Terence Murphy



Pay Respect

Major Terence Joseph Patrick Murphy RM (Colonel South African Army)

Terence Murphy died in Simon’s Town, South Africa on 6th November 2013.  A committed aviator, Terence is one of only two Royal Marines Officers to have flown both fast jets and helicopters on operational squadrons.  As one of the original ‘Junglie’ helicopter pilots, he was at the forefront of Fleet Air Arm aviation and went on to command 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron.  Like many Royal Marines of his era and beyond, Terence found the return to ‘terra firma’ difficult, once bitten by the flying bug, but during his staff appointments he shaped the modern era of Royal Marines aviation with his foresight and resolve to ensure it was best placed to flourish.

Terence was commissioned into the Royal Marines on 7th May 1953 and after training, Troop Command and a tour in Northern Ireland, he volunteered for flying training whilst serving in 40 Commando in Cyprus in July 1958.  Royal Marines pilots had ceased to qualify for Fleet Air Arm wings some ten years before but now the Corps wanted new ones back into the fray and Terence felt very privileged to “lead the charge.” He very much enjoyed the land and sea (landing craft and yachting) aspects of RM life, but wished to add the third dimension and thus enjoy the lot.

In early July 1958 he joined a group of RN officer volunteers at RAF Linton, Yorkshire, UK. During the course which lasted 14 months they started on the piston-engined Provost and then later the jet Vampire T 11.   On completion of his training Terence was awarded his Royal Navy Pilot Wings on the authority of the AOC 23 Group RAF on 28th August 1959.  On award of his Wings Terence was sent to RNAS Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth in Scotland to convert to the Seahawk Jet and learn to use it as a weapons platform. After the five months of this comprehensive course he was sent to Malta to join 806 squadron in HMS Albion. He was the first RM pilot to fly in a jet squadron in a carrier (and complete a tour of duty) and it was to be another 40 years or so before that changed.

Aviation was rapidly changing with the advent of the Commando Ship and development of the Commando troop lift helicopter. They became involved in the thick of the action and, to a degree, that knocked the gilt off the allure of flying jets for Terence and so he had no hesitation in volunteering for RN Commando helicopters.  Along with Nick Wise and Roger Learoyd he became one of the first RM pilots in that line of business.  At RNAS Culdrose he converted onto the Hiller and Whirlwind and then undertook a two month anti-submarine course at Portland before joining 848 NAS in HMS Bulwark in August 1961. As a Commando Pilot Terence felt that the RM pilots contributed more than their numbers indicated, since to support troops on the ground was second nature to them.

After a ground tour in 43 Commando Terence was nominated as the first RM helicopter instructor at the School of Army Aviation. He passed the Instructor’s Course at the RAF Central Flying School and joined Advance Rotary Wing at Middle Wallop, thoroughly enjoying flying with the Army.

Shortly after passing his Naval Squadron Command Exam in March 1966, Terence was detached to Aden to form 45 Commando’s Air Troop. There were three new pilots, but no RM helicopters which were in boxes and on their way by sea. Whilst waiting for his own helicopters to arrive, Terrence was appointed as an Army Air Corps Middle East Theatre Qualified Helicopter Instructor and so was able to use Army Sioux helicopters to continue to train the three new RM pilots, as well as a number of Army pilots at the same time. Once the helicopters arrived and flying commenced, Terence was flying fairly low level over a desolate inland area when he saw a lone Arab on a hill raise his rifle and take aim.  Feeling vulnerable in the unarmed Sioux helicopter, he determined to fix a machine gun on the starboard side of the aircraft, allowing the pilots to fire back.  Being the first time this was attempted, perhaps he can claim to be the inventor of the modern Attack Helicopter!

He returned to the School of Army Aviation and resumed instructional duties there on 25th July 1966, thoroughly enjoying his time there as the social life was frenetic and there was a happy Mess atmosphere, developing a lasting affection for the Army Air Corps.

