Brice Thomas

To all those who were privileged to have known him, Captain Brice Thomas was truly a gentleman. He was a son of the sea; his Cardiganshire roots were deep in the tradition of his calling. Those who had sailed with him recognised him as a complete Master of his ship. On shore he was of a quiet retiring nature. He had a good word for everyone. The writer remembers the first occasion seeing a Captain in the office. It was during the middle thirties when Captain Thomas called at the office at Merthyr House. On entering the Accounts Detainment he greeted everyone, even down to shaking hands with the humble junior as well as the Chief Accountant—truly the mark of a gentle-man whose greatness blossomed in his humility. That incident remained with the writer as an example of something worth emulating.
No greater tribute can he paid than to say Captain Thomas was a Christian gentleman, who practiced the basics of his Welsh Non-conformist background. We can surely say that his passing at the age of 85 will leave the world a poorer place for his departing. He will live long, however, in the memories of all who, down through the years, were privileged to have known him.
Our deepest sympathy is extended to his family.
Captain Thomas joined his first ship as a Deck boy in 1906. After serving “before the mast" for eight years he obtained his Second Mate's Certificate in Cardiff at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He joined the Reardon Smith line in January 1915.
January 1915 was to be the beginning of a long and devoted service to our Company which was to last until his retirement in 1953. He was appointed Second Officer in 1915 on the s. s. Jersey City. Chief Officer in 1917 on the s.s. Atlantic City, and was promoted to Master in 1919 on the same vessel.
Some of the Company’s present staff, anxiously looking at the today's promotion ladder, will view such a rapid rise rather enviously, but war conditions are not a true picture of normal promotion prospects, and Captain Thomas’s meteoric rise to Master was not unusual in those hectic days.
The following thirty-four years saw Captain Thomas in command of thirteen of the Company’s vessels, finally retiring at the end of his career in February 1953 at the age of 60.

A quiet, rather retiring man under normal conditions. Captain Thomas had the reputation of always being in command of his vessel and beware anyone who ever had the audacity to question his authority.
At the same time, he was always fair and just in his dealings with his ship's staff and was highly respected by those he met on shore, not least by the Head Office staff he would meet on his visits to the Cardiff Office.
As one would expect, his years as Master were not without their exciting moments and probably the early days of his command of the m.v. Atlantic City which lasted from January 1941 to August 1947 is a period he would have remembered as well as any.
The vessel loaded a part cargo of coal in January 1941 with equipment and munitions stowed over the coal, and sailed from the Clyde in convoy.
The following day, the vessel was torpedoed off the north coast of Ireland. The torpedo entered the ship under the bridge in No. 2 hold, burrowed itself in the coal and exploded. Severe damage was caused to the ship and she sank heavily by the head. That evening as darkness descended. the destroyer which was standing by, deemed it unsafe for anyone to stay on board and Captain Thomas and his crew were taken off. When dawn broke the next day, the Atlantic City was still afloat.

The Allied merchant fleet was suffering severely at this time from submarine attacks. The Atlantic City was an inviting target for any stray ‘U’ boat. Aid in the form of a tow was unlikely to materialise for some time if at all. The destroyer’s Commander was in a quandary. He felt the only answer was to sink the Atlantic City. a floating hulk and a danger to any convoy passing that way. but Captain Thomas in his most indomitable manner persuaded the Commander, much against the latter’s will, to allow him and a few volunteers to reboard the ship in the hope that she could be saved.
A quick check after re-boarding showed bulkheads intact and engine room dry. The engines were started very gently so as not to put undue strain onto bulkheads in way of the flooded compartments. Slowly she moved towards the Irish Coast and some twenty-four hours later she was beached in Buncrana Bay. The forward draft was more than forty-two feet and the water was washing in over the fore deck—not hard to imagine in a ship with a fully loaded draft of twenty-six feet!
A few weeks later the vessel was escorted to the Clyde and several months after that she sailed for the Middle East fully repaired and with Captain Thomas in command throughout.

For his devotion to duty and his bravery he was awarded the O.B.E.. which was so richly deserved.

Published in the ReardonSmith Line Newsletter No.99 in April 1978.