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Obituary: Tony Pearse – navy hero from Lymington who devoted his life to the sea

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FOR Tony Pearse, the sea was a lifetime passion which saw him serve in the navy then spend the rest of his life working in a succession of jobs all connected to that great love.

His life resembled that of a story book hero and in fact Tony, who has died at the age of 98, wrote a memoir, From Stormy Seas to Calmer Waters, which captured many of his adventures.

Born in Darlington in 1923 to Harold and Gwendolene Pearse, the family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire where Tony went to Hardenwick Prep school in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

Tony was proud of his days in the navy
Tony was proud of his days in the navy

At 13 he became a naval cadet at the Nautical College, Pangbourne. At the start of the Second World War, he was commissioned as a midshipman into the Royal Navy Reserve at the age of just 17.

Tony spent three years on board the famous battleship HMS Warspite fighting the Japanese in the Pacific and Indian oceans before rejoining the war in Europe.

His commission ended during the Salerno landings in Italy when on 17th September 1943, Warspite was hit by three of Germany’s new weapons – the radio-controlled glider bombs.

Tony spent the rest of the war fighting U-boats in the Atlantic among other missions, transferring to a permanent commission in the Royal Navy in which he served from 1945 until 1973.

His naval career put him in a succession of sea and shore appointments. One involved the clearance of German mines laid in Greek waters during the war. He also saw service as part of the international staff at two NATO headquarters.

One of his more unusual roles came when he was loaned to President Kenyatta of Kenya to establish a navy in the country.

He also had the dubious honour of being involved in a friendly-fire incident while serving in the destroyer HMS Onslaught as it was torpedoed in peacetime by the British submarine Trespasser.

After serving a total of 37 years in the navy, as a civvy Tony spent a further nine years with Southampton-based Camper and Nicholson Marine Equipment where he was in charge of advising and supplying defence forces around the world.

During this time, he visited 48 countries. He was promoted to sales director, earning him a certificate of merit as one of three finalists of the National Salesman of the Year Award.

Tony retired for the second time at the age of 60, becoming a consultant to several UK and European companies dealing in the supply of marine and defence equipment.

Tony helped to establish a navy in Kenya
Tony helped to establish a navy in Kenya

For the next 10 years he travelled around the world accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, who he had married in 1959 and with whom he had a son.

Tony had previously been married in 1945 and had three children. Sadly the first died in a terrible accident in Malta. That marriage was dissolved in 1958.

From 1960 his naval postings took him and his family to Malta – where two of his children were born – Corsham, Aden, Plymouth, Kenya and finally to Portsmouth in 1969 with the family settling in Lymington.

His parents had moved to Boldre in the 1960s where they lived at The Stables, Boldre Grange. As the ashes of both his parents are laid to rest at St John’s in Boldre, Tony and Elizabeth played an active part in the activities of the church.

One of his main tasks was to help the vicar plan the annual HMS Hood service – the battleship hit by the infamous German warship Bismark in May 1941 with the loss of 1,415 lives. A memorial to the Hood is held at St John’s as the commander, Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, was from the village.

Tony was also membership secretary for Lymington Conservatives.

In his spare time, he played golf, being a member for 30 years at Brokenhurst Manor before joining Walhampton Golf Club where he continued to play into his 90s.

In 2008 Elizabeth died just before their golden anniversary. At the age of 86 Tony met Marion Barnes who was to become his third wife and they enjoyed holidays all over the world. Marion died in 2017.

He is survived by three children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren

A memorial service for Tony is to be held at St John’s on 31st January.

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