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The Times: Rear-Admiral Wilfred Graham

soleil

War Hero
"Unflappable HMS Ark Royal captain known as ‘Big Wilf’ who became a household name in 1976 after a BBC documentary.

Wilfred Graham was known as a “good sport” by sailors in the HMS Ark Royal

*************************************************************************************************************************

Royal Navy carrier captains have to be prepared to turn their hands to anything, from overseeing a fast jet attack to schmoozing the most petulant VIP guests. They tour the multiple decks of their hulking warships each day to monitor morale and sniff out potential glitches.

“Big Wilf” Graham’s 18-month command of the fourth HMS Ark Royal, which began in March 1975, had an added burden in that it was subjected to the scrutiny of television cameras for John Purdie’s popular series Sailor, aired in 1976.

A military version of the Rod Stewart hit Sailing kicked off each episode’s candid account of the sometimes salty life of her 2,500-strong crew. Yet scenes of matelots lurching back on board after drunkenly roaring “get ’em off” at strippers (with little left to uncover) soon gave way to the painstaking training of the carrier’s Buccaneer and Phantom pilots, who had more than 2,000 catapult launches during the five-month deployment in the Mediterranean and US waters.

Britain watched as the unflappable Graham, sporting a white tropical uniform and shades, sat in his captain’s chair on the bridge, flipping between reading a tender letter from his wife and fielding technical queries about nearby shipping.

Quietly assured in his charismatic command of his men, he was also viewed as “a good sport” and was seen hauling a freshly landed second sea lord out of a rubber submersion suit as well as skipping around his cabin with two other officers rehearsing a camp rendition of Three Little Maids from School, with which he would entertain his sailors. It was the series that launched a thousand naval careers and made “Big Wilf”, as his crew called him, a household name.

This nickname came as a surprise to his family, who had known him as “Wid” ever since his little sister, Margaret, had first called him that as a child. He was born at the family home in Kilmacolm, near Glasgow, in 1925, the son of Bryce, who worked in shipping, and Jean, a keen sailor and golfer. He attended Rossall School, near Fleetwood, Lancashire, and fell in love with the sea during childhood summers spent sailing on his grandfather’s yacht.

After being bombed by the Luftwaffe, Britannia Royal Naval College was relocated from Dartmouth to Eaton Hall, Cheshire, and Graham entered as a cadet in 1943. He saw active service before peace was declared, serving as a midshipman in HMS Sheffield, HMS Teazer and the battleship HMS Howe, in which he witnessed the end of the war.

Graham later fought off fierce competition from a close friend to win the hand of Gillian Finlayson and they married in December 1951 at Burley, Hampshire. They raised four children at the family home in Crondall, near Farnham, when not posted abroad.

Graham qualified as a gunnery officer in 1951, and soon went on exchange with the Royal Australian Navy. As a commander in the early 1960s, he was part of the British Polaris project to establish the navy’s submarine nuclear deterrent and worked as liaison officer to the chief of British naval staff in Washington. While there, he and his family were invited to John F Kennedy’s inauguration. Graham, however, had a crucial meeting to attend that day, but his wife and son, Angus, went.

Back in England, while competing at the Dartmouth Regatta, his children heard him swear for the first time while “asserting his right of way while on the starboard tack”. He is survived by them: Angus worked in the building industry before his retirement; Simon is a forestry manager; Victoria is a former nurse; and Charlie works in IT.

On his retirement from the Navy in 1979 Graham became a director of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. After a couple of days in the job he felt obliged to mention, perhaps only half in jest, that anyone who whistled Sailing within his earshot would be sacked.

When he heard of the Penlee lifeboat tragedy in 1981, he was sitting on a plane at Heathrow Airport with his wife, about to embark on a skiing holiday. The flight left without them. Graham knew all too well how mercilessly violent the seas could be and raced straight to Cornwall.

Sixteen people died in hurricane winds and pounding 60ft waves off Mount’s Bay: eight volunteer crew of the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne and eight aboard the stricken mini-bulk carrier MV Union Star, which included a pregnant woman and her two children.

Graham arrived at the coast as wreckage was beginning to wash up and oversaw the aftermath of the tragedy for the charity, initiating action in the midst of a deeply traumatised community with calm decisiveness and empathy.

Vice-Admiral Paul Bossier, the RNLI chief executive, said: “What happened to the Penlee lifeboat was a dreadful, dreadful tragedy. The crew went out on that night with all the courage that you would expect of them. But they never came home. The loss of these brave men was very much in the public eye, and Wilfred Graham held the RNLI together at a difficult time.”

In addition to managing the Penlee crisis Graham pushed for faster, safer lifeboats and diligently toured the country to meet and encourage crews.

Graham and Gillian eventually retired to Maiden Bradley, Somerset, where she died in 2004. He retained his close family ties to Scotland throughout his life and would revert to his native Glaswegian dialect after a few whiskies, sounding “more like what you’d hear on Para Handy’s Vital Spark than the bridge of Her Majesty’s ships”.

Rear-Admiral Wilfred (Wid) Graham CB, was born on June 17, 1925. He died on February 2, 2018, aged 92"

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/obituary-rear-admiral-wilfred-graham-hsphz8fbv

  • Wilfred Graham.png
 
Last edited:

soleil

War Hero
There is to be a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Rear-Admiral Graham at All Saints Church, Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire on Tuesday 3rd April 2018 at 2.30pm.

Donations, if desired, to the RNLI.
 
D

Deleted 59428

Guest
"Unflappable HMS Ark Royal captain known as ‘Big Wilf’ who became a household name in 1976 after a BBC documentary.

