war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




CPO Edward Arthur Handley DSM (C/J109029)


Born in 1907 at 13 Middle Row,  Edward Handley was the fifth generation of mariners from Dover, having joined the Royal Navy in 1923 at the age of sixteen and a half.. Below is his World War II service record, as compiled by his son Shaun.

HMS Vernon

HMS Vernon was a shore establishment or 'stone frigate' of the Royal Navy. Vernon was established on 26 April 1876 as the Royal Navy's Torpedo Branch and operated until 1 April 1996, when the various elements comprising the establishment were split up and moved to different commands.

In the Second World War, and following on from the increasing use of mines, Vernon took on responsibility for mine disposal and developing mine countermeasures. The staff was able to capture a number of enemy mines and develop successful countermeasures. A number of officers working with Vernon were awarded Distinguished Service Orders for their successes in capturing new types of mine. Some of these were the first Royal Naval decorations of the war.
On 1 September 1939 PO Edward Handley was posted to HMS Vernon to attend a Torpedo training course and on 28 November he passed his course to became a Torpedo Coxswain.

HMS Juno

One of the large modern and very fast destroyers built just before the war, at 1,700 tons and 365 feet long, HMS Juno could race along at 36 knots, with a crew of 185.

HMS Juno  was operating in the North Sea when my father, Petty Officer Edward A. Handley joined her as a Torpedo Coxswain on 6 May 1940, based at Harwich and Hull. Soon after they left for the Mediterranean and the 14th Destroyer Flotilla, becoming involved in a year of action at sea.
Juno fought in the Fleet actions against the Italians off the cost of Libya and off Calabria, then Matapan. Between these battles she worked even harder escorting convoys between Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria, fighting off Italian aircraft and submarines.

When Germany seriously entered the Mediterranean war zone, the British army had to be evacuated, first from Greece and then from Crete. Juno was part of a force sent to stop the Germans invading Crete by sea. That was successful. But then the Germans invaded by air; and as our warships evacuated troops, the enemy planes sunk many of our ships.
On 21 May 1941, Juno was bombed continuously for four hours. Three bombs split the ship in two, and she sank in less than two minutes. Of 212 men, 116 perished, with 96, of whom five died later, being picked up by other vessels. HMS Defender picked up Petty Officer Edward Handley.

HMS Defender

Six years older than Juno, having been launched on Tyneside in 1932, Defender was a classic 1930’s destroyer, she was involved in most of the sea battles in the Mediterranean during 1940-41, of her class of eight destroyers, and only one survived the war.

Like Juno she escorted coveys through the worst times, helped to evacuate the army from Greece and Crete, and did many dangerous missions off the coast of Libya, Also like Juno, the Defender fell victim to high level accurate bombing.

In June and July, she was part of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla, running supply missions between Alexandria and Tobruk, mainly at night to avoid enemy aircraft. They developed a special technique for berthing in the darkness, discharging cargo and sailing within the hour. They usually operated in pairs. On the night of 11th July it was the turn of the Defender and Vendetta, but they were caught at dawn by enemy bombers. Defender was badly crippled off Sidi Berrani.

When the bombers left, Vendetta took Defender in tow, but the rough seas defeated them and the tow had to be slipped after the survivors had been transferred. Records state that this happened on 11th July 1941. HMS Defender was damaged by Italian aircraft 7 miles north off Sidi Barrani, Egypt. Her back was broken and she was torpedoed by the Australian destroyer HMAS Vendetta. There were no casualties.
The following day, Petty Officer Edward Handley was safely back in Alexandria, having lost two ships in two months, plus all his kit and personal possessions.
HMS Sennen
Smaller than our destroyers, she was a US Navy Coastguard Cutter of 1928. Sennen was part of a lend/lease deal and the RN took her over as a sloop.

Petty Officer Edward Handley had returned to Britain from his frightening experiences in the Med., had a good spell of leave, and then joined the Sennen on 1 July 1942, operating out of Londonderry.

Four months later, in November 1942, he was back in the Med., this time supporting the Allied landings in North Africa. In the spring of 1943 Sennen returned to Atlantic convoy duties.

On 19 May 1943, HMS Sennen in company with HM Frigate Jed and her sisters HMS Spey and HMS Wear came up from the rear of the convoy and sighted the U-954 on the surface. The submarine fired her torpedoes prior to crash diving, fortunately no shipping was hit. It was not long after this that the submarine was located by Jed, and she and HMS Sennen sank the boat using their Hedgehog mortars. All 47 crew were lost, including Peter Dönitz, the younger son of Admiral Dönitz, who was serving as a watch officer.

Later that year the build up of our  Eastern Fleet began and Sennen was ordered eastwards, still escorting convoys. Ships would assemble at Mombasa, Kenya and be escorted across the Indian Ocean to Ceylon.

They were busy years, 1941-45, but far less dangerous than the previous two. Edward Handley left the Sennen on 7 December 1945.
The war ended, and Sennen returned to Britain, to send her crew ashore at Chatham and await the return to the US Navy in 1946. Eight out of ten cutters were returned. It while CPO Edward Handley was serving in HMS Sennen, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

CPO Handley is cited on page 2884 in the supplement to the London Gazette of 11 June 1946.


