THOMAS FAULKNER ~ Welsh merchant marine Captain’s WW1 medal reunited with great-grandson.

103480 ~ THOMAS FAULKNER  M.N. ~ Merchant Marine    

Russell Bennison of Papakura had just read my first article in the Spring RSA Review regarding the wearing unofficial medals, and as  result email me, not with any query about unofficial medals, but one regarding a medal he had found mixed in with his own father’s medals (as so often happens).  Russell’s father was 50272 Cpl. Albert Nelson Bennison who served with 37 Infantry Battalion, 2NZEF in the Pacific – Fiji New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Nissan (Green) Island.   Albert passed away in 1956.  In sorting through his dad’s medals recently, Russell found a medal totally unfamiliar to him, one he did neither recognised by the name on it, or by type.  Hardly surprising since the medal had no ribbon, and no ribbon suspender bar or claw.  It simply presented as a circular dull silver coloured “coin” and bearing a small hole drill near the edge.

When Russell contacted me he said he had come across a WW1 GSM (general service medal) with the name FAULKNER T. on the edge, and that it was “just the medal and it appears that the pin holding it to the remainder has broken.”

Russell did not recognise the name as being associated with his family, or any idea how or why his father may have acquired it.  This is quite a common occurrence and often the result of a chance find, or a spur of the moment purchase in a second hand shop or flea market.  It is also quite common for damaged medals such as this was (missing the medal ribbon suspender and claw) to be easily mistaken for a coin and mixed in with till change, particularly when NZ was still using sterling currency.  The medal is similar in size to a crown, half-crown and penny that were in circulation prior to 10 July 1967 after which decimal currency was introduced.  Given that Albert had died in 1956 it was very likely this could have been the case, particularly if he had been in a  position that required him to handle cash, e.g. business, recreation club etc.

Russell said that except for his father’s WW2 service, Albert, a farmer from Ashburton, had spent most of his life in Canterbury, either in Ashburton or Christchurch – Russell said “I would assume that Faulkner T. also comes from that region.  As the medal is a little battered I thought it may have broken off (maybe during an ANZAC Day commemoration activities) and had been found by my father.”  I asked Russell to check the edge of the medal to be sure it did NOT have a service number or unit on it – nothing else on it he said.  

I immediately suspected either the Mercantile Marine Medal or British War Medal.  I asked Russell to describe the medal – “dull silvery colour, King George V’s head on one side, knight on a horse on the other ….”  My hunch was confirmed!  It was definitely the British War Medal, 1914-18 awarded to merchant marine sailors.

Merchant/Mercantile Marine (Merchant Navy)

Merchant marine vessel fleets flagged to the British Empire including fishing fleets, lightships and pilot service vessels in the UK were generally regarded as the Forth arm of the Empire’s military might.  The merchant (or mercantile) marine fleets’ contribution during the First World War was an essential component for ensuring the success of operations fought in France and Belgium.  Despite their losses, merchant convoys maintained an unbroken supply and transport chain between England and France with shipments of food, fuel, troops, animals, equipment, armaments and munitions to support each of the Empire’s contributing nations. 

These unarmed fleets were in constant danger from predatory enemy submarines and surface ships.  Some merchant vessels were co-opted to be re-fitted as ‘Q-Ships’ (named after the Irish home port of Q-Ships – Queenstown).  A closely guard wartime secret, Q-Ships were designed to lure submarines to the surface by presenting as an unarmed soft target that a U-boat might prefer to engage with deck guns rather than expend any of the few valuable torpedoes the carried for far juicier, higher value Royal Navy targets.  Once an enemy U-boat surfaced, the seemingly harmless Q-Ship would lower false bulkheads or screening material to reveal they were heavily armed with deck guns themselves, and engage the submarine before it had a chance to respond.  Some Q-Ships also carried rudimentary depth charges which were used to some effect – these were still under development but a useful tool and a most appropriate proving ground.

King George V as commander-in-chief of the Navy and Army, and with a son, Prince Albert the future King George VI, serving as a Royal Navy officer aboard HMS Collingwood (Battle of Jutland), was an ardent supporter of the merchant marine service.  In recognition of their outstanding contribution in support of the war effort during WW1, the King in 1918 bestowed the title of “Merchant Navy” on the British merchant marine shipping fleets. 

Today the Merchant Navy is the maritime register of the United Kingdom and comprises the seagoing commercial interests of UK-registered ships and their crews.  Most Commonwealth countries have also adopted the title.  

Due recognition

For the merchant mariners of WW1, the King authorised the award of their own service medal – the Mercantile Marine Medal (MMM).  Unlike the other 1914-1918 war service medals, the MMM was administered by the UK Board of Trade.  The medal was usually paired with the British War Medal, 1914-18 (BWM), but never paired with the Victory Medal.  The Victory Medal was awarded only to those merchant sailors who had served in a designated theatre of war after 1st of January, 1916 or to sailors who had previous or subsequent service in an Army unit or with the Royal Navy, and who met the qualifying criteria, could be eligible for any other medals awarded for service in a specified theatre of war. 

