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Farewell to a former ‘face of the Royal Navy’

Farewell to a former ‘face of the Royal Navy’
15 September 2023
You may not know his name, but Tony Davidson inspired thousands of men and boys to join the Royal Navy.

Or visit Navy Days. Or even learn about fitness and morale in the Senior Service.

For most of the 1950s the then junior seaman, who has died aged 90, was the public face of the RN.

Of hundreds of teenagers going through HMS St Vincent in Gosport in 1950, Tony was selected to be painted by A R Thompson of the Royal Academy – a prolific and versatile artist who produced work for the war effort, railway companies, Hollywood (such as Alec Guinness’ The Man in the White Suit) and portraits.

Thompson’s stylised poster of Tony was used in a series of Senior Service recruiting campaigns under several slogans: ‘Make the Royal Navy your career’, ‘A man’s life in the Royal Navy’ and (perhaps apocryphally) ‘Join the Navy and feel a man’.

A version of the poster featured on the cover of Plymouth Navy Days’ brochure 1959 and, most recently, appears on the cover of Kevin Brown’s study of RN fitness and morale in WW2, Fittest of the Fleet.

That alone would be enough for most matelots to spin a good dit, but Tony Davidson had a hatful.

He joined the RN as a junior seaman on TS Mercury in 1949. While serving at HMS Excellent in 1952 he was selected to be part of the gun carriage team pulling King George VI’s coffin at Windsor (his proudest moment, for which he was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal by a young Queen Elizabeth).

He served in Britain’s last battleship, HMS Vanguard, frigates Ulysses and Murray, and Ton-class minesweepers Stubbington and Yarnton. In command of the latter, he completed the first circumnavigation of Bahrain.

A keen cricketer and rugby player, he was once famously flown to Malta for a rugby match, as the only passenger. On taking to the field, he not only captained the team but scored the winning try.

After a spell with HMS Jaguar training gun crews and controlling her armaments, he ended his 22-year Royal Navy career as a commander and staff gunnery officer to the senior RN command in the Gulf.

In civvy street, Tony forged two new careers: firstly, another 22 years working in the financial industry and, in ‘retirement’, resettling to Vancouver to become an actor/extra in films and TV shows – including sci-fi hits Stargate and X-Files – having developed a love for theatre while serving in Bahrain.

After 19 years in Canada, the family returned to the UK and settled in Cumbria where he spent his final years in fine mental if not physical form.

Cdr Anthony ‘Tony’ Rowland Davidson, June 10 1933-August 20 2023.

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