World War One Victoria Cross hero honoured in Liverpool
A commemorative paving stone is to be unveiled in memory of a Liverpool man who was awarded the Victoria Cross during World War 1.
The stone will be laid at Princes Park in honour of Ronald Neil Stuart (1886 – 1954) who was awarded the honour on 7 June 1917 for actions whilst serving with the Royal Navy Reserve on board HMS Pargust, a converted Tramp Steamer. The ship was torpedoed by an enemy submarine but the actions of the crew ensured that it was able to retaliate by opening fire, sinking it.
Ronald was born into a seafaring family on 26th August 1886 at 31 Kelvin Grove, Toxteth Park and attended Liverpool Collegiate School before taking on an apprenticeship aged 15 years with local shipping company Joseph Steele & Co.
He went to sea in 1902 on board the barque ‘Kirkhill’ and later joined the Allan Line which was taken over by Canadian Pacific. In 1914, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a probationary Sub-Lieutenant and was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander RNR in 1918.
In March 1917, in an action almost identical to that described in Stuart’s VC citation below, Campbell earned his VC and Stuart was awarded his Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The action for which Capt. Ronald Neil Stuart received the Victoria Cross took place on 7th June 1917 when he was serving on board H.M.S Pargust, again with Campbell.
For the action of H.M.S. Pargust and Capt. Ronald Neil Stuart, the citation in the London Gazette reads:
“On the 7th June, 1917, while disguised as a British merchant vessel with a dummy gun mounted aft, H.M.S. “Pargust” was torpedoed at very close range. Her boiler-room, engine-room, and No. 5 hold were immediately flooded, and the starboard lifeboat was blown to pieces. The weather was misty at the time, fresh breeze and a choppy sea. The “panic party,” under the command of Lieutenant P. R. Hereford, D.S.C., R.N.R., abandoned ship, and as the last boat was shoving off, the periscope of the submarine was observed close before the port beam about 400 yards distant. The enemy then submerged, and periscope reappeared directly astern, passing to the starboard quarter, and then round to the port beam, when it turned again towards the ship, breaking surface about 50 yards away. The lifeboat, acting as a lure, commenced to pull round the stern; submarine followed-closely and Lieutenant Hereford, with complete disregard of the danger incurred from fire of either ship or submarine (who had trained a maxim on the lifeboat), continued to decoy her to within 50 yards of the ship. The “Pargust” then opened fire with all guns, and the submarine, with oil squirting from her side and the crew pouring out of the conning tower, steamed slowly across the bows with a heavy list. The enemy crew held up their hands in token of surrender, whereupon fire immediately ceased. The submarine then began to move away at a gradually increasing speed, apparently endeavouring to escape in the mist. Fire was reopened until she sank, one man clinging to the bow as she went down. The boats, after a severe pull to windward, succeeded in saving one officer and one man. American Destroyers and a British sloop arrived shortly afterwards, and the “Pargust” was towed back to port. As on the previous occasions, officers and men displayed the utmost courage and confidence in their captain, and the action serves as an example of what perfect discipline, when coupled with such confidence, can achieve.”
It was indicated that the whole of the ship’s crew deserved the Victoria Cross, but in accordance with the regulations governing the award, the men were only allowed to nominate one officer and one seaman by ballot – and Lieutenant Stuart DSO and AB William Williams DSM were chosen. He was 30 years old and his medal was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917.
He survived the war and pursued a naval career with Canadian Pacific, including the captaincy of the ‘Empress of Britain’, before giving up the sea in 1936 but continuing in a managerial role with the Company. He died in Kent and his medals are on display in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The commemorative stone is part of a national scheme run by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) which will see every World War One Victoria Cross recipient remembered in this way.
The event will be attended by Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Malcolm Kennedy, veterans and serving military representatives and also relatives of Ronald Neil Stuart.
The Lord Mayor said: “Ronald Neil Stuart displayed undeniable courage whilst also instilling confidence in his crew.
“It is important that his contribution to World War 1 is remembered and I am privileged to be able to attend the unveiling of his stone.
“It will be a permanent reminder of the incredible contribution that he made to the war effort and his role in making sure that more lives weren’t lost.”
Ronald is one of nine men from Liverpool who were awarded the Victoria Cross during World War 1 so a further 5 will be honoured in this way between now and December 2017. The next stone, for Pte William Ratcliffe VC, will be unveiled at 11am on Wednesday 14th June at Liverpool Parish Church.