NZ merchant mariners crewing UK flagged vessels on shipping routes around the world who were co-opted for war service (troop transports, hospital ships/lighters/barges, tankers, supply ships etc) and whose ship’s transited designated ‘war zones’ on one or more voyages, could also qualify for the award of the British War Medal, 1914-18 and/or the Mercantile Marine Medal. 

Example – impressed British War Medal, 1914-18 to a merchant service Captain. 

Example – impressed Mercantile Marine Medal to a merchant sailor, irrespective of rank held. 

Uniquely both medals were impressed with either a single initial and surname, e.g. D. JONES, or the first name in full when the recipient had a middle initial(s), e.g. DAVE  E. JONES.  No rank, ship or country was added (Australia was the exception).  In excess of 270,000 MMM and BWM pairs were issued for merchant marine service during WW1.

All UK merchant marine vessels during WW1 were co-opted for use by the Admiralty as required, and when put into service were administered by the Royal Navy for the duration of the war.  Therefore, as far as war service medals were concerned, the Defence Ministry controlled the issue and administration of the four military service medals – the 1914 Star, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-18 and the Victory Medal.  The Merchant Marine Medal was unique in that UK Board of Trade was the authority for all issues and administration.  This meant that if Thomas Faulkner had been awarded the MMM (which was very likely) I would not find it among the military medal issues in Ancestry.


My first inclination with any WW1 naval associated medal is to consider them of UK origin since there was no organic navy in New Zealand at this time.  New Zealanders who volunteered or were assigned to sea service, did so as with the Royal Navy (NZ Division), or if a civilian, travelled on their own cognisance to the UK and joined the merchant service there. 

Identifying merchant sailor “FAULKNER T.” who served during WW1 was probably going to be the easy part of this puzzle, but finding a sailor who had perhaps only visited New Zealand  (unless he had immigrated here) from another Allied country such as the UK, Australia, Canada or South Africa was a search I was not relishing as these can be very time consuming since information for merchant sailors is notoriously vague, limited in detail and sometimes tricky to access.  Besides that, if a sailor transferred ships regularly, say after each voyage, or even each year, following him from ship to ship can be problematic as ships went in and out of service, were returned to owners, sunk, and re-named, all of which can throw a researcher completely off  one individual’s track.  Land records such as addresses, marriage and the birth of children can be about the most reliable source however large gaps in continuity can also appear due to the sailor’s absence at sea.

The other big issue with tracking merchant sailors is the Signing-On and Paying-Off (Discharge) process.  All sailors joining a ship’s crew are either “Paid-On” (new crew member), or “Remained” (remaining with ship from last voyage).  If leaving the ship a sailor is “Paid-Off” (Discharged) enabling him to apply to join another vessel, or do something else.  When “Paid-Off” a Certificate of Discharge is issued to the sailor which must be produced to join a new ship – these are often the only records of the sailor’s service that exist.  During periods of conflict such in WW1 and WW2, records were notoriously badly maintained.  The situation can be exacerbated when military and civil records are destroyed, as was the case after the London Archives were bombed during WW2, or the the destruction by fire in 1922 of a large portion of the Irish Archives by fire.

I started my search for Tom Faulkner with the Ancestry ship crew listings of those who had been awarded medals.  By locating his medal entitlement, hopefully there would be additional information that would help to to determine where he was from (NZ?), how long he had served and even whether he survived the war or not.  There were plenty of T. FAULKNER’s world-wide but only a handful who had served in the merchant marine (and even less who had come from New Zealand).   T. Faulkner featured in only one Crew List of that time and one medal record, for the British War Medal, 1914-18 only – no other information was given.   A quick check of the Great War Roll of Honour and several merchant shipping casualty sites also confirmed that he did not die during the war which meant there was likely to be a lot more traceable information of Thomas’s life.

I next went to the UK Archives, the repository of all merchant marine Medal Cards of sailors from all countries in the Empire.  Whilst there were a number of T. Faulkners in the cards, unbelievably only one had a single initial – Thomas Faulkner.  Medal cards and files in the on-line Archives are deliberately obscured from casual viewing so that anyone requiring information will hopefully pay to get an un-obscured record.  With a bit of persistence and slight of hand, I was able to transcribe the complete record of T. Faulkner’s medal card without spending a cent!   

                      MEDAL INDEX CARD

Creator of Record:  Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, 1872-1992

Surname:  Faulkner                                  Certif. or Dis A:  103480, Master            

Christian names:  Thomas                       RS2 No:  x

Place of Birth:  Chester                            Year of Birth:  1857 

Mercantile Marine Ribbon issued:          10.7.1923    To:   MMO

British Medal Ribbon issued:                  10.7.1923    To:   MMO  Liverpool

Mercantile Marine Medal issued:             11.10.1923   To:   MMO }  Flatt Lane, Ellesmere

British Medal issued:                                11.10.1923   To:   MMO } W. Birkenhead           

Clasps issued:  x

Application date: 10.7.23                          Sent to MMO: Liverpool, 10.7.23

The card had given me some basic information about Thomas as at the time his medals were issued, 1923 – his place and year of birth, an address, his rating was Master and he had been awarded two medals.  This small amount of information was sufficient to get me started piecing together Thomas Faulkner’s life, so it was back to Ancestry and census, electoral rolls and BDM records from which I found out a date and more precisely where he had been born, where he had lived during his life, whom and when he had married, how many children he had and their names, when he and his wife died, and essentially what his maritime career had entailed.  


In the beginning …

In 1852 retired farmer Joseph Faulkner (1775–1859) and wife Catherine, nee PRIDDING (1776–1862) were residing in a village common lodging house (similar to flats) named “Whitby House” situated in Whitby (later absorbed into Ellesmere Port).  Their five children were, Elizabeth [Faulkner] PARRY (1806-1887) and husband John (Warehouseman), John (1808–1839) and wife Mary [POWELL] Faulkner (1812– ?), Mary [Faulkner] PARRY (1812–1851) and (confusingly) husband also John Parry, Thomas Faulkner (1814-1828), Harriett [Faulkner] FRYERS (1816– ?), and Joseph Faulkner (1819–1876).

Mary [Powell] Faulkner (widow) was also a resident of Whitby House when baby Thomas was born.  Mary and her deceased husband John’s daughter (1 of 3) was Elizabeth Powell Faulkner (1834–1915).  Elizabeth was 21 years old when she gave birth to Thomas ‘Tommy’ Faulkner on 3 January 1856 at her grandparents house at Dee Banks in Great Boughton.  Thomas had been born out of wedlock and while his father was not recorded on his birth certificate, I found a record for Thomas’s marriage in 1882 that stated: John Faulkner – Father and Thomas Joynson – Father (of the bride).  Faulkner was a fairly common name in the Great Broughton area at this time (as it is throughout Cheshire, I found) and not all were necessarily related.  John Faulkner was local agricultural labourer but unrelated to Elizabeth [Powell] Faulkner’s lineage.  For what ever reason, Elizabeth abandon her family after Tommy’s birth and any thoughts she might have had regarding marriage to John.  She disappeared leaving baby Thomas in the care of her grandmother Catherine. 

Little Tommy Faulkner was duly baptised in March 1856 at the Church of St Mary, Ellesmere Port, a church that featured prominently in most of the Faulkner’s lives for baptisms, funerals and burials.  By this time Joseph and Catherine were in their late 70s, and when Catherine died in 1862 (Joseph pre-deceased her by three years) it was their eldest daughter, Tommy’s great aunt Elizabeth [Faulkner] Parry who took her six year old great nephew under her wing to live with her family.  

Later I discovered from great-grandson John K. Faulkner that Elizabeth [Powell] Faulkner had married a John GERRARD in Christleton (just outside Chester) in Sep 1857, some 20 months after Tommy’s birth.  Elizabeth and John Gerrard had eight children of their own together.  For baby Thomas, there seems to have been a bit of to-ing and fro-ing during his infant years as the 1861 UK Census showed him listed under two names – firstly as Thomas GERRARD living with his mother Elizabeth Gerrard in Christleton, and secondly, as Thomas FAULKNER living with his great aunt Elizabeth Faulkner Parry at Whitby.   This situation had apparently been resolved by 1871 as Thomas Faulkner, then 15 and working as an Errand Boy, was listed as living  only with his great aunt Elizabeth Parry and her son George (25 – a carpenter) at Whitby House, in Whitby.  

Dock Street, Ellesmere Port – 1910

New Mills and Dockyard – Ellesmere Port

Dockyard Lighthouse, Ellesmere Port – 1899

Station Road, Ellesmere Port – 1908

A life at sea

The term “Sailor” is a generic term as is “Seaman.”  Men of the merchant marine were generally referred to as Sailors, while sailors of the Royal Navy were Seaman.  Both merchant marine and RN crews are broken into two rank structured groups – commissioned “Officers” (Captain, Engineers, Mates etc) who manage the ship and the sailors), and the rest who comprising the “Other Ranks” (all sailors/seaman who are not of commissioned officer status/rank).  The lowest rating/rank in both the merchant marine and RN was an ordinary seaman. 

However, confusion reigned as terminology was still mixed within the  merchant marine who had adopted the RNs lower rank titles, such as seaman, ordinary seaman and able seaman, for their own use.  Confusing as you will see further down, but you get the general idea.

It is believed Tom Faulkner started his sea-going career about 1874 as a 17-18 year old Deck Hand (DH), an apprentice merchant marine Sailor, initially serving on passenger sailing ships from the Port of Liverpool to various continental destinations in France, Portugal, Spain and Scandinavia.  The DH’s main responsibilities were washing the decks, chipping corrosion from iron fixings, applying tar and varnishing, waxing, cleaning glass and brass, and assisting others on the deck.  This Tom would do whilst gaining familiarity a ship’s routine both when in port, and at sea.  

Once he proved himself capable and confident in a DH role, Tom’s next step was re-classification to an ordinary seaman (OS), the lowest ranked rating of a merchant ship’s crew.  A DH’s hours were more flexible than the OS, being the first rating that required the sailor to be on duty 24 hours a day / 7 days a week when at sea.  OS primarily assisted the able seaman with housekeeping duties on the deck, but  also required to do many other tasks such as manning the lookout, paint scaling and chipping, helping to moor the ship by handling lines, and helping to tie and let the vessel.   

