Alfred Thomas King
deceased 16 Jan 2015
by Adrian Brett
Yesterday I dutifully attended the funeral of Musician Alfred Thomas King (93) at Eltham Crematorium, which is only 10 minutes from my home, to represent the RMBS. I was pleasantly surprised however to see a large group of some 20 older men in blazers, green berets and corps crests and ties...and two banners! Evidently Tom had been a very popular member of the City of London RMA and this group plus other RMA members from Canterbury and Surrey had come to give Tom a good send off. I joined the guard of honour as the coffin passed into the church. The chapel was full and a traditional Christian service took place with RM prayers and Last Post and Reveille played by a young RM Bugler from the Royal Band in Portsmouth.
A brief account of Tom King's life was read out, mostly in his own words. He had been born in Hackney, East London in 1921 into a large family of nine girls and just two boys. Somehow Tom had found himself in a Shaftesbury Home but at 15, in 1936, he joined the RMBS. His first ship was HMS Effingham. When I had read that Tom was the last survivor from the RMB on HMS Exeter I had naively supposed this was from the Battle of the River Plate in 1939, when that ship chased the Admiral Graf Spee and many of the band died. Apparently Tom did not join HMS Exeter until 1942 when in March that year that ship's fate was determined in the Battle of the Java Sea after which the crew were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Tom survived three and a half years in a Japanese POW camp where 153 of his fellow shipmates were to perish.
Quite amazing how many men who suffered acute nutritional deprivation in POW camps have survived into their 90's! Tom was medically discharged in 1946 aged 25 and later joined the civil service as a clerk. It was amazing to hear the story of how Tom, believing all fellow band members from HMS Exeter had passed on, had heard that one solitary member was still living....in Australia. Tom was determined to be reunited with his old friend Ted Jones and, having been banned from flying due to a previous heart attack, somehow managed to find a boat to complete the arduous journey to Australia aged 88!
A nice touch was a small bound book of photos from Tom's trip included as a souvenir in an envelope with the Order of Service.
Tom King was clearly a much loved and popular man and a member of the City of London RMA and the Far East POW Veterans and both those institutions were well represented at the funeral.
I felt quite proud to be the only ex-RMB, to my knowledge, and to be the representative of those who knew Tom and were unable to attend.
RIP Musician Alfred Thomas King.