The White Ensign Association is deeply saddened by the death of its President and undoubtedly greatest supporter, Vice Admiral Sir Donald Gosling KCVO, who passed away on Monday.
Sir Donald, who died at home at the age of 90 surrounded by his loved ones, was a successful entrepreneur and highly respected businessman. He was also munificent in his support of many worthwhile causes and charities, many of them associated with the Royal Navy, and generations of sailors and Royal Marines and their families have benefited from his generosity. Although it is more than 70 years since he left the Senior Service, he never forgot the grounding and opportunities the Royal Navy gave him in the final years of World War 2 and the immediate years thereafter.
Having attempted to join the Royal Navy at the age of 14 and underage, he was allowed to join the Service in 1944 aged 15 and subsequently served in the cruiser HMS Leander in the Mediterranean. During his time onboard the ship was involved in the 1946 infamous Corfu Channel incident which left a lasting impression on the young sailor. Leander became a name that meant much to him, as later in life he named both his house and his yacht after the warship. Following his demob from the Navy in the late 1940s he became a junior planning clerk for Lambeth Council, shortly after which he met, and then teamed up with, fellow ex-serviceman Ronald Hobson, to buy a bombsite in London and turn it into a car park. Over the next 50 years, this enduring partnership built a hugely successful property development venture that included the National Car Parks company, covering 650 sites.
Sir Donald, who was knighted in 1976, was a long-time advocate, supporter and benefactor of the Royal Navy. The foundation he established has supported and rewarded the Naval family from Sea Cadets through to veterans for many years and to the tune of millions of pounds.
His generosity has improved the lives of sailors, Royal Marines and their families at sea and on land, from helping with commissioning ceremonies and providing mess deck facilities, to paying for adventurous training opportunities around the world. Most recently, he provided the amenities fund of HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Sir Donald’s support for the Royal Navy was recognised with a series of honorary ranks, from Captain through to his appointment as Vice Admiral in 2015. He also held the post of Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom, subordinate only to the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Sir Donald was also passionate about the Royal Navy’s history, supporting Naval documentary makers, serving as a trustee of the Fleet Air Arm Museum and, in 2012, donating £25m to help preserve HMS Victory for generations to come.
His support of the National Museum of the Royal Navy over the past decade has assisted with the ongoing transformation of the UK’s four principal naval museums, and helped to push the historic dockyard alone to the cusp of one million visitors every year. It is fitting that a gallery in the Portsmouth museum bears his name.
The White Ensign Association has been privileged to have been closely associated with Sir Don for 47 years. Personally invited by our founding patron, the late Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, he joined the Council of Management (Board of Trustees) shortly after the WEA moved into its current home in HMS BELFAST in 1972. Typical of Sir Don’s enthusiastic approach to everything in life he swiftly became an advocate for change and innovation within the charity and helped reinvigorate relationships with employers and financial institutions to assist in the support offered to the sailor and marine. Elected Chairman of the Council of Management in 1978 he held this office until 1983 when he handed over to Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin and was elevated to the position of Vice President of the Association. He became the 6th President of the WEA in 1993 and has remained so since, being the most stalwart and generous benefactor and friend to the charity to the very end.
Sir Don had many interests and actively supported a large number of good causes and institutions on both a local and national scale. His legacy to the Royal Navy is immense, acknowledgements to the Gosling Foundation’s support can be found far and wide – in the Senior Rates mess in HMS HERON, at the Naval Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum, at the Naval Families Community Centre in Helensburgh – decades of generous donations and financial assistance litter the Naval estate and units of all arms of the Naval Service have received cheques to their welfare funds for the betterment of the lives of their sailors and marines. It is an almost impossible task to truly capture the impact Sir Don has had on the lives of the Naval community over the past decades – everyone who has had the privilege of meeting him has a story to tell with a smile on their face - in his passage from junior sailor to vice admiral he has become legendary and that “legend” will be greatly mourned and sorely missed.
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