In this video, Victor Chidgey talks about Seaman Thomas George Perry, whose ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on August 15th 1918. He survived, and fled the Navy after he returned to England.
The following is a transcript of the video:
‘Now that’s my Grandfather Chatham Seaman just an ordinary Seaman who was involved in momentous events. He was forcibly put into the navy when he was 12 years old by a magistrate in London because he was caught being vagrant and the magistrate said you’re not a bad body but there is a danger of you becoming one so we’ll send you to Chatham to join the Navy.
So he came down here in Chatham much against his will and he was annoyed about it so they said ‘Oh your one of those are you well we’ll put you in Pembroke and you can learn boxing’ and he said he was in the ring 30 seconds and some tiny little kid knocked him out so he thought he better learn his boxing properly.
And then he was put on the Armageddon, a battle ship, went off to Malta and came back in 1914 his 7 years were finished. But he came back from the Spithead review and they said ‘no you’re not leaving the navy, from now on your HO (Hostilities Only), when the Wars over you can go’. ‘Right’ he said so that was mark one against the Navy, that was the first thing that upset him.
He was on the Zeebrugge raid, he was destroyer man when the war progressed on the Zeebrugga raid. He based his time at Harwich in a brand new destroyer flotilla and he was on ‘H.M.S Ulieswater’. 1918 early February (*August) they were escorting a convoy of the Dutch coast when the ‘Ulieswater’ (it was about 3 months old) blew up and the captain said ‘ah mine ‘ he radioed ‘I’ve hit a mine’ the flotilla leader the ‘(H.M.S.) Scott’ came alongside and that blow up. It wasn’t mines at all it was torpedoes it was a U-Boat sitting there thought he’d had a bonus day 2 Royal Navy ships. So my granddad he went from the ‘Ulieswater’ across the deck on to the ‘Scott’ and when the ‘Scott’ started to sink he took to the boats and when they were torpedoed or sunk they got 2 weeks survivors leave. So he thought ah I’m due for a month. He got nothing. They said ‘no you never got your feet wet. You never actually landed in the Sea, so you can’t be a survivor’. Mark 2 against the Navy, didn’t get it. Even when he was a very old man he used to say to me ‘Oh I never got my leave you know’.
So back to Harwich, he was busy the whole time and then the War ended. Come 1919, the Navy didn’t release him because, by this time he had become the Navy’s welter weight boxer and he was pretty good and they wanted him to stay boxing and boxing. They sent him to the national sporting club to fight/box with the army which he won he was very good kept it all and they said ‘no you can’t leave’ he said ‘but the war’s over’ and they said ‘yes we are aware of this but very sorry Seaman Perry we can’t let you go’. So what would you do? He walked off on his own. Took his mother’s maiden name and went selling fur coats. ‘I give em 3 chances’ he said so that was fair enough wasn’t it.
So he was a reluctant hero if you like. Just the story of an ordinary Chatham Rating, ordinary, no heroics, no modesty. With him you got what he told you, but it’s always interesting. This story all came out, I was quite old, I’d got on a bit, and I said to him ‘where’s your medals’, ‘didn’t give me none’. So I said ‘well you can apply for them now’.’ No don’t you get in touch with them, that Navy’s got long memories’. I said ‘oh right’. When he died I thought I’ll find out what happened there. Much surprisingly.’
So the Navy never caught up to him at all?
‘No he had gone out of the Statute of limitations, which he thought was quite good, he liked the sound of that, Statute , ‘I’m only a stoker’ he said ‘but I’ve ended up Welter Weight Champion and Statute of Limitations, not everyone’s got that’ he said, that’s quite important you know’ I said ‘Is it’ ‘Oh yer.’’
Image, film and text courtesy of Victor Chidgey.