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Hi,

I remember many years ago watching the film, '''Battle of the River Pate,''' and this event in history really impressed me because many years later I bought a set of naval medals which were directly connected to the, '''end of the Admiral Graf Spee.''' I should point out I am not a collector of military medals and only have a few examples in my collection.

M38967 Petty Officer Thomas George Wilcox, HMS Cumberland, Royal Navy, I was there to witness the end of the heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, scuttled in the River Plate estuary, at Montevideo, in neutral Uruguay.

After the engagement between the German heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee and the Royal Navy ships HMS Achilles, Ajax and Exeter, the Admiral Graf Spee dropped anchor in the River Plate estuary, at Montevideo, in Uruguay. This occurred at approximately 00.10 hours on the 14th of December in 1939. The River Plate estuary runs between Uruguay and Argentina. This was the first naval battle to be fought in the Second World War.

At 22.00 hours on the 14th of December in 1939, HMS Cumberland arrived at the scene of the '''Battle of the River Plate,''' after steaming 1,165 miles in 34 hours. HMS Cumberland had sailed from the Falkland Island to reinforce HMS Achilles, Ajax and Exeter who had engaged the German heavy cruiser. All of these Royal Navy ships were part of '''Force G''' of the South American Squadron.''' The arrival of HMS Cumberland also replaced the heavily damaged HMS Exeter who left the area due to being badly damaged and required urgent emergency repairs. Of all the ships present, HMS Cumberland would have been the only ship that could have fought at full capacity because all of the remaining vessels had already expended much of their ammunition stock.

On the 17th of December in 1939, Captain Langsdorff chose to scuttle the Admiral Graf Spee in the River Plate Estuary and the crew were taken to Buenos Aires, in Argentina and placed in internment. On the 19th of December in 1939, Captain Langsdorff committed suicide by gunshot. 

M38967 Petty Officer Thomas George Wilcox was serving on HMS Cumberland during this period and was a witness to this famous event. 

On the 11th of April in 1940, C/M38967 PO Thomas George Wilcox was presented with his Royal Navy Long Service and Good Conduct medal whilst attached to HMS Cumberland.

In September of 1940, HMS Cumberland was involved in the '''Battle of Dakar.''' This was an unsuccessful attempt to capture the port of Dakar in French West Africa and to overthrow the Vichy French administration in the colony. HMS Cumberland suffered some damage during this operation and PO Thomas George Wilcox was serving on the ship during the engagement.

On the 14th of November in 1940 there is an entry in PO Thomas George Wilcox seaman's records which stated he is now '''ST C.P.O. Sy''' and was assigned to the establishment of Pembroke. [Pembroke/UK] This entry relates to the fact that Thomas George Wilcox was now suffering from T.B. [tuberculosis] and was removed from HMS Cumberland. Obviously it was necessary to immediately isolate him and then remove him from the ship, as a matter of urgency. The original research stated that C.P.O. Thomas George Wilcox was interned in Rio de Janeiro on the 29/1/1941 and this may be the officially correct date because since he was suffering from T.B. he could not be placed immediately into an internment camp. Therefore he may well have spent the period from 14/11/1940 to 28/1/1941 recuperating from his ill-health in another establishment.

On the 21st of April in 1945 there is a '''secret paper L3061/45 from the B.N.A. Buenos Aires.''' [British Naval Attache] The document stated that Thomas George Wilcox had been released from internment and would be placed at the disposal of the Embassy. This information is recorded on his personal seaman's service record.

Thomas George Wilcox was listed as being a P.O.W. and was finally declared medically unfit for further service by the Royal Navy Hospital Chatham on the 8/8/1945.

One aspect of the story that I am not sure about is....did his internment involve Argentina or Brazil. I would suspect since the original secret message was from the British Naval Attache in Buenos Aires, that this means he was interned in Argentina but the original research mentioned Rio de Janeiro which is in Brazil.   

 

   

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