Remembrance: Upminster man shares tale of 'conscientious' father who served in First World War aged 14
PUBLISHED: 15:00 10 November 2017
Leonard Trimmer was one of many young men to directly experience the dark days of the First World War.
Aged just 14 he entered the Royal Navy as a boy seaman. Surviving the conflict, he continued to serve for a number of years, and was recalled when the Second World War followed the ‘war to end all wars’, breaking out in 1939.
Leonard assisted the famous Dunkirk evacuations and defended merchant ships from enemy attack, coming under recognition from king and country in the 1940s for his distinguished service.
His son Terence, 85, knows little of the details of his naval life, including his presence at Dunkirk, but is proud of his contribution.
“I don’t really know much about Dunkirk, you understand he was there but of course most ex-servicemen never really spoke too much about their service, and being just a child myself, I was never quite sure what sort of questions to ask him as you would have done now.
“I was seven when war was declared, and my sister Laura five.”
Leonard was born on September 4, 1900 in Tottenham, the second youngest of five children (he had three brothers and a sister).
Terence doesn’t know much about his early life, believing he attempted to become a chef upon leaving school – there’s a photograph of him in his whites – but “for some reason he gave that up to join the navy”. As a boy, he had been a member of the Essex Regiment army cadets.
Leonard enlisted with the Royal Navy at the age of 14 in May 1915 – when the First World War was moving through its second year – serving as a boy seaman (second class).
The inter-war years saw no rest for him: he was one of the servicemen to accompany Admiral of the Fleet Earl Jellicoe on a tour of the Dominions. (Jellicoe had commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in spring 1916.)
“My father was away for over a year, he circumnavigated the world with HMS New Zealand,” said Terence.
“Of course he was only an ordinary seaman. He had a crossing the line ceremony [at the equator], you had to if you were not already initiated.”
Following the conclusion of his service some time in the 1930s, Leonard worked in the general post office as a sorter. But being a navy reservist, he was recalled to active service in 1939, just a few weeks before the Second World War broke out.
In the early stages of the conflict, the seaman patrolled the North Atlantic, but spent the bulk of the war with the Merchant Navy.
At this point a gunnery petty officer, he served aboard TSS Perthshire, a cargo vessel which ferried food and other materiel between Britain and Commonwealth territories.
The family lived in Manor Park during the war, and Leonard’s trips home on leave were always a source of excitement.
Terence said: “Occasionally father would arrive home on leave for a few days when the ship docked in a home port. There were often presents for my mother Bertha, my younger sister and myself. I can remember running along the road to meet him on the corner.
“Much to the delight of some of our friends, a few oranges – an unknown fruit to some at that time – were gratefully received and enjoyed.”
In 1944, Leonard was mentioned in the King’s birthday honours main dispatches, for distinguished service. He received a bronze oak leaf to wear with the appropriate service medal.
He died on May 10, 1969, aged 68.
“I remember as a young boy my feelings towards him, I imagined he was some kind of hero,” said Terence.
“Looking back now as an adult, he just did his duty, and very well because he was a very conscientious kind of man. An ordinary person who just wanted to do his best, serve his country and help people where he could.”