In July 1903, at just 15 years old, Mullion-born Ernest Herbert Pitcher joined the Royal Navy. By August 1914 he was serving in the Dreadnought battleship King George V. The following year Ernest volunteered for special service with Britain’s growing Q-ship fleet.
By the summer he was embarked in HMS Dunraven, again a Q-ship disguised as a collier. On 8 August, around 130 miles south-west of Ushant in the Bay of Biscay, submarine UC-71 spotted Dunraven. Taken in, the U-boat surfaced and attacked. Shells from its deck-gun struck the ship, setting off depth-charges; fire caught at her stern while a torpedo caused more damage.
Somehow, all the gun-crew had survived. In the light of such exceptional discipline and bravery, along with the other sailors Ernest’s name was entered into a ballot for a Victoria Cross, and drawn. He received his medal in November 1917; his men were awarded Conspicuous Gallantry Medals.