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The Fisgard Association

Don Cantellow (1923 Grenville) (1907 - 2009)

We report with great sadness that Don Cantellow, the Fisgard Association’s oldest member, crossed the bar at the age of 102.

Born Leonard Albert Charles Cantellow on 20th June 1907 at Greenwich, Don had no naval relatives but won a scholarship to the Upper Nautical School of the nearby Royal Hospital School and though not obliged to enter the RN, he did so on 2nd January 1923 at Portsmouth. He joined the Fisgard hulks off Elson Hardway Gosport, a year after the notorious ‘Geddes Axe’ in which the previous passing-out class of boy-artificers were all discharged from the RN.

Don CantellowDon joined the smallest class since the first, 1903 entry, as an ERA Apprentice and became a Coppersmith. In 1926, the Admiralty decided that the four hulks comprising HMS Fisgard, similar to those declared unsuitable for convicts some 80 years earlier, were unfit for apprentices, and began transferring them to Chatham barracks. At the age of 18, Don almost died of Rheumatic Fever but survived, completed his 4½ year apprenticeship and joined the Home Fleet Battle Cruiser HMS Renown as an ERA 5, leaving her 2½ years later as an ERA 3 (CPO).

He later served 2½ years abroad in HMS Dauntless on the Americas station and a similar term in the cruiser HMS Neptune in the Home fleet, during which he met and married Dorothy, a happy union which was to last almost 70 years.

In 1937, Don was promoted Warrant Engineer and joined the cruiser Birmingham for a 2½ year foreign commission.

On return from the Far East in 1940 he joined the new cruiser HMS Cleopatra and went straight out to the Mediterranean and into the thick of the war at sea.

In July Don had his second close call when Cleopatra was torpedoed after leaving Malta. By a fateful chance, the newly joined senior watch keeper rearranged the roster for Engineer Officer of the Watch so that he took Don’s morning watch and gave Don the forenoon.

Don CantellowThe torpedo struck the forward engine-room at 0530 killing the EOW and all of the watch below. While the ship was being patched up in Malta, and subjected to frequent air attacks in one of which his CERA was killed, Don was lent to HMS Nubian as the EO and took part in the successful Sicily landing before returning to Cleopatra and steaming her to Philadelphia for permanent repairs. He later served in RNAS Preston and, after promotion to Senior Commissoned Engineer, in the Fleet Aircraft Carrier HMS Illustrious. His last RN appointment was at RNAS Abbotsinch where he gained an HNC by private study at the Royal Technical College Glasgow and, with his engineering charge experience, became a MIMarE and subsequently a Chartered Engineer.

He retired from the RN two years early to become a Shift Charge Engineer at Marchwood power Station, moving nearer home a year later to Portsmouth Power Station in the same post where he remained for 16 years until he retired.

Don had a long and happy retirement during which he enjoyed his hobbies of gardening, DIY, listening to classical music and reading. He joined the Fisgard Association during its first year, was a keen member and contributed several articles to the Fisgardian. He was the Association’s authority on life in the Fisgard hulks. He also enjoyed the camaraderie of Freemasonry, PROBUS and the company of ex boy-artificers.

Don was a quiet, friendly man with a full head of hair to the last, a great sense of humour and a terrific memory of his time in the Fisgard hulks and the Fisgard Block at Chatham. In the presence of the Chairman and a number of his Fisgard Association friends and his Lodge and family, he was fittingly piped over the bar on Monday 16th November 2009. He will be much missed by all who had the pleasure to have known this true gentleman.