THE COLOURFUL naval career of Mark Pizey reflects the magnitude of the events of the 20th century.
A Somerset clergyman's son, he was born in 1899, joined the Navy as a cadet, and first saw action as a 16-year-old midshipman at the Battle of Jutland. As a lieutenant in 1921, his ship HMS Danae joined the battle-cruisers Hood and Repulse on a round-the-world cruise, to promote British interests - at a time when Britain was still the largest naval power in the world.
By the early months of the Second World War Pizey was a captain, in command of HMS Campbell and a flotilla of destroyers in the Channel. These were desperate days. Britain's failure to re-arm in the Thirties showed inevitable results at sea, on land, and in the air. Magnetic mines - Hitler's 'secret weapon' - which could blow a destroyer in half - infested British coastal waters: and soon invasion threatened.
In February 1942 the German battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisnau, made their 'Channel Dash' from Brest back to Germany. Effectively, only Capt Pizey's five ancient destroyers were available to try to stop them. Despite what Lord Mountbatten later described as 'the most gallant destroyer attack of this or any other war', they were not successful. It was this action, in appalling conditions, which helped create Pizey's reputation, and led on to a remarkable career. For two years he played a key part in organising Arctic convoys to Russia, and then became Director of Operations in the Admiralty.
After the war he was head of the UK Liaison staff in Australia, where he commanded a cruiser squadron in the Mediterranean, and then became Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Indian Navy and chairman of the Indian Chiefs of Staff - in effect the founding father of the Republic of India's defence forces. His last appointment was as Commander-in-Chief Plymouth, and in 1958 he retired - to a smallholding in Somerset. Retirement can be a traumatic experience for a naval officer, but Pizey revelled in it and threw himself into civilian life with boundless energy and enthusiasm. (Somehow the steering wheel from his old HMS Campbell followed him into retirement, as a precious household ornament.)
Locally, at Burnham-on-Sea, he was chairman of the governors of St Christopher's School and prominent in his local church, operatic society and community life. He founded the now thriving sea cadet unit in Bridgwater. He was a Deputy Lieutenant for Somerset, and both he and his wife were greatly admired and respected in the county. He was a stalwart figure, as chairman of the BBC West Regional Advisory Council, and later on the BBC's National Council in London. A story is told that Sir Ian Jacob, the BBC Director-General, was so anxious to recruit the admiral that he rushed down to Plymouth by helicopter - changing into evening dress in mid-air, so as to be ready for some official occasion, on arrival.
Above all, Mark Pizey was a family man. He and his wife Phyllis had a very happy marriage for nearly 65 years. They had two daughters (who both married naval officers), and numerous grandchildren. Phyllis Pizey died only a month before her husband.
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