The musical Mr C and the Queen
Honiton man among the first to swear to serve to the Queen.
A Honiton man has recalled the moment he became one of the first in Britain to swear allegiance to the Queen - and how his career in the Royal Navy criss-crossed with Her Majesty from beginning to end.
Gwynne Stephen Chinnock MBE, now 76, was just 16 and a Flight Sergeant in the Air Training Corps when his two sisters, who were WRENS, persuaded him to join the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm 60 years ago.
“I had my glider licence and was thinking of joining the Royal Air Force, but couldn’t become a member of air crew because I was colour blind,” he told the Herald.
“On February 6 in 1952 I was in the Bristol recruitment office to join the Fleet Air Arm and to swear to serve the king.
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“Whilst I was there, it was announced the king had died.
“I was accepted by the Royal Navy - to serve the Queen! It was quite an experience.”
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Mr Chinnock, chairman of Honiton Probus Club, says he has always been “musically-minded” and, in 1955, he joined the Yeovilton Volunteer Band.
In 1957, he was serving aboard aircraft carrier HMS Albion when the Queen paid the ship a visit.
“I played in the background during the ship’s concert for her,” he recalls.
“The Fleet Air Arm did a fly past over the fleet in the formation of E R II.”
Nearly 20 years later, in 1976, Mr Chinnock, a Warrant Officer, was seconded to the Royal Air Force at RAF Leuchars in Scotland.
“The station had a volunteer pipe band,” he said.
“It was an RAF band but their bass drummer had been deployed away, which gave them a problem.
“I said I’d play bass for them.”
It was a decision that would, ultimately, thrust him into the royal limelight.
He stayed with the band, but went on to join the 892 Naval Air Squadron (Phantom jets) and was sent to the Caribbean.
“The organisers of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo found out that the RAF had a volunteer pipe band and asked two bases in Scotland if they would attend the 1976 tattoo.
“When I returned to Scotland, the Group Captain sent for me and asked me if I would be the drum major for the tattoo.
“I didn’t have any choice, but I hadn’t been a drum major in my life. I had one week to learn.
“The next year was 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and an Air Marshall, who was an ex-piper, had this idea of getting all the air force pipe bands together at RAF Halton.
“All the bands arrived on a Friday evening and the pipe majors and drum majors were gathered in a conference room.
“We were all in civilian clothes. A Squadron Leader based at Halton chaired the meeting.
“He had some pipe band tunes and handed out the music.
“Then, he said ‘I need someone to lead this lot’ and, surprise, surprise, the pipe major of RAF Kinloss nominated me!
“The Squadron Leader said: ‘Isn’t that the chap in the Navy?’ His face was a treat.”
A week before the pipe bands performed in front of Her Majesty, Mr Chinnock was sent to RAF Newton for rehearsals.
“On the day of the big event, at RAF Finningley, I led the show for the Queen,” he said.
“The same year, because I was the chief engineer of the Phantom squad, I thought it would be nice if we could do something as a squadron for the Queen’s Jubilee.
“So myself and one other designed a logo that could go on the nose of the aircraft.
“At night, when nobody else was about, we painted one aircraft in the hangar.
“We got away with it.
“The commanding officer liked it so much he had the logo put on all the aircraft.
“Because the design was relevant for just one year, we took the ‘77’ out and substituted it with the squadron crest.
“It remained on all those planes until they were handed to the RAF.”
Mr Chinnock was made an MBE by the Queen in 1978. He was nominated by the armed forces.
Whilst he is looking forward to her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, he says he is quite happy not to be in the limelight.
“I will be sitting back and watching everything happening,” he said.