Edward Handley died in 1966, the oil that he had swallowed when HMS Juno was sunk in the Mediterranean having greatly contributed to his death. Five years after leaving the Royal Navy, having completed 24 years of service, Mr Handley in 1956 underwent a nine-hour operation to remove part of his lung. From then on he was a frequent inpatient of hospital until he died at the Mount Hospital, Bishopstoke, Hampshire. He is buried at the Leigh Road Cemetery, Eastleigh.


Edward's family has a long association with the sea. His father, John Henry Handley, was a fisherman, and later worked as a harbour boatman at Dover docks. He was born in Dover in 1862, and died in 1921. John's father was Nathaniel George Handley, born 1836 in Dover, captain of a smack. He lost his life at the age of 60 in an accident in Dover Harbour. Both are buried at St Mary's, as is John's grandfather, Edward's great-grandfather, George Thomas Dyer Handley, who died in 1874.

George Handley was born 1815 at East Stonehouse, Devon. He was a mariner fisherman, and the only surviving child of the family born in Devon, another son born there in 1813 having died in infancy. George's other three siblings were all born in Dover.

George's father, Edward's great-great-grandfather, George Baker Handley, married to Mary in 1809, was born in Dover in 1786, and was also a mariner fisherman. He died in the Alms House in Dover in 1860 and is buried at St Mary's, Cowgate.

Edward's son, Shaun, was born in Dover, but the family evacuated during the Second World War.  Edward's son, grandson, and great-grandson continue the family tradition by becoming mariners in their turn; a total of eight generations of sea-farers.

picture: Edward Handley with his son Shaun, c 1965, by courtesy of Shaun Handley


Nathaniel Handley

'Dover Express' Friday 14 November 1898

SAD DEATH OF A MASTER - On Wednesday evening Mr Handley, who for the last twenty years has been a smack Captain at Dover, met with his death under painful circumstances, He had taken his wife down to see a new vessel that had been fitted out, and in the darkness that surrounds the upper part of Wellington dock he tripped over something, and before the eyes of his wife was thrown into the water. He was quickly recovered, but the shock seemed to have killed him. The inquest was held at the Union Hotel yesterday afternoon by Mr. S Payn, borough coroner. Mr. Clout was chosen foreman of the Jury.
Mrs Handley said: The body at the dead house is that of my husband Nathaniel George Handley, master of a smack. He was 60 years of age. A smack was being fitted out for him named the 'Gem'. I went with him yesterday evening about seven o'clock. As we were going up Snargate Street my husband said "Come and see my new vessel", we went down to the quay, and it was very dark. I tried to persuade him to go when it was light, but he would not. We went straight down the passage, and I saw him fall over. I called for help, and a gentleman came, and another shipmaster came with a boat, and then got him out in less than four minutes. There was no lamp at the place. There was a post of wood sticking up, and he tripped and fell into the water head first.
Charles William, captain of the schooner 'Redtail', which was lying in the dock, said he heard screams of a woman. He ran up and heard a man shouting in the water. Witness at once pushed of in a boat and went to the spot. Deceased was then floating on the water, and was speaking. Witness partly got him hauled into the boat, and obtaining assistance he was got into the boat and pulled up on the quay. Witness told the men on the quay to try and make him sick. Witness went back to the ship, and then ran to see how the deceased was. He had been taken into the light, and the police and a doctor were at work on him. He was not in the water hardly a couple of minutes. The quay between this part and the coal shed is worst as far as the darkness is concerned, he had ever seen. The electric of the theatre makes the darkness, when out of light, a good deal worse.

Charles Dixson, a lad employed by Mr. Dennis, said he heard cries for help, and he went to the spot. He got into the witness boat, and helped to get the deceased out of the water. When they got him onto the quay they rubbed him, and he was sick. He was alive when in the boat.
Police Constable Company said that he was called to the spot. He found the deceased laying on the ground in Northampton Street. He was lying on his face. Witness at once sent for the doctor, and artificial respiration was used, but there were no signs of life. The efforts continued under the direction of Dr. Bird for three quarters of an hour, but with success. The body afterwards removed to the mortuary.
Dr. W. E. F. Bird said that he was called from Dr. Bert's surgery. He went at once, and found the deceased in the road, and that the last witness carrying on artificial respiration. It was carried on for three quarters of an hour, but there was never any signs of life. Witness considered that death was due to shock following the immersion.
The Coroner, in summing up, remarked that the only question appeared to be as to the lighting. This place was most inadequately lighted, and was used by men who had to go on to the vessels. It therefore ought to be protected by lights and a fence, and attention of the Harbour Board was drawn to this matter.
Verdict of "Accidental Death" was returned, with the request to the Coroner to communicate with the Harbour Board in regard to the lighting.

information and images with thanks to Shaun Handley


Copyright 2012 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved