Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Full Military Funeral for Desert Rat Tom

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Full Military Funeral for Desert Rat Tom

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Blackburn Chief Stockton Reporter mike.blackburn@trinitymirror.com

A FULL military funeral is to be held for a well-known Stockton war veteran who fought with the famous Desert Rats in the Second World War.

Tom Pettett, who has died aged 99, took part in the legendary allied victory at El Alamein under the command of Field Marshall Montgomery.

As a sergeant major with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Tom helped train the 8th Army before they fought back Rommel.

Tom also boasted what must have been the best football team in the forces - featuring no less than Boro and England star Wilf Mannion, and fellow professionals Tommy Laughton, Joe Mercer, Alan Finney, Bill Nicholson and Albert Quixhall.

But his own physical toughness was honed from an early age growing up on Teesside.

Born in Hartlepool in 1915 in his father's pub, the Coal Exchange, he grew up on the Headland estuary.

To get to work every day, rather than walk the three miles inland, he would give the ferryman his clothes and swim across because he couldn't afford the penny fare!

Collecting his dry clothes at the other side Tom would then go off to work as a barrow boy for Maypole Dairy.

At 16, he lied about his age to join the Army in 1931 with the Northumberland Fusiliers. His pre-war postings included the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Jamaica and Palestine, before he was shipped to North Africa to fight the Germans.

His proud daughter Helen Williams said: "He met lords, drank with brigadiers and served with his comrades. His 25 years in the Army were his proudest and most cherished."

When he came out of the Army, Tom's training and sergeant major powers of persuasion came in handy back home in Stockton, where he lived with wife Alice in Roseworth.

He hit the news headlines in 1955 when he took on the toughs at Eastbourne Youth Club, a notorious bad boys club.

A string of previous youth leaders had been forced to resign after being unable to control the troublemakers. Following his first night two 17-year-old boys lay in waiting for Tom - but when they tried to jump him they were in for a shock.

Little did they know their "victim" was a judo and boxing expert - and within seconds they were lying on their backs. …

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