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News > In memoriam > Captain John Bowen (50) Grenville

Captain John Bowen (50) Grenville

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Captain John Bowen (50) on 10 January 2021
10 Jan 2021
In memoriam

OC Captain John Bowen (50) was a naval engineer who was expert in the use and design of flight-deck catapults and arrester gear, his obituary appeared in the Times and the Daily Telegraph on 15 February 2021.  


The Daily Telegraph Obituary is shown below...

CAPTAIN JOHN BOWEN, who has died after contracting Covid-19 aged 88, was an expert in the steam catapult and a renowned nautical surveyor. 

In 1957-59 Bowen gained his boiler-room watchkeeping ticket, a requirement for all engineers in the age of steam, in the carrier Ark Royal, the first ship to be constructed with an angled flight deck, hydraulic arrester gear, and steam-driven catapults. 

After some months in the heat of the engine room, he was delighted to become second engineer on the flight deck, in charge of the catapults for launching aircraft. 

Next, he undertook a two-year post graduate diploma course in advance marine engineering design at Greenwich, before service in 1961 in the newly recommissioned carrier Victorious. 

When the French navy adopted a catapult system similar to the British for their new carrier Foch, Bowen oversaw its installation in 1962-63. His crash course in French for engineers, and daily practice with his 30-strong Breton workforce, would stand him in good stead later in life. 

However, his decision to live in a semi-derelict chateau, with a huge parterre garden, a gardener, and a temperamental central heating stove, was considered eccentric by his hosts, who stayed in married quarters in the town. 

In 1963-65 Bowen began an appointment at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bedford, home of the Royal Navy’s flight deck machinery trials and development facility, where he developed designs of catapults and arrester gear for a new aircraft carrier, CVA01, a ship which was however cancelled. Bowen rued that his designs were sold to the US Navy, where they are still in use, and regretted that they were not fitted in the present generation of British carriers. 

Nevertheless, he was awarded the then enormous sum of £450 from the Herbert Lott Fund for his inventions. 

John Thomas Grenville Bowen was born at Havant on June 14 1932; his father was a tax inspector who had flown in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. Young Bowen was educated at Churcher’s College, Petersfield, and learnt to sail in Langstone Harbour. 

When his father took a retirement job as tax consultant on the Goodwood estate, and gained a paddock pass for all events, young Bowen was intoxicated with the smell of oil developed an appetite for fast cars. 

He joined Dartmouth in 1950 and the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham, a year later. 

While at Bedford, Bowen stumbled into house restorations, starting with a tumbledown cottage at Kimbolton and advancing to a run-down Georgian house in Bath. He was also introduced to sailing Thames spritsail trading barges at Pin Mill, which became a lifelong passion. 

Thereafter his naval career and moonlighting as a building and boat restorer developed in parallel. The business spread to London when Bowen became head of engineering design at RNEC in Plymouth and visiting professor of design innovation at Greenwich. 

In 1972-75, while overseeing naval shipbuilding at the strike-ridden Cammell-Laird’s yard on Merseyside, Bowen was introduced to the Cavern Club, to his second wife, and to canal boats – and when he could find no suitable boat, he built his own, Richard Trevithick, named after his Cornish engineering hero. 

Bowen was promoted to captain in the Royal Navy, but his love of boats, canals, sailing, restoring houses, furniture design, dogs, and his children, loomed larger. 

He turned an 18th century stables and dry dock on the Grand Union Canal into his business centre, raised rare-breed pigs and Aberdeen Angus cattle, maintained and repaired barges, and also rebuilt some 20 Georgian houses in East London. 

In 1982-96 he was a director of the South Midland Water Transport, which carried coal by canal to London. In final strand to his career, Bowen enjoyed an international reputation as a surveyor of boats and barges. 

Bowen never retired and was working at his hospital bed and recovering from an unrelated illness when he caught the coronavirus and died. 

His private life was bohemian: he married Sally Stevens in 1957, and Susie “Wol’ Wallis in 1975, and is survived by his partner, Linda McIntrye and by five of his children, a daughter having predeceased him in 2013. 

Captain John Bowen, born June 14 1932, died January 10 2021 


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