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An account of a life as full as any.
on 13 June 2013
Of all the naval awards of the Victoria Cross (VC) from WW2, that which was earned by Godfrey Place always seems to come to the forefront and the story of how it was earned is already well told. In this excellent biography, however, author Paul Watkins go much further than the book's title would suggest and produces a complete account of this man's life in which we learn it was as full as any ever lived. Having compared the photographs of Place as a small boy with those of him in later life, he always remained recognisable with his appearance never really changing.
Codenamed Operation Source, in September 1943 six British miniature submarines (X-Craft) were towed to Norway. X-5, 6 & 7 were to attack the Tirpitz (the Bismarck's only sister ship) and X-8, 9 & 10 the Scharnhorst. X-8 and X-9, however, never reached the starting line and X-10 had so many technical problems her attack was abandoned and she was later scuttled on the tow back to Scotland. Both X-6 and X-7 succeeded in placing their charges below the Tirpitz although both craft were then disabled and abandoned. Six of the eight crew members escaped these two sinking X-Craft and were taken on board the Tirpitz from where they saw X-5 surface and destroyed at close range. To this day, it not known whether X-5 was retreating after having placed her own charges or was pressing home her attack when sunk. All three commanders were initially recommended for the VC but this was later changed. Eventually, the commanders of X-6 (Donald Cameron) and X-7 (Godfrey Place) both received the Victoria Cross. Henty-Creer, however, who commanded X-5 and was also the overall flotilla commander, received nothing more than a Mention in Despatches - something which remains the subject of much discontent to this day!
In company with many other readers, I was already aware of the foregoing. This book, however, provides considerable additional information about that raid which I did not previously know. When the original X-Craft crews were selected in late 1942, all six were commanded by RN Lieutenants with a sub-lieutenant as First Officer (second-in-command of a crew of four!). Henty-Creer was one of the latter and appointed First Officer X-5. Another officer, Lt Max Shean was held in reserve and, when Henty-Creer eventually took command of X-5, Shean was not very impressed - and said so! Nevertheless, it says much for the Admiralty's decision making process that Henty-Creer was appointed to overall command barely a few weeks later and, having done so, the mission was successful - even if his award of the VC was rescinded. Personally, I regard this as an ongoing national disgrace - but I digress!
Most poignant of all, two months prior to Operation Source, on 17 July 1943, Godfrey Place was married in Lincolnshire and `Henty' (as he was affectionately known) was best man. Henty-Creer, therefore, featured in the life of Godfrey Place throughout his entire life.
In spite of the book's title and my own comments about Operation Source, this work is far more than another account of that audacious raid. Instead, we have a full account of the life of one man who, after being released from POW camp after WW2, continued to serve in the Royal Navy until 30 June 1970 when he finally retired as `Read Admiral B. C. G. Place VC, CB, CVO, DSC - just three weeks short of his 49th birthday! He then went on to chair the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association for another 20 years - and more!
A series of 36 B&W photographs are placed together in the middle of the work showing Place in various guises from infant to Admiral and beyond. Such accounts as this can only come to print by the diligent work of authors such as Paul Watkins and people like the Place family who provided additional information. The result is a fine biography which soon becomes an absorbing read.