Thomas originated from the Stockport area, where his father (also called Thomas) was company secretary of R McClure & Sons Ltd, Travis Brook Mill, 10 Avondale Road. In his younger days, he had been connected with the Stockport Sunday School and his brother, Arthur, was its organist.
Thomas had been in the Navy for about 20 years and the rank of Warrant Mechanician made him a senior engineering non-commissioned officer (similar to a petty officer). In 1906, he had married Lizzie Devine at Portsmouth and their home was at 32 Avondale Road (in Portsmouth, not Stockport). They had two children.
His posting to HMS Aboukir had started in the early spring of 1914. Aboukir was an armoured cruiser of about 12000 tons and had been built in 1902. Due to technological developments in ship-building, she was rapidly becoming obsolete but, when War was declared in August 1914, she and three other cruisers were put into service patrolling the North Sea to deter German attacks on the ships moving troops and supplies across the Channel.
On 20 September, Aboukir and her sister ships, Cressy and Hogue, started a patrol. In the early hours of the 22nd, they were spotted by the German submarine U9. They were steaming slowly and, contrary to standing orders, were not zig-zagging to avoid attack. U9 moved in for the kill and, at 6.25am, fired a single torpedo at Aboukir. This struck her on the port side and she was quickly flooded and developed a twenty degree list. Captain Drummond, realising the gravity of the situation, ordered the men to “abandon ship”. Thinking she had struck a mine, he signalled the other two ships to come to their assistance.
Within 30 minutes, Aboukir rolled over and sank. Meanwhile, HMS Hogue had closed in and had lowered its boats ready to go to the assistance of the men in the water. She was now hit by two torpedoes from close range. It took only 10 minutes for her to sink. U9 finally turned her attention to Cressy, hitting her with three torpedoes and sinking her within a few minutes
The three ships had been sunk in less than an hour. Merchant ships came to the assistance of the survivors and managed to rescue 837 men, but Thomas was among the 1459 who had died.