Captain Brian J. Adams Royal Navy 1940-2022
Good afternoon everyone.
Our Dad always said that the best parties were in the smallest places, he liked everyone packed in, and we have certainly achieved that in here today! Hopefully you are relatively comfortable, but it’s a testament to the man he was, and the lives he touched, that there are so many people here. Thank you all for coming as well as for your kind words and the vast number of letters, tributes and cards over the past three weeks.
I want to start with a few, specific, ‘thank yous’.
Firstly, to Barlie for her words and most importantly for the huge role she has played in our dad’s later life. It was a big comfort to both Vicki and me that he found love again with Barlie. The Reverend Andrew Stamp married them on 29th April 2017. It was a special and loving partnership and she was a huge support to him right to the end. It’s an honour to have her in our family.
Secondly, a massive thank you to the community of Compton. He lived here for 40 years, and despite various postings abroad, his and our mum’s hearts were always in this village and in Lavender Cottage. It is an amazing community that has always been so appreciative of him, and was especially kind after his stroke in 2007 and our mum’s passing in 2008. Thank you.
Last, but by no means least, the Royal Navy. He spent 38 years in uniform and a further 12 years still involved with the RN in civilian clothes. It was his life. It was what defined him. It is an exceptional organisation with the most amazing people and thank you for all coming today in such large numbers!
In terms of writing this address, I’m lucky enough to have had a bit of help! Our dad spent around 2 years writing a book of his life, not for publication or general consumption, but for the benefit of Vicki and me. He writes in the forward: ‘I have tried to give a brief narrative of my life. I have decided to do this in the hope that Hugo and Victoria, who only really know me as their father, may find it interesting’.
I can tell you that it is well beyond interesting. It is absolutely fascinating. The fact it runs to 171 pages gives you a sense of the enormous breadth of his life and experiences. It is also reflective of his character that the book is titled ‘Just Another Naval Officer’ in his typical, self-deprecating way. It was certainly a ‘labour of love’. As many of you know, his IT and typing skills weren’t the best, especially with only one functioning arm!
My challenge has been to try and condense 82 years of the most unique, packed, exciting and varied life into the next 15 minutes. I won’t cover everything and I apologise in advance for the people and places I miss out, as well as undoubtedly getting some of the navy parlance wrong!
Our dad was born in 1940. London was being bombed nightly in the ‘Blitz’, Coventry Cathedral was virtually destroyed, Aintree Racecourse was ploughed as part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and butter, sugar, meat, clothing and petrol were all rationed.
His house in Upminster was literally in the firing line being on the German bomber flight path to the RAF fighter station in Hornchurch, so he, his younger brother Robin and his mother were evacuated to Wellingborough in Northamptonshire where they stayed for the remainder of the war.
Unfortunately after the war, our grandmother contracted an illness that affected her spine and she could spend months in hospital. When she wasn’t in hospital she was in a full body plaster cast. As a result, and due to our grandfather continuing to work in London, Dad and Robin were sent off to various children’s homes around Essex.
As the older sibling, Dad always had Robin’s back in these homes which he describes as ‘a bit of a Lord of the Flies’ existence and this sense of fierce loyalty and protection to his family and friends is a trait that endured throughout his life. It probably also helped develop his boxing, which he went on to do at school and in the early days in the Navy!
His secondary education took place at the City of London School, and our Dad told many stories of long summer holidays of cycling, tennis, the cinema and dances at the Guild of our Saviour with a very wide circle of friends. Throughout this time he always wanted to be a Royal Navy Officer and was delighted when he was awarded a naval scholarship to Dartmouth in 1956, aged 16.
In our family we tend to overlook this achievement as he always emphasised his ‘cavalier approach to schoolwork’, encouraging us to work rather harder than he did. Shortly after his success with Dartmouth he received his GCE results and was somewhat dismayed to find he’d only passed two of the seven subjects he had taken. He was held down a year in Class 5C, known as ‘The Veterans’, and although he did go onto pass another 4 GCE subjects on re-takes, we would regularly joke that the only academic qualifications he had to his name were 2 O-Levels. To be honest, this was quite helpful when it came to Vicki and I doing our exams as it didn’t set the benchmark of success too high!
He started at the Royal Navy College Dartmouth in April 1958. His first impression of the college was how smart and polished everything was, including the people. The officers on the staff all appeared very keen, highly professional, tough and not ready to suffer fools gladly.
The last part of this became clear quickly, when on Day 5 he was late for something and was given 3 days punishment, extended by 2 days for a further transgression. 3 weeks into his time at Dartmouth he wrote in his diary:
‘Life in this place is decidedly pleasant. Food is good and, providing one remains on the ball all the time, things run smoothly. If you slack, then it’s bloody awful’.
