Thomas William McCormack GC (AM exchanger)

b. 23/03/1886 South Shields. d. 06/03/1973 Jarrow, County Durham.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 27/11/1908 Jarrow Dry Dock.

Thomas William McCormack (1886-1973) was born on 23rd March 1886 in Jarrow, County Durham. He was the son of Michael McCormack and Elizabeth Palmer (nee Holdsworth). Michael was Elizabeth’s second husband, and she had a daughter, Elizabeth Jane. Michael and Elizabeth went on to have three more children of their own after Thomas: Michael, John and William. Michael and John would both be killed in the Great War on the Western Front. Little else is known about Thomas’ early life, though he followed his father into the dockyards. His father was a riveter, and by 1901, Thomas was working as a cement labourer.

Thomas W McCormack GC

Thomas married Emily Hepplewhite, and they went on to have a son and three daughters. By 1908, he was working as a dockyard labourer and painter. On 27th November 1908, he was working at the Jarrow Shipbuilders when workmen were engaged in painting the inside of a tank in the hold of the SS Cairngorm. Owing to the very strong fumes being given off by the anti-corrosive paint used, the men worked in 10 to 15 minute relays. When a workman called Graham was overcome by the fumes, the chargeman, Archibald Wilson, attempted to extract him, but was unsuccessful, he himself being overcome and sacrificing his life in the attempt. McCormack, who had already been affected by the fumes while working in the tank, went to Wilson’s aid, but was rendered insensible, and was himself rescued by James Chapman, the Works Manager, who, having pulled McCormack out, re-entered the tank and endeavoured to save Graham, but was himself overcome by the fumes. The rescue of Chapman and Graham was eventually made from the top of the tank.

On the 23rd July 1909, James Kennedy Chapman and Thomas McCormack were gazetted for the award of the Albert Medal for Gallantry on Saving Life on Land. Archibald Wilson was later awarded a posthumous Albert Medal. For the same action, Thomas was awarded the Bronze Medal of the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust, the first recipient of this honour. Following the award of the AM, Thomas returned to work in the dockyards, where he would spend the rest of his working life. He became a member of the Albert Medal Association.

The final Royal Warrant relating to the Albert Medal (and Edward Medal) was dated 15th December 1971, effective 21st October 1971, which revoked all existing Royal Warrants and provided for the optional exchange for the George Cross, although all holders, whether they exchanged or not, would be regarded as recipients of the GC. Thomas McCormack was one of 64 men, who at the time, were identified as eligible. Sadly, James Kennedy Chapman had passed away and was not eligible. Thomas was one of the 49 men who chose to exchange their medal for a GC. It was 63 years since the action that had seen him awarded the Albert Medal.

Thomas sadly only held the GC for less than two years, passing away peacefully at home in Jarrow on 6th March 1973. He was buried in an unmarked grave with his wife Emily (who had died in 1961) in Jarrow Cemetery. Sadly, the grave is still unmarked at present. His medal is not publicly held.




Section 5, grave 632