Tributes paid to much-loved father, husband and former Royal Navy Commander from Norwich, Jim Bowles

Jim Bowles, centre, with brothers Harry, left, and Jack, in 1942. Picture: Courtesy the Jim Bowles f

Jim Bowles, centre, with brothers Harry, left, and Jack, in 1942. Picture: Courtesy the Jim Bowles family - Credit: Archant

He led a remarkable life of service to his family, his students, the Royal Navy and his country.

Jim and Berice Bowles celebrating their diamond anniversary in August 2016. Picture: Courtesy the Ji

Jim and Berice Bowles celebrating their diamond anniversary in August 2016. Picture: Courtesy the Jim Bowles family - Credit: Archant

And now tributes have been paid to Ilkka Erik James Bowles, known as Jim, who died on July 1 aged 91.

Mr Bowles always considered Norwich home, but spent many years away with the Navy.

Sally Canham, one of his two daughters, said her father would be 'very much missed – but remembered with love and happiness.'

She added: 'He believed in doing your best and not giving up – both at work and when relaxing and enjoying yourself. He had a deep sense of fairness, but knew that often life isn't fair and many times you must try to turn adversity to advantage. He was also extremely fond of a good joke.'

Jim Bowles and Berice (nee Hindle) just after their wedding at St Peter Mancroft in August,1956. Thi

Jim Bowles and Berice (nee Hindle) just after their wedding at St Peter Mancroft in August,1956. This was in the middle of the Suez Crisis and it was touch-and-go whether Mr Bowles would be able to get to his own wedding. Picture: Courtesy the Jim Bowles family - Credit: Archant


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Mr Bowles grew up in Catton Grove Road and led a childhood full of scrapes and adventures with his two brothers. At the outbreak of the Second World War he cycled all over the city as an Air Raid Precautions messenger boy.

He followed his father into the Navy in 1941 as an apprentice engineer, aged just 15. Was in the Fleet Air Arm, serving around the world during a 37-year career.

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Despite starting as a rating, he was eventually promoted to the rank of commander. He oversaw the introduction of the Sea Harrier and its ski jump, being made an OBE for his contributions to naval engineering in 1979.

He helped to found Norwich's branch of the Royal Naval Association and was its president for 30 years.

Jim Bowles, at the head of a Royal Naval Association group in a march to mark the 50th anniversary o

Jim Bowles, at the head of a Royal Naval Association group in a march to mark the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, 1995. Courtesy the Jim Bowles family - Credit: Archant

Mrs Canham said the association had meant a lot to her father. She said: 'Their core values of unity, loyalty, patriotism and comradeship were central to him.'

Mr Bowles married Berice Hindle at Norwich's St Peter Mancroft in 1956 and they celebrated their diamond anniversary in August 2016, a few months before Berice died.

After leaving the Navy Mr Bowles worked as a lecturer in management studies in Norwich City College until retiring in 1989.

Mrs Canham said he always made time to play with and help his five grandchildren when they were growing up. Friends, relatives and shipmates are invited to remember and celebrate Mr Bowles' life at a funeral service at St Faith's Crematorium at 2pm on July 28.

Jim Bowles in uniform. Picture: Courtesy the Jim Bowles family

Jim Bowles in uniform. Picture: Courtesy the Jim Bowles family - Credit: Archant

A life well-spent

The below text was written by Sally Canham, one of Mr Bowles' two daughters, about her father.

My father wasn't born in Norwich, although that is where his father's family came from. He was actually born in Finland, which is why he has such an unusual name.

His father, John H Bowles was an engineer in the Royal Navy, a submariner, and during the First World War was serving in the Baltic as part of the force blockading Germany.

The Baltic froze in the winter and the submarines overwintered in the Finnish port of Hanko.

This is where he met and fell in love with a Finnish girl. After the War my grandfather left the Navy (to work in the family shoe company), returned to Finland, married and brought his new wife back to England. Both his elder brothers were born in Norwich, but while expecting my father, his mother learned that her father was ill, so went back to Finland with her children so that is where he was born. He always said his Finnish grandfather (Erik) took one look at him and died!

