war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




JJB Thompson, on his boat, the last knonw picture ever taken of him,  courtesy Mrs HedgecockAs Joseph John Bassett Thompson said, "These are dangerous waters". It was a brave ship indeed that wrecked zeppelinnavigated the mines, nets, and enemy vessels. One such was his own destroyer, HMS Laforey.   Right, is a Zeppelin, said by family tradition to have been brought down by the Laforey.

Veteran of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank, the Laforey was on her way home after escorting cargo ships across to France when she struck a mine on 23rd March 1917. The damage was catastrophic; the ship broke in half and the stern sank immediately, followed shortly after by the bow. letter, announcing probable death of JJB Thompson

Caroline Simmonds was the sister of Elizabeth Thompson, Joe's wife. She was at work at the communications depot on the Western Heights of Dover when the messages came in.

"Joe's boat's gone," she tried to tell Elizabeth - but could not. In the end it was Elizabeth's father who broke the news, and it took him three attempts to do so.

mourning card mourning card

Joe and Elizabeth and little Joe, with George, Joe's brother Elizabeth's new baby was nearly due. When she heard that her husband's destroyer was lost she fainted. She came to on her bed. Twelve days later the baby was born, a little girl. Elizabeth named her Irene. Irene had a big brother, Joe. He was nearly five when his father died, and could just remember him.   Elizabeth Thompson

Surviving without the breadwinner was hard. Elizabeth had a poor pension, and the only help that charity visitors could offer was that Elizabeth should put her children in a home. This she refused, indignantly. Irene remembers her mother cooking and darning by candlelight, and at one time taking a job at the paper mill. There she had to start work early in the morning. The children had to get up even earlier, get dressed and ready for school, and then rest on the bed to try to doze a little more. The neighbour knocked on the wall at school time, and they would knock back, to say they were awake and ready to go. Sometimes they were late, and little Joe would take his sister on the crossbar of his bike. Irene was always fearful of the wheels becoming trapped in the tramlines.


Joe, Irene, and their mother

Joe and George

Irene in 1917/18 with her sailor doll

Joe, Irene, and their mother, Elizabeth, in their grandparents' garden at Salisbury Road

Joe and his cousin George. Little George was also named after his father, who died in 1918 and is buried in Italy.  

Elizabeth kept mementoes of her husband in her wardrobe, in a little "diddy" box, and, late at night, would sometimes take them out to look at them.

service record exam certificate
extract from service record Petty Officer exam certificate
money from China golden box

tobacco inside

money, from a voyage to China Queen's gift, Christmas 1914 - tobacco

Elizabeth was never able to see the Dover Patrol Book of Remembrance created after the war, where her husband was remembered. Viewing it cost a whole shilling, an unaffordable sum for a family living on a war widow's pension. .

 copy from book of remembrance

When the Town War Memorial was unveiled in 1924, the head teacher of Irene's school decreed that no one should have the day off. Irene's mother took her and her brother anyway. Every Remembrance Sunday they would go to the ceremony at the Memorial, in memory of their great and tragic loss.   

medals and death plaque name
plaque on Irene's wall Joseph Thompson's name on the
Chatham Naval memorial

There were memories of happier times. Here's one of Mrs Thompson's sisters, Laura, on her wedding day, with her new husband Oliver Mason. Next to her is Mrs Thompson, and twedding partyo the right of her are her parents, George Henry Simmonds, and Charlotte Elizabeth Simmonds. Behind them is Joseph Thompson. Next to him is Caroline Simmonds, who first heard the news that the "Laforey" was lost.  Seated at the front is little Joe, Mr and Mrs Thompson's son. Left of him is Daisy Simmonds, wife of George Henry Simmonds, who died on service in 1918.

The photograph was taken just a few months before Joe Thompson lost his life in those dangerous waters of the Dover Straits.  

(Exhibition 06)
with thanks to Mrs I Hedgecock and Mrs C Sedgewick
info on Laforey from Wikipedia

     Post Scripts

ElizabethMrs Elizabeth Thompson died peacefully on 17th March 1966, aged 81. Her ashes were scattered at GeorgeBuckland church, where she and her husband had married over half a century before.

Right is their first born son, George Edward. He sadly died in 1911, aged 1 year and 9 months.

And far right is Irene - with a very special guest - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

Irene and Queen Mum
We are very privileged to say that we have ourselves sat in the chair used by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, treasured by Irene ever since.

Copyright 2007-10 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved