Geoffrey Burnham: Merchant Navy skipper and King’s Lynn dockmaster

A captain in the Merchant Navy, Geoffrey Burnham, who became dockmaster at King's Lynn, has died peacefully aged 80 at his west Norfolk home.

During his career at Lynn, he estimated that he had a hand in more than 37,000 shipping movements at the Enclosed Docks.

Geoffrey Arthur Burnham, who was born at Wisbech, became a Sea Cadet and after leaving the town's grammar school, joined the Merchant Navy in 1948. He became an officer with the Ellerman Line, which had a large cargo fleet, and travelled the oceans to India, the United States and Canada.

His maritime career changed course when he worked for Trinity House from 1960 and his duties included repairing navigation aids and supplying lightships around Britain's coast. He became the first to hold a new post of assistant dock master at King's Lynn Docks in November 1963 and was later promoted to dock Master.

When he retired in January 1986, he volunteered to help the Sail Training Association, now the Tall Ships Youth Trust, which sent young people as crew on character-building sailing voyages.


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He became navigator on the training ships, the Sir Winston Churchill, and later her sister ship, the Malcolm Miller.

He also helped the Jubilee Sailing Trust which enabled handicapped people to get a taste of seamanship, and also taught navigation at King's Lynn College.

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Always more at home on the water, he kept a series of small sailing craft, called TAB-NAB, named after the naval tradition for meal breaks. He sailed her extensively on the Ouse and other rivers.

He lived at Terrington St John for about 40 years and helped to care for his local church at Walpole St Peter, as well as the wider community.

His wife, Betty, and a son, Steven, predeceased. He leaves a son, Lloyd, and is survived by a brother, Graham, who lives in Vancouver, Canada.

A funeral service will be held at St Peter's Church, Walpole St Peter, on Tuesday, May 15 at 11.15am followed by cremation at Mintlyn.

Michael Pollitt

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