Tom Faulkner’s occupation of “Sailor” first appeared along side his name in the 1881 UK Census.  His crew rating (rank) was not given but having spent the his time as an OS under the supervision of an able bodied seaman (AB), once his knowledge and capability with deck operations were considered of a good standard, he could be re-rated (promoted) to able seaman.  Tom was known to have his AB (able bodied) rating by 1882; he had been at sea almost 10 years and was approximately 26 years of age.   

Generally speaking an AB was responsible for everything outside, on top of, and underneath a vessel.  By law, the able seaman should have the ability to perform all duties pertaining to the deck, except for actual vessel navigation.  An AB had to be competent in performing watch (lookout) duties, splicing the fibre lines, working over the ship’s side (gangways, mooring and letting duties, chipping, stripping, varnishing, waxing and painting all wood and metal fixtures), operating any deck machinery (capstan, line or anchor winches, cargo derricks and lines etc), taking care of cargo storage, taking care and transfer of the ship’s rigging, and repairing the canvas.  An AB would also have the ability to handle the lifeboat under sail, and to instruct and supervise Deck Hands and OS in their duties.   

Marriage and domestic sea service

In January 1882, AB Thomas Faulkner (26) married** a resident of Ellesmere Port, 23 year old Jane JOYNSON (1858-1895) at the Church of St Mary, Broughton.  Together they made their first home at 23 Flatt Lane, Birkenhead.  This town is built around the Birkenhead dockyard is on the south bank of the Mersey basin, at one time housing some of the largest flour mills in England.  On the  opposite side of the Mersey basin is the Port of Liverpool.  Tom was at this time crewing on coastal cargo vessels out of both Birkenhead and Liverpool.   

AB Thomas Faulkner’s next promotion before being considered for a Deck Officer position would have been Boatswain.  The Boatswain, more commonly called Bosun, was the senior crewman of the deck.  He was responsible for the ship’s hull and all its components, including its rigging, anchors, cables, sails, deck maintenance and small boat operations (lifeboats, barge, lighters).  A Bosun might also be assisted by a Bosun’s Mate, an AB who would train, direct, and supervise personnel in ship’s maintenance duties, in all activities relating to marlinspike (a tool and general term used for rope work, e.g. splicing, platting etc), the deck, vessel seamanship, painting, upkeep of ship’s external structure, the rigging, deck equipment, and boats (life boats, barges).

By 1891 Tom (34) and Jane (31) had moved to at house in 63 Dock Street, Ellesmere Port along with their two children, John William Faulkner (b1883) and Mary Alice Faulkner (b1884).  In 1895 Tom’s wife Jane died suddenly at the age of 37.  Tom was devastated but being a pragmatic man, his wider family assisted with the care of John (12) and Mary (11) while Tom went back to sea.  The ships became his home and so he relinquished his house in Dock Street for which he no longer had a need.  Whenever he was at ashore in Ellesmere Port he was always welcomed to stay with family members otherwise Tom would rent rooms.  When son John and daughter Mary eventually married Tom would generally stay with one or the other once of these who lived at the Port.   Despite all of their generational iterations, this particular Faulkner family had not ventured much further beyond the Ellesmere Port, Wirral or Cheshire areas.  Most of the family tended to remain in the Whitby area, a once small village 1.5 km SW of Ellesmere Port, now an integral part of a much larger Ellesmere Port.  It has been only in more recent decades that Faulkner descendants have spread to the surrounding counties and beyond.  

Ellesmere Port today – looking west

Ellesmere Port – looking east toward Chester






Captain T. FAULKNER  ~ Master Mariner ~

Capt. Thomas Faulkner on the deck of the cargo ship SS City of Birmingham – c1912 (torpedoed and sunk in 1916, 90 miles from Karachi)

Master Mariner is the highest grade of licensed merchant marine sailor, who is qualified to Captain a merchant vessel of any size, any type, anywhere in the world.  It is not known exactly when Tom received his Master Mariner’s rating or his first command of a ship as Captain, but the first record showing him to be a Captain in command, is 1898 when he commanded the  SS Holmwood and when he would have been about 40-41 years old.  Therefore it maybe assumed his captaincy pre-dated 1898 but by how long is anyone’s guess.   Tom then served as the Mate (second in command to the Captain) on the SS Black Rock whilst being coached by the incumbent Master to take over command of this ship in mid 1899.  He also spent a brief period as the captain of the SS Heron in late 1899.   Captain Tom remained on the Black Rock until 1906.    He had just turned 50 in 1906 when he took on the Mate’s position of the SS Jane Rowland (1906-07) due to crew shortages;  Tom  transferred back to the SS Black Rock by years end and thereafter remained her Captain until August 1911.  In 1912 Tom had command of the SS Skelwith Force for one year together with short periods (these could have been as brief as one voyage) as master of the SS Llanelly and BroadgreenBy 1913 Captain Faulkner was again back in command of the SS Black Rock until the end of 1914 when he was required for war service.

