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Lt Cdr Roy Priddon Tolley

Published: 01 Jan 2012

Graeme Tolley writes:

‘Born in 1919, Roy Tolley joined the Training Ship Arethusa aged 13, before joining the Royal Navy, HMS St Vincent, in 1935.  He then served in HMS Ramillies for 2 years, prior to transferring to the Fleet Air Arm, at HMS Kestrel.

He joined HMS Courageous on 15 September 1939 as a Naval Airman before being torpedoed and sunk by U 29 two days later.  Being a strong swimmer he was eventually picked up by a merchant vessel for transfer to HMS Inglefield.

He spent the next two years as aircrew (Telegraphist Air Gunner) in HMS Valiant, in Walrus and Swordfish aircraft, serving on Norwegian convoys, but mostly in the Mediterranean.  He took part in the Battle of Cape Matapan, and while airborne during the Battle of Mirs-el-Kebir was diverted to land onboard HMS Ark Royal in a Swordfish, ‘Mitzi’, fitted with floats, piloted by Ben Breese, with Peter Starmer as Observer.  He was in Valiant when she and HMS Queen Elizabeth were mined by Italian frogmen in Alexandria harbour.  During this period he briefly disembarked to fly in support of the desert army where he was amused to carry the special note to anyone who may find him to return him ‘intact’ to the proper authorities!  He left Valiant as a PO Airman, having been selected for the Upper Yardman scheme, and was promoted to Sub Lieutenant (O) in May 1943.

While based at HMS Condor, he met and married Margaret (on 17 November 1944) before immediately joining HMS Campania flying Swordfish protecting Arctic convoys to Murmansk, and spending many dawn hours patrolling the Norwegian Littoral.  He was pleased to receive recognition for his service, from the Russians, some fifty years later.

After the war, and unusually for a Lieutenant, he served as a Staff Officer in the Admiralty Naval Air Organization and Training Division, then at HMS Daedalus.

From 1951 to 1953 he enjoyed an appointment in the RAN, as Senior Observer 816 and 723 Squadrons flying Fairey Fireflys from HMAS Albatross Naval Air Station.  He participated in Operation Hurricane, the British nuclear tests in the Monte Bello Islands, and made some interesting and pioneering flights to Papua New Guinea and the ore remote parts of the Outback.  He also grasped the opportunity to pursue seriously his interest in oil painting in the company, and under the instruction, of the renowned Australian artist Leonard Long ARA.

On leaving Australia, Roy returned to the Admiralty from 1954 to 1957 in the Air Warfare Division.  From 1957 to 1958, he served as Operations Officer in HMS Eagle, before further service in the Admiralty Aircraft Carrier Section.

He collected his Golden Bowler in 1959, and, having a good knowledge of airborne electronics, joined the EMI Guided Weapons Research and Development Division, rising to Divisional Controller before retiring in 1984.  In retirement he spent more time in his beloved garden, reading avidly, collecting naval history books, and painting, mostly maritime scenes, but retained his links with the FAAOA and TAGs, whose company he particularly enjoyed, until his disability stopped him from attending their functions.  His love of flowers, particularly carnations, took him to be a Royal Horticultural Society Committee Member and President of the British National Carnation Society, while also judging at Chelsea Flower Show.  Always an unassuming, quietly-spoken, courteous, sociable, and funny man (he kept a water-pistol in his washbag while in his care home, ‘just in case’).

He died, aged 92, on 4 October, following a stroke, and leaves a widow, two sons, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.’


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