b. 29/03/1908 Leighton, Wales. d. 20/04/1975 Mullion, Cornwall.
Stephen Haldane Beattie (1908-1975) was born in The Vicarage, Leighton, Montgomeryshire, Wales on 29th March 1908, the eldest of five children. His father was Reverend Prebendary Ernest Halden Beattie MC, MA, originally from Perth, Scotland, and mother was Ethel (nee Knowles). His father was awarded the MC as a Chaplain in the 1st Civil Service Rifles in World War I. During Stephen’s childhood, they moved regularly with parishes in Shropshire and Herefordshire before settling in Ross on Wye.
Educated at Rugby School, he decided on a career in the Royal Navy and was given direct entry in 1925 via the Royal Navy Training Ship “Thunderer”. He proved to be a popular officer. In 1933, as a Lieutenant, he married Philippa Blanchflower and they had four sons. Known to the family as “Ste”, it is not quite known why in the Navy he was known as “Sam”.
On the outbreak of war in 1939, he was serving on destroyers as a Lieutenant Commander and in 1940, took command of HMS Vivian, based at Rosyth in Scotland, operating as part of the defences for convoys in the North Sea as well as regular patrol work. On the night of 20th-21st September 1941, Vivian was part of the escort for FN21, a convoy of 16 ships. For his actions that night, he was Mentioned in Despatches.
In January 1942, he was ordered to stand-by for a transfer to a new destroyer, HMS Petard, then under construction on the Tyne. Before he could take up his command, he received the posting to HMS Campbeltown. The planned raid on St Nazaire was to see the refitted Campbeltown, armed with high explosives, to destroy the harbour. On the 26th March 1942, the flotilla involved in Operation Chariot, set sail from Falmouth. They then navigated the difficult passage into St Nazaire harbour. Under intense fire directed at the bridge from point blank range of about 100 yards, and in the face of the blinding glare of many searchlights, he steamed her into the lock-gates and beached and scuttled her in the correct position.
They came under further fire, and heavy shelling set the Campbeltown alight. Beattie managed to escape, and ended up in the water on ML177. They were eventually pulled out of the water by a German trawler. Beattie, wrapped in a blanket, when he reached shore was sure the mission had failed as the explosives had not gone off. The explosives eventually went off at 10.45am, and suddenly changed the mission into a massive success. Beattie was taken into captivity.
He spent the first part of his captivity in Frontstalag 133 at Rennes in France, before being moved to Germany. When in the German camp, Beattie was called forward along with Augustus Newman and was told that he was to be awarded the VC. He was only immediate award for the St Nazaire Raid (4 VCs were announced later including Newman). He remained in German captivity for the rest of the war before being released at Lubeck on 10th April 1945. In June 1945, he was presented with the VC by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. Promoted to Commander a week later, he remained in the Royal Navy and continued to serve on destroyers. He was promoted to Captain in 1951, and retired in 1960. For the last ten years of his working life, he held posts abroad, closely associated with his naval service. He retired to live in Cornwall in 1970.
Like many VCs, he was always reluctant to talk about his St Nazaire experience, although he did appear on a TV show in the early 1970s. Beattie died peacefully at his home, Salt House, in Mullion, Cornwall on 24th April 1975, and was laid to rest in Ruan Minor Churchyard, Cornwall. His medal group including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, France and Germany Star, British War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, French Croix de Guerre, Legion d’Honneur and the Order of Memelik (Ethiopia) was placed on loan to the Imperial War Museum, where they are still on display in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: RUAN MINOR CHURCHYARD, CORNWALL.
Stephen Beattie's medal group including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (Aug 2014)
Kevin Brazier (May 2016)