Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS VERSATILE

HMS Versatile

Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN
July 1930 – January 1933

Colin George Walter Donald (1904-40) served in three V & W class destroyers. After Osborne and the Royal Navy College, Dartmouth, and his Midshipman's seatime in the battleship HMS Malaya he joined HMS Venomous during her refit at Chatham in 1926 as Sub Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN. When he left in March 1928 he wrote in his Diary that "I am sorry to leave destroyers and more so to leave such a good ship as the Venomous".

After eighteen months as a Lieutenant in the Battleship HMS Barham keeping the peace in Palestine he joined HMS Versatile in July 1930. He met his future wife, the daughter of a former Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy, at Riga, capital of the independent state of Latvia,  while serving in Versatile. His third V & W, HMS Vimy, was his first command. He met his death on the  exposed open bridge of Vimy from a sniper's bullet while evacuating the Guards from Boulogne on the 23 May 1940. The evacuation is described in Chapter Five of A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous (2017) and on this page of the V & W Destroyer Associations websit

He left behind a wife and a three month old son, Frank Donald, who also served in the Royal Navy and is the source for the information and photographs on this page.


Versatile had four Commanding Officers between 1930 - 3

Cdr E G N Rushbrooke RN (July 1929 – 8 Nov 1930)
Capt J F B Carslake RN  (Nov 1930 – 4 Aug 1931)
Capt Hon  C A Herman-Hodge DSC RN (4 Aug 1931 – 10 Aug 1932)
Cdr R R McGrigor RN   (10 Aug 1932 -    )

Members of the Wardroom while Lt C.G.W. Donald RN was serving in HMS Versatile

Lt (E) T Clegg RN  (31 Dec 1929 – Aug 1932)
Gnr W G Cotgrove RN  (23 Jul 1931 -     )
Lt C G W Donald RN  (26 Jul 1930 – Jan 1933)
Sub Lt R C Freaker RNR (22 Mar 1930 – 1930)
Lt Cdr (E) H S Greenlaw RN (23 Aug 1932 -     )
Lt Cdr E P Hinton RN  (13 Apr 1931 -     )
Sub Lt W L Mayo RN  (27 Sept 1932 -     )
Lt H N Reid RN   (12 Apr 1930 – 1931)
Sub Lt G B Rowe RN  (1 Dec 1931 – 27 Sept 1932)
Lt Cdr A B Russell RN  (July 1929 – 1931)
Lt Cdr (E) J E Saunders RN (18 Dec 1930 – 1931)
Cd Gnr (T) H A Wilson  (10 Apr 1930 – July 1931)

Officers on the Bridge of HMS Versatile

Since their service overlapped the CO has been provisionally identified as Capt Carslake (Nov 30 - Aug 1931) and the "Sub" (below) as Sub Lt Reid (Apr 1930 - 1931)

On the bridge of HMS Versatile

The Versatile is keeping station on another ship,  the 'guide'. Captain Carslake is using the magnetic compass to check the bearing of the guide, while Sub Lt Reid is using a Stuart's Distance Meter to check the range. The Distance Meter would be set with the height of the guide's mast or bridge, and using a split image the range reading would be adjusted until the masthead/bridge top coincided with the guide's waterline. the photographs below of Versatile laying practice mines were taken in 1931.

Mine layingMine laying
Minelaying - click on the image to view full size
The mine rails can be seen running along the port side in the photograph on the left and the numbered practice mines are visible in the photograph on the right.

A number of the V & W Class ships were fitted with mine rails, so that they would be able act as fast minelayers to refresh the British minefields in the Heligoland Bight overnight. Britain acquired Heligoland from Germany in exchange for Zanzibar in 1890. The minefields lay between Heligoland and the mouth of the estuary of the Elbe where Hamburg, Germany's main port was located.The mines in the photograph on the right are buoyant practice mines, with identification numbers. The ship in the background is probably HMS Vortigern, D37, also with a deckload of practice mines."

Lowering the whalerCod fisherman
Lowering the whaler (left) and a successful catch
All photographs are reproduced courtesy of Frank Donald

To find out more about Lt Cdr Colin G.W. Donald RN click on the link to the account of his life on the website of the publisher of A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Versatile you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link:

If you have stories or photographs of HMS Versatile you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Frank Donald

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