Regiment: Royal Navy HMS Highflyer
Reginald Perry was born in Seaton on 25 February 1892, but by the time of the 1901 census the family was living in Townsend, Beer. Reginald’s father, Richard Perry, was an agricultural labourer and carter, born in Beer, while his mother, Joanna, was born in Seaton. Reginald had two younger sisters, Sarah (aged seven in 1901) and Alice (aged five).
Reginald joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class on 5 June 1916. His Royal Navy record describes him as 5ft 7½ in tall, with black hair and brown eyes, and a fresh complexion. He appears to have trained at HMS Vivid, a shore establishment at Devonport, before joining HMS Highflyer, a cruiser, on 1 August 1917.
Highflyer carried 11 six-inch guns, and had a crew of 450. For much of the period Reginald was on board, (August 1917 to April 1919) Highflyer was escorting convoys across the North Atlantic. She was in harbour at Halifax, Nova Scotia on the morning of 6 December 1917 when two merchant ships collided in the harbour. One of these, the SS Mont Blanc, due to leave for Bordeaux, was carrying 200 tons of TNT, 2,300 tons of picric acid (an ingredient of military explosive) and 10 tons of gun cotton. The Mont Blanc caught fire and her crew abandoned ship. As she drifted across the harbour, setting fire to a pier, a party from Highflyer, led by Commander Triggs, set off in the ship’s whaler (rowing boat) to assist.
At 9.05 am the Mont Blanc blew up in the biggest ever man-made explosion prior to the dropping of the atomic bomb. Almost 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 injured, while around 1,600 buildings were destroyed. Only one of Highflyer’s whaler’s crew was found, and he died soon after. Highflyer took on survivors, including 28 crewmen from the Mont Blanc and some from the Norwegian ship she had collided with.
A party of stokers went ashore to give first aid, and it is possible that Reginald was in this group. Highflyer was damaged in the explosion, three seamen on board were killed and 47 injured.
Despite the damage and casualties, Highflyer left Halifax on 11 December, escorting a convoy of 31 ships bound for Plymouth, where they arrived on 27 December. On 31 December, Reginald was promoted to Stoker 1st Class.
After repairs in Plymouth, Highflyer became the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief North Atlantic and West Indies. Following a spell in Bermuda, she returned to convoy escort work in the North Atlantic, and when the Armistice came in November 1918, Highflyer was escorting a convoy towards Glasgow. She docked there on 12 November 1918.
Reginald stayed with HMS Highflyer until he was demobilised on 15 April 1919. He died in 1976, aged 84.
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