Sub-Lieutenant Henry Staveley Pilkington SHAW

Royal Navy
H.M.S. "Opal." 
Service Number:
Date of Death:
12 January 1918
Memorial Ref.:

Personal History:

Henry was born in Paddington, London, on the 22nd April 1897, the son of Arthur Pilkington Shaw (Barrister) [see Footnote below] and Mary Anna Da Costa (née Ricci) Shaw. In 1901 the family was living at 'Whitehall', Fernilee, Buxton, Derbyshire. Henry had an older brother, John Arthur Pilkington (Census RG 13/3273) CWGC Records show that after the War his parents moved to Burfield Lodge, Old Windsor, Berks.

In 1911 Henry was a 'Student' at the Royal Naval College, Chatham, Kent. (Census RG 14/5694) His parents were staying at the Norfolk Hotel, Harrington Road, South Kensington, London. (Census RG 14/115) After his death Henry's Probate Records show his home address still at 'Whitehall' and he left £263 12s 2d (£263.61) to his brother. [A relative value of about £11,200 today - 2014.]

Military History:
Henry enlisted in the Royal Navy in January 1910 and was based in Training Establishments
until the outbreak of War. On the 31st July 1914 he gained his "Seniority as a Midshipman"
and on the 2nd August joined the complement of HMS Minerva. On the outbreak of the First
World War in August 1914, Minerva was part of the 11th Cruiser Squadron based in Ireland,
but was detached to join the 5th Cruiser Squadron in September, with the responsibility of
intercepting enemy merchant shipping trying to return to Germany or Austria. During these
operations, off Finisterre, it captured and scuttled the Austrian merchant ship Bathori.

Minerva escorted a troop convoy from Britain to Egypt in November 1914, and formed part of
the Allied naval forces supporting the Gallipoli Campaign. When the Turkish torpedo-boat
Demirhisar attempted to attack Allied troop ships near Chios on the 16th April 1915, Minerva,
together with the destroyers Jed, Kennet and Wear, forced Demirhisar to run aground, where
the Turkish boat was later destroyed. Minerva also supported the landing at Cape Helles in
April and at Suvla Bay in August.

Henry's Service Record shows that he was promoted to "Acting Sub-Lieut." on the 15th May 1916, and six months later, on the 18th November, made a full "Sub-Lieutenant". He left the Minerva, according to her logbook, on the 17th June 1916, in Colombo. The logbook entry for that day is:

"Hands employed cleaning ship.
9.30 a.m.: Discharged Eng. Lieutenant Commander May, Sub Lieutenants Taylor, Shaw, Morley, Robinson, Morgan, Walker & Painter for passage to England in P&O SS Morea." [The SS Morea was an armed merchant cruiser, built in 1907.] While Henry was on the Minerva the ship gained the battle honours 'Suez Canal' and 'Dardanelles'.

On the 2nd August 1916, having returned home, Henry was posted to HMS "Actaeon for P13". [HMS Actaeon was a hulk, originally the 50-gun HMS Vernon, that formed part of the Navy's torpedo school. 'P13' refers to a 'P' class patrol boat, 613 tons, 244.5 feet (74.5 m) long, 1 x 4 in (10 cm.), 1 x 2 pdr. (0.91 kgs.)  guns, and 2 x 14 in. (35.5 cm.) torpedo tubes. She was launched on the 7th June 1916.]

The next entry on his Record is dated 14th May 1917 and reads: "Victory for TCC in Vernon" (HMS Victory the shore base at Portsmouth where there were gunnery and torpedo schools, the latter were located at HMS Vernon. 'TCC' meant he was on a 'Torpedo Control Course'.) According to another Sub-Lieutenant's experience of the course: "H.M.S. Vernon comprises three old wooden hulks "relics of the days of Nelson" and they are moored at the head of Portsmouth Harbour, and connected bow to stern by broad gangways. These ships collectively form the torpedo school of the Navy, and nearly every N.O. at some period of his career undergoes a course of instruction here." [see Source reference below]

As was usual, Henry completed the  course in five days and on the 20th May he was transferred to the books of HMS Diligence for service aboard HMS Opal. [HMS Diligence was a destroyer depot ship; HMS Opal, was a Destroyer launched 11th September 1916, which had taken part in the Battle of Jutland.]

Henry served on the Opal until on the 12th January 1918, in northern Scottish waters, on the east side of South Ronaldsay island, Orkney Islands (c 58-45'N, 02.50'W) she ran aground and was wrecked outside Scapa Flow during a violent gale and snowstorm.

HMS "Opal" had joined her sister-ship "Narbrough" and the light cruiser Boadicea took part in a night patrol to hunt German auxiliary warships suspected to be laying mines on the Scottish coast. By 5.30 p.m. the weather had deteriorated so much that Boadicea ordered Opal and Narborough back to Scapa Flow while she continued alone. The two ships went off course and both struck the cliffs at Hesta Head, near Windwick, South Ronaldsay. "Opal" sent regular reports on the two ships progress but at 9.27 p.m. a final message was received to say that she had "run aground". When rescue ships could finally reach the site - on the Clett of Crura, Orkney - both ships were found wrecked and deserted.

Eventually one survivor - William Sissons - was found on a nearby island, after clinging to the rocks for 36 hours.
He reported that for several hours both ships had made slow, steady progress home, but suddenly ran aground
on rocks. According to William Sissons, Lt. Henry Shaw was on the bridge of H.M.S. Opal at the time the vessel
stranded. The cause was thought to be probably due to a navigation error by Opal's captain, Lt Cmdr Charles
Caesar de Merindol Malan. [pictured right] William Sissons was the only survivor and 188 men lost their lives.
Both ships eventually broke up on the rocks. The bodies of 10 men from H.M.S. Opal were recovered and are
buried at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Orkney.

Footnote: one of Lieut. Shaw's shipmates was Engine Room Artificer Ernest Stanley Cubiss who had married his sweetheart Florence Ethel in June 1917. In 2007 an amateur diver, Peter Brady, recovered Stanley's wedding ring whilst diving on the wreck of "Opal" and subsequently returned it to his family.


· Henry's father, Arthur Pilkington Shaw, was the brother of Major Harold SHAW, 1st Battalion,
  Lancashire Fusiliers - killed in action 4 June 1915

· I am grateful to Robert (Great War Forum) for the photo of Henry from 'The Sphere' Magazine
· I am also grateful to 'seaJane', Simon Mills, 'KizmeRD', 'michaeldr' and 'rolt968', via the Great
  War Forum, for interpreting Henry's Service Record and other information about his Service.
· "From Snotty to Sub" - Wolstan Beaumont Charles Weld-Forester. (2013).(Originally 1918) pp. 116-7

Link to CWGC Record
Lt Shaw's name on the Portsmouth memorial
HMS Opal at Jutland
HMS Opal at Jutland
Ó IWM SP2017
The Portmouth Navel Memorial
Sub-Lt Henry Shaw
about this story
H.M.S. Minerva