Posted February 4th, 2012
by Richard Savage
Robert Blake was not the only naval hero from Bridgwater.
Two other “bricks” served under Nelson. Sir Davidge Gould (1758-1847) was born in Bridgwater, although his father came from Sharpham Park near Glastonbury. He joined the navy at the age of 13 and served as a midshipman in the Mediterranean until being promoted to Lieutenant in 1779. In 1782 he took part in the last sea battle of the American War of Independence under the command of Sir George Rodney against a French fleet. In 1795, as Captain of the Bedford, he took part in various skirmishes at the Battle of Genoa and the Battle of Hyeres under Vice Admiral Hotham, and then in 1798 he captained the Audacious as part of the fleet under Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson pursuing the French fleet to Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, and then taking part in naval history’s most overwhelming victory, against superior gun power – the Battle of the Nile, for which Davidge Gould received a medal for valour. He was awarded the KCB in 1815, became Full Admiral in 1825, was awarded the GCB in 1833, and retired from the navy in 1840 at the age of 82.
Better known is the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when another son of Bridgwater, George Lewis Browne (1784-1856) played a significant role as Lieutenant alongside Admiral Lord Nelson on the upper deck of HMS Victory. He attended the local grammar school in Bridgwater from the age of 7, and is reported to have climbed the masts of ships along the quays to escape being bullied. In 1797, he joined the navy and became a midshipman on board the Royal George and rose quickly to Lieutenant at the age of 20. His exemplary conduct, his assiduous studying of his profession in his spare time, his instruction of juniors, and his total abstinence from alcohol won the admiration of first Sir Thomas Hardy and then Admiral Lord Nelson. He received his Lieutenant’s commission on the quarter deck of the Victory on 1st August 1804, the anniversary of the Battle of theNile.
His role on board the Victory was as assistant signal officer, and therefore along in raising the final signals “England confides that every man will do his duty” followed by “Close Action.” He remained on the upper deck when Nelson was carried mortally wounded below. After the Victory was decommissioned he served as Flag-Lieutenant on the Ocean under Admiral Lord Collingwood, who promoted him to Commander, just 2 days before Collingwood died, so Browne had the responsibility of bringing his admiral’s body home to England. He then retired and bought a small farm on Knowle Hill. Farming was not stimulating enough for him, so he went to London to study law. In 1836 he returned to Bridgwater where he became a magistrate and also branch manager for the West of England Bank. He was also an active member of the Unitarian Chapel. His remains and those of his wife, Ann, are now together in a family vault in the cemetery on the Wembdon Road.
Another naval hero was Commander Trevor Crick, OBE, DSC (1901-1997), who after retiring from the Royal Navy settled in Spaxton, and was a founder member and Commanding officer of the local Sea Cadet unit. His education included 5 terms on the Training Ship Conway, a Merchant Navy training establishment, and then 3 terms at Dartmouth. In 1917-18 he served on board the battleship HMS Colossus with the 4th Battle Squadron on the Grand Fleet, and then as Midshipman on the battlecruiser HMS Lion. The Admiralty then sent him to Cambridge University, where he captained the First XV at rugby, playing many times at Twickenham, and but for an injury could have won an England cap. He also represented the navy as a light heavyweight boxer and climbed Ben Nevis in record time.
In 1930 he trained at HMS Vernon, the torpedo and mining school, and won an award from the Admiralty for developing a new device for sweeping mines and countering the detection systems of magnetic mines, just before World War II broke out. He was strafed, bombed and wounded in the foot at the evacuation from Dunkirk while waiting to evacuate troops in a Dutch barge, and had to be evacuated himself. In 1941, while commanding the corvette Freesia, he led 8 minesweepers in advance of the amphibious invasion of Madagascar in May 1942 and was awarded the DSC “for bravery and enterprise while serving.”
While on convoy escort duty off the coast of Spain, he was able to add a bar to his DSC through depth charging the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci which two months earlier had torpedoed the troopship Empress of Canada, on which his brother Group Captain Kenneth Crick was senior officer.
Those of us who have never personally been in actual combat conditions may throw up out hands in horror and indignation when we hear of our own soldiers and sailors being killed by “friendly fire”, especially when it is British troops being attacked by Americans, but the fact is that in the heat of battle mistakes can happen in one’s zeal to engage the enemy and timing is critical when it is “them or us” and orders must be obeyed. Trevor Crick won his OBE for the courage he showed when in August 1944, after being mentioned twice in despatches for his part in the D-day landings, as Senior Officer of the First Minesweeping Flotilla off the Normandy coast on board the Jason, his flotilla of minesweepers was attacked by 16 RAF Typhoons with rockets, mistaking them for enemy vessels. Two sweepers were sunk, the Britomart and Hussar, while the Salamandar had her stern blown away; 117 men lost their lives and 153 were wounded. With the Salamandar drifting within range of shore batteries, Trevor Crick took the Jason to her rescue, laying a two-mile smoke screen, and towed her to safety.
Once again, I am indebted to Roger Evans for researching out most of these details which are grippingly written in “Forgotten Heroes of Bridgwater” (ISBN 0 9525674 1 5).
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