This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.
Thomas Gleeson was a fisherman from County Limerick and a long-serving sailor of the Royal Naval Reserve who was mobilised for service in 1914; he served as a gunner on various ships until he died just before the war ended.
Gleeson’s service records indicate that he was born on 3 January 1872 in County Limerick. His actual birth was, in fact, a little over a year earlier, on 1 December 1870; one of the eight children of John and Kate Gleeson. The family lived in the north of Limerick city and, like his father, Thomas Gleeson became a fisherman on the River Shannon.
Thomas Gleeson enrolled into the Royal Naval Reserve in 1898 and undertook regular training until he was mobilised on 9 October 1914. After some gunnery training he was posted to the base ship HMS Columbine in the Firth of Forth in Scotland in January 1915 and a few days after his arrival there he joined the armed boarding steamer HMS Stephen Furness. He served in the Stephen Furness for a year before joining a minesweeper, the trawler SS Taranaki. On 28 March 1918, Gleeson did not report for duty and his record was marked ‘Run’. Where he went and why is lost to time, but he returned to duty on 9 April and was punished for being absent without leave, losing 60 days’ pay.
Seaman Gleeson was posted to the troopship HMT Aquitania as a gunner on 16 September 1918, a few days before it departed on a trans-Atlantic voyage. The Aquitania sailed from Southampton on 20 September and Gleeson died of heart failure at sea on 26 September 1918. The ship arrived in New York the following day and his body was taken ashore. He was buried in First Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, New York on 30 September. His grave, in Section 8, Plot W, Range 71, Grave 14, is in the northern part of the cemetery and is marked by a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone.
For his war service Seaman Gleeson was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
His brother Martin also served during the war with the Royal Naval Reserve as a gunner, firstly on the armed merchant cruiser HMS Oceanic, which sank in September 1914, and then in the armed cruiser HMS Donegal.
1. (Back) John G. Gleeson (c1846-NK) married Katherine Curtin (17 July 1849-13 July 1913) on 24 August 1868: Michael (10 April 1879-NK); Patrick (7 November 1880-NK); Martin (15 May 1882-NK); Katherine (23 September 1883-NK); William (18 June 1892-NK). Other children are unknown.
2. (Back) He was renumbered throughout his service as he re-enrolled: 6536/G, 4068/H (service with these numbers totalling 7 years 11½ months), 4725/QA (5 years), 1026/B (5 years), and finally 2811/C.
3. (Back) The SS Stephen Furness was torpedoed and sunk by UB-64 off the Isle of Wight on 13 December 1917. Of the 111 officers and crew, only 12 survived, who were picked up by chance by a passing trawler later that evening.