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George Preece

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Vice Admiral Sir George Preece (1884-1945)

1946 Obituary [1]

Engineer Vice-Admiral Sir GEORGE PREECE, K.C.B., whose untimely death occurred on 5th January 1945, was born in April 1884 and received his general education at Monmouth Grammar School. In 1900 he joined the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham, where he quickly went to the top of his term and retained this position throughout the course. He passed into the Royal Navy as Eng. Sub-Lieut. in 1904, won the Newman Memorial Prize awarded each year to the officer passing out who scored most marks in technical subjects, and went on to do the three years' higher course of engineering training at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

He was promoted to Eng. Lieutenant in 1906 and in 1907 took up his first seagoing appointment in HMS Britannia. From his earliest days Sir George Preece displayed a keen interest in the science of engineering, and a marked facility at analysis and clear thinking; it was not surprising therefore to find him selected at an early age for the instructional work which featured largely in his subsequent career. In 1909 he was appointed to the seagoing cadets' training cruiser, HMS Cumberland, and was so successful as an instructor of the young that in 1910 he was appointed to the staff of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, where one of his important duties was supervision of the engineering design of the young engineer officers. It can be said that the conscientious manner in which he carried out his duties there, and later at the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham, contributed in no small measure to the sound practice in our ships and their successful running during two major wars.

In 1913 he was appointed as 2nd Engineer Officer of HMS Lion, the famous battle cruiser in which ship he was present at the Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank actions. In 1916 he joined the staff of the Engineer-in-Chief, and, inter alia, took a keen and active part in the design of the machinery of HMS Hood, the famous battle cruiser of 144,000 s.h.p. In 1917 he received special and early promotion to the rank of Engineer Commander in recognition of his distinguished service in H.M.S. Lion, and in December of the same year was appointed to the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham, to restart the training of young engineer officers which had so unfortunately been allowed to lapse at the commencement of the 1914-18 war.

The experience gained in that connection stood him in good stead when, as Engineer-in-Chief of the Fleet in the early days of the 1939-45 war, he so successfully withstood attempts from high quarters seriously to curtail the training of our young engineer officers. In 1921 he was appointed to HMS Delhi as Engineer Officer of the ship and for Squadron duties, returning to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, in 1923 as Professor of Marine Engineering. In 1927 he joined the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, as Fleet Engineer Officer, and in 1929 said farewell to seagoing service when he joined the Admiralty as Assistant Engineer-in-Chief. In June 1930 he was promoted to Eng. Rear-Admiral, and in 1935 appointed as Deputy Engineer-in-Chief. He succeeded Eng. Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Brown as Engineer-in-Chief of the Fleet in September 1936. He held his last appointment until March 1942 when he retired in order to facilitate the promotion of junior officers.

He was created a C.B. in 1933 and promoted K.C.B. in 1938. Sir George Preece held his highest office at a critical period in the country's history, and was responsible in his department for the vast expansion of personnel and material which occurred at the outbreak and during the early days of the 1939-45 war, and for the design, production, and maintenance of the machinery of the enormous programmes of ships of all kinds necessitated by the strategy which brought the war in Europe to a successful conclusion.

Sir George Preece served on the Council of the Institution from 1938, and had been a Vice-President since 1941. In January 1943 he delivered the Annual Lecture to the Graduates' Section, London, entitled "Naval Machinery: Some Factors Influencing its Design". He was a director of the Foster Wheeler Corporation in this country, a Member of Council of the Institution of Naval Architects, and at the date of his untimely end was about to embark on a third year as President of the Institute of Marine Engineers.

In the last-named office his patient and untiring efforts on behalf of the benevolent fund will be long remembered in that Institute. Sir George Preece, besides being an engineer of sound judgement and keen perception had qualities which endeared him to his many friends, qualities such as integrity and uprightness of character, loyalty to friends, unobtrusive generosity, and a keen and delightful sense of humour.

Frederick R. G. Turner, K.C.B., O.B.B.

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