Thomas Thomas (Tommy Derwydd) GC
Thomas Thomas and future wife Margaret with his new Edward Medal
Thomas Thomas was born on 30th June 1912 and was known locally as Tommy Derwydd, due to his family living at Derwydd Farm in Garnant. He was a quiet modest man, who enjoyed an ordinary life within the community.
Little was written in the local press, about the incident which occurred at Ynys Colliery, Brynamman, on Thursday 21st September, 1933, when a serious rush of water flooded the mine. The 28th September, 1933, edition of the Amman Valley Chronicle, carried a brief article, in which we learn that water from old mine workings flooded the Trigloin, or number 2 slant. At the time of the incident, the morning shift, consisting of approximately forty men were underground. Especially imperilled were the fifteen men who were working the Brass Vein at the bottom part.
Mrs Givelin, Thomas Thomas' daughter, retold of the events which took place on the morning of the flooding. Thomas was working underground and when the waters came, he risked his life to assist a miner who had lost his lamp, carrying the young man on his back as he swam through the dark waters. They joined a group of men, who decided to split up; half headed along an airway, whilst the other half, including Thomas, followed the roadway. They did this in the hope that at least one group would find a safe route out of the mine. When Thomas' group reached safety, he went back into the mine to help the rest of the men. Thomas was the last man to leave the flooded mine.
At the monthly meeting of the South Wales Miner's Federation on Saturday 30th September, 1933, it was decided that the Home Office should be pressed to make a regulation; where a colliery which is working at a waterlogged area should be made to bore holes in advance of the working, due to the fact that plans for abandoned mines were so unreliable. The federation felt that workmen should insist on advance boring being undertaken, whenever there was a concern about flooding. A special mention was made by the miner's agent, Mr John James, regarding the exceptional bravery of two men; Mr D. Elwyn. Davies and Mr Tom Thomas, whose courageous endeavours to rescue the miners at Brynamman Colliery, resulted in every one of them being saved.
The Amman Valley Chronicle, in it's 30th November, 1933
edition, reported that Thomas Thomas, along with D. Elwyn Davies of
Cwmgarw Road, Brynamman, had been awarded with the Daily Herald Order
of Industrial Heroism. This was presented to the two men by the Daily
Herald representative; Mr W. S. Collins, at the Public Hall in Brynamman
on the evening of Wednesday 29th November 1933. The article described
the events on the day that the mine flooded. Thomas was working in
a stall when a rush of water burst through the seam. Along with his
boy, the miner forced his way through the torrent and came upon a
lad who was up to his neck in water and clinging to a beam. The lad
was in a state of exhaustion. Thomas pushed his own lad in front and
carried the other lad on his back until he reached a stall where a
group of men had gathered. He then returned to show another party
the way out.
Certificate from Daily Herald. (Note: "D" for "Derwydd" included in Thomas' name)
When all of the men had escaped safely, Thomas headed home alone, taking a shortcut along the railway line, as so many did in those days. Before he reached home, however, he lost consciousness, perhaps due to exhaustion. Despite being a strong swimmer, which he thoroughly enjoyed before the incident at Brynamman Colliery, he never went swimming afterwards.
On 8th February, 1934, the Amman Valley Chronicle reported that The King, George V, had awarded the Edward Medal to 21 year old Thomas Thomas of Derwydd Farm, Garnant, in recognition of his gallantry. His award had been published in the London Gazette on 6th February 1934.
Thomas' Edward Medal
In 1971, holders of the Albert and Edward Medals, were invited to exchange them for the George Cross, which was the equivalent of the Victoria Cross for non-combatant gallantry. To receive the George Cross, it was necessary to surrender the Edward Medal. Thomas, being a patriotic Welshman, agreed to this arrangement on the condition that his Edward Medal was allowed to remain in Wales. The condition was agreed to and Thomas Thomas' Edward Medal is now kept at the National Museum in Cardiff.
Despite receiving these great decorations, Thomas maintained his natural modesty and never spoke of the events.
After receiving his George Cross, he was, over the years, invited to various commemorative events which were attended by the royal family. These events were, although formal, warm and friendly gatherings, where the families of other VC and GC recipients were able to mix and chat.
Thomas also received a certificate from The Carnegie Hero Fund Trust and his name was entered into the Carnegie Hero Register.
There is a housing complex in Garnant, opposite 36 Cwmamman Road, where Thomas Thomas lived with his family. The complex is named "Cwrt Tomos" (Thomas' Court) and is furnished with a commemorative plaque to his memory.
Cwrt Tomos (Thomas' Court) at Garnant.
Commemorative Plaque at Cwrt Tomos
Mining has always been a perilous occupation and every man in Cwmamman knew the dangers of working underground. Hand in hand with the risk which each miner faced on a daily basis, came the intimate fellowship between the men. Thomas did not regard his actions as heroic and it seems that to him, they were merely a natural reaction when his comrades were in danger of losing their lives.
The fact, however remains, that Thomas Thomas earned his George Cross that morning and several families have him to thank for the return of their husbands, fathers and sons on what could have been such a catastrophic day.
Thanks to Mrs Givelin for the information and photographs. Thanks also to the South Wales Guardian for allowing me to use information from the Amman Valley Chronicle.