy, as they had been damaged by the mules on board. Many of the deaths and injuries to the nurses were due to inexperienced men (soldiers helping out as some of the crew had not mustered at their stations for various reasons) lowering the lifeboats and the angle of the sinking ship. The SS Bodicea (as she was first named), was originally built for the Wilson & Furness-Leyland Line with accommodation for 120 1st class passengers. Launched on November 25th 1897, she made her maiden voyage from Glasgow to London and New York on January 15th 1898. Later that year she became one of five sister ships acquired for the Atlantic Transport Line for around £140,000 each. She made only one trip across the Atlantic in service with her new owners before, on September 15th 1898, she was renamed SS Marquette. She then began further regular sailings across the Atlantic. By September 1905, she had been transferred to the Red Star Line and, once fitted with radio, she commenced the Antwerp to Philadelphia service for that Company. By the end of 1914, she had completed her final Atlantic crossing, as Antwerp and other Belgian ports had fallen into German hands. She was then requisitioned for use as a British war transport ship, for which she was repainted grey. Less than 12 months later, she was torpedoed without warning, and sank in the Aegian Sea with the loss of many lives. What was HMT Marquette doing? Marquette had set off from Alexandria, Egypt on a routine passage to Salonika, Greece, on October 19th, 1915. She was escorted for four days by the French destroyer, "Tirailleur". Onboard were 22 officers and 588 other ranks of the 29th Division Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery with its vehicles and animals. Also onboard were eight officers, nine NCOs and 77 other ranks of the New Zealand Medical Corps, the equipment and stores of No.1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, and the hospital's thirty-six nurses. In addition, HMT Marquette had a ship's company of 95, making a total of 741 persons onboard. The cargo included ammunition, horses and mules. U-Boat U-35. U-35 was commissioned into the German Imperial Navy on November 3rd, 1914. She was powered by 2 diesel engines which gave her a submerged speed of around 9 knots. She was 67.80 metres long, 6.32 metres at the widest point, 3.6 metres from keel to water deck and she displaced 878 tons. She could carry six torpedoes. Armed with four torpedo tubes, two at the bow and two at the stern, she was brought into service in the eastern Mediterranean to support the struggling Austrians and Turks. U-35 was to become the most devastating U-boat in WW1, holding the record for tonnage sunk at 224 ships. Not all of U-35's targets were sunk using her valuable torpedoes; some were sunk using deck cannon after the ships' crews had been allowed to abandon their ship. Indeed, there are reports that the submariners even gave the ships' crews advice on which direction to take in their lifeboats to reach safety. The Strike. Unfortunately for the Marquette, she was a legitimate target. Although she was carrying a field hospital team, she was also carrying men, machines and ammunition. There was to be no warning and no opportunity to abandon ship before she was destroyed. Now without her escort (the French destroyer "Tirailleur" had left the convoy the evening before), HMT Marquette was struck by a torpedo from U-35 completely without warning at 09.15 on October 23rd, 1915. She sank within 13 minutes and 167 died. Could this tragedy have been avoided? Arguably, yes! There are certainly a number of factors which would have made U-35's task difficult if not impossible. Survivors at the enquiry in Salonika asked the following questions, amongst others: • Why did the escort ship leave early when the Marquette was only 35 miles from the safety of the anti-submarine nets at Salonika? • Why was the Marquette only making 9 knots, the same speed as a submerged U-boat? • Why was she not zig-zagging? • Why were the hospital staff travelling on board this ship when the British Hospital Ship, "Grantilly Castle", with 552 beds, left Alexandria on the same day as the Marquette and with the same destination? She sailed empty! She was to treat many of the survivors of this tragedy. One lesson learned was that never again would a medical unit be transported in anything other than a hospital ship, a practice that continued into the Second World War. Research Simon Williams
Remembered on

Photos

  • Image courtesy Simon Williams
    SS Marquette - Image courtesy Simon Williams
  • Miller's name appears in the left hand column of the middle panel. Image courtesy Simon Williams
    Mikra Memorial Greece - Miller's name appears in the left hand column of the middle panel. Image courtesy Simon Williams
  • Commemorated on the Mikra Memorial, Greece. (cpgw.org.uk/cwgc-war-memorials/mikra-memorial)
    Thomas Christopher Miller - Commemorated on the Mikra Memorial, Greece. (cpgw.org.uk/cwgc-war-memorials/mikra-memorial)