The First Royal Navy VC of WWI

The first member of the RN to be awarded the Victoria Cross in WWI was Commander Henry Peel Ritchie. He was an officer of the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath, which in November 1914 was blockading the port of Dar-es-Salaam in the German colony of East Africa (now Tanzania). When the German light cruiser SMS Konigsberg sank HMS Pegasus she was operating from Dar-es-Salaam and several German merchant ships that could have supplied raiders were trapped in the harbour.

On 28 November Ritchie was put in charge of a raiding party that was ordered to disable the German merchantmen in the harbour. It came under heavy fire and Ritchie was wounded eight times, but he steered Goliath’s steam pinnace to safety. The citation for his VC stated that:

‘For most conspicuous bravery on the 28th November 1914 when in command of the searching and demolition operations at Dar-es-Salaam East Africa Though severely wounded several times his fortitude and resolution enabled him to continue to do his duty inspiring all by his example until at his eighth wound he became unconscious The interval between his first and last severe wound was between twenty and twenty five minutes.’

He was awarded the medal by the King in April 1915. According to Wikipedia, British casualties were one dead, 12 seriously wounded and 12 captured. Three large merchantmen were immobilised, several shore installations destroyed and 35 prisoners taken. As well as Ritchie’s VC, two men were awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and seven the Distinguished Service Medal. Goliath and the protected cruiser HMS Fox bombarded the port two days later.

Ritchie’s wounds meant that he was unable to return to sea service and he had to retire in 1917. He lived until 1958, when he died in Edinburgh, just after one of his three daughters emigrated to the USA. He was buried in Warriston Cemetery. Nothing is known about his family since then, and the location of his VC is unknown. The UK Government, the RN and Edinburgh City Council have made a call for information on the missing parts of Commander Ritchie’s family tree.

On 28 November 2014, the 100th anniversary of his act of gallantry, a plaque to Ritchie was unveiled at his birthplace, 1 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, which is now a government office. In 2013, the UK  Government announced that paving stones would be laid in their birthplaces to commemorate all British WWI VC recipients. After it was pointed out that a number of them were born outside the UK,  the plan was amended to give them a stone in the place in the UK with which they had the greatest connection.



Filed under War History

5 responses to “The First Royal Navy VC of WWI

  1. robertwalsh1975

    Reblogged this on Robert Walsh.

  2. Reblogged this on First Night History and commented:
    Forgive me for not responding to comments at the moment but my computer is still missing in action!

  3. Pingback: The First VC Awarded to a Submariner | War and Security

  4. Pingback: The End of the Last of the Early German Commerce Raiders: SMS Konigsberg | War and Security

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