Lt Cdr A. Derek A. Lawson RNVR
Part I: Atlantic and Arctic Escort on HMS Beverley and HMS MIddleton October 1940 - April 1944
Arnold Derek Arthur Lawson was born on the 4 October 1907, the son and grandson of opthalmic surgeons. His grandfather, George Lawson, was
Surgeon Oculist to Queen Victoria and his maternal grandfather, Sir
Andrew Clarke, general surgeon to Prince Albert. His
father, Sir Arnold Lawson (1867-1947), was an opthalmic surgeon at
various London Hospitals and the family lived at 12 Harley Street
where Derek (he was always known as Derek) grew up with his brother and sister. He seemed destined to enter the medical profession but told his daughters he was terrified of the sight of blood. He went to Eton and from there to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied law. He
had wanted to join the Navy but his father told him "the Navy was no profession for a gentleman". Despite this, when Sir Arnold was appointed
Opthalmic Consultant to the Navy in 1940, he refused to take any
fee for his services, saying that it was his contribution to the branch
of the Forces in which his son served.
Derek Lawson was twenty-nine and single when he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer
Supplementary Reserve [attached to London Division RNVR] on the 8 March
1937. Arthur Guyon Prideaux, his successor as CO of HMS Venomous,
also a lawyer in civil life followed exactly the same route to becoming
an officer in the RNVR. He must have completed his officer training
before the outbreak of was since he was graded temporary (hostilities
only) lieutenant in the RNVR on the 23 November 1939 and by the 23
September 1940 was stationed at HMS Seaborn, the Royal Navy shore base (a stone frigate) at Halifax, Nova Scotia, prior to joining HMS Beverley,
an elderly "four stacker" destroyer transferred from the USN to the RN
under the lend-lease programme.
Derek Lawson was a keen photographer
and his fine photographs taken with a Leica illustrate this account of his service in the Royal Navy.
Although it is easy to trace the movement of his ships and most of the
photographs have captions they are undated making it difficult to
identify when they were taken.
As a result it has only been possible to give an approximate time scale
and I would welcome help in adding further details to the story told in
**** **** **** **** **** ****
Lt A.D.A. Lawson RNVR joined HMS Beverley in October 1940 soon after his arrival at Halifax. Eric Coleman, a rating on HMS Beverley, was not impressed:
were four Destroyers tied up, in two pairs alongside, in Halifax
Dockyard. They had four funnels, a very tall mast and very narrow beam.
Not the best combination to face the rigours of the Atlantic weather.
The mess was in the bows, with bunks for sleeping and not hammocks. In
fact everything for maximum discomfort at sea. The equipment was all
American and we spent a week getting familiar with its operation and
location. The mess coffee pot was never switched off.
We had lots of assistance from a
small crew of US sailors and the second week was spent at sea, making
sure all was well. We then sailed for the UK with the other three
boats, via St Johns, Newfoundland. Three made it, one returning to
Halifax with engine trouble. My guess about the sea-going qualities
soon proved correct, as during the trip to St. Johns we seemed to do
everything except turn over. We eventually arrived in Belfast, where
quick repairs were carried out and various pieces of RN equipment
fitted. These included a very early Radar set with the aerial on top of
the mast, which was rotated by a hand-wheel in the office, through a
After crossing the Atlantic HMS Beverley
spent two months in the naval dockyard at Devonport, Plymouth, being
refitted as an escort destroyer before she commenced her
duties as a local escort in the North Western Approaches in January 1941 but
engine problems led to a further refit for this elderly destroyer on
Tyneside between March and April.
The scrambling net is out and the whaler is being lowered - to rescue survivors? Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Derek Lawson wearing duffel coat on bridge of HMS Beverley (left) and signalman with officer Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
In June 1941 she was sent to Havelfjord,
the large natural harbour on the south coast of Iceland, where
destroyer escorts refueled or were repaired while lying alongside the
destroyer depot ship, HMS Hecla. It was probably during this period that the following incident occurred.
A drifting steamer with DEMS Gun on stern and foreign flag is brought to safety at Havelfjord, Iceland Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
In September 1941 HMS Beverley joined the 8th Escort Group at Londonderry,
Northern Ireland, escorting convoys on the West African route. The
photograph taken on the River Foyle shows her four funnels, mounted two by two, which
identify her as an American "four stacker" transferred to
the Royal Navy under the "Lend Lease Agreement". The skyline of Londonderry with the Guildhall on the
far right and the city quays in front is easily recognisable.
The crowded harbour scene at Londonderry with HMS Beverley in Arctic camouflage berthed alongside on right Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
On the 12 April 1942 HMS Beverley
left Iceland as part of a strong escort for Convoy PQ.14 to Murmansk in
Arctic Russia where they arrived on the 19 April. They returned
escorting the same ships in Convoy OP.11 and were joined on the 30
April by the cruiser, HMS Edinburgh, with five million ponds of gold bullion taken aboard in Murmansk to pay the USA for war aid. Edinburgh was ahead of the convoy when hit by two torpedoes fired by U-456. She attempted to return to Murmansk but on the 1 May was subjected to
six further attacks by aircraft and German destroyers. HMS Beverley, Bulldog and Beagle fought of these attacks (see press cutting). Further attacks
followed the next day and Edinburgh had to be abandoned after being hit by a torpedo from the destroyer Z25. HMS Beverley and Amazon took the injured crew members to Iceland.
Derek Lawson was Mentioned in Despatches (MID) for his behaviour during
this action and the CO, Lt Cdr John Grant RN, was awarded the DSO.
The COs of HMS Bulldog, Beagle and Amazon also received the DSO. There are no photographs recording the action during this the most
dramatic period of Derek Lawson's service aboard HMS Beverley apart from the photograph of HMS Amazon
taking the injured to Iceland through floating ice (below) but his
album contains several press cuttings and a naval message from HMS Bulldog.
Naval message sent by HMS Bulldog on the 1 May 1942 to the CinC H Force, Whitehall Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Lt Derek Lawson RNVR aboard HMS Beverley (left) and a press cutting reporting on the part played by HMS Beverley, Bulldog , Beagle and Amazon on May Day Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
The Pennant Number H39 identifies this warship amidst drifting ice as HMS Amazon Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Derek Lawson left HMS Beverley while under repair at Belfast in June 1942 but did not join HMS Middlleton until October and a year later on the 11 November 1943 HMS Beverley was torpedoed by U-188 and there were only four survivors out of the ship's company of 155.
Derek Lawson joined HMS Middleton (L74),
a new Type II Hunt Class destroyer commissioned in January, on the 3 November
1942 and was made First Lieutenant, "No 1" (or "Jimmy the One") on the 13 January 1943.
The Hunt Class were designed as convoy escorts with lighter armament
and a lower speed than destroyers for Fleet work. They were short range
escorts, mainly used with East Coast Convoys and in the Mediterranean.
They were ordered in
1939 and 86 were eventually built and named after British fox hunts.
The Type II Hunt Class corrected a design fault in the Type I by
increasing the beam width to increase stability. Their main armament
were three twin mounted dual purpose (DP) quick firing (QF) 4 inch guns which could be
elevated to provide ant-aircraft fire, one at the bow in 'A' position
and two at the stern, 'X' and 'Y' Guns. There were no torpedoes on the
Type II Hunts. HMS Middleton was built by Vickers Armstrong on the Tyne and named after a Yorkshire fox-hunt.
Lt. Charles Shelly Battersby, RN (on right) was appointed CO on the 29 September 1942 on her return to Scapa with Convoy QP.14 from Archangel. HMS Middleton was his first command and Derek Lawson was the CO's right hand man, responsible for everything which
went on aboard ship. Is this why he photographed his fellow officers and the men on Middleton
and mounted their photographs in a cloth bound album with hand written captions for each page and, sometimes, for each
photograph? He had not recorded his time on HMS Beverley so thoroughly but he was only one of several lieutenants on Beverley, not "No 1" responsible for seeing that everything on the ship was done according to the wishes of his CO.
Officers on HMS Middleton "Doc" Balfour took the photograph
For details of their service careers click on the links below:
Surg Lt Harry M. Balfour RNVR had been blown up on his two previous destroyers, Windsor and Holderness, and joined HMS MIddleton
on the 14 January 1943, the day after Derek Lawson was promoted to
"Number One". He summed up the First Lieutenant in the following words:
qualified barrister, he possessed a brilliant mind and a perceptive
sense of humour. He coupled his intelligence with the sort of courage
and stamina that comes from total belief in one's own self and
He had slightly curled dark hair which, by some special dispensation
from Divine Providence, remained unruffled after days and nights of
Arctic weather, piercing blue eyes, an aquiline nose; and the habit of
holding his head backwards and to one side with an expression that
conveyed, in the kindest and most understanding way, his firm belief
that you too were human.
I always pictured him in an elegant
Mayfair 'salon', dispensing both wit and wisdom and holding a glass of
champagne about which, after one sip, he knew more than his host. In a
previous era he would have leaned, quietly relaxed, in the corner of
his tumbril, watching the crowds with that same tilted head and
News quickly spread around the ship
that a member of the legal profession had joined, and that the messdeck
'sea lawyers' should beware.
Four CW Candidates joined them at Scapa the next day, among them eighteen year old Mike Alston, the 'biographer' of HMS Middleton (see below).
Derek Lawson with "A" Gun's Crew Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
"A" Gun is the most distinctive feature on many of the photographs of HMS Middleton
and naturally seemed the most popular place to have ones photograph
taken. Lt Cdr Battersby posed with his wife (cropped out from the
picture above) beneath the twin barrels of "A" Gun to have their
photographs taken by his "No 1". Lawson took a group photograph of his
"Captain" and fellow officers from other end and then handed the camera
to "Doc", Lt Surgeon Browning RNVR, and joined the group for the
photograph shown here. He looks less at ease posing with the Crew of
"A" Gun with the Gun Captain on his right.
It is very difficult to relate the
photographs in his album to specific events even though the location
where they were taken is usually given. During his fifteen months as
First Lieutenant HMS Middleton
was mainly used as an escort for Atlantic and Arctic convoys and his
album includes photographs taken in Iceland at Havelfjord, near the
cross-over point of escorts for the convoys to Canada, and at
Seidesfjord, the assembly point for convoys to Murmansk in Arctic
Russia, but she also spent time at Scapa Flow and in the Shetland Islands. Middleton
was a short range escort and since it was usually too rough to refuel
at sea in the Arctic she would accompany convoys to Russia from the
assembly point in Loch Ewe to just beyond the Arctic Circle and then
escort the returning convoys home.
The 1st Sea Lord, Albert Victor Alexander (1885-1965),
later the First Earl Alexander of Hillsborough, a Labour Politician who
was three times First Lord of the Admiralty and then Minister of
Defence under Clement Attlee, went on an Arctic Convoy in 1942 to see
for himself what conditions were like but the photograph of him below
was taken in January 1943 during a visit to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. HMS Middleton was part of the 17th Destroyer Flotilla based at Scapa Flow and Mike Alston, an eighteen year old CW Candidate doing his ten weeks sea training as an Ordinary Seaman (OD) on Middleton, remembers Alexander coming aboard. The photograph of the senior officers
with Lt Battersby was probably taken at about the same time, if not on HMS Middleton then on HMS Belfast.
Left: "A.V. Alexander, 1st Lord of the Admiralty and Naval Secretary", a curious double exposure with the battleship HMS King George V behind
Right: "Capt Parhamof HMS Belfast , Captain (Battersby), Rear Admiral Bob Burnett 'C.S. 10', 'Pinto' Foster Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Refueling from the battleship HMS King George V Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Wintery conditions at Seidesfjord and the motor cutter smashed by a gale Convoys
assembled at Seidesfjord on the north coast of Iceland before heading
North East with their escorts to Murmansk in Arctic Russia Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Murmansk Convoy after leaving Seidesfjord (top) Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
A peaceful scene at Havelfjord, Iceland Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Left: USS South Dakota at Havelfjord, Iceland
Right: The Revenge Class Battleship, HMS Royal Sovereign Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Petty Officers - the backbone of the Royal Navy - some with ribbon for service in the Great War From left to right: Martin, Rea, McBurney, Crockford, Almond Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
HMS Middleton at Shetland Courtesy of Caroline Turner (née Lawson)
Lt C.S. Battersby RN left HMS Middleton
on the 2 January 1944 and was replaced as CO by Lt. Ian Nagle Douglas
Cox, DSC, RN. Derek Lawson was promoted to Lt Cdr in February 1944 and
left HMS Middleton in April during a refit at Bristol to await a new posting. After fifteen months on HMS MIddleton,
mostly as "No 1" he could now expect to be given command of
his own ship. On the 12 April he married Flora Breckinridge
Fermor-Hesketh in Marylebone, London. He was appointed CO of HMS Venomous an
elderly V & W Class destroyer which had been in the hands of Silley
Cox, the commercial dockyard in Falmouth, since the previous October.
His future "No 1", Lt Frank Greenaway RNVR, was officer in command
during the refit. Venomous
had been taken out of the dockyard in March and put on a mud berth to
make way for more urgent work related to the imminent D-Day landings in
Normandy. There was no urgency about taking up his first command.
Acknowledgments Mike Alston joined HMS Middleton as an eighteen year old in 1943 and fifty years later wrote Destroyer and preserver The story of HMS Middleton and her ship's company - 1941-1946 (Maphigrada, 1993) drawing on the memories of his eighty fellow members of the HMS Middleton
Association. In 2013, seventy years after he joined Middleton, he was
presented with the Arctic Star by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, at 10 Downing Street.
The most detailed time lines recording events in the lives of HMS Beverley and HMS Middleton are on Naval History.Net http://www.naval-history.net And the service careers of the
officers who served on these ships can be viewed on
unithistories.com http://www.unithistories.com All the photographs are courtesy of Caroline Turner, daughter of Lt Cdr A.D.A. Lawson RNVR