Retirement looms for naval survival expert

It’s a Royal Navy career spanning 58 years which started just before the Cuba missile crisis and ends this week for Lt Cdr Al Cronin MBE.

There was just a brief pause around the turn of the century before Al returned to uniform for 19 years in his final posting as First Lieutenant of HMS Excellent.

Only fitting then that someone who led a team of 50 tri-service interrogator/linguists during the Gulf War, commanded the Royal Navy Survival School, gained a Green Beret, represented the Fleet Air Arm in the Inter-Command Field Gun competition and his country in three sports (karate, athletics and bobsleigh) should have the First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, present him a Gold Valedictory Certificate.

The 74-year-old, who started out as a junior electrical mechanic training at HMS St Vincent and Daedalus, actually took a pay cut in 1962 as a 15-year-old when he gave up £3 a week as a paperboy to take the Queen’s 15 shillings instead.

HMS Ark Royal took him on his first overseas (and global) deployment in 1965 with the Sea Vixens of 899 Squadron, taking in the Far East heat without the comfort provided by chilled water plants and a hammock stretched along a hot water pipe for an extra measure of discomfort.

There is nothing in my career I have regretted, and I would do it all again. I count myself fortunate to have served in the finest Navy in the world and to have made many lasting friendships across the years.

Lt Cdr Al Cronin MBE

Of course, being pre-1970 vintage he was entitled the daily rum ration, but there was no tear shed for its abolition – midday alcohol and working on complex jet electronics and safety systems weren’t compatible in Al’s mind. “Honestly, the best thing that could have happened was getting rid of that tot; I never drank mine.”

The Guinness Book of World Records recognised Al for being the “Most Versatile Sportsman”, representing the national teams in athletics (110 metre hurdles), bobsleigh and karate. As captain of the Great Britain karate team he beat the visiting Japanese in a blood and guts encounter of which a film was made, The Empty Hand, thanks to the involvement of Wings drummer Geoff Britton in the squad and the determination of Paul McCartney to see the contest despite being overseas (he commissioned David Litchfield to make the film).

Now that retirement has finally come there will be time to spend with his five grandchildren, all under the age of 12. And as you’d expect from a triple international sportsman there’ll be no let-up in his training regime after he returns his kit; he’ll still be on 100-150 press-ups a day, 500+ sit-ups, weights and cardio work to keep his six-pack intact.