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Loss of the submarine Thetis


This is a personal  project by Fred Ecclestone of  Vintage Radio and this article explains  how he came to produce this programme.

This programme relates to the tragic loss of the submarine Thetis on her sea trial in Liverpool Bay just weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War. She had been built at Cammel Lairds Shipyard on Merseyside and was the first of a new class reported to be the most advanced in the world. As an acknowledgement of the involvement of the shipyard workers many representatives of all branches were on board.

The idea for the programme came from a variety of sources and experiences. Previously the 60th Anniversary in 1999 had been marked by BBC radio Merseyside with in-depth interviews by Roger Phillips and a remarkable Radiophonic Workshop Drama re-enactment of the event.

With many queries left unanswered I attended the AGM of the local history society when the guest speaker was Derek Arnold, the son of Stoker Arnold, one of the only four survivors. His excellent talk on the Thetis coincided with my discovery of the recent memorial to those lost on that fateful day. It is to be found in the bell tower of the Birkenhead Priory directly towering above the dock where the Thetis was fitted out. The riser of each of the 104 steps bears the name and job description of those on board. The four survivors are numbered on the top steps. The idea for the memorial was a joint venture after 1999 by Wirral Borough Council and Derek Arnold. In my opinion its poignancy, simplicity of design and purpose deserves national recognition.

My final source returns to my childhood, when in 1943 I was taken to the cinema to see a British wartime 'flagwaver', the Silver fleet. Produced by the famous film makers Powell and Pressburger. The plot of the loss of the Thetis is borrowed and transferred to a shipyard in Occupied Holland. Much of the film, however, was filmed here in port Sunlight village and the dock at Cammel Lairds. The river Mersey is identifiable by the single Anglican Cathedral. Incidentally the leading female star, Googie Withers is still alive today in Australia.

The prgramme can be heard by going to our Podcast page. It is in two parts Part 1 was broadcast on Vintage Radio on 18th June 2011.


Fred Ecclestone,