Thomas William SMILES 1916 – 1995

Family Details

Thomas William Smiles known as “Billy” was born 7 January 1916, the son of Thomas and Margaret Smiles and brother of George, Mary Jane known as “Polly” and Ellen, known as “Nellie”.  In 1939, the family lived at 9 the Mill, Evenwood and Thomas [senior] worked as a “North Eastern Railway plate layer”, Thomas [junior] is recorded as, “colliery hewer”, George as, “colliery pony putter” and Mary as, “apprentice dress maker”.  Ellen’s record is “officially closed”.[1]

Military Details

At the outbreak of war, Billy Smiles was 23 years old.  He joined the Merchant Navy [date he enlisted unknown].  It is known that he served as “cabin boy” aboard the S.S. Demeterton. The vessel was a cargo ship built in 1926 by Short Brothers Ltd., Pallion, Sunderland for Chapman R. & Sons, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[2]  In December 1940, when in dry dock at Birkenhead, the vessel was hit by a 100lb. bomb which exploded in the lower hold with no loss of life.  There are many references to convoy duty in the Second World War, mainly in North Atlantic including in March 1940, convoy HN22, Alesund, Norway to Methil, Firth of Forth, Scotland with iron ore bound for Cardiff. 

S.S. Demeterton was sunk by the German battleship Scharnhorst 16 March 1941.[3]  While on convoy HX42 from the US to Falmouth, England with a cargo of grain, she was attacked by Scharnhorst during “Operation Berlin”.  The vessel sunk 16 March 1941 south east of St. John’s. Newfoundland.  No lives were lost and all seamen were captured and held as prisoners of war.[4] On that single day, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank 16 ships in the North Atlantic.[5]

Billy Smiles was held at Marlag[6] und Milag Nord[7] POW Camp,[8] his POW number was 90563.  The camp was located near the village of Westertimke about 19 miles north east of Bremen, Germany.  It detained men of the Royal Navy and British and Canadian Merchant Navies.  There was also a small number of American merchant and US Navy personnel held there.[9]  The camp was administered by the Luftwaffe and consisted of a number of separate camps.  Milag was primarily for members of merchant marines who had been captured aboard ships carrying allied ordnance or military related supplies.  Milag Nord Camp was about 300m north of Marlag and held up to 4.200 internees, most of whom were from the UK.  It is assumed that 90563 T.W. Smiles was held here.

28 April 1945: The camp was liberated by units of the British 11th Armoured Division.[10]  Thomas had been held a POW for 4 years.

20 November 1945: The supplement to the London Gazette reported that Captain Thomas William Morris, Master SS Demeterton had been awarded “Mention in Despatches” for good services whilst prisoners of war.[11]  I believe that this would entitle him to wear the oak leaf emblem for Mention in Despatches on the ribbon of the 1939-45 War Medal. 

I have not traced any award of medals to Thomas. W. Smiles.  The award of a medal is dependent upon:

  • length of service in the Merchant Navy.
  • routes of voyages undertaken by ships he served on.

It is likely that he was awarded the 1939-45 War Medal and the Atlantic Star.[12]

Post War

1945: Billy Smiles married Mary M. Pounder.[13]  

1995 April 24: Thomas W. Smiles died aged 79.[14]


S.S. Demeterton

27 April 1941 Marlag und Milag Nord POW Camp:
POW 90563 Thomas W. “Billy” Smiles, front row, 3rd from the right.
Guerre 1939-1945. Sandbostel. Marlag-Milag Nord, camp de prisonniers de guerre. Vue générale du camp. War 1939-1945. Sandbostel. Marlag-Milad Nord, prisoners of war camp. Global view of the camp.


[1] 1939 England & Wales Register Note: Ellen’s record is “officially closed”.





[6] Marlag is an acronym for Marinelager [naval prisoner of war camp]

[7] Milag is short for Marine-Internierten-Lager [naval internment camp]

[8] UK Allied Prisoners of War 1939-1945 & UK British Prisoners of War 1939-1945



[11] London Gazette p.5660 supplement 20 November 1945

[12] Medal Yearbook 2013 p.175: It seems that merchant seamen were not awarded a medal in WW2 similar to that issued after the First World War, the Mercantile Marine War Medal 1919.  This was awarded by the Board of Trade to members of the Merchant Navy who had undertaken one or more voyages through a war or danger zone.

[13] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.610 Durham Western 1945Q2

[14] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 reg. no. C36C entry 23 Durham Western April 1995 Note: Family details – Mary Vickers believes that Billy Smiles died 24 April 1994.