Wilfred Graham was known as a “good sport” by sailors in the HMS Ark Royal

*************************************************************************************************************************

Royal Navy carrier captains have to be prepared to turn their hands to anything, from overseeing a fast jet attack to schmoozing the most petulant VIP guests. They tour the multiple decks of their hulking warships each day to monitor morale and sniff out potential glitches.

“Big Wilf” Graham’s 18-month command of the fourth HMS Ark Royal, which began in March 1975, had an added burden in that it was subjected to the scrutiny of television cameras for John Purdie’s popular series Sailor, aired in 1976.

A military version of the Rod Stewart hit Sailing kicked off each episode’s candid account of the sometimes salty life of her 2,500-strong crew. Yet scenes of matelots lurching back on board after drunkenly roaring “get ’em off” at strippers (with little left to uncover) soon gave way to the painstaking training of the carrier’s Buccaneer and Phantom pilots, who had more than 2,000 catapult launches during the five-month deployment in the Mediterranean and US waters.

Britain watched as the unflappable Graham, sporting a white tropical uniform and shades, sat in his captain’s chair on the bridge, flipping between reading a tender letter from his wife and fielding technical queries about nearby shipping.

Quietly assured in his charismatic command of his men, he was also viewed as “a good sport” and was seen hauling a freshly landed second sea lord out of a rubber submersion suit as well as skipping around his cabin with two other officers rehearsing a camp rendition of Three Little Maids from School, with which he would entertain his sailors. It was the series that launched a thousand naval careers and made “Big Wilf”, as his crew called him, a household name.

This nickname came as a surprise to his family, who had known him as “Wid” ever since his little sister, Margaret, had first called him that as a child. He was born at the family home in Kilmacolm, near Glasgow, in 1925, the son of Bryce, who worked in shipping, and Jean, a keen sailor and golfer. He attended Rossall School, near Fleetwood, Lancashire, and fell in love with the sea during childhood summers spent sailing on his grandfather’s yacht.

After being bombed by the Luftwaffe, Britannia Royal Naval College was relocated from Dartmouth to Eaton Hall, Cheshire, and Graham entered as a cadet in 1943. He saw active service before peace was declared, serving as a midshipman in HMS Sheffield, HMS Teazer and the battleship HMS Howe, in which he witnessed the end of the war.

Graham later fought off fierce competition from a close friend to win the hand of Gillian Finlayson and they married in December 1951 at Burley, Hampshire. They raised four children at the family home in Crondall, near Farnham, when not posted abroad.

Graham qualified as a gunnery officer in 1951, and soon went on exchange with the Royal Australian Navy. As a commander in the early 1960s, he was part of the British Polaris project to establish the navy’s submarine nuclear deterrent and worked as liaison officer to the chief of British naval staff in Washington. While there, he and his family were invited to John F Kennedy’s inauguration. Graham, however, had a crucial meeting to attend that day, but his wife and son, Angus, went.

Back in England, while competing at the Dartmouth Regatta, his children heard him swear for the first time while “asserting his right of way while on the starboard tack”. He is survived by them: Angus worked in the building industry before his retirement; Simon is a forestry manager; Victoria is a former nurse; and Charlie works in IT.

On his retirement from the Navy in 1979 Graham became a director of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. After a couple of days in the job he felt obliged to mention, perhaps only half in jest, that anyone who whistled Sailing within his earshot would be sacked.

When he heard of the Penlee lifeboat tragedy in 1981, he was sitting on a plane at Heathrow Airport with his wife, about to embark on a skiing holiday. The flight left without them. Graham knew all too well how mercilessly violent the seas could be and raced straight to Cornwall.

Sixteen people died in hurricane winds and pounding 60ft waves off Mount’s Bay: eight volunteer crew of the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne and eight aboard the stricken mini-bulk carrier MV Union Star, which included a pregnant woman and her two children.

Graham arrived at the coast as wreckage was beginning to wash up and oversaw the aftermath of the tragedy for the charity, initiating action in the midst of a deeply traumatised community with calm decisiveness and empathy.

Vice-Admiral Paul Bossier, the RNLI chief executive, said: “What happened to the Penlee lifeboat was a dreadful, dreadful tragedy. The crew went out on that night with all the courage that you would expect of them. But they never came home. The loss of these brave men was very much in the public eye, and Wilfred Graham held the RNLI together at a difficult time.”

In addition to managing the Penlee crisis Graham pushed for faster, safer lifeboats and diligently toured the country to meet and encourage crews.

Graham and Gillian eventually retired to Maiden Bradley, Somerset, where she died in 2004. He retained his close family ties to Scotland throughout his life and would revert to his native Glaswegian dialect after a few whiskies, sounding “more like what you’d hear on Para Handy’s Vital Spark than the bridge of Her Majesty’s ships”.

Rear-Admiral Wilfred (Wid) Graham CB, was born on June 17, 1925. He died on February 2, 2018, aged 92"

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/obituary-rear-admiral-wilfred-graham-hsphz8fbv
He served (Afloat);-
Teazer
Jamaica
Comet
Venus
Girdleness
Forth
Cavendish
Tartar
Scarborough
Ark Royal
 

soleil

War Hero
A reminder to those who might wish to attend the Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Rear-Admiral Graham that it is at All Saints Church, Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire on Tuesday 3rd April 2018 at 2.30pm, so next Tuesday.
 
'Daddy D' as Captain of HMS SCARBOROUGH in the three-ship Dartmouth Training Squadron in the Med in 1971 and the best role model we cadets could ever hope to serve under.

RIP.
 
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