Association President

Eulogy for Captain Jack McNulty    

The passing away of our veteran member Capt. Jack McNulty RM at the venerable ago of 94 was a sad loss to the George Cross Island Association. 

I had become quite friendly with him in the course of the last few years when he invariable attended our annual Malta Reunion, but he rarely talked about himself. It happened that when I was trying to draft an obituary, I received a copy of the Eulogy which his son delivered at his funeral a few days ago.

I can think of no better way of paying homage to Capt. McNulty's personality than by quoting excerpts from this eulogy which tells us so much about the man behind that ever-courteous smile. 


"I would like to say something about my father's life and share some personal impressions and reminiscences.
I would say that my father's life was supported by three pillars: first, the Corps. Never can the adage once a Royal Marine, always a Royal Marine, have been so apt.  Second, his relationship with my mother, Pat, whom he adored. When she died in 2005 he was completely bereft and I think it created a hole that he never quite managed to fill. Third, his Catholic faith. He did not wear his faith on his sleeve but it was important to him.

He was a sportsman, a performer and a raconteur. Conversely, he was also a very private man, and could perhaps be described as secretive. If he did not want to talk about something, nothing would induce him to. 
He loved the RM Band and always looked forward to the Memorial Concert on Walmer Green. I used to accompany him to watch the RM beat retreat on Horse Guards Parade; on our first visit in 2006 they performed a stirring arrangement of the theme to the film Gladiator that stuck in my mind. It occurred to me that Dad was a bit of a gladiator himself in his own quiet way. He was certainly very determined when he set his mind to something.

He attended the London Oratory school and won a schools' essay competition for which his prize was a ticket to the Royal Tournament. It was there that he encountered the Royal Marines and by his own account was enthralled, deciding there and then he wanted to join.

The war began when he was 14. He must have been very keen to do his bit because at 14 he signed up to join the Royal Marines Band Service as a boy bugler when he reached 16; this was the only way to enlist for active service at such a young age. In the meantime, he was evacuated from London to stay with his uncle, Alured Ozanne, who was a vicar in Bassingbourn and Chaplain to the nearby RAF air base.

My father reported to the Royal Marines Chatham Division in 1941 and trained in bugle, drum and fife. Most of his batch were the same age as my father except the even younger who had lied about their age. 
Both his elder brothers had returned from abroad and joined the British  Army; one served as a Chindit in the 14th Army in Burma and suffered badly. Dad attended weekly Burma star commemorations in Deal castle, in memory of his brother, up until the time he was taken ill.

After six months training Dad was assigned to service at sea as a ship's bugler. In 1943, as soon as he was old enough, he transferred from the Band and returned to England to train as a Royal Marine including naval gunnery. Many of the gun crews on Royal Navy ships were Royal Marines.

Dad served at sea for most of the war: on an armed merchant cruiser, the Alaunia, which was a converted Cunard liner; on the light cruiser HMS Dido, with service in the Mediterranean including escorting Malta convoys, the defence of Malta, sinking German supply vessels, evacuating allied troops from Crete and bombarding German positions in North Africa; on the colony class light cruiser HMS Mauritius including action in the Atlantic, North Sea, Iceland, Norway, convoys to Russian Murmansk and France: on D-day Mauritius bombarded the German defences at Sword beach. He had various roles: ship's bugler, anti-aircraft gunner, gun crew (which explains his lack of eyebrows lost in gun flash). He was lucky; none of his ships were sunk. The most surprising aspect of his sea service was that he was seasick the whole time, chronically seasick. He told me he lived on dry bread and water and had to go everywhere with a brown paper bag. Imagine the iron-willed determination he must have needed and you start to see why he would come to make a good Commando.  His sea legs did not improve. Many years later when I was about 12, my parents bought me a little sailing dinghy. One day we brought it down to Deal and he and I went out fishing, I had my old bamboo rod and he was rowing; it was a beautiful day and the sea was like a mirror. When we came back to the beach he was ill on the pebbles! One consequence of his seasickness was that he was starving when back on dry land. When his ship was in port, while the rest of the crew hurried off to the bars and fleshpots, he went in search of the biggest meal he could find, before sleeping it off in a cinema.

