Captain Jonathan Woodcock, Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh talks to Cornwall Life

PUBLISHED: 12:42 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:19 20 February 2013

Cornwall Life talks to Captain Jonathan Woodcock OBE Royal Navy, the outgoing Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh

Cornwall Life talks to Captain Jonathan Woodcock OBE Royal Navy, the outgoing Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh

Cornwall Life talks to Captain Jonathan Woodcock OBE Royal Navy, the outgoing Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh. Words by Bernard Cole.

Cornwall Life talks to Captain Jonathan Woodcock OBE Royal Navy, the outgoing Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh. Words by Bernard Cole.


After nearly 30 years of service, Captain Jonathan Woodcock, Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh near Torpoint, is responsible for every aspect of the training provided to some 28,000 naval men and women and youth trainees who pass through the base each year on their way to Royal Navy ships and shore establishments around the world. He says: I must have been about 14 when I realised I wanted to join the Royal Navy.


Ive always nurtured a passion for things mechanical and with my ambition to join the Royal Navy I drifted towards studying for a naval engineering degree. At 18, he joined Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth as a Midshipman and from there moved to the RN Engineering College at Manadon. After four years of study and with a degree and officer training behind him, he joined his first ship, HMS Exeter, as the Deputy Marine Engineering Officer.


Since those early days, Captain Woodcock has undertaken a variety of sea-going and shore-based appointments. During the late 1980s he served as the Electrical Officer on board Her Majestys Yacht Britannia and in 1992 as a Lieutenant Commander he found himself on a NATO exchange appointment in British Columbia working with Canadian and US forces in the Pacific. A spell as Marine Engineering Officer on HMS York followed, where he joined and left the ship during operational deployments to the Gulf. Life at sea is so fulfilling, says the Captain. A naval engineer must be able to turn his or her hand to anything. If its not in the ships stores, it often has to be made or mended from whats available. For a young sailor its an incredible experience and the bonds developed with shipmates often last a lifetime.


Like every other officer in the armed services he has had his share of desk-bound jobs at Naval HQs and the Ministry of Defence. For Captain Woodcock these included a spell conducting marine engineering trials on new-build ships, a period as Chief of Staff to a major MOD Department and an appointment as the staff marine engineer to the Amphibious Task Group operating in the Gulf. He did, however, manage to get back to sea between these desk jobs with a stint as Commander (Engineering) on HMS Ark Royal.


In January 2008, after a successful tour as Commander of the Royal Naval School of Marine Engineering at HMS Sultan, he assumed command of HMS Raleigh. Its probably the most professionally rewarding job Ive had, says the Captain. We take extraordinary young men and women from civilian life and then make them even more extraordinary. Its an incredibly important time for them because its in the early days of their navy careers that they start to develop their professional personas.


The career for everyone joining the Royal Navy as a rating begins at HMS Raleigh. From the sixteen-and-a-half year old, right up to those aged 37, some with their own families and commitments, they all take their first navy steps in the same establishment. Thats when the captain and his team start turning them into sailors. As a volunteer-based service, the Royal Navy helps new recruits to make some major life choices and for us, thats a huge responsibility.


Sixty or so trainees arrive at the base every Sunday of the year except one. Whats the biggest challenge faced by those conducting the training? Easy, the Captain says. Weve always had to deliver young men and women who are militarily tough but every recruit is an individual and we have to help them develop the skills they need within a robust but caring environment. We have them for just nine weeks and the results when they leave never fail to surprise, he added. The highlight is the passing-out parade when the young men and women move into the Navy proper. Family and friends come from all over the country and from overseas to witness the occasion.


Before they join their ships, every new entrant to the service must first undertake trade or professional training. For this, many of those who have just marched off the passing-out parade will stay at HMS Raleigh, while others move to other Royal Navy training establishments around the country. When operating at full capacity, the base, in many respects, is like a small town, with churches, shops, a bank, doctors, dentists, a gymnasium and a swimming pool.


Other training schools at HMS Raleigh include the prestigious Submarine School and the Defence Maritime Logistics School that takes care of the career and professional training of officers and ratings of the logistics branch. At the Naval Military Training School sailors are taught vital skills in ship protection and how to board and search vessels. And out on the River Lynher the School of Seamanship is busy, among other things, teaching coxwains how to drive the latest Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat. Its a complex and wide-ranging command, muses the Captain, and Im never at a loss for something to do.


One area that I dont wish to overlook because it is so important, he also added, is that we have over 600 civilian contractors working with us at the base. Their contribution is absolutely vital and we couldnt manage without them. Its largely through them that we are able to help generate income for the local community and become involved with the county at all levels.


How does a man with such demanding professional responsibilities wind down? Relaxing with my family is the most important priority in my off-duty life, says Captain Woodcock. My eldest daughters eighteenth birthday is on Christmas Day so this years festivities should be particularly busy. When time allows I also enjoy all country activities, I keep bees and, as a family, we are all skiing and winter-sports fanatics.


And the future? Predicting the future is never easy for anyone serving in the armed services, he concludes with a smile, but in the New Year Im off on a course at the Royal College of Defence Studies and after that well, I havent been told.

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