Morpeth Rotary Club
Ken Branson, of Rothbury, gave a talk about how he went from Royal Navy boy entrant to becoming an Admiral, but by an unusual route.
In 1959, a working class lad from Hull docks, aged 13, his plan was to go to Art College and become the greatest sea-going commercial artist ever. After 18 months on an art course, aged 15, his tutor recommended that because of the highly competitive nature of art employment and his lack of talent, a different career was advisable.
As he had enjoyed making model boats, he applied to join the Royal Navy Engineering Branch and started in 1961. He went abroad in seven ships, visited art galleries all over the world, met many interesting people and learnt a lot.
He worked hard and studied for two degrees, without completing them, but saw that the Royal Navy was changing. After 24 years he left the service as a senior rating and settled back into the community. Many others, including a close friend, could not manage the transition to civilian life.
Towards the end of his service Admiral Branson was due to visit and he was ragged by the other sailors asking if the man was his dad. There was an engineering emergency during the visit and he was not able to meet the Admiral, although a couple of flag lieutenants talked to him.
His years in the service were good, there was great companionship, but he wished he had used the opportunities better and completed the engineering course. Most of those who served, whatever their rank, felt that they had contributed to the life of the nation.
One of his best experiences was on a Royal Navy visit to the US Navy at Norfolk, Virginia. He intervened to stop a lady being mugged when several US servicemen just walked past. His confidence was helped by knowing there were ten of his shipmates only 50 yards behind.
It is now 38 years since he left. He loved being at sea and could have had promotion to Warrant Officer if he stayed. His parents were disappointed that he did not complete his degree and become a commissioned officer.
Ashore, he got a job working on a training scheme for young people with difficulties. The funding ran out after six years, but three of his trainees went on to achieve a degree.
He was dreaming of a visionary future where he would go to South America and help to build roads, but realised there were many social problems in Humberside.
He became a Welfare Rights Officer with Humberside County Council, working mainly on rural debt with elderly and disabled people. The work was rewarding, but draining, and the caseload was increasing.
When he stood as a councillor with Hull City Council he was successful and did it on a full-time basis. He enjoyed the work, did well and was twice elected Leader of the council, though in each case his party lost the following election.
He was elected Lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull. To his delight, he found that his other honorary title was ‘Admiral of the Humber’.