SS Skelwith Force

SS Jane Rowland 







The above ships are examples of the ships that Captain Faulkner served on.  His ships were all general cargo vessels that plied the coastal routes up and down the west coast of the UK, Wales and Scotland and across to Ireland, plus to the various island groups scattered throughout the Irish Sea.  There was however one exception – the SS Skelwith ForceBuilt in 1908, she was hired by the Admiralty during WW1 as a Fleet Messenger in the Royal Navy’s commissioned service, entitling her to fly the White Ensign rather the usual Merchant Marine Red Ensign, known as ‘Red Duster.’  HMS Skelwith Force remained in service with the R.N. for nine months from 30 Sep 1915  until 15 Jul 1916.  Thereafter she reverted to mercantile use.

Merchant Red Ensign, or “Red Duster”as it was known.

White Ensign flown on all Royal Navy vessels.





Pay and “Paying-Off” (Discharge)

It is interesting to note that as a qualified Master Mariner, Tom’s wages were just 3 Pounds ($6.00) per week, a seemingly paltry sum for such a responsibility?  Of course given that he was fed and accommodated on-board and had little or no need of transportation, 3 Pounds was quite a bit in those days when commodities, rent, clothing, lighting oil and coal were far cheaper than today, and with added GST and inflation.  Tom’s pay in today’s terms would equate to about $320.00 +/- per week. 

Each time a Sailor (or Officer) left a vessel at the end of a voyage he could do one of two things, either “REMAIN”  or be “PAID OFF.”  If he remained there was no change to his conditions of service.  If the sailor opted to be “Paid-Off” (or Discharged) at the end of the  voyage, it was usually because he was/wanted to transfer to another vessel.  When “Paid Off” the relinquishing Captain/Master was required to give the sailor/officer a Character Rating – Ex, V.Good, Good, N/R.  These details were recorded in the vessel’s Discharge Log and a Certificate of Discharge bearing the Character Rating issued to the man.   The Certificate would be  required by the next Master of any ship the sailor/officer applied to join.  If a sailor/officer had made a disciplinary transgression during his time on the ship (drunkenness, fighting etc) the Captain could opt to enter “N/R”– Not Rated, which would automatically prompt queries by the Captain/Master of the next ship before the sailor/officer was “Paid On” to join his crew. 

SS Black Rock – Capt. Tom Faulkner spent the longest collective period of his sea service as Master in command of this ship.

The Captain was also rated.  Two crew members of able rate (e.g. AB Kitchen hand, AB Deck Hand etc) being roughly equivalent to the rank of an Army L/Cpl, who were “Paying Off” from the vessel were selected by the Bosun (the senior sailor on the ship) to rate their Master.  Their ratings were representative of the crew based upon how the Captain had treated his crew, how approachable he had been, and generally how confident they were to sail with him whilst at sea and in command of the ship.  Of only three character ratings I found for Captain Tom Faulkner (and there must have been dozens over the duration of his career as a Master), all stated “Very Good.”

War service 1914 >

From 1915 Captain Faulkner undertook wartime duties, being chiefly engaged in carrying food, equipment and munitions between England to France.   The Admiralty co-opted all merchant vessels for war service and Captain Faulkner was assigned to the SS Doonass.**  At 57 years of age, Tom was by far the oldest (and most experienced mariner) in the Doonass’s crew of 36.  His first appointment on Doonass was as Mate (second in command) from Jan-Jun 1915, Bosun from Aug-Oct and then Acting 2nd Mate until December. 

SS Doonass – general cargo carrier, pre-WW1.

SS Doonass in her wartime dazzle camouflage paint livery.







Ship’s officers were often alternated in their positions (particularly Mate, 2nd Mate, 3rd Mate and even Bosun) either to fill a shortfall, for training purposes or for personal reasons.  During the war years Masters were selected according to their particular capabilities with a vessel type. Routes to and from France required some specialist skills in relation to dealing with the surface and sub-surface threats.  No doubt Tom Faulkner experienced some hair raising moments during his trans UK–France voyages as submarines were a constant worry.  Over the course of the war, submarines accounted for vast tonnages of Allied merchant shipping sunk, with the loss of hundreds of sailor’s lives.  

After a four torrid years at war England was counting the cost of the men and women who had not returned from war service in France and Belgium, those who died at sea or had died in England from the effects of.  In the United Kingdom’s dockyards ships were being returned to service – re-fitted, repaired, re-painted, re-named and re-crewed.  Captain Thomas Faulkner MN (now Merchant Navy) wasted little time in returning to his pre-war ship routines at Ellesmere Port.  It was 1923 before he was issued his war medals from the Merchant Marine Office in Liverpool. 

Medals:  British War Medal, 1914-18 and Mercantile Marine Medal

Merchant Marine War Service:  19151918 

Captain (Master Mariner):   c1898c1927 = 30 years +/-

Total service in the Merchant Marine, & Merchant Navy (fm 1918) c18721927 = 55 years +/-



**  The SS Whimbrel was a steel screw general cargo steamer built at Dundee, Scotland in 1897 for the Cork Steam Ship Co. Ltd.  Sold to the Limerick Steam Ship Company of Belfast in 1907, the ship was re-named SS Doonass for the next 10 years until re-sold in 1917.  With several successive it was subsequently re-named: SS Audierne in 1917, SS Teelin Head* in 1924, and finally the SS City of Bremen in 1934.  The Bremen was sunk as a result of an air attack in June 1942 while in transit from Lisbon Portugal to Holyhead, the large Welsh port on Holy Island situated directly opposite Dublin harbour, 100 kms to the west.  Holyhead is the primary port that services Ireland.


SS City of Bremen (formerly the SS Whimbrel, Audierne & Teelin Head  (1897-1942)

The original  SS Teelin Head owned by the Ulster Steamship Company, was sunk by UC-31 whilst part of a convoy bound for Le Havre. Carrying a cargo of potatoes and taconite, a low grade of iron ore, the SS Teelin Head was struck by a torpedo at 8.04 pm on 21 January 1918.  Although the crew were able to abandon ship, 13 men, including the Captain, died. 

Counting the cost

Tom Faulkner counted himself fortunate to have survived under the circumstances, while the losses among merchant sailors from Liverpool and the surrounding dockyards of the Mersey basin had been substantial.  Everyone had either lost someone, or new of someone that never returned to Ellesmere Port greater Wirral areas. 

Tom’s only personal wartime loss had come with the death of his son-in-law, daughter Mary Alice’s husband, Private Willie Trevenen of the 1/28 London Regiment (Artist’s Rifles).  Mary Alice Faulkner was 21 when she had married Samuel “Willie” Trevenen, a 19 year old Lancastrian from Lancashire.  They had married at Brixton, Surrey in 1906 and Mary bore two sons and a daughter; John Faulkner Trevenen, Stanley Ireleston Trevenen and Kathleen Mary Trevenen  all of whom were born before 30 year old Willie Trevenen was ‘Called to the Colours’ in 1917:

  • London Regiment (Artists Rifles)

    764600 Private Samuel “Willie” TREVENEN enlisted with the 1st Battalion / 28th London Regiment (Artist’s Rifles) in France, a special forces regiment of the British Army Reserve.  Today the same unit is the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve).  The ‘Artists’ monica came about when the regiment was established in 1859,  part of a widespread volunteer movement which developed in the face of a potential French invasion after an attack on Napoleon III was linked to Britain.  The group was organised in London by Edward Sterling, an art student, and comprised various professional painters, musicians, actors, architects and others involved in creative endeavours; a profile it strove to maintain for some years. 
  • On 30 Dec 1917 a counter attack to re-take Welsh Ridge was launched, during which the 1st Battalion, Artists Rifles were to push  towards Marcoing near Cambrai, France.  Of the 80 men who got out of their trenches and went ’over the top’ to attack, 68 were killed within minutes including Pte. Willie Trevenen.  Willie’s body was never found; he is commemorated on Theipval Memorial on the Somme.  The NZ Division was also involved in the attack on Welsh Ridge.

Mary Alice Trevenen re-married in 1920 to William LIVERSLEY Snr (1865-1937), a Grocer and Baker of Ellesmere Port.  The marriage did not last and thereafter, Mary remained unmarried for the rest of her life.  Thomas would often stay with Mary whenever he was ashore and took great delight in spending time with his grandchildren.  Mary outlived her second husband by nearly 45 years, eventually dying in 1980 aged 94.

Faulkners – Post War

John William Faulkner & Grace Sowter on their Wedding Day, 1919.

The one bright spot for Captain Tom came shortly after the war when his only son John William Faulkner, a ledger clerk, married Grace SOWTER (1893-1968) on 3 May 1919.  Grief was never far from Tom Faulkner after the loss of his wife Jane with several other family members who had been equally as young, either taken in their early years or during the war.  John W. Faulkner died unexpectedly in 1927 at his home “Belsize” in Chester Road, Whitby and  just 44 when he left is grieving wife Grace to raise their two young sons alone, Kenneth John Faulkner (1920-1941)** and Geoffrey Faulkner (1923-2013).  Grace did re re-marry however was widowed again.  She died Mrs Eustace GASKING in 1980 at the age of 94.

Note:  Of John and Grace Faulkner’s two sons, their eldest Kenneth ** was called-up for war service during the Second World War:

  • ** 924133 Lance Serjeant Kenneth John Faulkner served with the 149th (Lancashire Hussars) Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery.  He had enlisted at 20 years of age and before leaving for the front, John did as many a man did under the circumstances, he married his sweetheart from Ellesmere Port in  January 1941, Dorothy Mary COLLIGAN (1917 – living).  A daughter Rosemary Mary FAULKNER was born in September 1941.  Barely eight weeks after his daughter’s birth the unthinkable happened – Lance Serjeant Ken Faulkner was Killed in Action on 27 November 1941 during the Siege of Tobruk in Lybia, North Africa.  L/Sjt. Faulkner was just 21 years of age when he was buried in the Knights Bridge War Cemetery at Acroma, Libya. 
  • Great-grandsons David and John Faulkner