In October 1966 Terence attended Shrivenham for the General Staff Science course and then the Army Staff College at Camberley. In January 1968 he reluctantly arrived at the Ministry of Defence as an officer on CGRM’s staff. Despite asking that he be ‘condemned’ to only an 18 month staff tour he was kept there for two and a half years. It was however during this time that he had a guiding hand in the development of Royal Marine aviation.  His ‘Junglie’ experience allowed him to staff the organisation and roles of 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron and the work he put in ensured that the implementation of the squadron was a success. Despite a dislike of staff work, he presented a brief to the First Sea Lord and his staff on the replacement of the RM Sioux helicopter.  Lord (as he later became) Hill-Norton was a daunting officer but Terence’s briefing on why the Brigade should get Gazelle helicopters went well and the Admiral gave the nod. So the Brigade Air Squadron kept their six Scout helicopters and were to be given Gazelle to replace the Sioux.

Terence went from the MOD to Singapore to join 42 Commando in July 1970 as OC M Company and was then appointed as Commanding Officer of 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron in Coypool, Plymouth, in February 1972.  The squadron was leading the development of the Light Aviation Unit, and Terence’s concern was that it was done safely.  His pilots were pioneering early aviation tactics, by both land and sea with rudimentary equipment, and he led by example to ensure they won the Army Air Corps Flight Safety Trophy at the end of his tour. On completion of his command at 3BAS he left the Royal Marines in August 1974.

Terence went on to join the Rhodesian Air Force and his log book shows that his helicopter was involved in around 100 ‘contacts’ of varying intensity during the period from 1976 – 1978.  He had many interesting and hair raising encounters before he joined the South African Military as a Lt Col in operations and was then promoted to Colonel in HQ Special Forces.  He eventually retired at the age of 61 and settled with his family in Simon’s Town, South Africa.  Terence had a remarkable career in the Royal Marines and beyond, and a fuller account of his life can be found at www.flyingmarines.com/Biographies/1951-1960/Murphy.htm.

Terence was a keen sailor and rugby player, and his no nonsense approach to his work earned the respect of those under his command.  The following words from his friend and colleague Nick Hall neatly summarise the man that he was:

“I met Terence when I was appointed to be his Second in Command when he was M Company Commander in 1970 based in Singapore. We remained friends from that day. It was a very happy Company as Terence led it with flair and panache. Everyone was expected to know their job and work hard and in exchange he overlooked minor indiscretions, stood up for the Company and organised frequent company banyans. The Marines respected him and enjoyed the dash of having aviators as both the Company Commander and Sergeant Major.  At Pay Parade the CSM (Derek Blevins, another RM pilot) would read a Section from the Army Act and on one occasion the Marines listened intently to Section 51 concerning the penalty of imprisonment for captaining a low flying aircraft until they realised the only person it applied to was the Company Commander!

He was fun to be with and so when he persuaded his wife to allow him to join our expedition and drive back to the UK from Singapore overland we were pleased he could. His ‘never take no’ for an answer, bluster and self-confidence  saw us through many tricky situations as we negotiated our way through India and Pakistan on the eve of their second war, blagged our way into hotels, dealt with truculent border guards and ‘persuaded’ officials  to refuel our land rovers.

Terence was no respecter of authority and did not tolerate pettiness. He was a colourful character, warm and generous to his friends, a fund of good reminiscences and a good person to be with. With him you were never allowed not to take advantage of an opportunity and, if there wasn’t one, then he would create one!  Peacetime UK soldiering was never going to suit him once seniority took away the opportunity for fun and a good run ashore.”

In 2011 there was a large reunion planned to celebrate 100 years of Royal Marines aviation.  When the question of who should deliver the main speech was raised, Terence’s name was suggested.  When he was contacted in South Africa he instantly accepted, and then went on to give an incredible 40 minute speech from memory, recounting with humour the history of RM aviation.  A truly remarkable achievement.

Terence had left clear instructions that he wanted the simplest coffin, no flowers and to be cremated with his ashes to be cast into the sea.  In his own words, “The meaning of the Murphy name – ‘Sea Warrior’ – and my love of the sea, all make this appropriate.”  His funeral service was held on 19th November in the South African Navy Dockyard Chapel in Simon’s Town and was attended by the RM Defence attaché, family, friends and former colleagues (about 150 people). He was cremated on 20th November and then the casket containing his ashes was committed to the sea from HMS Richmond on the 21st November to the sound of the boatswain’s pipe and the bugle playing the Last Post, complete with a sea-level fly past of close to a 1,000 cormorants.  He leaves behind his wife Brigitte, son Simon and daughters Clare-Laure and Caroline and our deepest sympathies are with them for their loss.


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