Tag Archives: Petty Officer

Royal Humane Society Medals

Among the decorations won by Portsmouth servicemen in both world wars, I have come across several who have been awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s Bronze Medal for lifesaving. Having done a bit of research on them, I thought it might be timely to take a look at the history of the RHS, and how these brave men came to be awarded their medals.

The Society was founded in London in 1774 by two Doctors, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan. They aimed to promote the revolutionary new techniques that had emerged for resucitating people who were apparently dead. The Society presents awards for acts of bravery and lifesaving, and not surprisingly some servicemen find themselves in situations where they are called upon to save lives.

Here are a few details of Portsmouth men who won RHS Bronze Medals, from WW1 and WW2:

KIRKPATRICK, James Cramb; Canteen Manager, HMS Bulwark. Killed 26 November 1914, aged 45, remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Born in Birkenhead on 18 March 1869, lived at 17 St Helens Park Crescent in Southsea, a Parishioner of St Wilfrids Church. He was an ex Chief Petty Officer. Sadly I have not been able to find the citation for his Royal Humane Society award.

SMITH, Samuel Charles Arthur; Gunner, HMS Comet. Killed 1 February 1915, aged 37, buried in Basra War Cemetery, Iraq. Lived at Eastfield, 3 Kewsick Avenue, Copnor. Smith was awarded the Bronze Medal of the Royal Humane Society in 1912. Whilst serving as the Gunner on HMS London, Smith was involved in the rescue of survivors from the SS Delhi, a wrecked merchant vessel. On 15 December 1911, as Lascars (foreign seamen) were being landed to shore, one of them was washed away in rough seas. Smith swam after him and got him back to the Delhi, where they were both hauled aboard. Smith was also awarded the Board of Trade’s Medal for lifesaving.

WOOD, Frederick James; Lieutenant, HMS Cerberus II. Died 16 January 1941, aged 48, remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. From Southsea. Wood’s RHS Bronze Medal was awarded in 1917, when as a Petty Officer, he and an officer rescued a man who had gone overboard in the Thames. Although the sea was choppy and the ship was travelling at 12 knots, they managed to keep him afloat until they could be rescued.

HEAP, Jack Edward; Aircraftsman 1st Class, 151 Maintenance Unit, RAF. Died 9 April 1945 aged 35, buried in Ambon, Indonesia. From Southsea. He was captured by the Japanese on 8 March 1942 and held as a prisoner at Java, Malacca and Celebes. He died at Muna. His RHS Bronze Medal was awarded posthumously in 1947 for an unspecified incident on 8 November 1944.

I find the RHS Medals quite humbling. The citations stand out amongst other military decorations, as they are explicitly for saving life. Whereas – obviously – many ‘mainstream’ medals are awarded for the opposite. Of course, in war killing is something of a necessary evil, but never the less, it is difficult not to be inspired by the humanity shown by some of these men.

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Chief Petty Officer Harold Parfitt

Aside from British decorations and gallantry medals, one subject thats always interested me is that of foreign awards to British servicemen. I have come across quite a few Portsmouth who were awarded a foreign decoration – French, Belgian, even Russian. But I have never come across somebody who was awarded British, Russian and Italian decorations – until now.

Harold Poole Parfitt was born in Bedminster Bristol, on 1 June 1875, the son of a Steam Engine Driver. Parfitt seems to have joined the Royal Navy some time prior to 1891, as in that year’s census he was a 15 year-old Boy Seaman serving on HMS Impregnable in Devonport – a training hulk.

Harold Parfitt married his wife Emmie (nee Walker) in late 1908 in Portsmouth, and in the 1911 he was a Petty Officer, living at Mayhall Road in Copnor. His daughter Elsie Parfitt was just one year old, and his wife’s Brother, seven year old Frederick Walker, was also living with them.

I’m not sure exactly where Harold Parfitt served during the First World War, but he was mentioned in despatches, awarded the Italian Bronze Medal and the Russian Silver Medal of the Order of St Stanislas. One would imagine that CPO Parfitt must have seen some serious action, and even if not he must have given sterling service to be considered for so many awards.

Immediately after the war Parfitt was serving at HMS Excellent, the naval gunnery school on Whale Island. Sadly, after an operation he died on 26 February 1920. He was 44, and is buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth.

 

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Petty Officer Percy Kempster DSM

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Image via Wikipedia

Having been researching twelve australian great war soldiers who lie in Portsmouth, little did I expect to come across a Portsmouth-based naval rating who died whilst serving with the Royal Australian Navy.

Percy John Kempster was born in Southampton, on 24 October 1883. Kempster initially joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16, in 1899. In late 1907 Percy married his wife Beatrice, in Portsmouth. After completing his service with the Royal Navy – including service on submarines at HMS Dolphin – Kempster joined the Royal Australian Navy on 24 October 1913, for an initial period of 5 years. Upon joining the RAN he was immediately promoted to Leading Seaman, and passed for eventual promotion to Petty Officer in due course.

It seems that Kempster’s main task upon joining the RAN was to form part of the crew delivering Australia’s first submarines. HM Submarines AE1 and AE2 were built at Vickers, and accepted by the Australian Navy at Portsmouth in February 1914. They finally left Portsmouth on 2 March 1914, escorted by the Light Cruiser HMS Eclipse. They finally arrived in Sydney Harbour on 24 May 1914, an epic voyage on such small, cramped vessels. After his arrival in Australia Kempster came under the command of HMAS Penguin, an ex Royal Navy sloop being used as a Submarine Depot ship.

Whilst Kempster was in Australia the First World War began. Obviously unhappy at being thousands of miles away from the action, after completing such an epic voyage Kempster returned to Britain. How exactly is unclear, but on 1 January 1915 he came back under the command of the RAN’s London Depot, serving in Royal Navy submarines. British and colonial personnel often interchanged on postings. Hence it is not a surprise that Kempster fought in the Royal Navy, even though he was technically an Australian rating.

On 20 January 1916 Percy Kempster was promoted to Petty Officer, and on 10 August 1917 he was appointed a Submarine Coxon – a key job on such small and demanding vessels. For service on HM Submarine G8 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, announced in the London Gazette on 2 November 1917, for ‘services in action with enemy submarines’. Early submarines were much smaller than their modern equivalents – the G Class only having a crew of 31 men.

Sadly, Kempster did not survive the end of the war. On 14 January 1918 HM Submarine G8 was lost in the North Sea. The exact cause of her loss remains unknown. Petty Officer Percy Kempster is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. He was 34. At the time of his death his unit was given as HMS Lucia, a Royal Navy submarine ship. His wife Beatrice was living at 180 Fratton Road in Portsmouth.

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