It’s a fact that not many Purseys have stuck their heads above the parapet throughout the ages. Had one or two others distinguished themselves on the wider stage, tracing the wider family’s collective history might have been a good deal easier!
One who did do so was Commander Harry Pursey of Sidmouth, Devon.
Commander Harry Pursey (1891 – 13 December 1980) was a British politician and naval officer, who began his career as a boy seaman. He was elected as labour MP for Hull East in 1945, serving for 25 years, before ceding his seat to John Prescott in 1970.
Harry attended the Royal Hospital School and the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. At 16, in 1907, he joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman with HMS Impregnable. In the Great War, he took part in the Battle of Jutland aboard Revenge and saw service in the Aegean aboard Forward. Second-in-command of a landing party from the Forward, he helped evacuate a Royal Naval Air Service station on Lesbos Island, for which he was commissioned and received a mention in dispatches.
After the war he was posted to the Black Sea and saw action in Somaliland and Mesopotamia. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1920 and to Lieutenant-Commander in 1928. He retired in 1936 having served on HMS Hood.
He had a great interest in “below-decks” naval history, and spent his later years working on a history of the Invergordon Mutiny (see http://www.naval-review.co.uk/ – issue 1976, page 2).
[The Invergordon Mutiny was an industrial action by around 1,000 sailors in the British Atlantic Fleet that took place on 15/16 September 1931. For two days, ships of the Royal Navy at Invergordon were in open mutiny, in one of the few military strikes in British history.]
During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 39), he worked as a journalist in Spain.
In September 1954 in New Jersey, USA, he married Lillian Maria Alder who claimed to be a Hungarian Baroness. That same year, she was arrested in Montreal for possessing counterfeit United States money, and acquitted after trial. She was arrested the following year for the possession of drugs. This time she was convicted. They were divorced in 1959.
His obituary in The Times described him as “the first naval officer promoted from the lower deck” to enter Parliament.
Harry’s immediate ancestors hailed from Bathealton, Somerset. Prior to that his family can be traced back to Wellington (Thomas Pursey and Charlotte Hancock) and in the 1700s most likely West Buckland (William Pursey and Mary Cross).
(With thanks to Wikipedia upon which much of this content was sourced.)
* This piece is dedicated to my Dad, who was in the Royal Navy, as was my brother. They followed in the footsteps of a good number of Purseys who braved the seas in search of adventure.