All the sailors and marines, other than officers, slept in hammocks slung wherever they could. Because of his seasickness my father always slung his hammock above deck if possible, even in the Arctic; he used to say he was as snug as a bug in a rug in his blankets looking up at the stars. This was surprising as he suffered from Raynaud's condition, a vascular problem which caused his fingers to turn completely white in the cold from lack of circulation. This may be why he loved sunshine and heat so much. A few weeks ago in his nursing home he still enjoyed being wheeled out into the warmth of the sunny garden and basking in the sun.

In 1945 my parents had the good fortune to meet each other at a dance in Kensington Town Hall while my father was on leave; both my parents were very good ballroom dancers.  My mother had been engaged to an Australian spitfire pilot who had been killed some months earlier and she had only just come out of mourning; this was the first dance she had attended so it was very fine timing. My father was due to join a ship sailing for the war in the Pacific but just before the ship sailed was ordered to Deal for a NCO course. More courses followed and they managed to see more of each other than many courting couples during the war.

My mother at the time was working in the Admiralty Citadel for Lieutenant Commander Neville Shute Norway of Military Intelligence, subsequently finding fame as the author Neville Shute. Her father, a first world war veteran of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) who had served at Gallipoli and the Western Front, encouraged my father to apply for promotion to sergeant and was very supportive. He was a civil servant with an office in Admiralty Arch, one of whose duties, coincidentally, was buying all the musical instruments for the Royal Marines Band Service.

My parents were married in 1948 in Osterley, London and soon afterwards moved to Deal where my father was stationed. 
His climb to a more senior rank was not altogether smooth. Dad told me that when he was a Corporal, his section had once done very well on an exercise and as a reward he took them to the pub for a drink. However, in those days fraternisation was strictly forbidden. They were seen and he was reduced to the ranks.

By the time my father was selected for officer training, having re-gained his stripes on the way, he and his fellow NCO prospective officers all had extensive combat experience. I received a very kind letter this week from a former CGRM saying he had made the potentially difficult transition to commissioned rank with ease thanks to his intelligence, practicality, personality and a great sense of humour.

Dad qualified as a physical training instructor or PTI in 1946 and in between other tours abroad subsequently coached fencing and athletics at the Royal Naval College Greenwich, was in charge of Royal Navy training of PTI's in Portsmouth, ran the PT school at the Depot Deal and was in charge of all physical training and sports at CTC Lympstone.  He seemed to excel at a variety of sports including athletics, diving, modern pentathlon, and fencing. His crooked nose he put down to a combination of boxing and rugby. He was the Kent triple jump record holder, the Kent pole vault champion, the Navy triple jump champion, the Royal Marines springboard and high board champion, the Middle East Services high board champion and the Royal Navy fencing champion. One of my early memories (I must have been three or four) is of sipping beer out of a fencing trophy cup that was bigger than I was that my father had won at the Royal Tournament. 
He had hoped to be in the Great Britain team for the 1948 London Olympics but did not quite make the selection. One of the reasons he was determined to live until at least 2012 was to see the next London Olympics.

He did further sea service after WWII: when he was first Commissioned in 1952 he served on the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable.

In 1954 he joined 40 Commando and was stationed in Malta with my mother, her only overseas posting with him, where my elder sister Sally spent two years. He recounted playing hockey against Prince Phillip who was stationed there with Princess Elisabeth. In between his physical training postings in England he saw action with, I believe, 40 Commando, 41 Commando, 42 Commando and 45 Commando at Suez, in Cyprus fighting in East Africa during the Mau- Mau rebellion and the mutiny of the Kings African Rifles in Tanganyika and in Aden where he was involved in fierce fighting in the Radfan mountains. I was born while he was in Cyprus and my sister Helen was born 15 months later.

