- Name: Reginald William ARMYTAGE
- D.O.B: 18th May, 1903
- D.O.A: 3rd May, 1928
- D.O.D: 9th Nov, 1984
- Award: Albert Medal translated to George Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Lieutenant, HMS Warspite, Royal Navy
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
BETWEEN THE WARS
The stresses of the First World War led to political revolution in much of Europe and, in extreme cases, social collapse. Even the victors, Britain and France, were not immune to the economic upheaval and labour unrest resulting from the transition from war to peace and the demobilization of hundreds of thousands of men. This made them extremely nervous of the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and they decided to send aid to the anti-Bolshevik forces. However, an Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force had to be withdrawn once it became clear that internal opposition to the Bolsheviks had been defeated. In Britain a postwar boom failed to prove long-lasting and in May 1926 there was a General Strike, triggered by a crisis in the Mining Industry. The Great Depression followed in 1929 and by 1931 Britain was forced to abandon the Gold Standard. In large parts of the country and especially in the traditional industries there was widespread unemployment throughout the 1930s, symbolized by the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. Conditions were much worse on the Continent and the interwar period witnessed the rise of the Dictators. The coming to power in Germany of Hitler in 1933 was to lead inexorably to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In the years of increasingly uneasy peace between 1919 and September 1939 only eleven VCs were awarded and of these only one, the award to Captain G P Meynell in 1935, took place outside the period 1919-21. Of the eleven awards, five related to actions against the Bolsheviks, four to actions on the North-West Frontier of India and one to an an engagement in what is now Iraq. The remaining award was that in 1921 to the American Unknown Warrior. Of the Albert, Edward and Empire Gallantry Medals awarded in the same period, 142 recipients lived long enough for their awards to be converted to the GC. The geographical distribution of the actions that occasioned the awards is witness to the Global spread of the British Empire, which reached its widest extent after the First World War. However, some of the awards, for gallantry in India, Egypt and the Sudan, and Palestine, reflected both the stresses in maintaining that dominion and the duties it entailed. After service personnel and policemen, coal miners formed the largest group of recipients, demonstrating the central importance of coal to the British economy and the dangers inherent in securing it. Those who worked in coal and gold mines in India and Africa were also honoured. Both in the mines and in industry as a whole, the threat posed by poisonous gases led to many awards. New industries brought new hazards with them. Other dangers overcome were of a more basic sort. Awards were also made to those who, throughout the Empire, confronted mad elephants, rabid dogs and marauding sharks.
On the 23rd May, 1928, whilst H.M.S. “Warspite” was lying alongside Parlatorio Wharf, Malta, an examination of the bulge compartments situated the Port side aft was being carried out. The manhole door of the lower bulge compartment was removed and the compartment tested. It was found that the air was foul and poisonous. A Chief Stoker attempted to enter the compartment, although aware that it was in a dangerous condition, and was immediately overcome by the gas and fell unconscious to the bottom of the compartment, a distance of about 20 feet. The alarm was given and Lieutenant Armytage immediately fetched his gas mask and with a life line round him entered the compartment and reached the bottom, when he was overcome and rendered unconscious. With great difficulty, owing to the small size of the manhole, he was hauled to the exit by means of the life line. He was unconscious and had stopped breathing when hauled into the open air, and was eventually removed to the R.N. Hospital in a precarious condition. Lieutenant Armytage was aware that his gas mask would afford no degree of protection against the CO or CO2 gases likely to be present in the compartment. He realised that the delay incurred in passing a diver through the manholes would probably prove fatal to the Chief Stoker and appreciated to the fullest extent the grave risk he ran in entering the compartment. As soon as Lieutenant Armytage had been withdrawn from the manhole of the upper bulge compartment Leading Seaman Oliver, who was in attendance with a shallow diving helmet, volunteered to attempt the rescue of the Chief Stoker, despite the fact that he had witnessed the painful and distressing sights attendant on asphyxiation. After donning the helmet he was passed with considerable difficulty through the manholes of the upper and lower bulge compartments and he eventually succeeded in reaching the Chief Stoker and passed a line round his body by means of which the latter was drawn up through the manhole to the pontoon abreast the ship. On emerging from the bulges Oliver was a very bad colour and suffering to some extent from the poisonous gases in the bulge compartments. Although a smoke helmet provides a considerable degree of protection it was obvious that any displacement would be attended by serious results and, further, having regard to the difficulty in passing Oliver through the manholes when equipped with the helmet, it was quite clear that his quick withdrawal in the event of being overcome was a matter of considerable conjecture, and the delay thus involved might have been attended with fatal results.