Obituary: Rear-Admiral Roy Foster-Brown

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The Independent Culture
ROY FOSTER-BROWN is instantly remembered for three things - his long stint as Command Signal Officer to successive Commanders-in-Chief, Western Approaches (1940-44), his command of the 6th Frigate squadron which eventually found the sunken submarine Affray (in 1951), and for his narration of the television series Sea War in 1960.

He was born Roy Brown 95 years ago and joined the service in 1917 from the RN colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth. His first ship was the new 6in- gun cruiser Diomede on the China station, an appointment at a distance which might astonish the junior officer of today. He served in submarines before qualifying as a specialist in Signals in 1930. After more sea time in destroyers he became flag lieutenant to Rear-Admiral (later Admiral Sir James) Somerville, then RA Destroyers in the Mediterranean, his flag in the light cruiser Galatea.

In 1933 he and Joan Foster were married, and at the suggestion of his father-in-law, whose offspring were all daughters, took the name Foster- Brown.

He went on to the battleship Nelson as Home Fleet Signals Officer in 1939 and in 1940 was mentioned in despatches for his work in the Norwegian campaign before going ashore to Derby House in Liverpool for four years. Admiral Sir Max Horton was a hard taskmaster and Foster-Brown was not altogether sorry to escape to sea as executive officer of the light cruiser Ajax, which had helped to contain the Graf Spee in the war's first winter. He was promoted to Captain in 1946 after only five years as a Commander, and served in the Admiralty as Director of the Air Organisation department before returning to sea in command of the 6th Frigate squadron.

Affray had sailed from Gosport on 16 April 1951 with 23 officers under training on board. When she failed to report her position next day, and to acknowledge any signals, the emergency general message Submiss - a submarine is overdue - was made and a massive search mounted, centred in the vicinity of Start Point where she was expected.

No trace was found, and by the evening of the 19th urgency had gone out of the operation. Foster-Brown's flotilla persisted. The wreck had to be found. They steamed 23,800 nautical miles in an area of 6,000 square miles until Foster-Brown deduced that they should search elsewhere, in the Hurd Deep, a deep trench west of the Channel Isles. There, late in June, they found her in 46 fathoms, nearly 40 miles from her last known position. Her ventilating mast, the Dutch device nicknamed the Schnorkel, which allowed boats to run on their diesel engines while submerged, was broken off, and she would have flooded very quickly.

Foster-Brown was concerned that his flotilla's work was never recognised or acknowledged and when he returned to the Admiralty in 1952 as Director of the Signals Division he sent for the pack, or file, on the subject to satisfy his curiosity. To his amazement, he found that a contemporary, like him approaching consideration for advancement to the flag list, had not only represented himself as responsible for the finding of the Affray but also recorded that it was at his suggestion that Foster-Brown looked where he did. Such behaviour seems almost incredible and one wonders how it was dealt with; Foster-Brown became a Rear-Admiral in 1955 and his rival did not, which was some consolation.

By that time, Foster-Brown had commanded the Colony-class cruiser Ceylon, which escorted the Queen on her Commonwealth tour in the chartered SS Gothic, temporarily commissioned as a Royal Yacht, whereafter, safely on the flag list, her Captain became Flag Officer Gibraltar, from 1956 to 1959.

Roy Foster-Brown had an active and happy retirement, prominent in the livery of the Armourers' and Braziers' Company, of which he was Master in 1964-65 and again 10 years later.

Roy Stephenson Brown (Roy Foster-Brown), naval officer: born 16 January 1904; CB 1958; married 1933 Joan Foster (two sons); died 8 January 1999.