Life Before The War.
John Thomas was born in Freemantle South Stoneham. Hampshire in the early part of 1884 to George and Emma Sandford (Sualgrove).
His father was born in Hungerford Berkshire and his mother in Millbrook,Southampton. He had 3 brothers 1 who died, Alfred (1878) Albert (1891) and 4 sisters Emma (1882) Alice (1883) Florence (1886) Beatrice (1890). In 1891 the family lived at 19 Chapel Street, Millbrook, Southampton. His mother died in childbirth c1902 .
His brothers Alfred and Albert survived the first world war and went on to work as engine crew on various ocean liners of the time, travelling the Atlantic, sometimes working together or independently. They are both recorded in entries on Ellis Island.
He joined the Mercantile Marine Reserve and was a fireman on the H.M.S. Alcantara.
The Alcantara was converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser in 1915 and during World War 1 patrolled the North Sea.
On the 29th February 1916 at 08.05 while Patrolling the Skagerrak she was torpedoed by a German raider the “Greif” which was disguised as a Norwegian ship.
On the 29th February 1916 The Alcantara was patrolling with the Andes and was asked to intercept what was thought to be the Norwegian ship the Rena, when she was within 800 yards of the craft and about to lower a boarding vessel the craft, which was the “Greif”, raised its’ German flag and lowered its bulkheads which was concealing its guns and opened fire. The Alcantara was badly wounded and listing and although the Greif was on fire she was able to fire her torpedoes at the and the Andes, fortunately both missed.
The Alcantara was ordered to abandon ship at 09.15. The cruiser Comus and destroyer Munster arrived to pick up survivors and by 11.08 the Alcantara had sunk.
John Thomas was one of the 72 crew which went down with her and drowned, his body was never recovered.
The “Greif” was also shot at in defence by the Alcantara and sank at 13.00 with the loss of 280 crew.
John Thomas is also remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial under the citation to “Naval Ratings of the Empire Who Fell in the Great War and Have No Other Grave than the Sea”, he was 31 years of age.
Sarah Bowers – possibly his wife – was notified of his death, she was living at 8 Pound Street. Shirley Southampton. He was awarded the Victory Medal and British Medal.
Research completed by Brenda White April 2013 – edited March 2014 when comments were given by Graeme Sandford – Great Nephew of John Thomas Stanford.