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News > Announcements > Obituaries > In Memoriam: Stephen Taylor (55 - 60)

In Memoriam: Stephen Taylor (55 - 60)

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories and celebrate the life of Stephen Taylor (55 - 60) who we sadly lost in 2023.
8 Jun 2023
Written by Robin Knight
Image courtesy of The Wellington Trust
Image courtesy of The Wellington Trust

Stephen Taylor (55-60), a retired Captain RN, died at home surrounded by his family on Sunday afternoon 21st May aged 81 after a brave and lengthy resistance, having battled leukaemia and mesothelioma for many years. He left his wife Diana, children Hermione, Cressida and Ian, and eight grandchildren. A Service of Thanksgiving for him will be held at 12 noon on the 19th June at his parish church St Bartholomew's Church, Rogate, near Petersfield.

At the Nautical College, Stephen was in Macquarie Division, became a Cadet Captain, reached Form VI Science, won the Mathematics and Physics open prizes in 1960 and captained the 1st VIII rowing crew. The Log of Spring Term 1960 noted: “Finally good-bye and good luck to those who are leaving us and a special word of thanks to Cadet Captain S. Taylor for his work as Captain. He has been a tireless worker and has always tried to drive his crews to the limit. Under his captaincy we won our first eight event at Molesey last year and competed for the first time in the Schools Head, two milestones in the Club's history.”

Later in 1960 Stephen joined BRNC Dartmouth to begin a 34-year career in the Royal Navy. Specialising in Gunnery and Missiles, he commanded five warships. On shore he led the Maritime Tactical School and eventually rose to become the Commodore responsible for accepting all new ships into the RN.

In 1982 at the time of the Falkland Islands conflict he was Fleet Missile and Gunnery Officer on the staff at Northwood of Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy. His role was to support the preparations and conduct of the overall missile and gunnery capability of the ships within the Task Force. This included developing the tactics to defeat the Argentinian forces, such as anti-Exocet missile countermeasures. He would speak directly to HMS Hermes on numerous occasions to arrange replacement weaponry and try to reconstruct why ships had been damaged and what could be done to minimise such damage. On one occasion he conducted a trial of an anti-Exocet jammer pod from the back seat of a Lynx helicopter which was the target for a missile fired from the MoD range at Aberporth. It worked, the missile passed just under the helicopter and the pods were parachuted to the Task Force.

In his role he often listened in to the regular evening secure call between Fieldhouse and the Admiral commanding the Task Force fleet, Sandy Woodward. On one occasion, having passed on a domestic matter worrying Mrs. Woodward, Fieldhouse continued by asking, innocently ‘And do you have any problems out there in the South Atlantic?’ Another evening Taylor briefed Prime Minister Thatcher after HMS Glamorgan was hit by a shore-based Exocet just before the war ended. The following day, the UK arranged to buy a batch of Phalanx guns (an automated weapon system for ship defence against missile attack) from the US Navy. As Stephen put it after the conflict: “I would have loved to have been there. But the next best place was at the Fleet headquarters where we were part of the fighting machine.”

Retiring from the Royal Navy in 1993, he was a consultant to companies involved in designing and trialling emergency evacuation equipment for ships and specialised protective clothing, and also ran the Maritime Division of the Defence Manufacturers Association. In addition, he was involved in Brussels on new regulations for shipping. Retiring from the DMA, he became Chairman of The Wellington Trust, promoting the preservation of the old World War II Grimsby Class Sloop on the Thames with education and exhibition programmes, a Court Member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, Chair of Lloyds Naval Ship Safety Rules committee, and a Fellow of the Nautical Institute.

Robin Knight adds:

'A singular honour was paid to the College at the Thanksgiving Service held in Sussex on June 19th for Stephen Taylor (55-60).  He had asked one of his grandsons, Luke Taylor, to wear his OP tie and Paravicini blazer when giving a reading during the service.  This blazer dated from 1960 and the era of the Paravicini Club to which only the school's top sportsmen were elected.  This Luke (not an OP) did, and was proud to do so or so he said later.  The service in the village church at Rogate was attended by more than 400 people including at least 20 OP's.  Among them were five of Stephen's contemporaries at the NCP who went into the Royal Navy with him - Jeremy Ainslie (55-59) who gave one of the readings, Robin Bradley (54-58), Mike Harris (54-59), Hugh Powlett (55-59) and Peter Roe (55-59).'

Capt Peter Hore, the Daily Telegraph naval obituarist, has written a fascinating obituary of Steve Taylor which is now on the Telegraph website and is reproduced below with kind permission of Captain Hore

Captain Steve Taylor

Talented naval officer who was twice court-martialled

Captain Steve Taylor, who has died aged 81, was no stranger to collisions and groundings but found the Admiralty to be a forgiving employer which recognised his huge talent.

In 1988 he was commanding the destroyer Southampton on the Armilla Patrol, the Navy's standing presence in the Persian Gulf, which escorted ships through the Straits of Hormuz.  The 5,000 tonne Southampton had been three weeks on patrol when, on the evening of September 3, she was run down by P&O's 35,000-tonne container ship MV Tor Bay.

Taylor was in his cabin discussing the nights's operations with his first lieutenant when he sensed danger and rushed to the bridge, arrivng to find Southampton's bridge roof crushed and the flare of Tor Bay's bows was cut into Southampton, and under water her bulbous bow tore a 33ft gash in Southampton's side; the two ships remained locked together for sveral minutes.

During the succeeding night, a board of inquiry found, there were many acts of dedication and great professional skill which saved Southampton.  Astonishingly, her people escaped with only slight injuries.

Over the next hours and days, Tony Radakin, then a young midshipman on vacation from reading law at Southampton University (and now Chief of the Defence Staff) learnt many sound lessons from Taylor - about leadership, management in crisis and damage control.  "Taylor was a picture of calmness and clarity", Radakin recalled.  "We were all shocked watching footage a few days later of the Sea Dart missile compartment and the physical damage to many of the missiles, and very aware of how lucky we had been".

Southampton returned to the UK aboard a semi-submersible heavy lift ship, her repairs costing some £45m.  The board of inquiry held that Taylor had "placed unjustifiable trust in his officer of the watch and failed to acquire the information necessary to ensure his ships safety" and that this amounted to negligence.  He was tried by court martial and found guilty, but given another command, Southampton's sister ship Exeter.

Stephen Taylor was born in Sheffield on January 7 1942 and educated at Pangbourne before joining Dartmouth aged 18; he passed out top of his entry and was awarded the Queen's sword.  His first ship was the minesweeper Dartington based in Kuching, Sarawak, where within a few hours of joining, Midshipman Taylor found himself in command of a Klotok (a large riverine canoe) with 20 Gurkha soldiers , chasing rebels in the rivers of Borneo.

Next, he was navigating officer in the fast patrol boat, Brave Borderer when she ran aground on a sandbank in the Danish archipelago during a Nato excercise.  She was refloated with out damage, and the naval attache in Copenhagen, who saw a photograph of the grounded vessel in the local newspapers, was good enough not to report it,

In 1967-68 he was flag lieuntenant to the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Michael le Fann, who would describe Taylor as "an outstanding officer, resolute, cheeful and always on the ball".  In 1971, Taylor proved to be a vigarous commander of the minewsweeper Belton on fishery protection duties, based in Port Edgar.  In his first year in the six-ship squadron he made seven of the squadron's 40 arrests, and, almost as difficult, their successful prosecutions in court.

During one arrest, a French trawlerman refused to heave to, despite orders to so do by radio, warning shots and from close alongside, by loudhailer.  Rude hand signals were the only response waved out of the bridge window, until one of Taylor's stokers, coming on deck for a breath of fresh air, took objection to the insult to his captain and threw a potato, which by chance flew through the window.

The skipper promptly appeared on deck with his hands up: it is thought to be the only time a British man o'war has used a King Edward potato in such a capacity.

Then on Trafalgar Day 1971, Belton battered her way through heavy seas to rescue Susan Fogden, an Oxford scientist  marrooned for nine days on the Monach Isalands in the Outer Hebrides while conducting a survey of seals.  She was low on food  but in good health - until she was rescued, when Belton's violent motion in the rough sease made her terribly seasick".

Taylor anchored in Lochmaddy, North Uist, to toast belatedly the Immortal Memory in the Army mess at Benbecula, but when told in the early hours that Belton had dragged her anchor he decided to weigh anchor and leave.  But Belton ran aground on 75-knot winds and was badly damaged.

Though he was found guiltiy in a court martial and reprimanded, Taylor and his ship's company were sent to Gibraltar to bring Chawton out of mothballs, and to rejoin the Fishery Protection Squadron.  Taylor's time in Chawton included a 60 mile chase up-channel after a French trawler and his arrest of the Soviet spy trawler Yubileiny; both were followed by successful outcomes in court.

Promoted to commmander in 1978, during the Falklands War Taylor was on the staff at Northwood: "I would have loved to have been there, but the next best place was at the fleet headquarters, where we were part of the fighting machine."

His role as Fleet Missile and Gunnery Officer included developing the tactics and equipment to defeat the Argentines.  During the trial of a misssile jammer, he flew in a helicopter which simulated a target.  He briefed the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, after the destroyer Glamorgan was hit by a shore-based Exocet, and later oversaw the purchase of Phalanx guns from the US Navy.

His 1984-85 command of the destroyer Manchester was enlivened by a Soviet spy ship, which despite warnings in the international code of signals, zigzagged across his course while he was replenishing ammunition from the fleet auxilliary Resource during a Nato excercise.  Taylor held his nerve and is said to have "shaken his fist in anger" when the Russian got too close.

He also claimed an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the furthest travelled barrel of beer, carrying a barrel of Ballards Brewery's winter ale from his home village, Rogate in West Sussex, to drink in Port Stanley on Christmas Day 1984.

In 1990-91 Taylor ran the Maritime Tactical School, where in the run-up to the first Gulf War he wargamed scenarios, liased with the US Navy and wrote a concept of operations for naval operations in the Gulf.  His final appointment was as Commodore Naval Ship Acceptance, responsible for seeing that each ship builder delivers new ships according to contract.

Retiring from the Navy aged 52, for the next 25 years he was consultant to companies involved in maritime security and safety, before setting up the maritime division of the Defence Manufacturers Association and becoming naval advisor to Defence and Security Equipment International.

He joined the technical board of the Nautical Institute, was Chairman of Lloyd's Register Naval Ship Rules (NSR), President of the Anchorites (a dining club for the promotion of good fellowship among those interested in maritime affairs) and senior member of the court of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.

To all these organisations, and especially the Wellington Trust - which looks after the 1935 Grimsby class sloop HQS Wellington, home until this year of the Master Mariners - Taylor brought his contagious enthusiasm and special brand of flamboyance and elan.

He married, in 1968, Diana Wright, who survives him with their two daughters and a son.

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