War veteran and businessman;
Born: July 29, 1920; Died: May 18, 2012.
Tom Neill, who has died aged 91, commanded motor torpedo boats during the Second World War when he earned the respect of naval colleagues for his courage and quick thinking under pressure and for his consideration and concern for others. Following the conflict he went on to join the well-established family jam-making firm.
He was born in Glasgow and attended Kelvinside Academy where he excelled at rugby and was an excellent shot, winning the Howat Cup. After the war Mr Neill continued to play rugby and captained Kelvinside West and was fullback for Glasgow in 1946/47, for the Scottish Services and for Glasgow/Edinburgh against the touring Australians in 1948.
Mr Neill left school in 1938 and joined the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve. A year later he was called up when war broke out and initially served as a rating on the hazardous protection missions on the Atlantic.
In 1941 Mr Neill was commissioned and promoted to command an MTB. They were powerful boats – virtually a 30-ton speedboat – and designed to get close enough to the enemy to launch torpedoes and let off their machine guns with rapid fire. In 1942 Mr Neill was patrolling off the Dutch coastline in his MTB when an enemy E-boat escorting a flotilla of German vessels emerged out of the mist. Mr Neill came under heavy gunfire and a German E-boat went dangerously across his bows, necessitating immediate evasive action by Mr Neill. With much skilful seamanship he launched his torpedoes and hastily made for the open sea.
The enemy fire had severely hampered the MTB's steering and somehow Mr Neill maintained his course by alternately using port and starboard engines. As he was wrestling with that operation he heard a huge explosion and realised his torpedoes had hit their target. Two years later Mr Neill was again patrolling the Dutch coastline and severely destroyed many enemy ships by firing his torpedoes at close range. A week later a shell burst in his wheelhouse, causing much damage and casualties. Despite the damage Mr Neill brought the MTB back to its base at Felixstowe, where he was awarded the DSC.
Years later at a talk at Kelvinside Academy, he recalled his war experiences. He commented: "The Germans' E-boats were terrific compared to ours: bigger, faster with more guns but we were better sailors than them."
After the war Mr Neill rejoined the family business, which traded at McClellan Street until 1962 and then in Renton. In 1967 it was bought by McCormick and Mr Neill worked for them until his retirement in 1994.
Sport remained an important interest throughout his life.He Neill was an expert angler, as he demonstrated in 2006 when he led a group of pupils from his old school on a day's fishing on Loch Vennachar in the Trossachs. "Going fishing with Tom," one of the pupils wrote in the school magazine, "was a humiliating experience. The distance he could cast a length of be-hooked fishing line with a couple of flicks of his wrists is probably outwith the laws of physics. My first attempt hooked Tom's jacket. He was extremely patient."
He was a member of the congregation of Renton Trinity Church in Kilmarnock for 50 years and a most active Elder for 40 years.
Mr Neill was thrice married. Firstly to Daphne Higgins in 1943; secondly to Cate MacRae and then, in 1987, to Rosena Robertson who survives him.
He is also survived by a son and twin daughters from his first marriage and two sons from his second marriage.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.