Rear Admiral Phillip David “Percy” Gick
Marinas are now common in towns and estuaries around
Britain. Emsworth’s was one of the first. It flourishes as
almost the last of the marine trades which for centuries
were busy along Emsworth’s rivers, millponds, creeks,
shoreline and inland sea. Opposite the River Ems
creek-mouth, where the J D Foster’s timber yard supplied
shorefront and Dolphin Quay shipbuilding enterprises, the
marina site was previously the sawmill’s logging ponds. In
post-war years, onetime commercial shipping was succeeded by
the booming demand for leisure craft – yachts and dinghies.
Commeth the hour, commeth the man – in the form of Rear
Admiral Philip “Percy” Gick. Becoming a Fleet Air Arm pilot
after joining the Royal Navy in 1931, he played a key role
in the epic 1941 battleship Bismarck pursuit and sinking.
Flying one of the slow biplane Swordfish torpedo bombers off
HMS Victorious in terrible weather, he was the only pilot to
score a hit. Attacking from an unexpected quarter and at low
level, he hit amidships. While not penetrating the vessel’s
heavily-armoured “skirt”, the explosion dam-aged the ship’s
oil tanks. Reducing its speed, it fatally required its
diversion from the wider Atlantic towards Brest for repairs.
After it was later caught and polished off, Lt Gick was
awarded a DSC and switched to HMS Ark Royal - spear-heading
attempts to protect Malta and the Western Mediterranean.
When it was sunk in December that same year, he was
mentioned in dispatches for several rescue missions of its
crew. Following stints in the Western Desert and then the
North Atlantic and Arctic on the escort carrier HMS Vindex
(1943-44), he was later air group commander with a carrier
task force in the Far East.
In 1952 he captained the destroyer HMS Daring, where
(although only 40) he was known by the crew as “Old Percy”,
and then the commando carrier HMS Bulwark. A rear-admiral
from 1961, he headed naval flying training until retirement
in 1964 (aged 51), then becoming chairman of the Emsworth
Shipyard Group (1965-90).
He had married in 1936, meeting future wife Aylmer at the
Emsworth Sailing Club. (She died in 1993, they having a son
and three daughters.) Commuting his pension and using local
plant hire companies, he dredged out the marina – losing a
finger along the way. For the adjacent marina village of
“stilt houses”, he commissioned an adventurous
California-style model which still looks good today.
The marina boatyard accommodated the Bowman yacht building
firm among other workshops. As another leap into the future,
the shipyard pioneered concrete shipbuilding, spraying
cement powder mixed with glass-fibre onto moulds for a 1970
18 ft launch. By the 1980s, Bowman glassfibre yachts were
world famous – and still sell well.
When he retired in 1990 (aged 77), Emsworth Yacht Harbour
was sold to the Wakelin family, and Bowman’s merged with
Rival Yachts. Following insolvency, the firm was acquired in
2002 by the Falmouth-based Rustler Yachts, the Rear-Admiral
dying in the same year. His amazingly vivid oral record of
his Bismarck exploit is available on the
Imperial War Museum’s website.