I have dived the T.R.Thompson many times over the years and have always considered it a great dive a great shipwreck sitting on the bottom of the English Channel. I can still remember my first dive on her with the gun sitting up right and the stern still relatively intact. I have dived her in pitch black conditions not seeing only feeling the old Sunderland Steel and I have dived her in amazingly clear conditions. I have dived her with Dolphins with Novice divers and with great friends but Tuesdays dive will always be my most special dive on the TRTand I am sure the same goes for the other Meridian Divers who dived her rusting hull on that beautiful Sunny warm July day.
The difference from my first visits to the wreck and the ones since we first adopted her as part of the N.A.S adopt a wreck scheme is that the Thompson has become more than just a shipwreck. The SS T.R.Thompson is a grave site its a place where 33 men lost their lives supporting a country that had been at war for over 4 years . A country that was so different from the one we now live in but is free because of the sacrifices both men and women made.
33 of the TRT crew made the ultimate sacrifice.
So diving the Thompson took on a new meaning to Meridian divers and one of our main objectives was to find out about those people whose remains now lay within the wrecks hull,we wanted to tell their story.
After many dives and research by people past and present we finally had a break The BBC came out with us to film us diving the wreck with a view that if the footage was shown on TV someone may come forward . It worked and 4 months on Mr Norman Jack and his wife Mary came down from Sunderland to meet Meridian Divers.
So it was on Tuesday 22nd July that Norman Jack travelled with us aboard Channel Diver out to the wreck site and the last resting place of Lesley Francis Jack aged 16 a boy who was only 1 year older than my own son when he died when the TRT was sunk. Also joining us was the same BBC film crew who had joined us on the anniversary dive in April the film of which had enabled us to find Mr Jack, they had been keen to follow up the original story.
When we arrived over the wreck Mr Jack watched the wreck appear on the fish finder and was visibly moved as the spikes appeared on the screen to show that we were now over Lesley's grave and I have to admit my eyes watered a bit at his reaction.
We kitted up silently and prior to entering the water Mr Jack made a very moving speech and again I am sure the other divers and myself felt the emotion.
We had had a wreath prepared for the family and the main dive objective was to place this on the wreck on behalf of the Jack family and to film this in place.
On arriving at the wreck we were blessed with about 8m visibility & plenty of light. The plan was to place the wreath on the remaining deck railings which once surrounded the ships central superstructure. With the railings easily located Ernie had soon wired the wreath along with a memorial message to Lesley and the crew members of the Thompson and with Chris taking pictures and me capturing this on video for Mr Jack and the BBC I know each of us privately had our own thoughts and sent our own regards to the lost crewmen. It was even more poignant knowing that Mr Jack was above us and we had at last managed to reunite at least one of the families affected by the sinking 90 years ago.
Once the wreath was laid we set of to explore our old friend and again was saddened to see how much she is deteriorating as the sea is gradually reclaiming her remains. With 9 Meridian Divers covering the wreck we were also joined by the now familiar huge shoals of fish who now call the wreck home and seemed to greet us like old friends, not shy at all. I am not superstitious or religous but sometimes but I cant help thinking that the marine life on wrecks are the guardians to the souls of the sailors who died.
As with all dives it was soon time to leave what has become a very special place to Meridian Divers and start our ascent but not before looking across the wreck and imagining Lesley and his shipmates long ago sitting in the sun, walking the decks, working the machinery, laughing ,joking, leaning on the same railings where the wreath now hung or perhaps crying with each other missing their loved ones back at a home they would never see again.
Back on board we were met by Mr Jack and he was given a small token from the wreck, a rivet from the hull and a piece of the iron ore she was carrying on that fateful voyage 90 years ago.
To myself and I am sure the other divers this was a very moving special and unique diving experience one which will remain with me for always.
Mr Norman Jack (non Diver)
John Young BBC South East Today reporter
Pete cameraman BBC
Steve Johnson Skipper Channel Diving
Dave Brighton BSAC
Once I get the dive video back from the BBC I will edit and post on here.