Distinguished Service Medal, GV, (Boy, HMS Alcantara)


Distinguished Service Medal, GV, 1st type (Boy 1st Cl., Horace Matthew Richardson, HMS Alcantara, 29 Feb.1916. LG 22 June 1916. NVF

Horace Matthew Richardson was born in Chatham in 1899 and enlisted in the RN as a Boy 2nd class in January 1915. By April he had been drafted to the Alcantara. She was a 15,000 ton liner completed in 1914; she was requisitioned by the Navy, converted to an armed merchant cruiser and deployed with the 10th Cruiser Squadron in the blockade of Germany.

On the morning of 29 February 1916 she approached a suspicious merchant ship displaying Norwegian colours. She was just about to launch a boat with a boarding crew to inspect the ship when the Norwegian flag was hauled down, a German ensign hoisted in its place, and concealed guns opened a hot fire. The ship was the German armed merchant cruiser Greif, outward bound on a raiding mission. She also launched a torpedo which struck the Alcantara, and one of her shells destroyed the British ship’s steering gear. Alcantara quickly returned fire. The two cruisers closed to the point-blank range of 800 yards, like frigates of the Napoleonic wars and, in the end, each sank the other.

And it was in the ensuring chaos in the water that Richardson was particularly noted for his gallantry:

‘Some fifteen of Alcantara’s boats or Engleheart rafts, and two rafts made on board, floated clear of the ship. Swimmers immediately began making for them. Some port side boats, their falls cut or shot away, floated clear when the ship went down but they were badly damaged and most of them sank. Men helped each other to survive. Both John Howell-Price and young Horace Richardson, Boy 1st Class, jumped out of their boats and gave other men their places …’ (“Deeds That Thrill the Empire”)

Bearing in mind that this incident took place in February, north of the Shetland Islands, this was no empty gesture; had they not been rescued so promptly, it is likely that they would quickly have died of cold. Lieutenant Howell-Price received a D.S.C., to which he added a D.S.O. for service in the Zeebrugge raid in April 1918, and ‘young Richardson’ his D.S.M. He was still only sixteen at the time and was possibly the youngest ever to receive the DSM.

The Alcantara’s loss amounted to five officers and 69 men, of whom nearly all were killed by the torpedo, and of the 321 officers and men with which the Greif entered the fight, five officers and 115 men were rescued from the sea and made prisoners by the British destroyers that came upon the scene. The remaining 201 went to the bottom with their ship.

Richardson was invalided from the Navy in October 1919.

Sold with copied record of service and other research.


Provenance: R. C. Witte Collection, Dix Noonan Webb, December 2007.

D.S.M. London Gazette 22 June 1916.