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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

FSL Thomas Malcolmson Greeves


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Today I remember my great uncle, Thomas Malcolmson Greeves, known as ‘Mac’ to the family but ‘Tom’ to his friends during the war.

Born on 6th December 1895 to the manager of the J&TM Greeves Linen Mill in Belfast and named after his grandfather, one of the founders. Had things been different he would have gone on to take his father’s place as manager at the mill

The family were (Plymouth) Brethren and, in common with the Quakers who they were an offshoot from, swore not to take life so, when the war broke out, Mac did not sign up.

Nevertheless, as with many others they felt a need to contribute and in early 1915 the family donated two vehicles (a truck and the family’s Lancester car) to the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, a volunteer run unit providing medical support in Flanders, at that time primarily to the civilian evacuees who were suffering a massive typhoid epidemic.

Mac and his cousins John and William Edward (Bill) joined the unit as drivers arriving in June 105 after period of training at the Quaker house in Jordan’s Buckinghamshire.

Among others in the unit were members of the Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree families as well as the Brooks family who founded the Portland cement company

For the first year, they were based at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Dunkirk and moved to various stations in the Flanders area including Croxyde, Crombeke and Rexpoede as well as the hospitals at Poperinghe and De Panne.

In July 1916, they were attached to the French army and moved to Porte St Maxence  serving the hospital there and in Compiegne including the palace there which had been converted into a hospital. This was in preparation from the big push at the Somme.

In March of 1917 Mac and a close friend, Douglas Brooks, seem to have decided they weren’t doing enough for the war effort and, now both being over 21, they could go against their families’ wishes and sign up for combat.

They both chose the RNAS but there was a waiting list and Brooks, being impatient, used family influence to get a commission in the RFC instead.

Mac carried on with the RNAS and arriving at Crystal Palace for initial training then moving on to learning to fly in a Cauldron G3 at Vendome.

Back in the UK he passed out of Cranwell first in class and, after his first flight in a Camel at Manston he was posted to the pilot-pool squadron 12 RNAS at Petit-Synthe, Dunkirk.

The weather was very bad and he only had two patrol flights before on 23rd December 1917, he and his flight leader took off and, after only a few minutes in the air, the Camel’s notorious gyroscopic effect caused him to lose control and hit the ground.

He was alive when taken out and was sent to Queen Alexandra where he had formerly worked and where his elder sister, Kathleen, was working as a VAD, but succumbed to his injuries later in the day.

His other, eldest, sister, Mary Florence (who he called ‘Mimi’) was deeply affected by his death. She kept the propeller boss from the plane, which was sent to the family by a friend, until her death in 1967. It was through it I first learned about him.

Each of his brothers and sisters also kept button from his dress uniform which he is shown wearing in the portrait which was one of two done on the occasion of his graduation from Cranwell. The one in the picture I use an avatar on this site came to me from my grandfather via my mother.

Because of his death my grandfather became manager of the mill and he ran it until it closed in the late 1950’s due to the rise of man-made fibres.

When I saw the propeller, as a young boy, I imagined him being a dashing pilot, dicing with the Red Baron or some such but the truth was a lot less glamourous.

I think his work with the FAU was just as valuable though and had he lived he may have gone on to be a great pilot (Brooks did.)


In June this year I visited Flanders to see many of the places he worked and pay my respects.


Never Forget




Thomas Malcolmson Greeves.jpg

Edited by Gustywinds
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