Monday, 21 June 2010

A notable North Belfast sailor

Sir Philip Alexander Watson (1919-2009) was an officer in the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of vice-admiral.  He was born on 7 October 1919 at 93 Limestone Road, Belfast, into a family of engineers and and was the son of Alexander Henry St Croix Watson (1885-1963) and his wife Gladys Margaret Payne.

He was educated at St Albans School in England and started as an apprentice electrical engineer with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, hoping to work on the railways in India.

Watson joined the Admiralty Compass Observatory at Slough, serving until 10 March 1940, when he was commissioned in the Royal Naval Reserve as an electrical sub-lieutenant. He served on the minesweeper HMS Hebe on Arctic convoys from the United Kingdom to the northern ports of the Soviet Union, escorting seven convoys in the winter of 1941-42. Watson was then appointed assistant torpedo officer on HMS Nelson and was at the German surrender at Trondheim when serving on the cruiser HMS Berwick as torpedo officer. 

After the war he transferred to the Royal Navy as a lieutenant and served as naval assistant to Admiral S L Bateson, who was responsible for forming the Navy’s electrical branch. 

Watson served with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla on the battle-class destroyers HMS Solebay and HMS Gabbard, before moving to the Admiralty in London. This was followed by a spell at HMS Collingwood as assistant to the training commander, with Watson being promoted to lieutenant-commander. He spent two years with the radio section at Malta Dockyard before becoming electrical officer in HMS Decoy. Watson was promoted to commander in 1955 and returned to working at the Admiralty.  On 11 December 1948 he married Jennifer Beatrice Tanner and they had two daughters and a son. 

Following his promotion to commander in 1955, Watson was electrical officer on board the Royal Yacht Britannia on her maiden circumnavigation of the globe and her visit to the Great Lakes. For this he was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order. 

Watson followed this with a move to Chatham Dockyard, where from 1959 he was in command of the electrical shops and weapon section. In 1962 he went to sea again aboard the cruiser HMS Lion, where he served as weapon electrical engineer officer. 

He was promoted to captain and joined the ship department at Bath, where he became involved in the designs of submarines, aircraft carriers and commando ships. In 1967 he became captain of HMS Collingwood but by 1969 he was back at Bath as deputy director of engineering (electrical) in the ship department.

Watson was promoted to rear-admiral and director-general weapons (naval) and later promoted again to vice-admiral. He was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1974 and retired from the navy in March 1977. He was chairman of Marconi Radar systems from 1981 to 1985.

Vice-admiral Watson retired to Oxfordshire, where he was a fund-raiser for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and he died on 8 December 2009.

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