Herbet Cecil Pugh, the second of Harry Walter and Janet Pugh’s seven children, was born on 2 November 1898 in Johannesburg. During the period 1917-1919, Pugh served as a Medical Orderly in France. Due to his experiences in France, Pugh became a minister attending Oxford University during 1920 to 1924. With the outbreak of the war in 1939, Pugh joined the RAF as a Padre.
After seeing service in the UK, Pugh was posted to Takoradi in West Africa, embarking on the HMT Anslem.
The Anslem was a ship of the Booth Line, built by W. Denny & Bros in 1935. She had a Gross tonnage of 5954 tons. Her dimensions were 412.3 x 55.7 x 25.8 feet. The vessel was fitted with 696 nhp turbine engines, providing a maximum speed of 14 knots.
The Anslem, under Captain A. Elliott, with 1200 troops including 175 RAF personnel onboard, was in a convoy heading for Freetown, West Africa. At 04:25 on 5 July 1941, when some 300 miles north of the Azores, the ship was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine. Four members of the crew and 250 passengers were killed.
The following citation was published in the 2nd Supplement of the London Gazette for 28 March 1947:
The Reverend H. C. Pugh, after seeing service in this country, was posted to Takoradi and embarked on H.M.T. Anselm, carrying over 1,300 passengers, for West Africa at the end of June 1941. She was torpedoed in the Atlantic in the early hours of the 5th July, 1941. One torpedo hit a hold on Deck C, destroying the normal means of escape.
Mr. Pugh came up on deck in a dressing gown and gave all the help he could. He seemed to be everywhere at once, doing his best to comfort the injured, helping with the boats and rafts (two of these were rendered unserviceable as a result of the explosion) and visiting the different lower sections where the men were quartered.
When he learned that a number of injured airmen were trapped in the damaged hold, he insisted on being lowered into it with a rope. Everyone demurred because the hold was below the water line and already the decks were awash and to go down was to go to certain death. He simply explained that he must be where his men were. The deck level was already caving in and the hold was three parts full of water so that, when he knelt to pray, the water reached his shoulders. Within a few minutes the ship plunged and sank and Mr. Pugh was never seen again.
He had every opportunity of saving his own life but, without regard to his own safety and in the best tradition of the Service and of a Christian Minister, he gave up his life for others.
Herbert Cecil Pugh, GC, is comemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, Panel 29.