Sea-sick to Nova Scotia
The wartime service of Father John W. Tunnicliffe, R.N.
By Father Martin Tunnicliffe

Martin Tunnicliffe is a retired Church of England priest living in the West Midlands, UK. He followed his father, The Revd. John W Tunnicliffe, in this calling and he is currently writing a book about their two ministries which span 100 years. Between 1917 and 1923 Father John Tunnicliffe served twice as a Chaplain in the Royal Navy, an experience that remained close to his heart throughout the rest of his life and ministry. The following is an extract from the first draft of Martin's book which should be of interest to navy or ex-navy personnel.

My father's first posting was to HMS Cumberland (North American Station). This ship was an armoured cruiser of the Monmouth class, launched in 1904 and already obsolete by 1914. However, it was efficient enough to serve as escort to North Atlantic convoys between the United Kingdom and the U.S.A.

"We used to take gold to Nova Scotia and then go south to Chesapeake Bay to pick up a convoy to England . One Sunday we coaled ship and I was asked to help at the Church of the Centurion at Old Point Comfort. It happened that President Wilson attended the 11 a.m. Eucharist, and I had to preach."

Throw-away remarks like this in my father's fragmentary memoirs open up vistas for the imagination. How many Church of England clergy have preached to a congregation that contained the President of the United States of America!

On HMS Cumberland my father found himself with a floating "parish" of about 680 officers and men which he served for 14 weeks to the "entire satisfaction" of the Captain (Captain's Certificate 22 Oct. 1917). The brevity of this posting may have been due to my father's being very prone to sea-sickness. Perhaps the Navy was showing compassion, or just simple common sense when, out of the subsequent six postings, five were mostly shore-based.

 "I'm a poor sailor, so I was sent by the Chaplain of the Fleet to the Dover Patrol. I lived in the flagship,
H.M.S. Arrogant, which was tied up in Dover harbour. By invitation I used to go to sea in submarines or motor launches or destroyers, and my duties took me to Capel air station to minister to what became the Fleet Air Arm. Admiral Sir Roger Keyes was always kind and helpful. He and his band of heroes were the victors at Zeebrugge and Ostend. In my mess were fine men who had won the Victoria Cross."

Details of this tour of duty from the archives of the Naval Chaplaincy Service read as follows:

Posted to the Dover Station for HMS Arrogant 22 September 1917 (special responsibility for submarines).

Further Dover posting to HMS Arrogant 29 January 1918 (duty with Motor Launches of the 6 th Flotilla in
East Cliff also Coastal Motor Boats and Destroyers in the submarine harbour).

Posted HMS Hecla 19 th March 1919 for destroyers and attached vessels.

De-mobilised 24 th April 1919.

Certificates of Satisfaction for all these postings were given and carefully kept and remain among my father's papers. However satisfied my father and the Navy may have been with his work, he was prompted to leave the service for a while, possibly because of persistent sea-sickness, more likely because of the war's ending, and most likely because of his desire to marry my mother, Monica.

The second Naval chaplaincy began on 20 th October 1921 and ended on 15 th May 1923. The final 14 months of this duty was spent on HMS Repulse (1). This ship was a Renown-class battle-cruiser launched in 1916. She had seen action during the war and had a two-year re-fit from 1918 to 1920. Considered a high-maintenance ship, she was unflatteringly nicknamed "HMS Repair"! I recall my father saying that he was sea-sick all the way to South America and back on the Repulse. His first son, my oldest brother Michael (a naval officer during the 2nd World War), was born during this trip, on 29 September 1922. Shortly before Michael died in Oregon in October 2006, I received an e-mail message from him which included this:

"When Father was stationed on HMS Repulse the ship was in Rio when a disturbed seaman knocked on his cabin door and reported he had received a signal he didn't understand telling him he was a father. Since he was unmarried this created a problem. Seems he was the wrong Tunnicliffe and I had arrived in Long

In spite of the rigours of mal-de-mer and becoming an absentee parent, my father always recalled his time on the Repulse with affection. He left several photos of the South American trip and clearly related well to both officers and men. He made a firm and lifelong friend of the doctor on the sister ship HMS Hood. This was Will Pickles, who later became "Pickles of the Dales" (2). It is cheering to note that every Captain that my father served under issued a Certificate of complete satisfaction with their chaplain, papers that my father kept carefully. Among the comments found by the Naval archivist Peter Keat from among the Commanding Officers' annual reports are these:

"The Reverend Tunnicliffe is a most sincere and conscientious chaplain. Whilst under my command he has taken a great interest in the boys who are under training and has been most instrumental in developing and maintaining a fine moral tone in the ship (1919). I have found the Revd Tunnicliffe to be a very devout, sincere and earnest man (1923)."

(Courtesy of Father Martin Tunnicliffe)
© 2009 Father Martin Tunnicliffe


1. The Repulse lived on to fight in the Second War. She was sunk, with great loss of life, on 10 December 1941 after a torpedo attack by Japanese aircraft.

2. Dr Will Pickles, 1885-1969, did effective research work on epidemiology. He lectured widely and wrote prolifically for medical journals, receiving many honours including the C.B.E. For all that, he remained a loved and respected country GP in the Yorkshire Dales throughout his career. He was a lifelong friend of my father from Navy days in World War I, and godfather to my sister Sally. His biography Will Pickles of Wensleydale [Geoffrey Bles 1970] was written by John Pemberton.


Page published Jan. 27, 2009