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Obituary - Rear Admiral 'Mac' McArdle
By Peter Hore (Reprinted with his kind permission).

Rear Admiral 'Mac' McArdle, who has died aged 85, rose from boy seaman to command three ships and risked the fierce waters of the North Channel to save life.

Fifty-five years ago this month some of the worst weather on record swept over Scotland, when on January 31, 1953 McArdle, whose destroyer Contest was sheltering at Rothesay, heard a distress call from the ferry Princess Victoria in the North Channel between Stranraer and Larne. The first message at 9:45 said, "Hove to off mouth Loch Ryan. Vessel not under command. Urgent assistance of tug required." The stern doors of Princess Victoria had been pushed in by the storm, the stanchions supporting these doors had buckled, and despite desperate efforts by the crew they could not be closed. Walls of water flooded onto the car deck, the scuppers could not cope, cars broke free and Princess Victoria listed heavily.

As Contest sailed out into the storm, McArdle heard another message: "Car deck flooded. Heavy list to starboard. Require immediate assistance."

Whilst the ferry’s wireless operator continued to send out frantic SOS messages, the passengers hauled themselves by lines up the sloping deck of the ferry. One boat was filled with children and women and lowered, only to capsize and spill its occupants into the raging sea where they were swept away. At 13:47 Princess Victoria broadcast a message that she was off the entrance to the Belfast Lough, but a few minutes later she foundered.

In the storm Contest had difficulty finding the wreck site, but by early afternoon McArdle, who was supervising the rescue operation on her upperdeck, was able to pluck a few survivors from the mountainous seas. As darkness fell Contest came alongside a weakened man clinging to a raft, but as the raft surged in heavy seas the man’s grasp slipped. Without hesitation McArdle tied a lifeline around his waist and jumped into the boiling water, where he grabbed the survivor and brought him back to the ship’s scrabbling net but McArdle was exhausted by the effort. Though he rarely spoke of it, McArdle remembered being swept under the keel of Contest and thinking that drowning was "a very peaceful way to go." Chief Petty Officer Wilfred Warren, seeing that McArdle was in difficulty, also put a line round his waist and jumped into the water. Contest was rolling heavily and all three men were in danger of being drowned , but they were eventfully hauled to safety.

128 people died, including the deputy Prime Minister for Northern Ireland, J Maynard Sinclair, and the MP for North Down, Sir Walter Smiles, and all the ship's officers. 34 passengers and 10 crew, all men, survived.

McArdle and Warren were awarded the George Medal.

Stanley Lawrence McArdle, always known as Mac because he disliked his given names, was born on September 27, 1922 in Wickham, Hampshire. He was the son of a colour sergeant from Loch Maben, Dumfriesshire who had lied about his age to join the Royal Marine Artillery in the First World War, was sent to France and never returned to Scotland. Young McArdle was educated at the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook and joined HMS St Vincent at Gosport in 1938 as a Boy Seaman 2nd Class.

McArdle saw service worldwide as a torpedoman before being the only successful candidate at a fleetboard for promotion to officer in Colombo at the end of the war.

McArdle rose quickly as an officer and, though not a gunnery specialist (one of the guardians of naval ceremonial), he trained the naval guard for King George VI’s funeral in 1952, for which he was made MVO and by 1957 he was in command on the South Atlantic station of the Bay-class frigate Burghead Bay.

Contemporaries agree that McArdle’s report in 1965, when in command of the frigate Mohawk, was typical of the whole of his career: "a most efficient Commanding Officer who has run a well-organised and happy ship … very successfully. An officer of particular dynamism and energy, a vigorous, positive man of action who sets a first class example to his team."

He served in the Admiralty in the directorate of Naval Operations and Trade in 1969, and commanded the guided missile destroyer Glamorgan in 1970. McArdle understood sailors and when one appeared at his table for the award of a Long Service and Good Conduct medal, which was accompanied by a £20 gratuity, he would flourish a new note from his wallet (the ship’s pusser always skulked in the passageway to complete the necessary forms and to obtain a signature). Sailors enjoyed this theatre and his style of leadership and appropriately McArdle was made Director General Personal Services and Training 1971-2.

His last appointment was as Flag Officer and Port Admiral Portsmouth, when he was made CB.

In retirement McArdle was a director of British Bus and Endless Holdings, a JP and commissioner of taxes, and a governor of Godolphin school.

McArdle, who died on December 4, 2007, married in wartime Joyce Cummins and, in 1962, Jennifer Goddard who survives him with their daughter.

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