The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Petard was built at Vickers Armstrong Naval Yard on Tyneside, she saw active service during the Second World War in the Mediterranean. On board was 16 year old Tommy Brown from North Shields who risked his life to capture vital documents from a German U-boat, which ultimately helped British code breakers change the course of the war.  

Allied shipping was taking a battering in the Atlantic. Winston Churchill wrote ‘The only thing that frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’. On 30 October 1942, a submarine was tracked on radar near Port Said off the Egyptian coast. HMS Petard, with four other British ships, attacked the U-boat with depth charges forcing it to surface. The German seamen abandoned their vessel.

First Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, and Able Seaman Colin Grazier swam across to U-boat 559. They climbed the tower then went below and gathered together an Enigma machine and code-books. They were helped by NAAFI canteen assistant, Tommy Brown. When asked at the inquiry what conditions were like, he replied:

‘The lights were out — the First Lieutenant had a torch. The water was not very high but rising all the time. There was a hole forward of the tower and water was coming in. As I went down through the tower compartment I felt it pouring down my back. They passed some books to me’.

‘I saw Grazier and the First Lieutenant appear at the bottom of the hatch. I shouted twice ‘you better come up’, they had just started when the submarine started to sink very quickly. I managed to jump off and was picked up by a whaler’.

The U-boat became their coffin as Fasson and Grazier drowned when it sank with them and the Enigma machine inside. HMS Petard left the area signalling that documents had been captured. The treasured codebooks retrieved by Brown were immensely valuable to code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England. But nobody would know the effects of their actions, as for thirty years they were guarded by the official secrets act.

Not long after the three hero’s had blown wide open the German codes – they were read by the Allies. The convoys could now be directed away from known U-boat locations, saving thousands of lives. Long range bombers were called in and an aggressive campaign turned the war. By 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic was won paving the way for eventual Allied victory.

Tommy returned home to 6 Lily Gardens on the Ridges Estate. He was one of eleven children to Mr and Mrs T.W. Brown, his father was also a member of the forces. But when Tommy joined in April 1942 he lied to the Navy about his age. The officers found this out, so he spent his days on HMS Belfast moored on the Tyne, allowing him to spend his nights at home.

But sadly one early morning in February 1945, he died attempting to rescue his 4 year old sister Maureen from a fire at home. Called out at 2.30am and fighting through intense heat and dense smoke, it took fireman one and a half hours to extinguish the fire which destroyed half the house.

Rain poured down on a cold grey day as neighbours stood patiently outside the Brown’s home silently paying tribute to the funeral of Tommy and Maureen. In a full Naval funeral, an escort formed outside the cemetery gates and six members of the ship that Brown sailed in, were coffin bearers. Family and friends attended the graveside service in Preston Cemetery, North Shields.

His family were awarded the George Medal by King George VI, Tommy being the youngest person to ever receive the award. Today, the Exchange Building in North Shields has a stained glass window devoted to Tommy, a permanent reminder of a true hero.

If you have any information about Thomas Brown please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Research: North East War Memorials project, Celebrating Bletchley Park and special thanks to Joyce Marti for providing archive Tyneside newspaper information.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

THE LAUNCH – North Shields alt/folk rock band HECTOR GANNET reveal the video for their new single ‘The Launch’ & talk about their debut album.


Songwriter Aaron Duff was born in North Shields, and like many in the Tyneside region hails from a family steeped in the industries of fishing and shipbuilding….

The Launch was influenced by viewing old footage of shipbuilding on the Tyne. So many Tynesiders are connected to this industry in some way and such was its reach among the community the launching of ships were very big occasions.

Archive footage from the Tyne shipbuilding industry is weaved into the video…Yeah I visualized the build, and the structure of the tune kind of mirrors that. Starting from the foundations it builds up to the final push as the song reaches a crescendo when a ship is finally launched. I really wanted the piece to reflect the anticipation and ultimate sense of pride and elation when the hard work is completed.

Even in these uncertain times the band, who have been together since 2017, are steaming ahead with their plans to release their debut album, Big Harcar, in October. The record was produced and mixed by Paul Gregory and engineered by Alex Blamire, the son of Rob Blamire and Pauline Murray, (Pauline is a member of North East punks Penetration)….

The whole album was recorded in Polestar Studios in Byker, Newcastle, run by Rob and Pauline. Once we’d done the first couple of tunes it was a no brainer to go back and do the rest of the album there – we all got on absolutely great.

Polestar has a great edge and atmosphere and a brilliant Trident 75 mixing console that gives a wonderfully unique sound. I think with Paul and Alex working on the record they allowed us to create something special which I don’t think we would have got anywhere else.

Along with the album released on CD there is also a vinyl version, was that important to the band ? Yeah, we wanted to have vinyl as it’s not just trendy but it looks and feels much better to have a full package, by adding the artwork and sleeve notes said guitarist Martin Wann, and Aaron added they were lucky to get two great artists to work with….Dale Maloney did the front cover, he runs the brilliant Old School Gallery in Alnmouth up the Northumberland coast, Dale used to be in Lo-Fi Allstars.