They returned to England when he was a few months old in April 1926, little knowing he was not to return until 2010. They lived on Catton Grove Road and my father went first to an infant school in Philadelphia Lane.

He had a happy childhood, secure but as one of three boys, also full of adventures and scrapes worthy of 'Just William' stories. He won a scholarship to the Norwich School, but the family could not afford the uniform & other extras so he went to the City of Norwich School which his father and elder brothers had attended.

When the war came

His schooling was disrupted with the outbreak of war (there were no lessons until air raid shelters were built) and was an ARP message boy, cycling all over the city. He couldn't wait to leave school and join the forces.

His two elder brothers joined the then very glamorous RAF but he was torn between that and following his father into the Royal Navy, so decided that the Fleet Air Arm of the RN would give him the best of both. With the help of both family and some of his teachers, who tutored him in subjects not on the school curriculum in the evenings, he passed the entrance exams and joined as an apprentice in 1941, aged just 15.

Norwich was always dear to him and in 1968 he bought a house off St Clements Hill, relatively near his parents. This was where he lived with his family while working in London and after leaving the Navy until 2014 when he and his wife moved to Cambridge to be closer to one of their daughters.

Life in the navy

In his first few years he was posted to training establishments all over the UK, qualifying first as an Air Frame Fitter, then an Aircraft Artificer. He always said that while working on an Aircraft Repair Ship about to go out to the Far East he discovered that if they ever 'abandoned ship' he was assigned to 'No. 3 Net', leaving him and the other sailors floating in a (possibly shark infested) sea, whereas officers had a boat so they could move around and keep up the morale of the sailors. He decided he would definitely prefer to be in the boat keeping everyone else's morale up!

This ambition was complicated by the fact that there was at that point no route by which this promotion could occur.

However an 'Upper Yardman' scheme was opened in 1949 which would lead to the possibility of becoming a Commissioned Air Engineer and he was just within age limit imposed. He had just one attempt and due to the pressure was hit by exam nerves and found he had failed one paper. Luckily, following complaints from the Fleet, as the age limit had meant many people who had served throughout the war had had no chance to apply, this was waived for one year and on the second attempt he passed with flying colours.

As a Sub Lieutenant he went to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and then to Plymouth. In 1953 he was posted to HMS Superb and took part in the Coronation Spithead Revue before the ship was deployed to the Falklands, South America, the Eastern US seaboard, Canada and the West Indies. On return he went to the RN Engineering College at Manadon in Plymouth and graduated with 1st Prize. He worked at air stations around the UK from Abbotsinch near Glasgow, to Cranfield where he obtained a Masters in Engineering and Yeovilton, were he was the Engineer Officer for 894 Venom Mk21 Night fighter squadron.

An innovator at sea

The squadron joined HMS Albion for a Far East deployment from Feb to Dec 1960 out to Japan via Singapore, Hong Kong & Sri Lanka stopping off in Karachi and Mombasa on the way back. He was very proud that on at least 3 occasions his entire squadron was airborne, quite a feat on an aircraft carrier. After that he worked at R.A.E Bedford. His memories of fatal crashes in Albion led to him developing improved flight deck lighting including luminous deck lighting which was he presented to Captain 'Winkle' Brown DNAW (after he rejected the US Bell auto landing system) and undoubtedly saved lives.

At the Royal Naval Air Yard in Belfast he introduced Critical Path Analysis and developed a new turnaround system for refurbishment of Naval Sea Vixen and Buccaneer aircraft cutting times from two years to six months and then to three months!

Then he went to Lossiemouth in Scotland and while there 'Winkle' Brown was appointed as Commanding Officer. He was then seconded to the BH7 Hovercraft project. The Company had used minimum costs in order to get the contract assuming that the naval authorities would want to change the specification and then items could be re-costed and brought into line with improved profitability. He would not let the Navy change the specification unless separately funded and changes for safety reasons were covered by contingency factors built in. This was not popular policy with the Company or with the Navy but he was always extremely proud that the project was completed on time within budget.

