Bill Fearns obituary

Other lives: Marine engineer who designed U-boat hunting vessels in the second world war

My father, Bill Fearns, who has died aged 99, was a marine engineer whose long career encompassed designing vessels that were used in the second world war, including the D-day landings.

Born in Dundee into a family of eight, to James Fearns, a foundry labourer, and his wife, Jessie (nee Farquharson), a jute spinner, Bill was raised in a tenement. He attended Stobswell school, but left aged 14 to train as a draughtsman in the Robb-Caledon shipyard, gaining qualifications at Dundee Technical Institute at night.

At the age of 15 with his brother, Alex, he played bagpipes in the massed bands at the 1936 Hampden Cup final, something he was always proud of.

During the war, now a qualified naval architect and therefore in a reserved occupation, in 1941 Bill was seconded to Clydeside, designing U-boat-hunting corvettes and working on the D-day Mulberry harbours.

After the war, he worked on Martin-Baker ejection seats at RAE Farnborough, but in 1948, after marrying Margaret Shand, Bill returned to a booming John Brown’s on Clydeside, working on the Cunard ships Saxonia, Carmania and Franconia.

In 1956, he became a surveyor with Lloyd’s Register in Greenock and was transferred in 1960 to Hamburg, West Germany. Bill worked on reparation ships for Israel and was surveyor on the rebuilding of the SS Uganda and SS Nevasa to become educational cruise ships, as well as on the first custom-designed container ships.

In 1973 Bill went to Singapore to head its operation replacing expat specialists with native Singaporeans. He enjoyed the occasional round of golf with Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s prime minister.

When he returned to Lloyd’s Register in London at the end of the 1970s, shipbuilding was changing dramatically. London’s docklands were closing down and computers were now being used to assist with surveying.

After retiring in 1984, he played golf at his home in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, sang in the local choir and played in several pipe bands, including the Rayleigh British Legion Band.

Margaret died in 2015. Bill is survived by his children, Jane and me, and by two grandchildren and a great grandchild.

Les Fearns

The GuardianTramp

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