Our own Commodore Thomas Simmons
By: Will Johnson
He was born on Saba on April 4th, 1895 son of Margareth Jane Simmons and Joseph Benjamin Simmons. The sea was very much into his blood. His mother ‘Maggie Jane’ was born in New York to a Saban father who was lost in the North Atlantic and her mother was a Manning from Barbados. Many Sabans married into Barbados families back then as there was so much trade and contact with Barbados.
He also lost two brothers at sea. On a plaque in the Christ Church Anglican church in The Bottom one can read:” In loving memory of John Simmons, age 52, David Simmons, age 40 years, Richard R. Simmons, age 22 years. Isaac Simons age 16 years. Lost at sea September 1918. ‘We cannot Lord thy purpose see but all is well that’s done by thee.”
They were on the Danish registered schooner the ‘Blanford’ from St. Thomas. The vessel and its crew were lost coming out of Miami and bound for these islands.”
Like most young men of Saba, Commodore Tom Simmons, started his career at the age of sixteen on sailing ships through the West Indies and along the coast of the United States. Many of these schooners although registered in English territories (like Barbados), Swedish (St. Barth’s) and Danish (St. Thomas) were owned by Sabans many of them family of his.
He worked his way up to second mate on schooners and then joined the American Hawaiian Line as Quarter Master. In 1917, he went over to the Munson Steamship Line as third officer on the passenger Liner “Murio”. He later became captain and was in Command on the maiden voyage of the old 32.000 ton Argentina, as well as the new 22,000 ton luxury liner by the same name.
The old ‘Argentina’, under his command, was the first troop ship to enter the ports of Australia during World War II, and also to stand by for D-Day in England. He was captain of various ocean liners such as the “Western World”, the “American Legion”, the “Southern Cross”, and the “Pan American”. He later became Commodore of the Moore-McCormack Line. He spent fifty two years at sea and was awarded the highest decoration by the government of Brazil given to a foreigner.
On January 25th, 1963 the Director of Public Relations of Moore-McCormack Lines issued a release on his career with the company.
Commodore Thomas N. Simmons, friend and counsellor to a myriad of international travelers, culminates 50 years on the sea when he commands the S.S. ARGENTINA on her “Sea-Safari” cruise sailing from New York, February 13th. This 63 day trip will be Commodore Simmons’ last, as he has announced his retirement affective upon his return, April 17th.
And, coincidentally, another 50 years are celebrated in 1963 – the 50th anniversary of Moore-McCormack Lines, founded in 1913, one of Americas foremost steamship owners and operators, whose fleet includes the two new passenger lines, ARGENTINA and BRAZIL, and 42 modern cargo liners.
The innate modesty of the Commodore camouflages a colorful career. To him all the flavor and excitement of the sea is not commonplace—far from it—but so much a part of his life that he accepts the unusual as the everyday, the crisis as the norm! The highlights of his career are people he knew and knows, and loves: The Duke of Windsor, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, corporate presidents, Cardinals, artists, singers. Summing up, all are Tom Simmons’ “exciting moments.”
The Commodore was born on Saba Island, in the West Indies, of forefathers who were Dutch nationals of seafaring bent. He started his sea career in sail as a deck-boy on ships trading out of New York, Boston, the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies.
After working up to second mate in sail, he turned to ships of steam as a quarter-master on the American-Hawaiian Line. He went into the South American run in 1917 as Third Officer on the Munson Liner ‘Munrio’ and has been almost continuously in that trade. Before joining Mooremack he had been in command of the passenger ships PAN AMERICA, WESTERN WORLD, SOUTHERN CROSS AND AMERICAN LEGION.
Commodore Simmons joined Mooremack in 1938 to take command of the old ARGENTINA on her first voyage to South America. During World War II, he continued in command of this ship while it was in military garb as a troop carrier. After the war, he and the ARGENTINA went back into the South American cruise trade until the ARGENTINA was retired in August of 1958. When the new luxury liner BRAZIL made her maiden voyage in 1958, Commodore Simmons was on the bridge. He also captained the first trip of the sister-ship- the new ARGENTINA, where he has remained.
Commodore Simmons wartime recollections are, he says, completely full of lack of excitement. He never mentions that his S.S. ARGENTINA was the first troop ship to carry U.S. troops to Australia, the first at Oran and among the first into England for stand-by for the D-Day invasion of Europe.
But one instance stands out in his memory; he was Captain of the old ARGENTINA returning with troops from Australia through the Caribbean during a period when enemy submarine action was particularly intense. At full speed, all precautions, red alert, a lookout spotted a raft. It was lonely, pitiful, occupied by one feeble scarecrow of a man. At the alarm, Tom Simmons turned his ship, slowed and —despite a natural reluctance to expose the ship, plus adverse comments from military experts aboard — quickly rescued the sole survivor of a torpedoing. Then turned the ARGENTINA back on her course and sped safely away. This act of mercy was typical of the Commodore. But more typical is his shrug of the shoulders in denying that it was anything “special” that anyone else wouldn’t have done.
Commodore Simmons last trip takes him amidst friends in the Caribbean port of Barbados, in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Thence he and the ARGENTINA sail to South and East Africa, thru the Suez, to the Mediterranean and homeward via Italy, Spain and Portugal. These are familiar friendly places to Tom Simmons, faces of friends whom he relishes visiting. At many of the ports, officials, old cronies, travelling companions and the ‘Simmons people’ are planning commemorative ceremonies marking the 50th and retirement year of service of Commodore Thomas N. Simmons.
A grandfather over a dozen times, Commodore Simmons enjoys his holidays at his home on Long Island. But the sea is part of him and anyone can see from his ARGENTINA that he is a man of the sea.”
Commodore Tom Simmons was married to Enid May Simmons by whom he had six children. Her father was Solomon (Butchy Coonks’) Simmons who was a captain of square riggers. Her mother was the daughter of a Scotsman who lived in Montego Bay Jamaica and she had two sisters and one son. The son remained in Jamaica while the daughters went to New York. One married Captain Cameron Dudley Simmons and the other one married Tom Simmons.
As mentioned earlier he retired in 1963 and later moved to Florida where he died on March 27th, 1970 at Palm Beach Gardens.