Thomas Raymond Kelly GC (Direct Recipient)

b. 19/03/1928 Newry, Northern Ireland. d. 19/03/1947 Bay of Biscay.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 19/03/1947 Bay of Biscay.

Thomas Raymond Kelly (1930-1947) was born on 19th March 1928 in Newry, County Down, Ireland, the son of Robert and Bridget Kelly (nee O’Gorman). He was the oldest of six children with sisters named Rebecca, Rose and Mary, and brothers Robert and William. He attended the Christian Brothers School until the age of 14, when it was vital he gained employment for the finances of the family. Newry was a thriving sea port at this time, so that was the obvious choice. Sadly, Robert Kelly Senior was killed whilst at sea at the age of just 37, and Raymond’s (he was more commonly known as Raymond rather than Thomas) mother was not keen on him following in his footsteps.

Thomas R Kelly GC

As there was little other work available, Bridget Kelly was unable to persuade her son away from the sea and he joined the Merchant Navy. He began work for the Ormos Shipping Company and was an Able Seaman aboard the SS Empire Plover, which largely operated in the Mediterranean.

On 18th March 1947, in the Bay of Biscay, the SS Famagusta  encountered very severe weather and developed a list to port. The wind was almost of gale force in squalls and the seas were high and tumbling; the list increased and the vessel pounded and shipped water. In response to an SOS call the SS Empire Plover came to her assistance and stood by. The Famagusta launched a lifeboat, which pulled towards the Empire Plover, but the boat capsized and threw the ten men into the water. The Empire Plover quickly manoeuvred into position and lowered ropes, ladders and scrambling nets. Three of her crew entered the water; two of them remained at the nets and ladders while Kelly swam off with a line to the crew of the lifeboat, who were struggling in the raging sea. He first brought to safety an officer who had been injured. He then swam out again and returned with another man. Notwithstanding the strain through which he had already gone, he swam away from the ship a third time to the assistance of a woman who was seen struggling some 50 yards away. He succeeded in reaching her but both were struck by a heavy sea and disappeared. His body was never recovered. Five of the ten men in the lifeboat drowned. The next day would have been Kelly’s 19th birthday.

Raymond was posthumously awarded the George Cross (London Gazette, 10th February 1948), and also received the Lloyd’s Medal fo Saving Life (Silver). The medals are still held proudly by the Kelly family. A housing estate in Newry is named after him, and there is a large framed photograph of him in the Town Hall. On 7th December 2013, in Kilmorney Street, Newry, a blue plaque was placed on the site of his childhood home. His brother, William (known as Bill) attended the ceremony along with other family members, and his medals were present.