The pandemic put the kibosh on larger celebrations to mark his centenary last year, so the big party was postponed until the former sailor’s 101st birthday.
Now Gillingham-based Horace Erridge was presented with a picture of the Royal Navy’s 5th generation aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth by Commander Rich Sturman, Commanding Officer of 845 Naval Air Squadron, from RNAS Yeovilton.
Horace joined the Royal Navy shortly after the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and after training as a supply rating in Skegness and Lee-on-Solent, he was assigned to Britain’s first aircraft carrier HMS Argus at Greenock, working in the cipher room and he was also in charge of the air stores.
After missions to the Mediterranean, the carrier was dispatched to the Arctic in August 1941 on the first Russian convoy, delivering two dozen Hurricane fighters to Murmansk.
‘My job was keeping records and stores down in the lower deck and I saw very little of the Arctic. We were at action stations, but we were escorted by the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious and four destroyers and apart from rough seas it was really a quiet trip,’ Horace recalled.
‘On the way, a team of RAF technicians worked flat out assembling the aircraft and as we approached Murmansk we could hear them as each plane was safely flown off from our flight deck by RAF pilots to a Russian air base.’
Nearly 80 convoys followed the original, codenamed Dervish, until Nazi Germany was defeated in the spring of 1945.
Over 100 naval and merchant ships were sunk and more than 3,000 Allied seamen were lost as they delivered more than four million tons of vital supplies to the Soviet Union.
Argus never returned to the Arctic, but the Russian Government has decorated Horace three times for his service, medals he wears proudly on his jacket alongside six others presented by the UK Government for his World War 2 service.
Horace remained with Argus, which ran the no-less-dangerous gauntlet of the Malta convoys, as well as delivering aircraft to Gibraltar.
‘There was plenty of action in these operations,’ he said. ‘But we were lucky and were only damaged once, suffering casualties when a 1,000lb bomb hit the Argus off Tangiers. Among the many other actions, we saw the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat and we rescued about 600 of the crew.’
In quieter times, he played drums with the ship’s band and with Royal Marines musicians and enjoyed hockey.
He later served in West Africa and the Fleet Air Arm base at Inskip in Lancashire, where he met Hilda, a Petty Officer Wren who became his wife. He left the Navy in 1946 but remained a reservist.
Today he lives in his bungalow in Gillingham, still drives, and remains an active member of the local Probus Club which he’s been involved with since the early 1980s.