Certainly we were brought up with the mantra ‘5 minutes early is on time and on time is late’. Whenever he drove us to the train for school, we would inevitably get the one before we’d planned as he’d always get us there so early! These were traits ingrained with him aged 18, continued throughout his life and passed on to both Vicki and me!
Anyway, he clearly loved Dartmouth and enjoyed equal measures of training and sport. He made a number of lifelong friends, and it’s a pleasure that Peter Libby will be reading a poem shortly. He also had some great adventures, whether it was making, as he put it, the ‘mistake’ of signing up for a Royal Marine cliff climbing course in Snowdonia (again with Peter), or ending up in a jail cell on a beach in Barbados on his 20th birthday (literally the most convenient place to sleep the night apparently).
His first appointment after Dartmouth was HMS Houghton of the 104th Minesweeping Squadron, based in Singapore in 1960, where he quickly worked out that his tweed suits did not suit the climate!
From his perspective the ‘sweepers’ were great fun as they provided early command and training opportunities for young officers and you could apparently make mistakes and somehow get away with it.
Again there were lots of adventures, from the Commander’s wife falling off the jetty in her silk ballgown into the Singapore Dockyard waters as he brought the boat alongside, to getting shot at whilst on a midnight sail from the Rangoon Sailing club, as well as chasing and capturing pirates off Jesselton (now known as Kota Kina Balu). He was, in his words, ‘living the champagne and caviar lifestyle on beer and skittles money’.
His time on HMS Houghton was a key highlight of his career: He served with some outstanding individuals both in the wardroom and on the lower deck and it is fantastic that some of those people are here today.
In 1962, our father started his flying training, something he had always wanted to do in the RN, with the Observer course at HMS Falcon in Malta. This included navigation exercises to places like Majorca for the weekend, Sicily for fun and Libya to collect duty free booze for Christmas. As he wrote: ‘We played hard and I’m not sure that we worked all that hard’.
At the end of the course, he had to choose one of four flying options and chose the Sea Vixen, mainly because helicopters seemed boring and Yeovilton was the closest air station to London.
It’s easy to idealise the flying days, and I certainly have a mental image based on Tom Cruise in Top Gun in my head. Some of this is certainly true. Dad has a photograph album from these days, mainly of very attractive ladies with silk headscarves and convertible MGs in hot climate locations. Every time he brought it out, he would always preface it with: ‘of course, this was before I met your mother’.
However, flying from an aircraft carrier was a very dangerous job and at night and at sea, probably amongst the most dangerous in the world. A minor malfunction could turn into a fatal accident and between 1960 and 1970 no less than 51 aircrew sadly lost their lives.
Our Dad had at least a couple of hairy moments with both tyres blowing out on landing on a flooded runway in Singapore and another time when the arrester hook failed and his Vixen was caught by the backup nylon net, which successfully prevented a very watery ending. There were a few other ‘alarming incidents’ but he emerged unscathed from 890 squadron on HMS Ark Royal in Nairobi and subsequently 892 squadron on HMS Centaur in the Far East.
An anomaly on an ECG in 1966 unfortunately led to him being permanently grounded, which although disappointing for him, was uniquely fortunate for Vicki and me as in January 1967, he was sent on the Lieutenant’s Greenwich Course, where he met our mother. Our Mum was straight out of university and on the Wren’s officer training course. They stayed in touch whilst he was on HMS Lynx and HMS Abdiel, getting back together when he was at HMS Mercury and she was stationed at HMS Collingwood in 1968.
They were married at Reading Registry Office on 31st December 1970, which he describes as undoubtedly the smartest thing he ever did. I’m not sure the date was necessarily the smartest thing though as they always struggled to get a babysitter on new year’s eve so that they could go out for their wedding anniversary! They were, however, a very powerful partnership, especially on his various international appointments and they made a very strong team.
During this period in the early 70s, Dad was working on HMS Antrim, which was nearing completion in a civilian shipyard in Glasgow and subsequently went on to sea trials and operational exercises.
From here, he was appointed to Bermuda to HMS Malabar as Staff Officer Operations and Communications and Flag Lieutenant, which, despite sounding idyllic, was by far the most demanding of his appointments in the RN. There were countless minor incidents to sort out, as well as Prince Charles arriving with HMS Minerva on a six month deployment, for which he was responsible for planning the programme. It was also here in Bermuda that I made my arrival.
From there he was appointed to HMS Penelope as First Lieutenant, based in Devonport, which is where Vicki was born and we were both christened on the ship.
Shortly after this he was selected for promotion to Commander on 31st December 1977 and a near two year stint at RAF Rudloe Manor.
This was followed by Denmark where he worked for NATO as Assistant Chief of Staff Communications and Electronics, working closely with lots of different nationalities including Germans, Danes, Americans and Canadians as well as the British. He always enjoyed working with different nationalities and Denmark and Viborg were a lovely place to live. This international posting was one of a few more to follow.