    Ken’s brother Geoffrey Faulkner was not required to serve.  Geoffrey married Sybil Gow MACLURE (1927-1991) in 1950, and their union resulted in the birth of two sons:

    • John Kenneth FAULKNER (1952 – )
    • David FAULKNER (1953 – )


End of an Era

For Captain Tom the post war years had meant it was back to business as usual at the Ellesmere Dockyards.  He spent another 8 or so years as Master of a variety of vessels on the coastal routes and to Ireland until age and infirmity finally caught up with him, making retirement inevitable.  When exactly Tom hung up his captain’s hat is unclear but it is believed to have been shortly after his son John William’s death in 1927.  By then Tom was about 70 years of age and experiencing difficulty with his vision.  Regrettably eye disease (probably glaucoma?) was the cause which robbed Tom of his eyesight during his last years ‘ashore’. 

10 Livingtone Road, Ellesmere Port  in 2015. (red & grey)

Tom Faulkner never re-married, preferring to live alone in his small two storied, semi-detached house at 10 Livingstone Road, Ellesmere Port in South Wirral he had bought after he retired.  Whilst Tom was a very independent man, he remained close to family and also had numerous friends in the local community.  His widowed daughter-in-law Grace Faulkner and grandsons lived nearby, having remained residents of Ellesmere Port for their entire lives.  

On Saturday, 22 August 1931 Captain Thomas Faulkner M.N. (Ret’d) – Master Mariner, passed away at home after a short illness.  He was 75 years of age.  It was a very sad day for the Ellesmere Port community when news of Captain Tom’s death spread.  Most of the Ellesmere Port residents either knew Tom personally or as a very familiar face who had seemingly been in Ellesmere forever.  When one reads Tom Faulkner’s obituary there is no doubt he was a most highly regarded man.  An amiable and popular ship’s Captain, he was a respected professional and gentleman in his community and in merchant marine circles.  As the Editor of the Ellesmere Port Advertiser wrote:   “Even when blind he had never lost his good spirits nor his happy temperament, both of which he retained until the end. ”  The full obituary appeared in the Ellesmere Port Advertiser below:

Ellesmere Port Advertiser

Ellesmere Port Parish Christ Church in Station Road where Captain Thomas Faulkner’s funeral and burial took place on 26 August, 1931.

Churchyard of Christ Church where Thomas Faulkner is buried.















Ironically, Tom Faulkner’s five year old grandson Peter Joynson LIVERSLEY, the youngest son of Tom’s daughter Mary Alice and her 2nd husband William Liversley, was in Overpool Hospital with Diptheria** when Thomas died.  Peter died just nine days after his grandfather on 31 August 1931.  He was buried in the Overpool Cemetery, Ellesmere Port, Wirral.   


* Founded in 1844 Christ Church at Ellesmere Port was the first Church of England to serve the Whitby community.  The Church was de-consecrated from Church of England use on 01 April 1994,  150 years after it was consecrated.  It is now an Elim pentecostal church however the building and the churchyard remain world heritage listed sites. 

** Diptheria  is a serious bacterial infection usually affecting the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. In its advanced stages it affects the lungs heart and kidneys, and can be fatal.


The Descendant trail

My search for descendants had started with UK Archives and the Merchant Navy’s medal records.  Fortunately there was only one T. Faulkner and so, I was able to confirm him to be the man I sought.  I came to an abrupt halt after putting what I had of Thomas’s life together, when two families whose male spouses were both named Thomas Faulkner, were registered from the same general area in Ellesmere Port, and each man easily fitting the profile I was developing for Tom. 

Andrea R. is a UK resident amateur researcher who has helped me on a number of occasions by accessing records in the UK and building a family tree which can lead us to the location of present day descendant families.  Andrea produced a tree of the Faulkner family from records she located and like myself, with so many Faulkners who had common first names, e.g. John, had connected some incorrectly or with a wrong name – very easy to do, having done it dozens of time myself.  Andrea’s tree however gave me the broader picture of the known Faulkners in the area at that time, confirming I was at lest on the right track and giving me options if those came to nothing.

To find Thomas Faulkner’s current descendants there were only two people of interest – Thomas’s children, John William Faulkner and his sister Alice Mary Faulkner.  Initially focusing on Mary Liversley, it soon became apparent due to her re-marriage that her descendants were far spread and wide and not ‘direct’, a number having gone to the USA.  As far as John William Faulkner was concerned, Andrea had found records down to great grandson level (hopefully they were still living).  What I now needed was confirmation of details not available in on-line records.  For this I needed to find someone else who had a family tree with the Faulkners in it who might know the families personally.  For this I posted inquiries to a selected few Ancestry family tree owners.  One in particular had contained some of Faulkner families detail that Andrea had found but there was confusion over names which I had not previously come across, and the tree was not open for public viewing.

The owner/author of one such tree was also a UK resident, Alan Bush.  Alan promptly responded to my request and permitted me access to his (private record) family tree.  Tom Faulkner’s family was remotely connected to his who had also come from the Chester area.  The net result was that Alan’s tree correctly presented Thomas Faulkner’s lineage down to his grandson Geoffrey Faulkner and an un-named grandson in the Ellesmere Port area. 

