Distinguished war veteran dies

Tom Baker-Cresswell.
Tom Baker-Cresswell.

A FORMER Royal Marine officer who saw action during the Second World War – including the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck and the landings at Salerno in Italy – has died peacefully at his north Northumberland home, aged 94.

Major Thomas Henry Baker-Cresswell lived at Preston Tower, near Ellingham, moving there after retiring from the military in the summer of 1957.

Born in March 1917 and educated at Westminster School, London, he received his commission in 1935, serving in the Mediterranean and Palestine until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Tom then found himself aboard HMS Effingham, in Norwegian waters, but the cruiser was lost after being grounded on an uncharted rock. He then joined the HMS Prince of Wales, a George V-class battleship, and was aboard during its participation in the pursuit and destruction of the Bismarck in the North Atlantic.

From there, Tom joined 41 Royal Marine Commando and landed with them at Salerno in Italy, briefly commanding the unit as a result of casualties among the senior officers.

He then commanded a Royal Marine detachment aboard HMS Anson, which was sent to the Far East to take part in the campaign against the Japanese.

But while Anson was in Sydney Harbour, preparing to join the fray, the Japanese surrendered, which resulted in boisterous celebrations aboard the Royal Navy ships and fire hoses being deployed.

Commanded to restore order, Tom mustered the Royal Marine Band on the quarterdeck with instructions to perform the standard songs fortissimo. Community singing broke out and the day was saved.

After a spell helping to restore civilian government in Singapore, HMS Anson returned in 1946 to her home at Portsmouth. Among those on the dockside was Sylvia, widow of Tom’s elder brother Gilfrid, who had been killed in action while serving with the Royal Engineers at El Alamein in 1942.

Church and State had only recently legalised marriage between a widow and her deceased husband’s brother, which led Tom and Sylvia to tie the knot in October 1946.

Present on that occasion were Tom’s nephew Gilly and niece Sally, who became his step-children, and in due course daughters Elizabeth and Kathy were born.

Three postings at Royal Marine bases in Chatham, Lympstone and Portsmouth followed, the last of which marked Tom’s retirement and the family’s move to Preston Tower.

For the next half-century, Tom threw himself into running the estate and became a central part of life in the community. He served as chairman of Belford Rural District Council, was a magistrate at Alnwick for 12 years and did a three-year spell as Conservative Constituency Association chairman, welcoming Ted Heath to the summer fete at Alnwick Castle.

He also followed his father, Harry, as secretary of the North Northumberland Branch of the NSPCC and in 1970 was appointed an honourary alderman of Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council.

Tom also served as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Northumberland.

The farmland at Preston was divided into two farms and when the tenant of the smaller farm at South Broomfield retired, Tom decided to run it as grass parks, with annual auctions of the grazing rights field by field for the summer season.

Many local stock farmers will remember him and Sylvia looking after the stock every day and taking a close interest in fences, drains, water and welfare.

Sylvia died in 2005 and Tom is survived by his children, numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.

His funeral service was held at St Maurice’s Church, Ellingham, on Wednesday.