Dick Oliver GC BEM (AM non-exchanger)

b. 06/08/1901 Christchurch, Dorset. d. 05/02/1986 Christchurch, Dorset.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 23/05/1928 Malta.

Dick Oliver (1901-1986) was born on the 6th August 1901 in Christchurch, Dorset, the eldest son of Francis James Oliver and his wife Amelia Cox (nee Hewlett). Little is known of Dick’s early life prior to January 1916, when he joined the Royal Navy, entering a career which would span nearly 30 years.

Dick Oliver GC BEM

He served in World War I, and was promoted to the rank of Leading Seaman. He remained in the Navy after the end of the war and his life changed dramatically whilst serving on HMS Warspite in May 1928.

On 23rd May 1928, at Parlatorio Wharf, Malta, during an examination of the bilge compartments on the port side of HMS Warspite the cover from the lower compartment was removed; it was found that the air was foul and poisonous. The chief stoker attempted to enter the compartment, although he was aware of the danger. He was overcome immediately and fell unconscious to the bottom of the compartment. Lieutenant Reginald Armytage fetched his gas mask and, with a lifeline around him, entered the compartment, but when he reached the bottom the gas overcame him. He was hauled back out. He had stopped breathing and was taken to the Royal Naval Hospital. Dick Oliver then volunteered to try a rescue, despite seeing what had just happened. He managed to get into the compartment and reached the chief stoker; he passed a lifeline around him and got him hauled up. He managed to then get himself out.

On the 2nd August 1928, both Dick Oliver and Reginald Armytage were awarded the Albert Medal for their actions. It was not the last act of gallantry of Dick Oliver’s life. On 1st June 1939, just prior to World War II, he was on deep-sea diving vessel HMS Tedworth as Chief Petty Officer when the Submarine Thetis sank in Liverpool Bay, 38 miles off land with her bow in the sand. He, as the Chief Diver, was stuck up at Greenock, Scotland, waiting for the ship to be “coaled”. He was frustrated and anxious to lead his team of divers to the rescue of the 99 trapped men. Eventually on 3rd June, his team were called in, and he dived down, but it was too late, and all 99 men perished.

In 1929, he married Eileen C Day in London and they had no children. During World War II he trained crews of the midget submarines, in which he too served, and took part in the D-Day landings. On 1st January 1944, he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his actions as a Deep Diver. Dick retired from the Navy in 1946 as a Chief Petty Officer.

In 1971, following the change in the Royal Warrant, he chose not to exchange his Albert Medal for the George Cross. He lived in retirement in Christchurch, where he passed away on 5th February 1986 and he was cremated at Bournemouth Crematorium, and the family took away his ashes. His medals including the Albert Medal, BEM, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Royal Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and 1977 Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal are held by the Royal British Legion in Bournemouth.