Swift, Thomas Cecil
[My thanks to Margaret Stockdale, granddaughter of Richard Swift and niece of Tom and Bill Swift, for family information and permission to use the photos.]
Thomas Cecil Swift was born on 2 September 1917 in Lostock Hall. His father was Richard Swift (b. 1882 in Penwortham), who had worked variously as a locomotive engine cleaner (1901), a cotton weaver (1911) and a dairyman (1939). His mother was Alice May Hunt (b. 1883 in Preston). Richard and Alice were married in 1906 and they had four children, though one died in infancy. The survivors were: Ruth Lillian (b. 1907), then Thomas and finally William (b. 1922). According to the 1939 Englandand Wales Register, the family lived at 418 Leyland Road, Tardy Gate. Richard was a dairyman, Lillian was a music teacher, Tom worked at Leyland Rubber and Bill was an apprentice motor engineer.
The family photo below was taken in 1917, just after Tom was born. Richard is in uniform and but I have not been able to trace any definite records of which regiment he served in.
Swift Family, 1917
The photo at the top of the page was probably taken in 1940 and shows Tom seated left, Bill standing, and Richard seated right. Richard’s cap badge is difficult to make out but it may be the Royal Army Service Corps. There is an R. Swift who enlisted in the army in 1914 and served first with 1/7th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers and was transferred to the ASC in August 1917 and finally demobilised in August 1919, so this may be a match.
In the autumn of 1939, probably around the time war was declared, Tom married Alice Jones (b. 1916 in Leyland). Alicewas a co-worker at Leyland Rubber. Tom enlisted in the Royal Artillery and was assigned service number 950721 and he was posted to 95th Anti-Tank Regiment and at some point he was promoted to Lance Sergeant. This regiment came under command of the Eighth Army from November 1941 and they were sent to North Africa.
In June 1940, Italy had declared war on Britain and France, and British forces immediately crossed from Egyptinto Libya(an Italian colony). Italian forces invaded Egyptin September but eventually British, Indian and Australian forces began to take the upper hand, leading to the capture of Tobruk by British and Australian troops in January 1941. With the fall of Benghazi a month later the Italian army was effectively defeated and surrendered. At this point, Churchill ordered a halt to the advance to allow troops to be moved to the defence of Greece. And Rommel was appointed to take charge of the Afrika Korps. These two events led to a major shift in the fortunes of the North Africa Campaign. By the end of March, Rommel was ready to begin his advance; British forces withdrew from Benghazi and Rommel laid siege to Tobruk on 10 April. The siege was eventually relieved on 9 December. On other parts of the front, Axis and Allied forces were engaged in a number of battles and skirmishes with no clear outcomes; the Allies had numerical superiority but poor leadership. Rommel began his second offensive on 21 January 1942, capturing Benghaziby 29 January, at which point the front line was established between Gazala and Bir Hakeim (see the map).
Battle of Gazala 1942
Axis forces assaulted the Gazala line on 26 May, and on 13 June – “Black Saturday” – they inflicted heavy losses on the Allies and on 21 June the Axis captured Tobruk.
Tom Swift was killed in action during the Battle of Gazala, on 6 June 1942. He was 24 years old.
Following the capture of Tobruk, the Axis forces advanced quickly into Egypt and by the end of June they had reached El Alamein. Both sides then dug in. In August, Montgomery was appointed to command the Eighth Army and began an intense period of reinforcement and retraining. On 23 October, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot, the start of the Second Battle of El Alamein, and on 5 November, the Axis lines were broken. Winston Churchill, in The Hinge of Fate, later wrote “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.” Not quite true but why let the facts stand in the way of a good sound bite!
More information about this campaign can be foiund at:
Rank: Lance Serjeant
Service Number: 950721
Unit/Regiment: Royal Artillery 95th Anti-Tank Regiment
Date of death: 06/06/1942
Commemorated at: KNIGHTSBRIDGE WAR CEMETERY, ACROMA, LIBYA
Memorial Reference: Coll. grave 1. F. 22.
Additional Information: Son of Richard and Alice May Swift; husband of Alice Swift.
Margaret Stockdale tells me that her Uncle Bill Swift served in the Fleet Air Arm but I have no further information about his military service.