‘The Oldest Naval Officer Afloat’

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Photo: Merseyside Roll of Honour.

I was looking through an admiral’s service record, and my eye was caught by the record of another officer who was killed during the First World War. Given the age of the admiral in question, this had to be someone quite old. On closer inspection he was even older, and leads on to an interesting life.

Henry Thomas Gartside-Tipping was born in Dublin in 1848, the son of Gartside Gartside-Tipping of Rossferry, Co. Cavan, and entered the Royal Navy in September, 1860. He passed his Lieutenant’s examination in Seamanship in June 1867, managed to be appointed to the royal yacht Victoria and Albert (which carried with it automatic promotion) and was duly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in August 1870. While taking the short course in Gunnery in H.M.S. Cambridge, gunnery training ship at Plymouth, he was reported to be unable to perform manual labour on account of ‘heart disease’, and thereafter was appointed to relatively sedate posts: command of Dapper, tender to the Britannia at Dartmouth; Ganges, boys’ training ship. In July 1879 he became an Inspector of Life Boats with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. He was placed on the Retired List for non-service in July 1884. He married, in December 1890, Mary Stuart Pilkington, of Southport.

At the outbreak of the First World War he returned to active duty, taking command of the yacht Aries in September 1914. In January 1915 he took command of the yacht Sanda and charge of Auxiliary Patrol Area XIV. He ceased command of the area on 29 May, but retained command of the Sanda, which was sunk by gunfire during an operation off the Belgian coast on 25 September. Gartside-Tipping, aged 67, was lost with his ship.

Vice-Admiral Bacon, commanding the Dover Patrol, mentioned Gartside-Tipping in his January 1916 despatches, claiming he was the ‘oldest naval officer afloat’. He wrote of him, ‘In spite of his advanced age, he rejoined, and with undemonstrative patriotism served at sea as a Lieutenant-Commander.’ Gartside-Tipping was not the oldest naval officer killed during the war, however. On 2 October 1918 Temporary Honorary Lieutenant Edwin Follett, D.S.C., R.N.V.R., borne on the books of Proserpine, was killed in Iraq, aged 75.

Tragically Gartside-Tipping’s widow, Mary, serving in France with the Women’s Emergency Corps, was shot and killed on 4 March 1917 by a deranged soldier.

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