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- December 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
With the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, there have been many fine tributes to his memory. A number of these mention an Australian born Private Secretary Lieutenant Commander Michael Parker RN. The following throws some light on the important contribution made to the RAN by the Parker family.
The Parker Family come to Australia
Charles Avison Parker was born on 17 May 1879 at Gloucester, England. After school at nearby Cheltenham he entered the Royal Navy as an Assistant Clerk on 15 January 1897. His first ship was HMS Orlando, then flagship of the Australia Squadron, and he served in other ships of the squadron.
On return home he served in the Channel Squadron and the China Station. While with the Mediterranean Fleet he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was retired physically unfit on 1 November 1913. Believing his health would benefit from outdoor life he migrated to Victoria and bought a citrus farm at Lockington.
At the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered for service in the RAN; assessed medically fit he was appointed Staff Paymaster on 21 August 1914. He joined Orvieto, flagship of the convoy taking the Australian Imperial Force to Egypt.
Parker was posted as assistant to the head of the transport branch of the London shipping agency of the Commonwealth Government. He was involved with the reception of Australian ships in the United Kingdom, including their berthing in congested British ports, disembarkation of troops and discharge and disposal of cargoes. His earlier Royal Navy experience greatly eased dealings with the Imperial Government including the later repatriation of AIF casualties. He was highly regarded and on 17 April 1918 was promoted to Fleet Paymaster.
On his return to Australia in 1920 Parker was made Assistant Secretary for Personnel and later Naval Assistant to the Second Naval Member at Navy Office in Melbourne. Unfortunately, he continued to be afflicted with bronchial complaints for the rest of his life, resulting in a lowered medical grading which debarred him from seagoing postings.
He was transferred to the auxiliary service list in December 1922 and remained at Navy Office until 1946 as a trusted adviser to a succession of naval boards. His extended time in essentially the one post was of immense benefit to the navy. In a field where precedent and continuity of policy were all-important, Parker became renowned for his encyclopaedic grasp of administrative details and the financial ramifications of personnel matters. He was adept at parrying the attempts of Treasury officials to pare naval expenditure.
Promotion in the auxiliary service was slow and he did not gain acting captain rank until April 1940. Placed on the retired list in January 1941, he was retained on temporary duty for the duration of World War II and was discharged in June 1946. He was appointed as an Officer of the British Empire in 1934 and as a Commander of the same order in 1943.
After retirement he continued to attend Navy Office as secretary of the RAN Relief Trust Fund and was still being consulted by senior officers in his ninth decade. Parker was described by a senior colleague as ‘tall, fresh-complexioned…the warm bell-like modulations of his voice expressed his abiding interest in people…remembered affectionately as the embodiment of RAN personnel administration’.
He married Mary Style in London on 14 April 1915. They had four sons and twin daughters. All the boys became professional service officers: Charles served briefly as a surgeon lieutenant RAN; Anthony a RAAF test pilot; Peter, an air commodore RAAF and John, a commander RN, secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh and equerry to Her Majesty.
Parker was a member of the Naval and Military Club, Melbourne, an enthusiastic producer and actor in plays and musicals and a keen gardener. He had adopted his wife’s Catholic faith and in later life was a daily communicant. He died on 14 June 1965.
The most famous of the next generation was John (always known as Michael or Mike) Parker who was born in Melbourne on 23 June 1920. After completing schooling at Melbourne’s Xavier College he successfully applied to join the Royal Navy just prior to the commencement of WWII. After graduating he saw action at the Battle of Narvik and later was First Lieutenant of HMS Lauderdale and of HMS Wessex serving with the British Pacific Fleet.
He first met Prince Philip in June 1942 and they became close friends, spending a high-spirited leave together in Australia. In July 1947 Prince Philip became engaged to Princess Elizabeth and the couple married in November of that year. As a result Prince Philip became a British citizen and was created Duke of Edinburgh. Forming his own Household, the Duke of Edinburgh engaged Michael Parker as his Private Secretary, initially on a part-time basis.
In 1952 Parker was in Kenya with the royal couple and broke the news to them of the death of King George VI. He became full-time Private Secretary and was created a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) and Commander (CVO) in 1957. Scandal surrounding Parker’s 1958 divorce obliged him to resign from royal service but he remained in contact with the Duke for the remainder of his life.
Michael Parker entered private industry, firstly working for the Lockheed Corporation in Europe and later the American advertising agency Leo Burnett. He returned to Australia in the late 1960s, becoming chairman of Australian Dredging and General Services and was a director of Sperry Australia. In 1996 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
Michael Parker married Eileen Allan in 1943, with whom he had a son and a daughter. The marriage ended acrimoniously in 1958. In 1962 he married Carol Thomson with whom he had another daughter and a son; again, the marriage was dissolved. In 1976 he married Jean Ramsay. Michael Parker died in Melbourne on 29 December 2001, aged 80.