Geoffrey’s sons were shown as being Kenneth Faulkner and an un-named brother Faulkner.  The un-named grandson’s children were shown as being John and Kenneth Faulkner plus an unnamed sister.  I thought this looked hopeful so after Alan and I had discussed my reason for making contact with him, Alan offered to try and make contact with John Faulkner on my behalf as he (Alan) lived quite close and could make a visit if John’s phone number was unlisted.  Alan found a number and phoned ……. wrong family!  That John Faulkner had no idea of who the Faulkner family to which Alan referred was, or any of the other persons we were looking for! 

Something had gone seriously wrong in Alan’s tree so I put the brakes on any further research until I had re-checked my material.  When this happens the trick is to go back only as far as the last confirmed piece of information and then review the possibilities to advance the search.  I reviewed the family trees Andrea had done and the names issue but which still lacked detail.  I also re-read the UK census covering the period 1891 and the electoral records in relation to Tom Faulkner’s known family members.  It was during this I found a census entry that appeared to be duplicated (as they often are), two Faulkner families with children’s names of Kenneth John and John Kenneth, both of whom were of similar age as those in Alan’s tree, and from the same general area in Wirral.  I cross referenced this information again with Alan and Andrea’s trees and in the process found a contributor to Alan’s tree from whom he had copied a record, and whose own tree detail showed Thomas Faulkner’s lineage complete to great-grandson level with complete names, one however was at variance with Andrea’s – Geoffrey’s second son was listed as David Geoffrey Faulkner?  

The contributor was none other than Geoffrey Faulkner’s eldest son, John Kenneth Faulkner (1952 – ).  Whist there was a David Geoffrey Faulkner in Cheshire, John confirmed his brother’s name was actually just David Faulkner (1953 – ).  Since then John and I have been in contact to piece together what we could of his great-grandfather Captain Thomas Faulkner’s life, a hard ask when so few of the extended family lived to any great age and had also lost a number of children to still birth or infant death along the way – it was definitely my lucky day.

It is so easy to mix names and families of early twentieth century families as the practice of naming the sans after the father was quite common – a nightmare for researchers though.  Getting them in the wrong sequence or attributed to the wrong father/mother can send a genealogist off in an entirely wrong direction. 

It was also John’s lucky day – he would be the recipient of his great-grandfather Thomas Faulkner’s war medal which he was very thrilled about.

Medal carried in Honour …

The day prior to sending Thomas Faulkner’s British War Medal, 1914-18 back to John Faulkner, was very coincidentally New Zealand’s Merchant Navy Day – September, 3rd   John had sent me a newspaper cutting with Tom’s photograph in it, and a copy of his obituary (above).  From this I enlarged the newspaper picture of Captain Tom, placed it in photo frame and together with his medal and a Poppy, made a point of attending the Merchant Navy Day commemorative service being held the following day at the Nelson Cenotaph.  It was a brilliantly sunny morning and a very fitting occasion with which to remember Captain Faulkner M.N. and to honour his marine war service on behalf of his great-grandsons John and David Faulkner.  I felt that the medal, although somewhat battered as a result of its long and hitherto unknown journey, had been the catalyst for a special moment of remembrance.  It was my privilege to honour Captain Faulkner’s memory and service with his own medal, on Merchant Navy Day, before it left our shores to be reunited with one of his own descendant family members at home in Wales. 

‘for those in peril on the sea’

Nelson Cenotaph on Merchant Navy Day. 

Captain T. Faulkner M.N. ~ NZ Merchant Navy Day – 3rd September 2018






‘lest we forget’

John Faulkner reciprocated a few weeks later after the medal had arrived at his home in Staffordshire.  On 15 September each year in the UK, representatives from every Second World War military and supporting services remember the fallen on “Battle of Britain Day”, a day on which the RAF has pride of place for their particular contribution to Britain’s freedom.  Along with the Merchant Navy Standard Bearer, John Faulkner was able to honour his great-grandfather Captain Thomas Faulkner M.N. for the very first time , while carrying his medal.  John intends to have the medal restored for Merchant Navy Day 2019 – next time he will be wearing it!

Ellesmere Port Cenotaph with the Christ Church behind.

Merchant Navy Standard Bearer Norman Price with John K. Faulkner, great-grandson of Capt. Thomas Faulkner, with Tom’s medal at the Tamworth War Memorial – 15 Sep 2018





Finding Captain Thomas Faulkner’s Mercantile Marine Medal would be the ultimate successful conclusion of this story, but a tall order I suspect given it has been 84 years since Captain Tom’s death and 91 years since his medals were issued to him.  


My thanks to Russell for sending the medal to MRNZ, and to Andrea R. and Alan Bush in particular who were both instrumental in the resolution of this case.  Their information helped to point me in the right direction to find the correct descendant family which led to the location of both of Captain Thomas’s Faulkner’s great-grandsons,  John and David Faulkner – and another successful conclusion to a case.

The reunited medal tally is now 241.