b. 1911 Sunderland. d. 20/06/1941 North Sea.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 20-21/06/1941 North Sea.
Henry Herbert Reed (1911-1941) was born in 1911 in Sunderland, County Durham, the eldest son of Henry and Annie Reed. He had three brothers and a sister. Henry Reed senior was a sea captain and regularly away from his family. Herbert, as Henry began to be called, attended Bede Collegiate School in Sunderland where he excelled in athletics, particularly the high jump.
After school, Herbert worked as a shop assistant at Binns Department Store, before on the outbreak of war, he ignored his father’s advice and chose to enlist. At the time of enlistment he was also Secretary of Binns Sport’s Club, a Rover in a local Scout Troop, and also involved in other community youth activities.
In 1938, he had enlisted in the Royal Engineers Territorial Army but transferred to the Royal Artillery in 1940. There are a number of errors in Herbert’s citation and inscription on his medal such as listing him as a Gunner, when his actual rank was Bombardier. Secondly, he is listed as in the Merchant Navy, which is also incorrect, as he was on a merchant ship at the time of his action, but not in that service.
On the night of 20th-21st June 1941, his ship, SS Cormount, was attacked by bombers and U-boats; despite sustaning severe damage through a direct bomb hitting midships, Cormount replied at once with defensive fire, and the gunners went on firing amid the hail of bullets and cannon shells. Reed was badly wounded, but when the Master asked him how he was, he said that he would carry on and refused to leave his guns. Then, seeing that the chief officer and a steward were wounded, he carried them from the bridge down two ladders to the deck below and put them in a shelter near a lifeboat. Reed then collapsed and died. It was afterwards found that his stomach had been ripped open by machine gun fire.
Herbert, who was unmarried, was returned to Sunderland where he was buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. His citation was published in the London Gazette on 19th September 1941, and on 17th March 1942, his mother Annie made the long journey to London where she received his GC from King George VI at Buckingham Palace. His GC, 1939-45 Star, War Medal 1939-45, and Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea were later donated to the National Army Museum, Chelsea, where sadly they are not on display.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BISHOPWEARMOUTH CEMETERY, SUNDERLAND.
The front and reverse of Henry Herbert Reed's George Cross courtesy of the National Army Museum website