The internal gatefold has been done by Woody, the drummer from British Sea Power. The work they’ve produced is absolutely fantastic and we’re so proud to have them work with us. Can’t wait for people to see the artwork, it’s great; very colourful and captures the essence of the album perfectly.

Plus we wanted to give the people who’ve supported us a chance to be involved so we have done a special short run of heavyweight 180gm Gannet White vinyl, and people who have ordered will have their name on the sleeve notes. After the special run it’s black vinyl only, but still 180gm heavyweight.

The band have several festival appearances already confirmed for 2020/21, alongside further support slots with Lanterns on The Lake and Sam Fender (dates below).

Are the band looking to include all the album tracks in any future live gigs ?

We intend to play all of the album whenever possible said Aaron. It’s not over long at nine tracks, not including the two bonus tracks, and it’s all do able in the set …that is if we ever get to play live again!

With all this lockdown stuff it’s pretty crazy just now, for everyone not just us. The sound engineers and promoters are all feeling it. Covid is affecting the music industry massively, and that will be permanently, unless something is done to support everyone involved.

The album is available to pre-order now from: https://hectorgannet.bandcamp.com/

 Watch The Launch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPlUyb8fuz4

06.09.20 –Bobiks, Newcastle (solo headline show).
18.10.20 -Hit The North 2020, Newcastle.
26.03.21 -Newcastle (w/ Lanterns On The Lake)
29.05.21 -Northern Kin Festival, Stanhope.
30.05.21 -This Is Tomorrow, Newcastle.
02.07.21 -Corbridge Festival.

Previous interview with Hector Gannett:


Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2020.

ALL HANDS ON DECK – with North Tyneside musician Aaron Duff from Alt-folk rock band HECTOR GANNET

After recently signing a deal with Wipe Out music publishing and supporting fellow North Shields musician Sam Fender, Aaron and fellow band members, Jack Coe (drums), Joe Coady (bass) and Martin Wann (guitar/korg) need all hands on deck as they prepare to release their first single ‘All Hail, All Glory’.

The track sounds not quite War on Drugs but easily nestles alongside The Maccabees, it has a release date of November 15th, a huge significance to songwriter Aaron Duff…..

It marks the 51st anniversary of the sinking of the Hector Gannet. It was the name of a stern trawler that my Grandad sailed on. The boat was working as a support vessel for gas and oil rigs off the Great Yarmouth coast. In November 1968 there was a blowout on the Hewitt A rig and while attempting to rescue workers from the drilling platform, the bad weather caused the Hector Gannet to capsize, tragically resulting in the loss of three crew members. Thankfully my Grandad survived the disaster and is still alive to tell the tale. For me, the name means a lot, and sort of symbolises my heritage in a way.

23 year old Aaron also writes and performs solo. In 2017 he wrote an original music score to be performed alongside archive film footage of North East England. Ironically the film contained footage of his grandfather and other family members working at sea…. Like most people from the North East, I’m very proud of the place and the people that I come from.

When did you first start playing guitar and who were your influences ? I can’t ever remember not being interested in music. There was a guitar in the house that I’d pick up from time to time but it wasn’t until I was about ten that I started to actually learn the instrument.

I’ll listen to anything that’s played with conviction. The Clash were a massive band for me growing up. Their sentiment is something I completely latched onto. Their attitude and their ideology, I’ll stick by it for life.

Today people have described my music as Alt Rock/Folk. There’s a lot of folk influence in there, the likes of Lindisfarne/Alan Hull are huge local heroes for me and I’m influenced by artists like Dylan, CSN&Y, The Band etc.

But my heavier influences lie with bands like The Pixies, without doubt one of my favourites. There are current artists that I find inspiring too, Courtney Barnett has to be my favourite at the moment. Just brilliant song writing. Genius lyrics, really catchy.

Does your song writing happen quickly or take time for the lyrics and music to come together ?  Most of the time it starts with a subject but it has to be real to me. I suppose it goes back to that ‘Clash’ mentality. I have to write about things that really mean something to me, that I’m passionate about, enough to want to share with the world. Hopefully that way they’ll mean something to other people too.

Sometimes it can happen straight away, sometimes it can take an age. I’ll sit for hours messing about on guitar and sometimes a tune will come out of it, then I’ll come up with some lyrics to fit in around it and the melody evolves around them.

What’s your thoughts on crowdfunding ? Some highly regarded artists use it, not just little known ones like us. It has its place, and a lot of artists have used it successfully. There’s always the worry that it won’t work or people won’t invest, but that’s the same with releasing your music anyway, people will invest time and money listening, or they won’t.

New single ‘All Hail, All Glory’ is released on November 15th 2019.

The band are due to support Sam Fender again in December 2019. For further information check the social media contacts:




Or the official website: https://hectorgannet.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.