Thomas Fowler was born in 1919 in Newcastle, New South Wales, the son of Ernest Herbert and Ernestine Eleanor Fowler, of Wollongong, New South Wales. He was twenty-two years old and had joined the Merchant Navy on 4 October 1940. Fowler was the 6th Engineer on the Neptuna.
The MV Neptuna was crewed by eighteen Australian Officers, four Cadets, and over one hundred Chinese sailors. She arrived in Darwin Harbour loaded with two hundred depth charges and a very large quantity of anti-aircraft shells for the Navy and Army. When the Japanese air attack began the Neptuna was berthed alongside the main wharf awaiting maintenance. The first bomb hit the ship below the waterline and she began taking on water; she then received a direct hit causing her to catch on fire. When the fire entered No. 3 and No. 4 hatches, the Neptuna blew apart, creating a huge mushroom cloud caused by the explosion of the ammunition she was carrying.
Most of the surviving ship’s company were rescued from the wharf and the harbour and taken aboard HMAS Platypus, a depot ship being used as a casualty clearing station. Thirty-six of the ship’s crew were killed, including the Master, Captain William Michie.
George Boniface was the Neptuna’s 4th Engineer and is now the only surviving Australian crew member. He was friends with Cross and Fowler, as all three engineers were from Wollongong and had worked together at Australian Iron and Steel, in Port Kembla. Cross and Fowler were in a part of the ship that received a direct hit, and were killed instantly.
It was Boniface, upon his return home to Wollongong, who informed both Cross and Fowler’s parents of the death of their sons, as they had not heard from the authorities. According to Boniface, Tommy Fowler's parents commissioned a stained glass window in St Michael's Church to commemorate him.
Tommy Fowler is also commemorated at The Northern Territory Memorial, which stands in the Adelaide River War Cemetery. He was remembered by his mother, father, brother and sister with entries over several years in the Family Notices of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Can you tell us more about this person? Please contact us.