Known as ‘Bunts’ (from naval slang for ‘Bunting-Tosser’) Albert Thomson was born on 24 May 1888 at Albury NSW. Sadly his mother did not survive the birth of her son, and Thomson returned with his father to Scotland in the mid 1890s. In 1905 he left his job as a painter’s assistant to join the RN as a boy 2nd Class, for 12 years’ service. He trained and qualified as a signalman on the Victory, and served on a number of RN ships, rising to leading signalman.
In 1913, possibly because of his Australian roots, he volunteered for service with the new RAN submarine AE2, and was selected as one of the original crew, officially lent by the RN to the RAN from December 1913 for a period of three years.
Thomson was one of two AE2 men who recorded the historic moment of the sinking of the submarine in a series of graphic sketches which he drew later in the prison camps, first at Afion Kara Hissar then at Belemedik. At Belemedik Thomson gained a reputation for stepping into fist fights to help AE2 comrades, and by April 1917 had been transferred to a remote railway camp, possibly as punishment for fighting. Conditions there were appalling and Thomson and Michael (Bill) Williams, also of AE2, tried to escape. In his diary, George Kerr related: ‘They spent all one Sunday night roaming the mountains until Bill Williams lost heart, to use Bunts’ words, and said it would be advisable to return … Bunts was cut up over Williams’ lack of courage, and says he tried to keep his heart up but all to no purpose.’
By 9 July, however, Thomson and another submariner Gwynne had made another escape attempt. Kerr wrote:
They set out nearly a month ago, and had been gone a fortnight before the man in charge reported them missing. The Turks knew nothing for a long time [because] two men from the night shift [would] take their place for … counting … We [then] received news that they had been taken near Adana after having been seen wandering about for 3 or 4 days begging bread and water. Everyone believes them to be caught but they have not passed this way yet.
After Adana, Thomson was returned to Belemedik and there were no further escape attempts recorded. He was finally released and returned to London on Christmas Eve 1918. Despite being very thin, his physical constitution must have been strong for he re-enlisted on 25 March 1919 in the RAN for a further period of three years, during which he served on Platypus and Cerberus. His wife and family joined him in Australia aboard the Zealandia in 1920, and they set up home in Victoria.
After surviving against such terrible odds, Thomson died tragically young on 29 May 1922, when the bus he was driving overturned going around a corner.
In an interesting third-generation link, one of Thomson’s grandsons, John Thomson, has been actively involved in the project to raise the AE2 submarine from the floor of the Sea of Marmara.