On return to the UK, he was appointed to the Ministry of Defence on the staff of the Director of Naval Manpower and Training, which happened to coincide with the Falklands conflict. This resulted in everyone working in specialist groups on a 24 hour shift basis. When not at work he was mainly to be found in his favourite pub called the Two Chairmen and I know at least some of you were there with him!
From here he went to be the Commander at HMS Collingwood, which is the biggest naval training establishment in Europe with around 200 officers and around 3,000 ratings. This was quite a revelation for me as it was always surprising the level of respect he had from everyone he worked with – certainly a much greater level of respect than we gave him at home ! He was always able to balance a position of rank and authority with a lack of ego that made him genuine, authentic and has resulted in so many long lasting relationships. The picture on the back of your order of service is from HMS Collingwood, as I’m sure you’ve already worked out from the bell.
Two diplomatic postings followed. He was appointed as the Naval Adviser to the British High Commissioner in India from 1987 to 1990 and the Defence Adviser to the British High Commissioner in Australia from 1992 to 1995, with an appointment at HMS Centurion as Captain Naval Drafting in between.
The international appointments were fantastic. He says he had never really considered a role in the diplomatic world, but I’m sure we would all agree he was exceptionally well suited to it. His tact, natural diplomacy and ability to get on with everyone he met was unique. He and our mum worked as an outstanding team, entertaining, building relationships and networks as well as making the most of both locations. They travelled extensively and we were also often lucky enough to be joined by our aunt Rosalie and cousins Ben and Eloise making for the most superb family holidays.
Our dad retired from the Navy on 16th April 1996 just after his 56th birthday and I know how grateful he was to the Navy for a succession of extremely interesting and often unusual appointments, surrounded (and I quote) by honourable men and women of integrity, loyalty and honesty.
After the Navy, he applied and was successful for the post of Employment Liaison Officer for the Navy. Again, this suited him perfectly, with his huge and enviable network of contacts, working closely with headhunters and other individuals seeking the right person for a particular post. I know he got enormous satisfaction from matching people to the right role and being part of someone’s civilian transition and success story.
It was his stroke on 12th December 2007, which put an end to his employment. This clearly, was hugely traumatic, but he dedicated himself to his rehabilitation with his usual tenacity and steadfastness. At this point, our mum also knew she was not going to beat her ovarian cancer and together, with the help of some specialists also here today, they set about returning him to self-sufficiency so that he could continue to live in Lavender Cottage when she was no longer around to support him – what an incredible team.
And so onto village life!
I’m sure those of you from Compton would agree that Dad has always been a key part of village life. Personally, I think the reason the woodshed is so meticulously stacked is that it gave him a great excuse to stand and chat to everyone that walked past. He would often go out to do the gardening and return with very little gardening having been done.
Anyway, whether it was chatting over the wall, the trips to collect The Daily Telegraph from the shop, or Friday Fish and Chips in the Coach and Horses he would always stop and talk. He had time for everyone and everyone had time for him.
He also maintained and relished the naval network. His highlight of each month was the Navy lunches which he co-founded at the Coach and Horses. He absolutely loved these events, as well as catching up with all his old navy contacts and colleagues, either locally, in the Army and Navy club on Pall Mall or further afield. The naval network is truly unique.
Lastly from me, and as I mentioned at the beginning, I want to pay tribute to his and Barlie’s relationship and subsequent marriage. They found enormous strength in each other and I believe that Barlie literally gave Dad a new lease of life and a renewed sense of purpose. It was such a pleasure to see him so happy over the past 5 years with her and we will be always grateful for the support she gave him, right up to the end.
Our Dad was warm and kind, welcoming, interested in everyone whether great or small, social without needing to commandeer attention, and full of fun.
The very final words I’m going to leave to our dad. This is the last paragraph of his book, written in 2014:
‘During my lifetime I have enjoyed a most generous helping of good fortune. Possibly more so than many. Sometimes people speak of a successful life or a successful career. The problem lies in the perception of what ‘successful’ means. For me, my life has been inordinately successful. I was lucky enough to be happily married for 38 years to a wonderful woman and between us we produced two very able and well balanced children who now have families of their own. Others may judge the success or otherwise of my career. I live in what many describe as the prettiest house in a lovely village. I am now fully retired and have a good leavening of friends in the village and especially within that strongest of all networks around where I live, the Royal Navy. I, therefore, recognise that my luck still holds as things could be a hell of a lot worse. Either way you have to play the hand you are dealt and I like to think that I used the cards I was given to the best of my ability. I also believe that in spirit I continue to be what I have always been throughout my working life.
Just Another Naval Officer’.