The Royal Navy's thirst for action and the gentler arts of the creative soul came together in 'Mac' Dash who died last week. Mike Buckingham pays tribute to a dashing sailor and friend.

DASH by name and by nature.

If any man encapsulated the élan and fighting spirit of the Royal Navy it was 'Mac' Dash, known and respected throughout mid-Gwent who died at the Royal Gwent Hospital - in Newport on Wednesday.

The bright blue eyes that had frozen many an errant matelot in his tracks could also twinkle with fun.

From the day he berthed in Blackwood after 25 years service in the Senior Service Mac threw himself into the life of the town's Little Theatre.

They still talk of the tough former Chief Petty Officer's role as the King of Gooseland in Mother Goose as one of the defining and hilarious moments of local pantomime.

Albert Macauley Dash had the sea in his blood, having been born in the naval town of Gosport opposite Portsmouth in 1922, the son of a merchant sailor of Ulster origins.

There was never much doubt about the young Albert going into the Royal Navy.

In the closing years of peace before World War Two he joined HMS Fisgard as an engineering apprentice, emerging as a ordnance artificer and by the time the war had started, a chief ordnance officer.

Although he would not have thanked you for using the word Mac Dash was a hero.

Having seen service in the Mediterranean and the Far East during the war he was in charge of a ship's guns when a shell breeched.

Calmly, having levered the lethal projectile from where it was jammed and cradling it in his arms he carried it to the ship's stern and dropped it overboard.

All her would later say of the incident was "Having a breeched shell is the best way I know of clearing a deck of sailors."

Whilst stationed at Portsmouth towards the war's end Mac met Peggy Taylor from Abertillery who had been training to be a teacher at nearby Chichester and they were married in 1944.

Peter Dash, born in 1948 at the naval base in Malta was a result of that union.

In the years after the war Mac eschewed shore stations for service at sea, serving in HMS Liverpool, two of the new 'D'class destroyers and HMS Lagos.

He was in charge of the guns of the flagship during the Corfu Incident of 1946 in which the Albanian government laid claimed to the waters off the island and re-inforced its claim by sowing sea-mines.

Determined that the straits should remain international waters the Royal Navy sent a squadron of warships with Mac aboard the flagship.

One of the smaller vessels fell foul of a mine and had her bow blown off.

When the distress signal was received the flagship turned around and steamed at top speed to her rescue, putting on so many knots that the funnels caught fire.

Informed of this by his engineering officer the captain snapped 'Let 'em burn!" and pressed on regardless.

The Navy's offensive spirit unhampered by political daintiness was one Mac relished.

When he finally left the service in 1960 - by this time one of the most senior non-commissioned personnel in the Fleet - Britain's naval capacity had not yet been stripped to the bone by governments more concerned for their domestic reputations than for the safety of the realm.

Although scathing about such politicians Mac Dash continued to take a deep interest in naval matters right up until the moment of his sudden death.

Immaculate in his 'fore and aft' rig during his naval years.

Mac was no less an impressive character when their Lordships of the Admiralty sanctioned his return to civilian life.

Not long after demob he, Peggy and the young Peter - later to become a South Wales Argus photographer - were sunbathing at Ogmore with Mac enjoying a snooze when a commotion came from the direction of the beach.

A strong swimmer, Mac dashed to the scene where a crowd had gathered and where one would-be rescuer had already entered the water.

Swimming powerfully past the man Mac grabbed the girl and took her to safety on his shoulders, through an applauding crowd.

Instead of remaining to enjoy the adulation to which he was surely entitled Mac simply went back to where he had been snoozing and once more fell asleep.

The story came not from Mac himself but from Peter who recalls that when his father awoke it was to discover that he had broken a toe.

A strong creative side was already apparent in the illuminated manuscript and photography that gave Mac so much pleasure but this was magnified greatly after his marriage to Peggy, an accomplished artist as well as mainstay of the local theatrical scene.

In civilian Life Mac was in charge of Richard Thomas and Baldwin apprentices at Llanwern, an almost identical job to his last naval appointment which was instructing naval technical staff at the HMS Vernon shore base.

To the last Mac Dash retained his boyish sparkle and bonhomie and a readiness to rise to new challenges.

When the Argus wanted a review of a history of the doomed capital ship HMS Hood there was really only one man qualified to write it, despite Mac having no journalistic training.

He turned in a piece that was word-perfect and printed in its entirety.

The world of journalism that was to embrace his son would have welcomed Mac had he not chosen to bravely and diligently serve his country under the White Ensign.

  • Mac's funeral service will be held on Monday June 29 at 10.45am at the Stanley J Nicholas funeral home at The Paddocks, Pengam, followed by cremation at noon at Gwent Crematorium, Croesyceiliog.