His final air base posting was to Culdrose, near Helston in Cornwall as Commander (Engineering) for Sea King helicopters used among other things for air-sea rescue. While here he and his wife both took part in the 'Furry Dance' as members of a group from the air base (Five years later this became well known through the recordings of 'The Floral Dance' by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band & Terry Wogan) Apart from an emergency posting to Belfast to oversee the transfer of the Air Yard to the RAF he spent the rest of his time in the Navy at various posts in the MOD, commuting weekly from Norwich to London.

He was Head of Future Projects and oversaw many developments, notably the introduction of the Sea Harrier and its 'Ski Jump' and the Lynx helicopter as well as the Air Departments input into plans for new carriers and the replacement for the Sea King Helicopter. It was for his contributions to Naval Aircraft Engineering that he received his OBE in the New Year Honours 1979.

A lifetime partnership

Sadly my mum died in December 2016. Jim always returned home to Norwich on leave and met, after being set up on a blind date by his brothers, a Norwich girl, Berice Hindle.

They only saw each other for a few weeks every year, but married at St Peter Mancroft in August 1956. (This was in the middle of the Suez Crisis and it was touch and go whether he would be able to get to his own wedding).

There was a great shortage of married quarters at this time – so their first home was a caravan named 'Debmoor'. Berice always supported him in his Naval career, following on all postings around the UK. His first daughter was born a few months after he left on the Far East cruise began and was nearly 6 months old before he saw her, although he was back at Yeovil in time for her first Christmas! Berice supported the family as they moved around the country and provided a stable base in Norwich while he commuted to London.

They travelled to Hong Kong to celebrate their Silver Wedding and celebrated their Diamond Anniversary in August 2016, a few months before Berice's death.

A passion for teaching

He undertook Post Graduate Teacher Training at Keswick College in 1978/79 doing Initial Teaching Practice at Costessey Secondary Modern School and Final Teaching Practice in Norwich City College Engineering Dept.

In September he joined the College as part time lecturer in Management Studies, being promoted over the next few years to Senior Lecturer before taking early retirement in 1989. While teaching maths at Costessey it became very apparent that a lot of what he was meant to teach seemed irrelevant to the students.

He became passionate about finding ways to teach that showed the reasons why the subjects were important and the relevance to what the students were planning to do. In his Naval career management skills and techniques were vital to many of his successes and he was delighted to be able to share them.

'Once Navy, always Navy'

In August 1979 an advertisement was placed in the local paper inviting anyone interested in forming a Branch of the RNA in Norwich to attend a meeting at the Royal British Legion. He was one of the 6 who attended (becoming the first Committee of the new Branch) and Jim accepted the invitation to become President of the Norwich Branch of the Royal Naval Association, serving for 30 years.

The Royal Naval Association meant a great deal to him as their core values of Unity, Loyalty, Patriotism and Comradeship were central to him. He had great enjoyment of their many social events and made good friends there. He was extremely proud to represent the branch and support it and its members 'Once Navy, Always Navy'.

A man much missed

He was brought up in a household where honour and discipline were instilled in him, yet this didn't dampen a wicked sense of humour and mischief.

He had a deep sense of fairness, but knew that often 'Life isn't Fair' and many times you must try to 'Turn Adversity to Advantage.' Another of his maxims was to 'Think, Plan, Act' and find the best way to solve a problem, using lateral thinking too so hard work wasn't wasted. He also believed in doing your best and not giving up – both at work and when relaxing and enjoying yourself. He had many hobbies over the years, golf, painting, D.I.Y., woodwork, lapidary and computers – it was never too late to learn something new. He was also extremely fond of a good joke.

After living so much of his time away from Norwich, when he returned he & my mother spent a lot of time helping the elder generations, aunts and uncles who either had no children or none still living in Norwich. Very, very much missed – but remembered with love and happiness.

He will be remembered as the best father possible to his daughters - loving, supporting and encouraging them and later also his sons-in-law, as a wonderful Grandpa who always had time to play with and help his grandchildren. One of his former colleagues in the Navy said 'Although I hadn't seen him for years, knowing Jim was there was reassuring somehow. He was my inspiration and my mentor. He could make people achieve more than they believed possible while feeling they did it themselves.

He was an excellent man manager who will never be forgotten.'

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