Obituary: Rear-Admiral Sir Joseph Henley

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The Independent Culture
JOSEPH HENLEY joined the Royal Navy in 1927 at the age of 18 as a Pub, or Public School Entrant, straight from Sherborne. His was a generation of relatively mature and educated junior officers; cadets were not as plentiful as they had been, their education and training were under increasing criticism, and the Board of Admiralty had perforce to temper their Jesuitical desire to mould all the officer corps from the age of 13.

When the Second World War broke out, Henley was a lieutenant of almost eight years' seniority. On the assumption that having passed the Long Gunnery Course at Excellent, the Gunnery school on Whale Island, he would qualify by seniority for the additional half-stripe of a lieutenant-commander before the end of the year, he was appointed to the Birmingham as her G (gunnery officer) in 1939.

Appointments were quickening as new ships joined the Fleet under the rearmament programmes; Birmingham was a new cruiser of the Town class, over 9,000 tons with 12 6in guns, completed in November 1937 and then sent to the fifth cruiser squadron based on the China station. Henley was to spend virtually the whole of the war in her and in the even newer battleship, King George V, built on the Tyne and completed in December 1940. She displaced 35,000 tons - the limit allowed by the Washington Naval Treaty - and could manage 30 knots. Her 10 14in guns were interestingly, and sometimes infuriatingly, housed in three turrets, two quadruple, one forward and one aft, with a twin turret superimposed forward. Four big guns in one turret was something new: her predecessors, Rodney and Nelson, had their nine 16in guns in prototype triple turrets, but a fourth cannon seemed to some critics to be putting too many eggs in one basket.

Henley was professionally disappointed at not having joined her until after her epic part in the sinking of the Bismarck in May 1941, but saw service in her in the Mediterranean and, after her refit for Eastern service, in Japanese waters as a Commander.

He was promoted early to Captain in 1951, promisingly young for those especially competitive days when ships were being paid off or put into the Reserve Fleet. It is significant that, having had only one major sea- going command in that rank, of the Daring-class ship Defender (1954-55), he nevertheless received a number of promising "promotion" appointments. He went to Washington as Naval Attache, in the rank of Commodore (1956- 57). He returned as Director of the RN Staff Course at Greenwich (1958), and then, a Commodore once more, went as Chief of Staff to the Commander- in-Chief, Mediterranean (1959-61). He was promoted out of that appointment when he was advanced to the Flag list as a Rear-Admiral in 1960.

Henley's career then diverted into a splendid but inevitably terminal career. He became Flag Officer Royal Yachts and an Extra Naval Equerry to Her Majesty, Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, a title revived when the old Board of Admiralty went out of commission on the creation of the Ministry of Defence. Alas, there was only one Royal Yacht, although that was the beloved Britannia, in which he flew his flag for three years (1962-65) until he retired from the Service, since 1962 a KCVO, in 1965. In 1966 Henley married for a second time, Patricia Sharp MBE, and they settled eventually in Australia.

Henley's father, Vice-Admiral J.C.W. Henley, had had his career bitched by the so-called mutiny at Invergordon in 1931. While it must have been ominous to his son, a newly promoted lieutenant at the time, the pair were an example of Milton's "of virtuous father, virtuous son".

Joseph Charles Cameron Henley, naval officer: born 24 April 1909; Director, Royal Naval Staff College 1958; Chief of Staff, Mediterranean Station 1959-61; CB 1962; Flag Officer, Royal Yachts and Extra Naval Equerry to the Queen 1962-65; KCVO 1963; married 1934 Daphne Wykeham (one son, three daughters; marriage dissolved 1965), 1966 Patricia Sharp (nee Eastman, died 1997); died Sydney, New South Wales 16 June 1999.