Alfred Carpenter VC

b. 17/09/1881 London. d. 27/12/1955 Lydney, Gloucestershire.

Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter (1881-1955) was born at Byfield Cottage, Barnes, Surrey on 17th September 1881, the only son of Lieutenant (later Captain) Alfred Carpenter RN and his first wife, Henietta Maude (nee Shadwell). He boasted a notable naval pedigree. His grandfather, Commander Charles Carpenter, assisted in the capture of the American privateer Rattlesnake in 1814, while his father’s service was also marked by gallantry. Among the first naval officers to be awarded the DSO in 1887, he had earlier been presented with the Albert Medal, then the highest peace-time award for bravery, for rescuing a man who had fallen overboard at night off the Falkland Islands in 1876.

Alfred Carpenter VC

Carpenter left his prep school in 1896 to begin officer training on HMS Britannia. As a midshipman, then sub-lieutenant, he saw action in Crete in 1898, when Britain intervened with ships and troops to halt the massacres which took place there, and two years later, in China, where naval brigades helped crush the Boxer Rising.

He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1903, and became a specialist in navigation. In 1911, he was made Lieutenant Commander, and two years later, in a remarkable echo of his own father, he was awarded the Bronze Medal of the Royal Humane Society for saving life at sea. He then passed a staff course which meant much of the Great War was spent in administrative posts.

From July 1914 to November 1915 he was on the staff of Sir John Jellicoe in the battleship Iron Duke, before being promoted and appointed to the Emperor of India as navigating commander. After two years in that post he was called to the Admiralty to take up another desk job, serving under the Director of Planning, Roger Keyes, who had been Carpenter’s captain in Venus almost 10 years earlier. There he was involved in the secret plans to block the harbours at Zeebrugge and Ostend. Keyes eventually agreed to release Carpenter to take charge of Vindictive during the operation.

On 22nd/23rd April 1918 at Zeebrugge, Belgium, Captain Carpenter was in command of HMS Vindictive, navigating mined waters and bringing the ship alongside the Mole in darkness. When Vindictive was within a few yards of the Mole, the enemy started and maintained a heavy fire from batteries, machine-guns and rifles. Captain Carpenter supervised the landing from Vindictive on to the Mole, walking the decks, encouraging the men. His power of command, personal bearing and encouragement to those under him greatly contributed to the success of the operation.

As the senior surviving officer, Carpenter was asked by Keyes to make recommendations for conspicuous gallantry, but he declined to do so, insisting that it would be invidious to select individuals where everyone had acted so splendidly. He also refused to take part in the ballot. He was then elected for the VC by the fellow officers of the Vindictive. His award was announced on 23rd July 1918, and he was also awarded the French Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm.

Following promotion to Captain, he embarked on a lecture tour of Canada and the USA. He then published a book “The Blocking of Zeebrugge” in 1921 with an introduction by Admiral Earl Beatty. Following the American tour, he returned to desk duties in the naval intelligence department, before taking charge of a war course at Cambridge for officers in the autumn of 1919. Two years later, he returned to sea as Captain of the light cruiser Carysfort. From then until his retirement, as a vice-admiral, in 1934, he would alternate sea going commands with staff and administrative commands.

Carpenter retired to St Briavels, in the Forest of Dean, where he took an active role in community affairs, becoming a JP in 1936. As a director of the South American Saint Line, he took a great interest in the training of junior officers and cadets for the Merchant Navy. During the Second World War, he donned khaki, as commander of the 17th Gloucestershire (Wye Valley) Battalion of the Home Guard, from 1940 to its disbandment in 1944.

He married twice, first in 1903 to Maud Tordiffe, who died in 1923 and by whom he had a daughter, and secondly, in 1927, to Hilda Margaret Alison Smith. Carpenter died at his home, Chanterslure, in St Briavels, on 27th December 1955. His body was cremated at Gloucester Crematorium and his ashes scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. A memorial plaque was placed in his memory in St Mary’s Church, St Briavels. His medals are on loan to the Imperial War Museum and are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.