Captain Ernest J D Turner CBE, DSO, DSC, Croix de Guerre

A lifetime of devoted and extraordinary public service - From Wartime Ace Submariner to Vice Lord Lieutenant
Commodore E J D Turner_helensburgh_hero.jpg

Ernest John Donaldson Turner was born in Helensburgh on 21st March 1914, the son of a Royal Navy chief writer, also Ernest Turner and Margaret Donaldson. Turner’s father was tragically lost at sea with Lord Kitchener and 643 others in the sinking of HMS Hampshire in 1916, when Turner was just two.

Educated at Hermitage Academy, in Helensburgh, and at Glasgow Technical College, he joined the Merchant Navy with the Glasgow-based Henderson Line in March, 1930. He joined the Royal Naval Reserve after gaining his Second Mate's ticket and transferred to the Royal Navy in 1938. In 1939, Turner served on both HMS Resolution (battleship) and HMS Hussar (minesweeper) before volunteering for the submarine service.

He trained at HMS Dolphin in Gosport and joined HMS Otway as Third Hand, taking part in anti-submarine training in Malta, Alexandria and Gibraltar. In 1940, in addition to marrying Catherine (Kitty) Chalmers, he became liaison officer of the French submarine Rubis, a minelayer which operated from Dundee with great success in Norwegian waters, sinking five enemy ships in six weeks; two of them on the same day.

Turner was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in January, 1941, "for outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness, and for never failing to set an example of wholehearted devotion to duty during successful mine laying operations on FS Rubis". He received the Croix de Guerre from the French authorities.

Throughout 1941, he served as 1st Lieutenant on the Gibraltar-based submarine HMS Clyde, sinking enemy shipping and patrolling from the Mediterranean to the South Atlantic.

In 1942, Turner completed the gruelling submarine commanding officer's qualifying course, now known as Perisher. He was to become the only one of the 19 candidates that attended that course to survive the war. After qualifying, and at the age of 28, he was appointed to command HMS Sibyl, then being built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, and it was this appointment that was to lead to his award of the Distinguished Service Order "for bravery and skill in command of His Majesty's Submarine Sibyl in successful war patrols in the Mediterranean".

The day before the Allied landings in North Africa, HMS Sibyl, then on patrol off Toulon, was ordered to rendezvous off the south coast of France to pick up seven officials of General Giraud's staff. Under Turner’s command, the sub edged her way to within 300 yards of the beach, where she waited for two hours, until a small boat approached. Turner leaned over the conning tower and demanded the password. A gentle voice replied: "They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel." The French staff officers, including a woman officer who had given the password, clambered aboard. HMS Sibyl remained in the Mediterranean theatre until March, 1944, sinking several enemy ships during her 17 patrols and completing special operations.

Turner stayed on in the Navy after the war and held many senior appointments both in the UK and abroad, including commanding the 4th Submarine Squadron in Sydney and HMS Terror, the shore base at Singapore. On returning to the UK in 1961, Turner was appointed to command HMS Dolphin and the 1st Submarine Flotilla in Portsmouth, deputising for the Flag Officer Submarines in the rank of Commodore. In 1965 he became Captain-in-Charge Clyde (HMS Cochrane) and was heavily involved in preparations for the arrival of the Polaris nuclear system at Faslane. He eventually became commander of the base as Queen's Harbour Master, Clyde Dockyard Port, before retiring in 1968. On relinquishing command, he was made CBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours on the 8th June 1968.

He then worked for Clyde Port Authority before rejoining the MoD as Senior Schools Liaison Officer, responsible for Royal Navy and Royal Marines recruitment in Scotland and northern England. From 1980 to 1982, Turner served as the Personal Assistant to Chairman, Whyte & Mackay Distillers Ltd, and then on the 24th November 1979, Turner became Deputy Lieutenant for Dunbartonshire, eventually becoming Vice Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire on the 8th October 1986. He also chaired King George's Fund for Sailors and the Sea Cadet Association in the West of Scotland.

Turner lived for nearly 40 years in Drymen and, latterly, in Blanefield. A keen sportsman in his younger days, he was a witty and sociable man who was devoted to his family and immensely proud of his service to his country. Ernest Turner died at the age of 92 on the 2nd March 2007, and was buried with full Royal Naval honours. He was survived by his wife of nearly 67 years, Kitty, and their daughter, Hilary.

Image courtesy of The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport