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News > Announcements > Obituaries > In Memoriam - Michael Matthews (1954 - 1959)

In Memoriam - Michael Matthews (1954 - 1959)

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories and celebrate the life of Mike Matthews (1954 - 1959) who we sadly lost in 2024
4 Jun 2024
Written by Robin Knight
Obituaries
Mike Matthews with HRH the Princess Royal
Mike Matthews with HRH the Princess Royal

Michael Matthews (54-59) died on 19th May 2024 aged 83. He was a retired naval captain who served in the Royal Navy from 1959-1995. He left a widow Delphine and two children, Nicolette and Mark. A Thanksgiving Service is planned for 2nd July 2024 at St. Saviour’s Church, Vilverley Road, Brockenhurst SO42 7SP.

During the covid era Mike wrote a lengthy “Life Essay” on which this obituary is based. The son of an English textile mill owner and an American mother, he was born into a musical family in Keighley, Yorkshire, in January 1941 together with his twin sister Sally. In 1947 Mike visited his U.S. relatives for the first time. During the course of his lifetime, he was to make more than 20 business and private visits to the States. He retained his love of music, and especially opera, all his life.

Sent at a young age to a boarding school on the Sussex south coast, his vocation to join the RN emerged at the age of 11. Having sat a scholarship exam to the Nautical College Pangbourne as a late would-be entrant, and been awarded a Clan Line Scholarship, he entered the NCP in September 1954. Outside Devitt House he was greeted warmly by another Yorkshireman, the hugely-influential Maths teacher and slow left arm bowler Harry Sykes.

Mike enjoyed the NCP  “a satisfying experience.” He became Chief of Harbinger in his final term, played hockey at left half in the 1958 and 1959 1st X1s  according to The Log, “intelligent in his assessment of his opposing wing” and made some friends for life such as RN contemporaries Hugo White, Mike Harris, Robin Bradley, Hugh Powlett, Reg James, Sandy Watson and Mike Winter. Along the way, he passed his ‘A’ levels and won a Naval Scholarship to Dartmouth.

At this point his short sight ruled him out of Seaman selection in the RN and instead Mike opted to become a Naval Engineer “something I never regretted.” Passing out from Dartmouth at the end of summer term 1961, he was “issued out” to HMS Belfast for his year under training in the fleet. At the time the ship, which had taken part in the Arctic Convoys in World War 11, was Flag Ship of the 5th Cruiser Squadron based in the Far East.  Belfast’s Russian connection was to have surprising consequences for Mike 35 years later.

Following Belfast, Mike’s career followed a conventional path for a RN weapons systems specialist including four years at the Naval Engineering College at Manadon and a further year training on courses at HMS Collingwood. His first sea job was with the carrier HMS Hermes as High Power Officer followed by another sea job with the frigate HMS Zulu as the Weapon Engineer Officer including two spells on the Beira Patrol off Mozambique.

The summer of 1970 was spent “pleasurably” on the Lieutenants’ Course at RNC Greenwich. He was then assigned to BRNC Dartmouth as the College’s Weapon Engineer Officer just as HRH Prince Charles arrived in an Aston Martin for his RN induction. In his second year on the staff he became a Divisional Officer. In 1973 he took over as Weapon Engineer Officer in the frigate HMS Sirius and was involved in the Cod War with Iceland over fishing rights. The next year, aged 33, he “found time” to get married before being posted to the Ministry of Defence in London for 2.5 years as a Technical Analyst in the Naval Intelligence team, keeping a close eye on the build-up of the ‘bluewater’ Soviet Navy. As he left, he was promoted to Commander “a gratifying end to a quite fascinating posting.”

The next five years were spent based in Edinburgh in two jobs linked to the Rosyth naval base, first as Project Manager Frigates in the dockyard and then as Weapons Staff Officer to the Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland. As such his main role during the Falklands conflict in 1982 was “keeping an eye” on the refitting of various vessels later to serve in the war. Further appointments as a Weapons Engineer Officer ensued after the war, including one in the destroyer HMS Fife which involved a trip to the Falklands followed by participation in the 40th anniversary of D-Day commemorations off the Normandy beaches.

At the end of 1985 Mike was promoted Captain and posted to an MoD job in Bath focused on ship refitting. By the time he left in early 1989, commercial refitting in the royal dockyards had become a reality. In August 1989 he was appointed to the UK High Commission in New Zealand as British Defence Adviser and Head of Defence Liaison with New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga “the best job I experienced amongst my shore appointments.”  At the end of 1992 he became Chief Staff Officer (Support) in Portsmouth Naval Base before retiring from the RN in 1995 at the age of 55 after 36 years’ service.

In retirement Mike lived in Brockenhurst in the heart of the New Forest and took on a variety of local charitable and church roles. By dint of his service in HMS Belfast in 1961-62 he also became President (and later Chairman) of the Belfast Association. In this role he made three trips to Russia, including one with HRH Princess Anne to Archangelsk in 2016 to mark the 75th anniversary of the first Arctic convoy by the western allies to the Soviet Union in 1941.

“As a naturally optimistic and mostly gregarious character I’ve enjoyed what I have been and done,” he concluded his ‘Life Essay.’  “I can only feel profoundly thankful for what has been my lot in life.”

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