THE service medals of a North-East hero whose bravery helped shorten the Second World War were returned to the region yesterday.

Tommy Brown’s surviving relatives – including five siblings – gathered for the service at the Saville Exchange, in North Shields, North Tyneside.

Mr Brown, who came from the town, joined the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute (Naafi) in 1941 when he was 15 and went on to work as a canteen assistant on board HMS Petard during the Second World War.

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In October 1942, despite being a non-combatant and aged only 16, he dived into the waters of the Mediterranean to help colleagues Tony Fasson and Colin Grazier retrieve documents from a scuttled German U-boat.

Mr Brown was the only survivor of the mission.

The documents helped British code breakers crack Germany’s Enigma code and contributed to the Allied victory in the war.

For his bravery, Mr Brown was awarded the George Medal posthumously – after he died while trying to save his 11 brothers and sisters from a house fire in 1945.

Siblings Lillian, Sylvia, Norman and Nancy and Albert were in attendance yesterday, while David was ill and unable to make it.

Norman said: “Tommy was my eldest brother and was a hero in my eyes for reasons other than for the medal he got.

“My father was away fighting and Tommy was essentially the head of the family at the age of 15.

“The first we knew of what he had done was when my mother was called to Buckingham Palace to get his medal.”

Naafi chief executive officer Reg Curtis said: “The service is about recognising Tommy’s bravery and commemorating both him and the 550 Naafi staff that have died in service since our formation in 1920.

“Our 90th anniversary gives us the perfect opportunity to celebrate and commemorate the heritage of our organisation and the achievements of those who have served over the past 90 years.”

The medals will be kept at the Naafi’s Darlington headquarters.