Obituary Captain John Alexander Marrack

This obituary is from the Telegraph's website; originally posted on 3rd Jan 2010. (Our thanks to OB Richard Lanyon for informing us of Capt Marrack's death.)

Just 21 years old in 1941, Marrack was appointed First Lieutenant (second-in-command) of the veteran destroyer Walpole, responsible for the welfare, discipline, training and readiness for war of her 110 people. Over the next three years he experienced the full gamut of the war at sea in one of the "maids of all work", as the destroyers were known.

The closing months of 1941 were spent on protection of east coast and Thames estuary convoys from enemy air and E-boat attack, and Walpole was lucky to escape when, on December 4, she sustained damage from hitting a mine, which did not actually explode.

In February 1942 Marrack heard the news of the Channel Dash, the escape of the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau eastwards through the English Channel. Sailing hurriedly from Harwich, he was about half way towards intercepting the Germans when he was bombed by RAF Wellingtons, which, were then driven off by Luftwaffe fighters. When she was still some miles short of the enemy, one of Walpole's ancient boilers suffered a blowout, causing her withdrawal from a torpedo attack.

In March Walpole took part, with other ships, in the abortive night-time attack in the Channel on the German raider Michel, an auxiliary cruiser. Three months later Marrack practiced embarking and disembarking Canadian troops in readiness for the Dieppe raid, but Walpole was withdrawn from the operations.

In the long summer months Walpole was relieved from convoy duties, only to be sent north to escort the battleship Duke of York, and to carry out anti-submarine patrols off Iceland.

By 1943 there were frequent clashes with more E-boats in the North Sea, and once Walpole's hand-aimed 12-pounder gun, under Marrack's direction, shot down a Dornier bomber.

On another occasion Marrack led a boarding party which attempted to put out a fire in an abandoned British merchant ship, prior to towing her out of the shipping channel, but as darkness fell he was ordered to sink her as a hazard to navigation. Afterwards the owners of the vessel complained to the Admiralty that, while they did not mind the enemy sinking their ship, they did not pay taxes for the Royal Navy to do so.

Service in Walpole was, Marrack recognised, no path to stardom. But in the same period, his commanding officer, Commander John Eaden, was awarded a DSC and two Bars and a mention in despatches; the honours were not shared with Marrack.

To end his sense of boredom, Marrack volunteered for service in submarines, but instead was sent, in September 1943, and again as First Lieutenant, to the new destroyer Vigilant, which was employed on Arctic convoy duties (she crossed the Arctic Circle on 17 occasions).

Afterwards, when the dangers of asbestos had become known, Marrack recalled that shortly before she left the yard the builders sprayed the inside of Vigilant with asbestos to combat the Arctic cold.

In spring 1944 Vigilant was part of the escort for Operation Tungsten, the Fleet Air Arm raids on the battleship Tirpitz; and in June, during the landings in Normandy, Vigilant fired on German targets at Langrune-sur-Mer.

John Alexander Marrack was born on February 10 1921 in Barnet and educated at Downsend School, Leatherhead, and Blundell's. He joined the Navy as a special entry in September 1938.

After training in the cruiser Vindictive, he joined the battleship Nelson. On December 4 1940 he was on watch on the bridge when a mine (laid by U31 six weeks earlier) blew a hole in her bottom as she entered Loch Ewe. "There was a hearty bang," he recalled. "The ship shook a little, and that was all; we had no casualties but we were now trapped in the Loch."

In 1945 Marrack attended the first postwar gunnery course, on which his classmates included rising stars such as Tony Synnot (who would become Admiral Sir Anthony Monckton Synnot, KBE, AO, and head of the Royal Australian Navy) and Terry Lewin, the future British First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Staff.

Lewin and Marrack were selected for the "dagger" gunnery course, then one of the Navy's most intellectually demanding courses. As his biographer has noted, it seemed unlikely that Lewin would pass the final exam, and it was Marrack who suggested that – as there were only two of them on the course and as it was the first postwar course, which was technically very different to prewar courses – an actual exam might be considered unnecessary.

Marrack then served as gunnery officer on various ships. He joined the Directorate of Naval Ordnance in 1955, when the first generation Seacat and Seaslug guided missiles were under development. He commanded the testing area at Cardigan Bay, firing missiles into the Irish Sea, and he realised the dangers of liquid propellants which tended to burn through the propellant tubes and explode the missile prematurely. He also conducted the first shipboard tests of Seaslug in the trials ship Girdleness.

In 1962 he was appointed Captain, Portsmouth Dockyard, and Queen's Harbourmaster; from 1967 to 1969 he was naval attaché in Bonn; and from 1970 to 1972 head of naval manpower future policy division. But although consistently the subject of good reports, Marrack was never selected for command at sea.

He retired in 1972 to become administrative manager for Dawsons, a firm of solicitors in New Square, Lincoln's Inn.

Marrack was a rugby enthusiast, and during the 1950s, while stationed at Aberporth in mid-Wales, he played for Cardiganshire John Marrack died on November 7. He married, in 1943, Betty Potter, with whom he emigrated to the United States in 1978. His wife died in 2003, and he is survived by their two children, one of who is the distinguished immunologist Dr Philippa Marrack FRS.