Henry Peel Ritchie VC

b. 29/01/1876 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 09/12/1958 Edinburgh, Scotland.

Henry Peel Ritchie (1876-1958) was born at 1 Melville Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland, on 29th January 1876, the son of Dr Robert Peel Ritchie and Mary nee Anderson. He attended George Watson’s Boys’ College in Edinburgh from 1883-1885, where he distinguished himself at football, fencing and boxing, and Blair College before joining HMS Britannia as a cadet on 15th January 1890.

Henry P Ritchie VC

Ritchie was serving as a midshipman aboard the battleship HMS Camperdown when it was involved in a disastrous collision with HMS Victoria during fleet manoeuvres off the Syrian coast in June 1893. The Victoria sank with the loss of 358 lives, including the commander in chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, but the damaged Camperdown survived to reach Malta.

Qualifying as a gunnery officer, Ritchie earned high praise while serving on the San Paolo for a brave attempt to save a drowning seaman. Promoted to Lieutenant on 30th June 1896, he later served as a junior staff officer at Sheerness Gunnery School; he went on to become Army and Navy lightweight boxing champion in 1900 and was runner up the following year.

On 31st March 1902 he married Christiana (Chrissie) Lilian Jardine, the only daughter of James Aikman, a wine merchant, at St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh. They went on to have two daughters.

Ritchie was appointed to the Goliath on 14th March 1911, and by the end of the year had been promoted to Commander. Following the outbreak of War, he served as second in command, operating in the Channel as part of the 4th Battle Squadron, before being ordered to East Africa, arriving in the autumn of 1914.

Goliath was ordered to the Indian Ocean to lead a blockade of the German colony of German East Africa, and specifically its main port at Dar-es-Salaam. It was feared by the Admiralty that the German navy would use its colonial ports to support commerce raiding cruisers such as the SMS Emden or the SMS Konigsberg, both of which were known to be operating in the Indian Ocean at that time. This concern was amplified because the Konigsberg, blockaded in the delta of the Rufiji River, had operated from Dar-es-Salaam in the early months of the war and had sunk the British cruiser HMS Pegasus on a raid from the port. Remaining in Dar-es-Salaam’s large natural harbour were the German cargo ships SS Konig and SS Feldmarschall, the hospital ship SS Tabora and several smaller coastal vessels – all of which could conceivably be used to resupply the trapped cruiser should they leave port.

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.

Followjng the bloody action, Commander Ritchie spent six weeks in hospital at Zanzibar, before being sent back to England where he made a rapid recovery. By 13th February 1915, doctors at Plymouth Hospital were reporting his wounds as healed, with the only obvious sign of his ordeal being a deformed right thumb. Ironically, the injuries he sustained at Dar-es-Salaam almost certainly saved his life. For had he not been in hospital, he would almost certainly have been aboard the Goliath on 12th-13th May 1915, when she was attacked and sunk by a Turkish destroyer with the loss of more than two-thirds of her crew. Instead, Ritchie returned to duty in the same month that the Goliath was lost.

Commander Ritchie received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 25th November 1916, almost two years to the day after his action in East Africa. He was promoted to Acting Captain, but retired the following year, and was promoted to Captain on the retired list after the armistice. He retired to Edinburgh, living at Craig Royston Housee, Davidson’s Mains, until shortly before his sudden death on 9th December 1958, at the age of 82. He was cremated at Warriston Crematorium.

In addition to his VC, Henry was awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. His medals are not publicly held.