Henry Duncan was the the youngest son of Louis and Mary. He followed a long family Naval tradition on his mother’s [Turnbull] side starting at Pangbourne Nautical College, then joining the Royal Navy before World War I. He was the senior officer to survive the sinking of the Heavy Cruiser H.M.S. Formidable when she was torpedoed on January 1st 1915. Only 233 of her 780 crew survived and he had to face the Admiralty Board of Enquiry. It is not recorded if he told them his true opinion, that it had been suicidal to send his cruiser out into the English Channel without its destroyer escort!
He was appointed Lt. Commander in 1916, in time to serve on the battleship H.M.S. Warspite at the Battle of Jutland, which was the largest naval battle of that war and the only full-scale clash of battleships. He re-joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and served much of World War II based in Portland, Maine, running convoys across the Atlantic.
Given this experience, Harry returned from WW1 to become the Director of H&G Simonds responsible for Logistics, where he was instrumental in converting the company from horse drawn drays and steam to the internal combustion engine. A horse drawn dray could deliver beer barrels a mere 12 miles from the brewery and this had led to a proliferation of small local breweries. Harry converted their transport fleet before most others and this helped to fuel the expansion of the business.
His elder brother Gavin, later Lord Chancellor relates in his memoirs: “In those days the first step was a period of training in the old Britannia. Thither he went and passing out in due course, was posted to one ship after another whose names I forget, until at the outbreak of the 1914 war he was lieutenant in H.M.S. Formidable. This ship was sunk in the Channel on New Year’s Eve 1914 by an enemy torpedo. My brother was the senior officer of the remnant of officers and crew who were saved and had the melancholy task of reporting the event to the Admiralty. I do not know what was in his report but have a vivid recollection of what he and others said of the order which had sent a cruiser squadron into the Channel unescorted by destroyers when enemy submarines were known to be lurking there. There followed a spell in one of those dressed-up tramps [Q-ships] whose aim it was by their innocent appearance to lure enemy submarines to their destruction – an adventure very suitable to his histrionic abilities. Then he was commissioned to the “Warspite” on her first commission and in her took part in the battle of Jutland. It will be recalled how something went wrong with her steering gear and she did an unwilling half-circle under heavy fire from a large part of the German fleet. However she staggered home under her own steam. My brother was uninjured but for long afterwards a chunk of steel severed by an enemy shell from the gun turret which he commanded was kept by him as a memento of a near miss. When the war was over he resigned his commission and joined the brewery where his chief duty was the organisation and supervision of transport. His experience as a naval officer in administration and his knowledge of men made him a valuable member of the board.”
Henry married Molly Zillah Ramsden in 1927 and the family holidayed in Bembridge, Isle of Wight, where they were keen sailors, still remembered at Bembridge Sailing Club.