ARNO member Sir Thomas Baird KCB DL celebrates his 100th birthday

Posted on Tuesday 21 May 2024

A former Royal Navy flag officer, who has just turned 100, has recalled how he survived a Luftwaffe attack on his ship just days before his 18th birthday.

Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Baird, who was once the Royal Navy’s most senior officer in Scotland, celebrated his 100th birthday with a family dinner party attended by his two children and their spouses, and attributed the secret to his longevity to keeping a strict routine.

Sir Tom’s 41-year Navy career began aged 17 when he served as a midshipman, a sailor of the lowest rank, on HMS Trinidad as part of the Arctic Convoy.

It was a gesture of support to the Soviet Union in 1941 after Hitler breached a treaty of non-aggression made two years earlier.

The route was treacherous as it was close to Nazi-occupied Norway and the extreme weather conditions even saw ice forming around the ship’s mast, which had to be removed by sailors using a blowtorch as it was causing so much instability.

HMS Trinidad, which was sailing to undergo maintenance, was attacked by Junkers Ju 88 bombers after leaving Murmansk, Russia.

Some 750 personnel were evacuated but 50 were killed before the decision was taken to scuttle the light cruiser by British destroyers prior to dawn on 16 May 1942.

Sir Tom said the ship sank the day before his 18th birthday.

“Nobody was thinking about giving me a birthday party,” he said.

“It was flat calm in the Arctic and the ship was evacuated about midnight – it was bright daylight, because it was sunk in May, 82 years ago.

“The destroyers torpedoed the ship so it sank in a ball of flames.

“While we were waiting we were sent down to open the hatches so the Germans couldn’t pick up secret information. We were taken off the ship by the last destroyer.

“I saw the ship going down – the last bit was the stern with the propellers going down. My friend took a picture on a Brownie camera.”

The teenage Sir Tom was then evacuated to Iceland before he returned to Greenock, Inverclyde – making the journey home still wearing a sealskin hat.

He recalled his mother berating him for losing his luggage before sending him off to rejoin the Navy in Chatham, Kent.

Of the 44 boys in his term at Dartmouth, he said around 18 of them were killed in their first postings in 1941 aged 17.

“I always thought I was one of the lucky ones,” he said.

“To have survived being sunk once, when most of my colleagues were killed.”

Sir Tom, who has five grandchildren, retired just before the Falklands War in 1982.

He enjoyed playing golf and spending time with his family and was also chairman of the Erskine Hospital for veterans in Renfrewshire.

He moved to Scotland permanently in 1965, after meeting his wife Angela, and his career peaked in 1979 when he became Flag Officer, Scotland and Northern Ireland – the head of the Royal Navy there.

This saw him host guests including US president Richard Nixon and diplomat Henry Kissinger.

Reflecting on his long life, widower Sir Tom said he had “always been against the government and my parents, and everybody else – I liked to live a separate life”.

The Royal Navy Officers' Charity (RNOC) have supported
officers and their families since 1739