b. 02/11/1898 Johannesburg, South Africa. d. 05/07/1941 at sea near the Canaries.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 05/07/1941 Atlantic Ocean.
Herbert Cecil Pugh GC, MA was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 2nd November 1898. He was named Herbert Cecil on the insistence of his grandmother who wanted him named after Lord Herbert Kitchener and Cecil Rhodes. He was the 2nd son of seven children born to Harry Walter Pugh and his wife Jean (nee Douglas). His father was a Builder’s Merchant, Douglas Son & Pugh. He was educated at Jeppe High School for Boys in Johannesburg.
When WWI broke out, Cecil, as he was known, volunteered and served as a stretcher bearer from 7th May 1917 until 2nd July 1919 in the South African Field Ambulance/South Africa Medical Corps most of time being spent on the Western Front in France. He left France for England en route for South Africa on 28th March 1919. After a visiting chaplain was killed by a shell during his time at the Front, Cecil decided to take on the role. This was due to the fact Cecil had always had a desire to enter the church.
After a brief period back in South Africa, during which time he successfully applied for a scholarship to Oxford, he returned to England and went up to Mansfield College, Oxford where he matriculated on 12th October 1920. He obtained his BA on 16th October 1924 and his MA on 22nd May 1926 having been ordained into the Congregational Church in 1924.
His first parish was Camberley Congregational Church, where he stayed for three years until moving to Friern Barnet in 1930. He married Amy Lilian Tarrant and they had three children – Geoffrey, Alastair and Fiona. In 1935, he took a trip to South Africa but war was looming and in 1939 he resigned from his parish and enlisted with the RAF. He had remembered the Chaplain who had inspired him in WWI and even though he was 41 years of age was granted a commission on 5th January 1940. He was commissioned as a Squadron Leader in the RAF Chaplains Department. He was based at No 4 Recruit’s Centre, Bridgnorth in Shropshire. On the 1st July 1941, he was due to embark on the troopship “Anselm” with 1300 men, heading off to war.
Sadly, four days into the ship’s voyage, on 5th July 1941, the SS Anselm was torpedoed. Pugh was everywhere, helping the injured into the boats. It soon became obvious that the ship was sinking, but on hearing that a number of injured men were still trapped in the hold, he insisted on being lowered into it. He simply explained thet he must be where the men were, and he knelt with them in prayer as the ship went down. He had every opportunity to save himself but gave it to give comfort to others.
Pugh’s posthumous GC was announced in the London Gazette on 1st April 1947, nearly six years after the sinking of the SS Anselm. Pugh’s body was not recovered from the North Atlantic so he has no known grave. His medal group are privately held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE – LOST AT SEA.
Thomas Stewart – Image of Pugh GC on the Runnymede Memorial.