Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter was born in Barnes in the London Borough of Richmond, Surrey, on 17th September 1881. His parents were Captain Alfred Carpenter and Henrietta Maud Shedwell. The Carpenters had a history of service with the Royal Navy dating back to Napoleonic times.
After attending Bedales School Arthur joined the Royal Navy in 1896 to commence his officer training.
Prior to the First World War, Alfred’s service experience included the British naval task force intervention in Crete in 1898, the Boxer Rebellion in 1900-01 and witnessing the fleet royal review in 1902. Alfred was awarded the Royal Humane Society award for saving the life of a sailor who fell overboard in the Falkland Islands.
Over this period, Alfred developed an interest in navigation and came up with some new ideas and inventions.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Alfred was posted to Admiral Jellicoe’s staff until he was promoted to Commander in 1915 and served as a navigation officer aboard HMS Empress of India between 1915-1917.
As an Acting-Captain, Alfred commanded HMS Vindictive which took part in the Zeebrugge raid on 22/23 April 1918. HMS Vindictive‘s role was to land 200 Royal Marines to destroy shore batteries as part of the plan to close the port to access from German craft, including submarines.
Alfred was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). Due to poor weather conditions, darkness and heavy enemy fire, Alfred’s ship moored at the wrong place; however his outstanding leadership contributed to the overall success of the Zeebrugge mission. The VC citation set out in the London Gazette dated 23 July 1918 read as follows:-
‘Honour for services in the operations against Zeebrugge and Ostend on the night of the 22nd-23rd April 1918.
The KING has graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned:-
Commander (Acting Captain) Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter, Royal Navy, for most conspicuous gallantry this officer was in command of ‘Vindictive’. He set a magnificent example to all those under his command by his calm composure when navigating mined water bringing his ship alongside the mole in darkness. When ‘Vindictive’ was within a few yards of the mole the enemy started and maintained a heavy fire from batteries, machine guns and rifles onto the bridge. He showed most conspicuous bravery, and did much to encourage similar behaviour on the part of the crew, supervising the landing from the ‘Vindictive’ on to the mole, and walking around the decks directing operations and encouraging the men in the most dangerous and exposed postions.
By his encouragement to those under him, his power of command and personal bearing, he undoubtedly contributed greatly to the success of the operation. Captain Carpenter was selected by the officers of the ‘Vindictive’, ‘ Iris II’, and ‘Daffodil’, and of the naval assaulting force to receive the Victoria Cross under Rule 13 of the Royal Warrant dated 29th January 1856.’
Alfred was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and also made an officer of the Legion of Honour.
Alfred remained in the Royal Navy post WWI and held several commands, including the role of Aide-de-Camp to the King. He eventually achieved the rank of Vice-Admiral and retired from the Royal Navy in 1934.
During the Second World War Alfred, commanded the Wye Valley section of the Home Guard.
Alfred married twice during his life. His first wife, Maude Tordiffe, died in 1923. They had one child, a daughter. Alfred married again in 1927, Hilda Margaret Allison Johnson (nee Smith).
Alfred died on 27 December 1951 at St Briavel’s, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, where he is commemorated at St Mary’s Church. He is also commemorated by a stone slab, unveiled to mark the centenary of the award of his VC, in Barnes.
Alfred’s medals, including the Victoria Cross, are on loan to the Imperial War Museum, London.