Sunderland war veteran’s return to Malaysian battle site

Thomas Hedley was in the Navy, he is visiting Thailand in September thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund's, Heroes Return programme.

Thomas Hedley was in the Navy, he is visiting Thailand in September thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund's, Heroes Return programme.

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A WAR veteran travelled thousands of miles to pay tribute to his fallen comrades.

Thomas Hedley, from Silksworth, served on the HMS Saumarez during the Second World War, fighting in the Battle of the Malacca Strait.

Thomas Hedley aged 20

Thomas Hedley aged 20

The 89-year-old former able seaman, who also helped keep the supply lines to Russia open during his time on the Arctic Convoys, was on board the British destroyer when it helped sink the Japanese cruiser Haguro.

During a 1945 search-and-destroy operation to set a trap for enemy vessels, a flotilla including HMS Saumarez launched a salvo on Haguro and its escort Kamikaze, which later escaped.

Two men on board HMS Saumarez were killed and three burned in the boiler room when a shell severed the main steam pipe.

Last month, the great-grandad visited Thailand, thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme, to honour those who fought and died in the battle. “It was an emotional trip,” he said.

“It will be the last chance I get to go back to the spot where the Haguro sank.

“I was able to lay poppies on the shore at Phuket, the closest I could get to the scene of the sea battle.”

After volunteering for the Royal Navy as a teenager, Thomas, who was trained to operate the onboard guns, also fought in the Battle of North Cape, off the coast of Norway, which ended with the sinking of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

The ex-gun-layer, who was joined by his daughter on the Thailand trip, said: “I’m glad I took the time to go out there.

“It was a 28-hour trip in total, but it was worth it. It’s something I really wanted to do.”