Peter de Neumann

Peter de Neumann

Bernard Peter de Neumann, GM (18 September 1917 – 16 September 1972), had an adventurous, often courageous, sometimes extremely dangerous, and latterly innovative, career, that included being sunk twice in the space of one month, charged and convicted of piracy by the Vichy French, and becoming famous as “The Man From Timbuctoo”.

Three items he brought home from Timbuctoo are on loan to the Imperial War Museum in London and on display in the Survival at Sea Exhibition. They are:
*a New Testament with a diary of the movements the prisoners made whilst captured;
*a Red Cross label from a parcel addressed to Peter de Neumann in Timbuctoo;
* the tumbler he made from the bottom of a Perrier Water bottle by half filling it with water, binding around it paraffin soaked twine at the water level and igniting it, making the glass crack at the water-line.

His great courage during the Second World War was recognised when he was awarded the George Medal and the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea for removing a 250 kilogram bomb from deep in the engine-room of ss "Tewkesbury" and dropping it over the side during a Luftwaffe air attack off Aberdeen, Scotland on 1 March 1941.

During 1947 to 1953 he served as Commander of HMRC (His Majesty's Revenue Cruiser) "Vigilant", and in 1953 joined the Port of London Authority, where he served as Harbourmaster, and, after his health deteriorated as a result of his imprisonment in West Africa, Dockmaster at Tilbury.

He began having thoughts on the potential for a port "control system whilst he was Commander of "Vigilant". These ideas followed on from considering such incidents as the accidental ramming of HMS "Truculent" by the "Divina" in 1950, the collision with the Nore Forts by "Baalbek", and the disastrous North Sea flood that resulted in the flooding of Canvey, Foulness and the East Coast in 1953. In these and other situations, rescue and intelligence gathering were severely hampered by a lack of centralised command and control, and lack of detailed "picture". de Neumann resigned his command after returning "Vigilant" from the Spithead Review and joined the PLA, immediately suggesting in a report to them, submitted in 1953, that a feasibility study of such a system be commenced. He then oversaw its development and ultimate installation at Gravesend, which was completed by 1960.

During his time with the PLA he was commended for:

* his handling of the rescue attempt following the sinking of the Tug "Sunfish" under Tower Bridge, 12 March 1960. The "Sunfish" was aft and the "Sun VI" forward of the Ellerman Lines’ "Palermo", dragging through Tower Bridge inward bound in the Upper Pool, when the "Sunfish" was dragged on the Northern Buttress of the bridge. Her stern struck, rolling her over and she sank with the loss of her Chief Engineer. She was raised the next day, refurbished and returned to service.

* his part in rescuing the crew of the Tug "Kenia" when she sank in the New Lock bellmouth, Tilbury Dock, 25th August 1964. The "Crested Cock" and the "Kenia" were undocking the "Maashaven" from Tilbury Dock New Entrance. The ship started her swing to starboard in the Bellmouth and the "Kenia" was on the port bow when coming around, the "Maashaven" went ahead and pinned her to the upper pier head before she cleared the ship’s bow. The "Kenia" was cut from the deck to the keel in the after end of the engine room starboard side. A line was passed to the pier head and secured and all crew rapidly taken ashore before she sank. "Kenia" was raised by the PLA Salvage Department and scrapped.

* attempting to save the life of a crane driver injured when his crane toppled across the open hold of a ship in Tilbury Dock, 10th March 1966. The crane driver died before he could be released.

[Just a few days before his death he was involved in another incident with a toppled crane at Tilbury. This time the driver survived.]

He was killed in an accident in Tilbury Dock, aged 54, and his ashes were scattered on the River Thames in Gravesend Reach.


*Montague Lacey, 10 Feb 1943. “The Man From Timbuctoo“, Daily Express, London.
*David Masters, "In Peril on the Sea", Cresset Press, London, 1960.
*Richard Woodman, "The Real Cruel Sea", John Murray, 2004.
*Bernard Edwards, "Death in the Doldrums", Pen & Sword Books, 2005.

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