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Veteran sailor Vic retires after serving Navy – and nation – for nearly 50 years

19 August 2022
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It’s farewell to one of the Royal Navy’s longest-serving – and best known – sailors as Vic Parsons retires after nearly half a century’s service.

The veteran physical training instructor – and more recently expert on the Service’s digital transformation - has finally decided to call it a day, 46½ years after first walking through the gates of HMS Raleigh.

Vic “ran away to go to sea” aged just 16, joining as a regular seaman, but after just a few years decided he wanted to become a physical trainer.

Once qualified he was posted to aircraft carrier HMS Invincible – still being completed at Barrow – where as well as keeping shipmates fit, he was in charge of the ship’s money-spinning souvenir shop: mugs, ties, T-shirts sold to friends, loved ones and visitors, and bestselling HMS Invincible knickers…  

Vic left Invincible before she took part in the Falklands conflict, but was sent to the islands in peacetime to help run a rest and recreation centre for personnel posted to the South Atlantic shortly after the 1982 war. 

“It was like being thrown back in time 30 years,” says Vic. “We lived on a settlement where the ‘Big House’ provided the electricity from 8am to 6pm daily from their generator.

“Once the generator went off then we had oil lamps. There were no electric cookers and we learned to use peat stoves. There was only one telephone and that was at the ‘Big House’ for emergencies only.”

Two years at the naval base in Hong Kong (HMS Tamar) in the late 80s proved a life-changing experience as the Parson family – Vic, his wife Yve, and daughters Vicky and Becky – adopted a then eight-month boy, Lei. 

That led Vic to getting heavily involved in charity events in the colony and being a driving force behind community projects, helping orphanages, children with special needs, hosting Christmas parties for Hong Kong youngsters, getting the ex-pat community involved in swimming events and setting up a play park for children.

“My time at HMS Tamar was life-changing,” Vic says three decades later. “Not only was I fortunate enough you be selected for promotion to Chief Petty Officer as a reward for all my hard work but more importantly I learned a great deal about life, how difficult it can be for some people and cultures, and how much a small token of help and support can make a huge difference to their lives.”

They tell me 46 years is a long time, but I can honestly say the time has flown by. I have seen and done more than ever I would have in civvy street – I truly believe I have fulfilled my original ambition of seeing the world and more.

Vic Parsons

Returning to the UK, Vic continued his charity/community work, met the Queen Mother while serving aboard HMS Ark Royal, received the MBE for his service and community work and was put in charge of training new generations of naval physical trainers.

His 26 years of experience were called upon to help bring brand-new frigate HMS St Albans into service in Portsmouth – a job he describes as “one of the best of my career”, acting as a ‘father figure’ for every rating aboard the ship, advising the command team on any potential issues or problems.

“The biggest memory was how clever the young people were onboard to operate the sophisticated equipment needed to fight the ship,” Vic said. “Technology has certainly come a long way since my days onboard HMS Devonshire when our only method of communication was a letter (if we were lucky) when we came into port.”

Vic was subsequently named the Navy’s second Command Warrant to the Second Sea Lord feeding back the mood, comments and outlook of the lower decks to the Service’s head of personnel. 

Since then he’s helped to shape how the Navy crews its frigate flotilla and, since 2011, he’s been involved in a raft of personnel projects, not least digitising many ‘paper-based’ activities to make things easier for sailors and make the Navy itself more efficient. 

“They tell me 46 years is a long time, but I can honestly say the time has flown by. I have seen and done more than ever I would have in civvy street – I truly believe I have fulfilled my original ambition of seeing the world and more,” Vic said.

“However the main memory I will take away with me is the people. From 1976 to 2022 the people have predominantly remained the same. Keen to serve and professional in their outlook, we should not take them for granted and we should never forget that whatever we do people will always be at the heart of it.”

Now he’s decided the time has come to relax, leaving his son and one of his daughters to continue the Parsons legacy: Lei is a petty officer aviation engineer maintaining RN/RAF F-35 jets at Eglin Air Force Base in the USA, while his daughter Vicky has spent 23 years as a naval dental nurse, reaching the rank of chief petty officer.

He was presented with a valedictory certificate signed by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key and by the Navy’s head of People and Training, Rear Admiral Jude Terry.

Vic intends to spend his retirement enjoying his garden, reading the daily papers at leisure and especially taking his grandson Rowan to Portchester Castle which, despite living most of his career in the Portsmouth area, Vic has never visited.

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