Cheater, William Thomas; Able Seaman–Petty Officer; RN/RAN 7999

Tommy Cheater was one of the most colourful members of the crew of the AE2. Born on 20 March 1883 at Ringwood, Hampshire, he was the middle child of a large family.

He joined the RN as a cabin boy in 1898, at the age of 15. He transferred to the submarine service in 1904, and served on Holland A class and B class submarines. He recalled that in the earliest Holland class submarines, a little cage of white mice would always be taken aboard to detect the presence of poisonous fumes.

In 1913 Cheater heard that the new Australian submarines were seeking experienced crew and would be paying extra rates. Along with thousands of other hopeful sailors he applied, and was accepted after a rigorous selection process. By April 1913 he had signed up for five years’ service with the RAN where he was assigned as batman to Captain Stoker and the officers. According to his daughter Gladys, Cheater enjoyed working for Captain Stoker and ‘thought the world of him’.

In the Afion prison camp, Cheater’s duties as batman included going to the local markets to buy food and clothing for the officers. As months passed in captivity, the Afion officers staged plays and concerts for which Cheater bought all the materials for props, sets and costumes, including women’s clothing and veils. Apparently, Stoker and his fellow officers at that time were already planning to escape dressed as women. Gladys Hall remembers her father telling her that he was sent specifically to buy long Arab-style women’s garments.

After three officers, Captain Stoker, Lt Price and Captain Cochrane (both from the E7), escaped, Cheater was singled out and held partly responsible by the Turkish warders. The Turks had traced the escape disguises back to his market excursions. He was beaten badly and thrown into solitary confinement. He later told his family that he was lucky to have survived this, the worst time of his life.