It was typical of Wilf Taylor that he had put his affairs in such good order that the only delay which followed his death from a heart attack in August and his memorial service which followed in September was the need for an inquest because he was otherwise in such good health even at the age of 91. The large attendance at the celebration of his life, following a humanist cremation ceremony conducted by Trevor Moore, represented the wide cross-section of his interests; The Dulwich Society, The Dulwich Players, The Old College Tennis and Croquet Club and the Royal Navy.
(Ernest) Wilfred Taylor was born in Penarth, Glamorgan on 22nd December 1922, the youngest of three brothers. He attended the local grammar school, where he excelled in athletics, and entered Cardiff University reading Economics. The war interrupted the completion of his degree and he volunteered for the Royal Navy in May 1942. After basic training he was sent to the naval signal school for training as a coder. Within a few weeks, his potential as a future officer was recognised and he re-enlisted under the ‘Y’ scheme for specialist work . In December 1942 he was posted to HMS Pink, a ‘Flower-Class’ corvette which had been launched earlier that same year, and which was designed as an anti-submarine escort for Atlantic convoys.
Wilf served for six months at sea on convoy protection aboard HMS Pink and he later spoke of the crew’s concerns about their over-enthusiastic captain who seemed a bit too keen on ramming U-boats, and the relief felt all-round when any boat spotted disappeared beneath the waves before the idea could be executed. It was typical of Wilf to speak lightly of this period. A month before he left the ship, HMS Pink was engaged in one of the most decisive U boat engagements of the war when 16 allied warships escorted the ‘slow’ convoy ONS 5 outward bound from Liverpool to North America in ballast and were confronted by a pack of 40 U boats in heavy weather in mid-Atlantic. The convoy lost 13 ships but 6 U boats were destroyed and 7 severely damaged, one by HMS Pink . It marked the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.
In June 1943 he was sent on an intensive course to learn Japanese at the Intelligence School, Bedford and later was attached to Bletchley Park where he was a member of the famous Hut 7 personnel. He was commissioned in December 1943 and in April 1944 was posted to the naval intelligence shore station, HMS Anderson, in Colombo, Ceylon. Here, one of his colleagues from Hut 7 at Bletchley Park was John Silkin the future Labour politician and old boy of Dulwich College. In May 1945, Wilf’s team successfully broke a Japanese message that provided details leading to the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Haguro in the Battle of the Malacca Strait. When the war ended Wilf was sent first to Australia and then to Hong Kong where he continued to be employed on intelligence work.
He left the navy in 1946, deciding to continue with his interrupted higher education and gained a place at St Catherine’s College, Oxford where he read History. Having developed a love of the navy, Wilf re-enlisted as a Lieutenant - Instructor, later specialising in lecturing in international relations at various naval colleges. It was during this period that his great talent for amateur dramatics developed and he became the base entertainments officer and a leading light of the Ceres Players when attached to the shore station HMS Ceres. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in 1965 but was immediately re-employed as a civilian instructor at the same colleges, clearly a compliment to his skills as a communicator.
In the meantime Wilf had met Robin, who was a serving in the WRNS and who had also served at Bletchley Park and they married in 1951. Wilf and Robin first set up home in Dulwich, in Pickwick Road in 1954 and spent three years there before the demands of the Service required fresh moves. They finally put down permanent roots in Dulwich in 1965 with Wilf taking up tennis at the Old College Tennis Club in Gallery Road. Once he had finally retired from the Navy in the 1980’s both he and Robin took up other activities including The Dulwich Society and The Dulwich Players. It was as a member of The Dulwich Players where Wilf gave his most memorable performance, that of the hapless brother-in-law giving a puppet show to his bored relations at Christmas in Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Season’s Greetings’. He would continue to perform with the Players virtually until this year.
When Robin was too ill to continue as secretary to The Dulwich Society, Wilf took on those duties as well as nursing her in her long illness. In time he became membership secretary and many present members have appreciated Wilf’s warm welcome to the Society. When tennis began to test his knees and hips Wilf sensibly joined the croquet section of the Old College Tennis Club and the final round of duty he performed was on the day he died, when he watered the green before sitting down with his son to do The Times crossword and gently passed away.
Wilf is best summed up in a comment once made of him by his senior naval officer ... ”He exerts an admirable influence due to his zeal, natural charm and most upright character.”