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The Fisgard Association

James Hallsworth Tonge (Series 7) 

On 12th September 1949 Jim joined the Royal Navy and started a four years long apprenticeship as an Electrical Artificer Apprentice. This was spent at Torpoint in East Cornwall, Fareham in Hampshire and Winchester. It was not an easy training course but the opportunity to transfer to the Fleet Air Arm to learn aircraft skills was to pay off in later life. On completion of his apprenticeship he found himself drafted to the Royal Naval Air Station at Eglinton in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland for a further six months “on the job” training. The highlight of this period was undoubtedly the friendship between him and a young member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, one Margaret Rowley from Stoke-on-Trent. Jim moved on to the Naval Air Station just outside Paisley, Margaret obtained a transfer there and by Easter of 1955 they became engaged, marrying on Christmas Eve and they settled down to live in a caravan parked on a smallholding not too far from work.

In January of 1956 a career development training course sent Jim back to Winchester for five months. By this time he had become a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy and the course qualified for advancement to Chief Petty Officer at a future date. Alan was born in April of 1957, one day after Jim’s birthday and the family moved on to new pastures at Lossiemouth up in Morayshire.

Home was a 22 feet long caravan sited in Elgin on the banks of the River Lossie and for some 18 months life was good. The climate was pleasant and the locals were very friendly and introduced Jim to malt whisky! If there was a snag it was because the caravan site was some five miles from the air station and transport was provided by bus, if one could face a mile walk to the bus station at 6.45 am, car if one could afford such luxury or bicycle. Jim used the latter and found that he could leave home at about 6.50 am and beat the bus to work. He always maintained that the five miles each way really brought fitness into his life. Again, naval life intervened shortly after he was rated Chief Petty Officer in 1957. He was drafted to a Naval Air Squadron (806 squadron) and in April found himself on board HMS Eagle bound for the Mediterranean Sea for the rest of the year. Margaret and Alan went to live with her parents in Stoke-on-Trent and so, for eight months she and Jim were separated as the ship visited such exotic places as Gibraltar, Barcelona and Istanbul and spells off Cyprus, that island being subjected to much terrorist activity. This subsided but, a further spell was spent off Cyprus as the Middle East flared up. Fortunately everything settled down after three weeks in Malta whilst Eagle was in dry dock the ship returned to Devonport on a cold and very frosty day. Margaret was there to greet Jim and the family to spent Christmas together before Jim was again spirited off to the Mediterranean area for three months visiting Naples and Malta before returning home. A draft chit to HMS Ariel to join the instructional staff. Never a dull moment but being back in the Winchester area was fine.

Ariel was a pleasant place to be. Sadly, it was transferred to Lee-on-Solent late in 1960 by which time a bungalow had been bought in Waterlooville, some six miles north of Portsmouth and where K. arrived in March of 1961. The work of an Instructor imparting technical knowledge to trainees suited Jim and it came as something of a shock when he was told that he was moving down to Cornwall to HMS Seahawk near Helston. After Eglinton, Paisley and Lossiemouth he became convinced that he was now viewed as a confirmed member of the “Outer Circle” of Naval Air Stations. The move to Truro occurred in early 1963. the drive to work (yes, we had risen to being a car owning family) was an easy half hour and we had all of west Cornwall to explore. Jim was made up to Chief Electrical Artificer (Air) in 1962 but as there was no vacancy for him in Seahawk another draft was a strong probability. It arrived in April of 1963 with a move to HMS Hermes in Singapore in May leaving Margaret in Truro with two young children and a dog. The ship went to Manila in the Phillipines, Hong Kong, Singapore again, Langkowie, Mombasa and Aden before returning to Portsmouth in September of 1963. It was at this time that Margaret’s health began to cause more problems and this resulted in a compassionate posting back to HMS Seahawk in October of 1963 and eventual release from the Royal Navy in 1964.

A move to the North West followed with a job at British Aerospace in nearby Warton. 1965 brought rumours of cancellation of the TSR 2 project and eventually, in 1966, the family moved to Thornbury in South Gloucester as Jim joined the Concorde design team. He spent four years there until the opportunity came to move back to Lancashire with a job move to British Leyland in Leyland. This lasted for 9 years before the firm hit problems and, would you believe it, a move back to British Aerospace in Bristol followed to re-join the design team working on Airbus A320. 13 happy years were spent in Chipping Sodbury with Jim doing much travelling around Europe. He even revisited the Lossiemouth area again when he took part in a visit to RAF Kinloss. All good things have to end, of course and this came with retirement in 1996.

Sadly, Margaret’s health slowly deteriorated and as the flat, which had graduated to a four bedroomed house with the purchase of the upstairs flat, was really too large, a down-sizing was needed and Margaret expressed a wish to return to her roots in the Potteries. Jim had no argument with this as she had followed him all round the country in their Navy life and so in 2006 a move back to Margaret’s home area took place. Health remained a problem and at the age of 75 she passed away in April of 2008. Jim remained in Stoke-on-Trent until 2015 when the wanderlust made itself felt and after much consideration he decided that he wanted to return to North Wales. After all, it had been almost a second home in his younger days and his liking for Snowdonia made it easier. He moved to Llandudno Junction where he settled down to enjoy his retirement.

Jim passed away on 23rd November 2019.