b. 23/03/1883 Carlisle, Cumbria. d. 16/12/1967 Ascot, Berkshire.
Edward Courtney Boyle (1883-1967) was born on 23rd March 1883 in Carlisle, Cumberland, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Boyle, then serving in the Army Pay Department, and Edith (nee Cowley). He was educated at Cheltenham College, he entered HMS Britannia in 1897 and became a midshipman the following year. He was an early convert to one of the Navy’s newest branches, the Submarine Service. His abilities were such that he was given his first command, a Holland boat, as a 21-year-old sub-lieutenant.
His quiet authority and cool efficiency in handling submarines was duly noted. Promotion followed at regular intervals, and a succession of submarine commands followed. At the outbreak of war he was captaining D3 in the 8th Submarine Flotilla. His early North Sea patrols, which included what Admiral Keyes described as a “first class daring reconnaissance” into the shoals inside the Amrum Bank off the north German coast, were recognised by the award of a mention in despatches. As a further reward, Boyle was promoted lieutenant commander and given command of the E14, one of the Navy’s latest submarines. The following March, E14 was among three E-class boats sent from England to operate in the Dardanelles.
He would be awarded the Victoria Cross for his command of Submarine E. 14, when he dived his vessel under the enemy minefields and entered the Sea of Marmora on the 27th April, 1915. In spite of great navigational difficulties from strong currents, of the continual neighbourhood of hostile patrols, and of the hourly danger of attack from the enemy, he continued to operate in the narrow waters of the Straits and succeeded in sinking two Turkish gunboats and one large military transport.
Between April and August Boyle and E14 completed three successful cruises into the Sea of Marmora, each journey through the Dardanelles made more dangerous than the previous one by the ever-strengthened Turkish defences. During the return passage at the end of his third patrol, the E14 came perilously close to disaster. Having burst through a new anti-submarine net, she narrowly escaped being hit by two torpedoes fired from the shore, before scraping her way through the Turkish minefields to safety. Shortly afterwards, the E14 and her captain were withdrawn from the fray.
In all, Boyle had spent seventy days in the Marmora, and as well as enduring the prolonged strain of command in hostile waters, he had, like many of his crew, suffered bouts of dysentery and illness. The Royal Navy recognised his services by promoting him to commander, while Britain’s allies showered him with decorations. The French made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and the Italians gave him their Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus. But apart from the VC given for his first patrol, Boyle surprisingly received no further awards from his own country.
He continued to serve in submarines. By 1917 he was once more operating in the North Sea, in command of the new boat J5, in a flotilla which included the Navy’s Baltic ace, Commander Max Horton, DSO and Bar. Sadly, that same year, Boyle fought and lost a £31,000 claim in the Admiralty prize court for the “sinking” of the Guj Djermal. Ironically, the grounds for refusing him were not that the ship had survived the attack – so far as the Royal Navy was concerned, it had been destroyed – but that it was not “offensively armed”. Some months after the war, however, the Admiralty, still apparently none of the wiser as to the true fate of the vessel, reversed their decision. The end of the war found him in command of the Australian Submarine Flotilla. Two years later he was promoted captain.
During the next ten years, Boyle alternated sea-going commando with shore duties. He commanded, in turn, the cruisers HMS Birmingham and Carysfort and the aging battleship Iron Duke, while for two years he served as King’s Harbour Master at Devonport. Promoted rear-admiral in October 1932, he retired on a Good Service Pension. During the Second World War he served for a time as flag officer in charge, London.
In an active retirement, Rear-Admiral Boyle, a childless widower, who lived at Sunningdale Hotel, became an enthusiastic member of the local golf club. He died on 16th December 1967, as a result of injuries sustained the previous day when he was knocked down by a lorry on a pedestrian crossing. He was cremated at Woking Crematorium, Surrey. Twenty-one years after his death, in 1988, members of the Boyle family provided a fitting epitaph to the life of one of the Navy’s most gifted pioneer submariners, when they presented his Victoria Cross to HMS Dolphin, now the Royal Submarine Museum, Gosport, Hampshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL NAVY SUBMARINE MUSEUM, GOSPORT, HAMPSHIRE
BURIAL PLACE: WOKING CREMATORIUM, SURREY.
Thomas Stewart – VC Medal at the Royal Submarine Museum, Gosport and the Cheltenham College Memorial Board.
Tony Parrini – VC Stone in Carlisle
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – image of the VCGCA memorial at Woking Crematorium.