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Gordon Butterworth, a Remembrance. Sitrep 1 (9)

Published on Tuesday, 28 August 2012 10:24 Hits: 2467

Category: Obituary

Rex Cooper remembers Gordon Butterworth

 

I was serving in MOD as Marine Superintendent (Navigation and Warfare) when GB joined HQ from sea command (RFA OLWEN). He was one of our most senior captains and was selected to succeed Captain Alec MacWiliam as Chief Marine Sup't in 1981. A difficult time for the RFA - Cmnd 8288, redundancies, the WAESC study into full-scale navalisation, funding difficulties and no cohesive training strategy. The management of the RFA at the time was horizontal with all the levers and money in the hands of civil service management so that the professionals at times felt powerless to influence or implement the many necessary reforms to create a modern service. GB worked with the system in play with a mixture of pragmatism and Yorkshire determination, without doubt setting in motion the creation of the modern RFA Service we have today - a unique civilian shipping enterprise led and managed entirely by its seamen and engineers. In 1982, in the second year in office, the Falkland's were invaded and at very short notice the RFA was pitchforked into a pivotal role of providing, maintaining and managing a huge logistical shipping effort which involved every man and boy in the Service. GB surrounded himself with a small highly professional team and led the Service brilliantly in dealing with all the preparation, support and advice to the seagoers, and with the joys and sorrows that followed. Following the Falklands there was renewed public interest and awareness of the RFA and its role resulting in a new pride in the Service, and a new identity. GB capitalized on this and continued to press for reforms in training, arming the ships and preparing the crews to man the emerging new classes of RFA. At his instigation the Service was granted a new badge formed of sea tritons and an anchor, created by the College of Heralds and approved by Her Majesty. Uniform was introduced, not previously issued to ratings, and the public began to see smartly turned out parties at national events in the capital, identified by their distinct blue uniform and mid-blue beret.
 
GB retired late in 1985 and was made a CBE (Mil) in the 1986 New Years Honours. He and his wife Phyllis retired to their lovely home of forty years in Saltash, and there he he kept a close eye on his former charges through the splendid views he enjoyed down the Tamar toward the Hamoaze.The couple were probably the most famous in the RFA, Phyllis having shared many of Gordon's travels and adventures at sea, and the two remained in close touch with colleagues. Gordon was a frequent and popular after dinner speaker at mess nights, and there was also always a warm welcome at Dunvegan (their Saltash home) for visiting officers, with a round of golf at St Mellion also a possibility. Very sadly Gordon was widowed after only five years of retirement, and this was a great personal blow, shared by his many friends. However he continued to inspire and interact with both serving and retired colleagues in the following years, becoming President of the RFA Association when that was formed in 2001. Declining health obliged Gordon to retire finally in 2005, and he did so on the occasion of the appointment by Her Majesty of HRH the Earl Of Wessex as Patron of the Association on board RFA Fort George. He had earned the position of "father of the fleet" and he certainly made an outstanding contribution to the life and development of the RFA Service.


The eulogy given by The Rev Peter Warland QHC RN (HMS Drake) at Gordon's funeral:-

 

CYRIL GORDON BUTTERWORTH

Cyril Gordon Butterworth was born in Bishopton, Renfrewshire on 5 December 1925.his brother was David and his sister Joan. He grew up in Lindley, Huddersfield and was educated at Huddersfield Grammar School. He joined the training ship HMS CONWAY in 1943 and, two years later, the Blue Funnel Line as Midshipman. In 1947 after obtaining his Second Mate’s Certificate he joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as Third Officer. In June 1948 he married Hazel and in due course, their son Jonathan was born to them. Sadly, their marriage was not to endure and, in 1957 Gordon married Phyllis.

 

Gordon was promoted to Captain in 1964, having seen service in Korea, Suez and the First Cod War. As Captain he was respected and genuinely popular, a feat achieved by few peers! I myself , from my seagoing days in frigates, destroyers and an aircraft carrier, have reason to remember the high standard, skill and professionalism with which the ships of the RFA kept us supplied with fuel and stores at sea and indeed their warm hospitality when, for instance I spent time aboard, TIDESPRING AND TARBATNESS. I still have a Fleet Bridge Card of 1974, showing the 200 or so ships of the Fleet and their Commanding Officers. I see that Capt. C G Butterworth then commanded what I believe was the largest vessel in the Fleet, the Tanker DERWENTDALE of some 67,000 TONS.

 

In 1981 Gordon moved ashore into the MOD to become the Chief Marine Superintendent, the professional Head of Service. As CMS he worked with pragmatism and determination to set in motion initiatives which led to the modern successful RFA we have today. During his second year in office the Falkland Islands were invaded and, at very short notice, the RFA was engaged in providing war-winning logistical support to the Fleet at sea, which involved virtually every man and boy in the Service. Gordon rose to this challenge in managing his small and highly professional team ashore and leading the Service brilliantly in dealing with all the preparation, support and advice to seagoers and with all the joys and sorrows that followed.

 

Gordon retired in 1985 and was made a Commander of the British Empire in the 1986 New Year Honours. He and Phyllis retired to their lovely home, Dunvagan, in Saltash and there he kept a close eye on his former charges not only through his many friends and colleagues but also through the splendid views he enjoyed down the River Tamar to the Hamoaze. His loss of Phyllis after only five years of retirement was a great personal blow, but he continued to inspire and interact with both serving and retired colleagues in the following years, becoming President of the RFA Association when that was formed in 2001.

Declining health obliged Gordon to retire finally in 2005 ( and he did so on the occasion of the appointment by HM the Queen of HRH the Earl of Wessex as Patron of the Association on board RFA FORT GEORGE.)

 

Gordon had been a part of the RFA through seven decades and became a legendary figure earning the title ‘Father of the Fleet’ He made an outstanding contribution to the life and development of the RFA and has been an inspiration to all who knew him.

 

Gordon’s final years have been spent in the splendid care of Torr Home, Hartley, here in Plymouth. There he earned the affection and admiration of staff and fellow-residents alike, for his sociablility, good humour and for the patience and courage with which he coped with failing health. He will be greatly missed, there and I am sure by all who knew him, as a true gentleman and a loyal friend. It is however, for his closest family that we should feel for most, at his passing: his son, Jonathan , Liani and their family, and Gordon’s long term companion, Doris; to you , let me express warm and heartfelt sympathy on behalf of us all.