STUART , Ronald Neil   [1886-1954]

Ronald Neil Stuart was one the most highly decorated naval officers of the First World War and was Liverpool’s only naval winner of the Victoria Cross in that conflict.

His father, Neil, hailed from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and during the American Civil War he served on ships which sought to break the blockade imposed on the South by the Union. This activity brought him to Liverpool and it was here that he met Mary Harrison Banks, a dressmaker plying her trade in the Dingle. Mary also came from a seafaring family, her father, John Andrew Banks being a master mariner. Neil and Mary travelled to Montreal to marry and then moved to the USA where he worked as a riverboat captain on the Mississippi. Deciding to return to Liverpool, after having four daughters, Ronald Neil Stuart was born on 26th August 1886 at 31 Kelvin Grove L8.

Ronald was educated at the Liverpool Collegiate Institution in Shaw Street. While he was a schoolboy his father moved the family from the quite well-to-do environs of Kelvin Grove to the less attractive location of 60 Underley Street L7 (now part of the site of Archbishop Blanch School). When his father died in 1898 Ronald was sent to work in an office to help support the family. He despised the job but stuck to it until an aunt paid for an officer apprenticeship in the Merchant Navy. He first went to sea in 1902 on the barque Kirkhill. In 1905 the Kirkhill was heading for the Falkland Islands after a failed attempt to round the Horn when it foundered and sank. All the crew made it to the lifeboats and were picked up after several hours adrift in the South Atlantic. the only thing Ronald Stuart salvaged from the sinking ship was his father’s sextant. this hair-raising experience did nothing to curb his enthusiasm for a career at sea and in 1912 he gained his Master’s Certificate and joined the Allan Line sailing between Liverpool and Montreal.

As a member of the Royal Naval Reserve he was initially assigned to the destroyer HMS Opposum but later transferred to what were known as Q ships. These were armed merchant ships which sought to lure U-boats to attack and then destroy them on the surface. Sailing in HMS Farnborough, Q-5, as first officer, he was involved in the sinking of U-83 in February 1917, an action for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In June 1917 Stuart was sailing on HMS Pargust, an old tramp steamer armed as a Q ship, which sank the u-boat UC-29. The king approved the award of two VC’s to the crew, one for an officer and one for a rating. The selection of who was to receive the award was determined by a vote amongst the crew. Ronald Stuart was duly chosen by his fellow officer to receive the VC.

Stuart was given his first command when he took charge of the sloop HMS Tamarisk. In an action in October 1917 he was instrumental in saving the USS Cassin after it had been torpedoed. For this he was to be awarded the US Navy Cross some ten years later in 1928.. It was in this action that an American seaman named Osmond Ingram was killed, becoming the first American casualty of the First World War.

Stuart ended the war as a Lieutenant Commander and returned to Liverpool and duty on luxury trans-Atlantic liners. Setting up his own house at 25 Carlingford Street L8 he met and married the daughter of a neighbour, Evelyn Wright, in 1919 at St. Clement Church, Toxteth. The couple then moved to the Wirral at 21 Haydock Road, Liscard. The couple had five children and in 1930 moved back to Liverpool, living at 19 Watergate Lane, Woolton L25. Sadly, they had only been there a short while when Evelyn died on 5 January 1931. Relying upon his sisters to look after his children he continued his career at sea, reaching the highest rank of the merchant navy when he became commodore of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company and took command of their flagship, the Empress of Britain. In 1936 he gave up his seafaring duties and took on managerial responsibilities with CPS. He retired in 1951 and went to live with his sisters Amy and Agnes in Kent. He died on 8 February 1954, aged 67.

31 Kelvin Grove L8

The Stuart's home when Ronald was born in 1886.

19 Watergate Lane L25

The Stuart's home when they moved back to Liverpool from the Wirral in 1930.


The Wikipedia entry is quite thorough and gives more detail on the various actions in which Stuart took part. By far the best source is James Murphy's excellent book Liverpool VC's [Pen and Sword 2008] which is a must for anyone interested in Liverpool's past.