Veteran Stories:
Leonard Arthur “Len” Perrigo

Navy

  • Leonard Perrigo's Certificate of Service with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

  • Awarded the National Commemorative Medal - The Malta George Cross Fiftieth Anniversary Medal - for escorting convoys to Malta in 1941.

  • Medal received after a commemorative service for the sunken ships HMS Prince of Whales and HMS Repulse. The ships were sunk by Japanese air attack on December 10th, 1941.

  • Photo taken in Liverpool in 1940 while Len Perrigo was on leave. His ship was in drydock after being damaged in an air-attack.

    Len Perrigo
  • Len Perrigo (right) with his younger brother Howard (left) and older brother Frank (centre) who was a member of the Civil Defense.

    Len Perrigo
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"But one of the men didn’t like it at all, that I was senior to him."

Transcript

When we were paid, and I was paid at that time two shillings a day, which was less than a quarter a day, and the fact I was married too, it left me very little money. I couldn’t smoke and that was normal, most people were smoking in those days, but I couldn’t afford to smoke, with the amount of money because I had to make an allowance of 10 shillings out of my 14 shillings every couple of weeks to pay towards my wife living allowances. And I can remember we were always assembled every two weeks in the quadrangle. We were lined up; and our name would be called out and we’d have to literally run to the paymaster’s desk and take our cap off, present it before the paymaster and he’d put the paltry four shillings, or whatever it was, on your cap. I used to resent the fact that we were running for such a pittance. When I complained, they said, well, you shouldn’t be married. [laughs]

Then we left on Friday the 13th in July of 1940 and we were just up The Needles [off the British Coast], I don’t know if you know The Needles, it’s islands or small rocks, not big rocks, just off Southampton and we’d only just got out from leaving. I was on watch up in the crow’s nest, up on the mast, had to go climb up there and sit there, and look out; and I saw some planes coming and I reported them. And they were Stuka [Sturzkampfflugzueg also known as Junkers Ju87: German ground attack aircraft] dive bombers; and they come tearing down and I was up in this little crow’s nest. I could see the pilots. I could see the plane, the flames from the guns and their bullets tearing down the decks and everything. And then see them dropping the bombs. They were seven of these Stuka bombers and they finally dropped a bomb; and it blew the six inch gun from the stern of the ship. I could see all this. I can still picture it to this day, this big gun going up in the air and then landing in the water.

And it caught fire at the aft end. And I was ordered to go down from the crow’s nest to go and help to put the fire out. So I was dashing down the alleyway because it was still, our load was converted, it was still a passenger liner, and so there were long alleyways with cabins on each side, and what have you. And there were three of us running to go down to put the fire out. There was one man on one side of me and one man on the other. And a bomb dropped and the blast from the bomb blew the two, the man each side of me, up against the bulkheads; and I turned around and went to one, he was laying on the floor, on the deck, and he was dead; and the other one, I went to him and he was dead. So I had to leave them and rush to the aft end; and we had to put the fire out from the gun which had been blown off. And I was in the steering compartment, there was all water there. And I saw some shoes sticking up in the water, under the water like. And I pulled this out and there was no head on. And I was ordered to find the head. It was my buddy, so it was an awful shock that.

I was sent, of course, to the [HMS] Prince of Wales; and there, I was put in charge of 8.25 m [gun] turrets for fighting aircraft…. on the electrical side. And I had eight men under me. But this gave a problem because many of the men that I had under me were Royal Navy and they were one degree below me. I was senior to them. But I’d only been in the navy then two years as an RNVR [Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve]. But I was lucky that I managed to get high marks and they put me through to the second coast. So I was senior to them. Seven of them didn’t mind. As I say, there were eight turrets and so they had to look after the electrical side in each turret. But one of the men didn’t like it at all, that I was senior to him. He said, I’m 12 years in the navy. I can understand how he felt. He said, I’m 12 years in the navy, he said, you’ve come in a whippersnapper, he said, with two years, and you’re senior to me, that doesn’t make sense. And so he wouldn’t do what I told him to and we finished up with an awful fight. And I got a busted lip and he got a black eye and a busted nose. And somebody reported us to the electrical commanding officer; and I thought he had done it and he thought I had reported him.

And so we were out there, glaring at each other and waiting to see the commanding officer. So he told this fellow, Jim Kitchen, he said, why is it you’ve been fighting? So he told him, he says, he’s only a whippersnapper, he said, he’s not been in the navy two years, he doesn’t know, what does he know? And he said, I’ve been in 12 years. So the electrical officer was wise; he took me off that job and I wasn’t in control of anyone after that. The job that I had in what they call action stations, which is everybody’s on duty whenever there’s danger imminent, if there’s submarines or there’s aircraft attacking or whatever it is, everybody’s on duty. And I had a specific job to look after a generator, which is a big power station really. And whenever you went down to take over this generator, you were locked down there. The hatch was locked up and, because it was better for them to lose one man who was looking after it and if that exploded, rather than sink the ship, get problems, anything else getting, the water getting anywhere else, would confine it.

And I was transferred from that to another job for action stations and the man that replaced me down there was this man that I had the fight with. And one of the first torpedoes, when the Japanese attacked us on 10 December, 1941, went right where he was in this generating room; and he was killed outright. So if we hadn’t have had that fight, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.

Follow us