Soon after his tour in Cyprus he developed polio and spent a year at Headley Court, fortunately making a good recovery.
While we were starting to clear out his bungalow we found a cache of letters from my mother to my father in Aden. They were very affectionate and loving, recounting the minutiae of home life, with the occasional exhortation "do mind out for the bullets, dear". It was exactly what she would say, though we children were blissfully ignorant at the time. Military casualties were much more prevalent then and every service wife had to cope with the worry.

He never spoke much about combat but he told me a tale of Suez only a few months ago. His Commando detachment had gained all their objectives after the amphibious landing and had reached the stretch of water that led to the canal. His armoured support was a column of French Foreign Legion tanks. When the unexpected radio command came through to withdraw, the French tank commander, keen to press on, said "let's pretend we didn't get the message".  The Royal Marines did not ignore the order, of course.

He was away a great deal when I was small; a common thread of most service families. I remember one day the doorbell rang and I answered it. There stood my father, in uniform, looking very tall and very brown, with a big box that turned out to be a cricket set for me! I remember how good it felt to have him home, particularly as I was completely outnumbered in a house with four females.

On Saturday mornings when he was running the PT school in Deal my father would take me, and my sisters if they were keen, to the gym and while he was in his office we would be let loose on our own. Imagine the heaven for an eight-year old boy scampering up wall bars and ropes, bouncing on trampolines, leaping over pommel horses. Another of the week's highlights was always swimming on Sunday afternoons at the RM swimming baths, the site of which is now the Cedars GP centre.

The Royal Marines tercentenary was in 1964 and I remember being very excited to be given special permission to go out of school to watch the parade through Deal that my father was marching in.

Dad had always enjoyed the music hall and enjoyed treading the boards himself. I believe he was the director of the first sergeant's mess pantomime at Deal, which became a tradition that survives today. He said he had been involved in concert parties since he was stuck in Durban in 1942 trying to catch up with his first ship in the Med. A second letter I received this week recounted how, while 40 Commando PT and sports officer, he was the leading light of the concerts staged to entertain the Marines in Cyprus. The last theatrical performance we saw him in was in 2014 with the Really Promising Company when he was a mere 89. On Dad came as a 1960's rocker in leather jacket and crash helmet, it was a scream, in a later scene performing a solo singing number. My wife was somewhat taken aback by a racy ditty he sang on his 90th birthday. He had sung with a barbershop quartet and choir when we lived in Ewell and he sang with the Deal Handelian choir for decades, his last concert being only a few months ago; some of the Handelians are singing today.
After he retired from the Royal Marines in 1968 we moved to Ewell and he worked as a personnel manager for Decca Radio and Television and Decca Navigator. He eventually retired in 1990 and my parents moved full-time to Kingsdown. He became a keen member of the RMA and worked for the CAB for some years.

Both my parents were enthusiastic members of the GCIA and travelled to Malta for many years to take part in the annual Malta and ANZAC remembrance services, my father's last visit being in 2018. ANZAC services take place there as Malta had been a Gallipoli casualty clearing station and many of the dead from Gallipoli were buried there, and my father used to proudly wear my grandfather's medals. 

He supported many charities and seemed to give his time freely to others. Even in his nineties he used to tell me he was off to visit 'the old folk'. He was very reluctant to give up driving despite our misgivings and in March this year at 94 he even acquired a new driving licence. Every new dent in the bodywork he insisted was because 'someone drove into it in Sainsbury's car-park' but he was driving right up till going into hospital, determined to be independent.
He took great pride in his children's achievements and later enjoyed going to the beach with his grandchildren and playing games with them as they grew up, taking pride in their achievements, in turn. In his final years his two great-granddaughters always brought a smile.

My father lived a very full life, for a remarkable duration. When the time came I think he was ready to go but he was still making quips in his nursing home. To quote Tennyson: 'the old order changeth, yielding place to new and God fulfils himself in many ways'. He is free of the ailments he was only very latterly seriously afflicted by and finally reunited with his beloved wife, Pat. I can imagine his looking down on us, delighted to see his family and so many friends and thoroughly approving of the proceedings."



Joseph Galea Debono.
PRESIDENT,
GEORGE CROSS ISLAND ASSOCIATION. 


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