Two ratings who won commissions worth remembering!

That title is not intended for one moment to suggest that many hundreds of ratings who won commissions weren't worth remembering too: they were, and in great measure.

This snippet picks up on two ratings only, one not well known and should be, the other extremely well known except to his first [training] alma mater the HMS Ganges Association, who appear not to have recognised him in their 'crossed the bar' page of 2008 - member or not!. This is that page

I start with a man I served with [albeit for a short time] and met on a few occasion at the Portsmouth [Southsea] NAVAL CENOTAPH when he led a group of people from the HMS HOOD Association in a dedicated small ceremony of remembrance for the terrible loss of the Hood on the 24th May 1941.

When Lieutenant [Ted] Briggs MBE MID R.N., died in Portsmouth's Queen Alexandra hospital on the night of 4th October 2008 at the age of 85, a grand old man left us the worse off, he being the last of three Hood survivors, an event which is forever emblazoned in Royal Naval archives, memorials, monuments and countless books. As one would expect and true to form, both the country's most popular broadsheet, Times and Telegraph, printed an obituary in a salute to Albert Edward Pryke Briggs, MBE, MID. For reasons which evade me and unless they can be explained away, are inexplicable, I can find no mention on the Ganges site of Ted Briggs, a service which normally diligently and reverently is quickly updated and relied upon to trace the demise of old pals, some of many many years ago!

Copied from the Telegraph obituary

Ted first saw Hood when he was only 12 and she was anchored off the mouth of the Tees. In his book, Flagship Hood, co-written with the late Alan Coles and published in 1985, he recalled: "I stood on the beach for some considerable time, drinking in the beauty, grace and immaculate strength of her."

The very next day he went to the local recruiting office and announced that he wanted to join the Royal Navy: "They patted me gently on the head," he remembered, "and told me to come back when I was 15. So I did just that. I had joined up within a week of my 15th birthday."

After his training at HMS Ganges, [sic] Ipswich, Briggs was surprised and delighted to be assigned to Hood; he joined her on June 29 1939, just before war was declared. "It never once occurred to me that she might be sunk," he said. "As far as I was concerned, she was invincible. And everybody on board shared this view."

Mentioned in Dispatches which results in the wearer of the associated medal donning an oakleaf to the medal ribbon in this case the ribbon of the British War Medal 1939-1945. It is always a sadness to me when these three letters are omitted as a post nominal to a persons name. In effect, they are the bottom rung of the ladder which leads to the award of the Victoria Cross, the second one up quite conceivably being a DSM or a MM etc, under different scrutiny! To view, open the file which shows a broadsheet page of news from a Derby newspaper dated Wednesday 15th October 1941. Scroll down until you see my yellow balloon. Point to it and it will tell you the story to read in this case the issue of a MID = Mention in Dispatches. Right click on the story and choose Marquee Zoom*, and then with the left hand mouse button repeatedly click on it to enlarge it and to keep it centre screen.

*Otherwise go here and scroll down a little way only to read the viewing instructions for either Internet Explorer or the Windows 10 Edge Browser shown in red type.

 Ted was twice married but with no issue. According to various media the Briggs family is no more, Ted's father dying just before he was born and the whereabouts of his mother unknown or not recorded. It is claimed that he has [or had] a great great nephew called Christopher Patrick Arnold, but from all accounts no contact. The site "Find a Grave" suggests that he was cremated, probably at Porchester Crematorium, and that his ashes were given to his wife Clare who died a couple of months afterwards probably in 2009. It is perhaps nice to think that his ashes were spread somewhere in the environs of the city of Portsmouth, the home-port of his beloved ship HMS Hood at the time of her loss.


Now for sailor number two, who Admiralty records as one of the ring-leaders of the 1931 Invergordon mutiny, though, rather harshly for the actions he took on behalf of his ship mates!

Invergordon mutiny – Leonard WINCOTT – The  CHIEF RING LEADER fled to Russia and became a communist. Later considered a British spy imprisoned and harshly treated by Stalin and his lieutenants. On release joined up with other British dissenters living in Moscow.

Many mutineers were punished . Apart from nearly ruining our economy and causing mayhem in the stock exchange, many sailors were punished by mass discharges with disgrace from the navy - many sent to prison and the fleet at large purged for troublemakers who were not present at Invergordon but were known sympathisers and agitators. To say the very least, the fleet must have been at a very low ebb with many left bewildered and confused while as many again were left angry with the senior officers afloat and ashore who were the protagonists in the aftermath. Not only that, many blamed the spread of the mutiny on senior officers at the scene for them not taking the action to discipline the ring leaders, thereby sending the wrong signals to sailors who ordinarily would have placed their tails between their legs upon seeing that mutiny, which in all its forms, was a crime and deserving of severe punishments. Since no punishments were forthcoming, it was open day for the band-wagon which followed, with hitherto good men of good character, willingly boarding it as it gathered pace.

This resulted in others, who were not deeply involved in the first instance, later joining the list of ring-leaders and one of these in particular was able seaman Herbert Le Breton [le Breton usually meaning people of Brittany France].  He was a torpedo rating serving in the cruiser Dorsetshire [famous for its role in delivering the coup de grâce to the stricken Bismarck in May 1941] and although a vessel least affected by the big ship mutiny [even though it really all started in another cruiser the Norfolk], nevertheless took part. Le Breton [known throughout the fleet at the junior rate level  as ‘Ginger’] was chosen by the seaman’s mess to speak on their behalf at an interview with ships torpedo officer who gave him a fair hearing and was sympathetic to the cause of the mutiny. He in turn debriefed the ships commander, he passing the report up to the CO of the ship. Le Breton was record as the ship’s ring-leader and when the interview report reached the Admiralty  it incurred their great displeasure, even though the Dorsetshire CO had persuaded his men to return to work where none other could or did, on which he claimed some mitigation for Le Breton's actions . By any measure Le Breton had burned his bridges in effect being shot as the messenger and at best, were he to remain in the Royal Navy, his future was bleak, doomed to be a junior rating. His papers would have been heavily endorsed by what was called a “red inker” where the report was written on his S264A, colloquially called his “comic cuts” in black ink and then underlined in red ink, to stay with him for the rest of his time in the service as a black mark. A red-ink report [not to be considered the same] was where a man was thought to be outstanding and his 264A write-up was in red ink and not underlined. It stayed on his papers as a meritorious entry.

However, Le Breton bucked the system, and on sheer merit [but no remorse for his part in the mutiny] showed his true mettle and started his way up the advancement ladder against the odds.  He was such a worthy character that eventually ‘CW’ papers were raised on him [Commission and WarrantRank, reports on his suitability for the elevation away from the lower deck to either the wardroom or the warrant officers mess. He was first promoted to the Warrant Rank as a Gunner [T] [Gunner Torpedo, a branch who looked after the technical details of gunnery and not necessarily with the use of gunnery, a mixture of the Ordnance Artificer and the Electrical Artificer at a later time period].  In that warrant officer rank he had a very active and involved WW2 service serving as the Gunner [T] in destroyers from 1937 until 1942.  In 1943 he was given command of the Trawler ‘Redwing’.  After that he joined the fast minelayer Ariadne and served in the British Pacific Fleet [BPF] fighting the Japanese until VJ day. His last appointment before retiring in 1948 was as a commissioned wardroom officer serving as a Defence Mining and Explosives Instructor.

After 26 years in the Royal Navy Le Breton then served the licensing trade for a further 24 years and at one time he was the landlord of the famous Old Portsmouth tavern, the 'Dolphin’ which was frequented by Nelson himself before his departure for Trafalgar.

To the end of his life Le Breton was unrepentant about his involvement in the 1931 Invergordon Mutiny.  In the television programme 'Mutiny' in the BBC Series “Call of the Sea” he said “I am no way sorry about Invergordon. I look upon it with pride.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you if I felt I had been a traitor. I wasn’t; I was doing the right thing!"

He and his wife Phyllis  who married in 1940,  had a son.

Lieutenant Royal Navy Herbert ‘Ginger’ Le Breton died when age 90 on the 15th October 1997. To my mind, a man worthy of remembrance and very much part of the RN fabric!

Yours aye