CPO Edward Arthur Handley
TWICE IN TWO MONTHS"
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
'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
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
Verdict of "Accidental Death" was returned, with the request to
the Coroner to communicate with the Harbour Board in regard to
information and images with
thanks to Shaun Handley