b. 23/07/1903 Kensington, London. d. 21/09/1940 Dagenham, Essex.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 16-21/09/1940 Dagenham, Essex.
Richard John Hammersley Ryan (1903-1940) was born on 23rd July 1903 in Kensington, London, the son of Admiral Frank Edward Cavendish and Eleanor Stuart Ryan (nee Campbell). His father served in the Royal Navy with distinction and was awarded the CBE. Richard was therefore pre-destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Royal Navy. In January 1917, he entered Osborne as a cadet, and became a midshipman in 1921 on the “Dunedin” and was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in 1924.
Further promotion to Lieutenant came the following year, and he served on “Royal Oak” and “Despatch” in China and then in 1928 he was appointed to specialise in torpedoes at Greenwich. He also served on the “Diomede” in New Zealand, where in 1933, he married Margaret Livingston. He then served on “Arethusa” as Squadron torpedo officer and then as fleet torpedo officer on the America and West Indies station before transferring to bomb disposal in London.
Lieutenant Ryan was highly regarded, and this was enhanced when he dismantled the first magnetic mine to be found. It was found in a crashed German aircraft on Clacton Sands and his discovery was a boon for the RMS teams. This was a C mine which contained hexanite explosive but it was the bomb’s fuse which presented the greatest danger to the men trying to defuse them as if the bomb had not exploded as intended it could be set off by the slightest movement. Ryan became an expert in rendering these mines safe often in wet and muddy conditions.
Between 16th-21st September 1940, when the first magnetic mines fell on London, Ryan with Chief Petty Officer Reg Ellingworth, came forward without thought for the perilous work of making them safe, although aware of the severe danger. Together they dealt with 6 of these mines, one of them in a canal where they were waist deep in mud and water, making any escape impossible. On 21st September 1940, they went to Dagenham, Essex to tackle a mine hanging by a parachute in a warehouse. Tragically it exploded, killing them both. They were both posthumously awarded the GC (London Gazette, 20th December 1940).
Ryan’s widow, Margaret travelled to Buckingham Palace to receive her husband’s George Cross. Richard was laid to rest in the Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery, Gosport, Hampshire with full military honours. His medal group is held privately.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: HASLAR RN CEMETERY, GOSPORT, HAMPSHIRE.
PLOT G, ROW 8, GRAVE 24.
Picture - Kevin Brazier
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier