A Tribute to Mike Hurley
As spoken by John Evans of the Sunderland Trust, 1st July 2014
“It is a privilege for me to be with you and, on behalf of all Mike’s colleagues in the Pembroke Dock heritage organisations, to pay a small tribute to a very, very special friend. And, at the same time, to extend our deepest sympathies to Andrew and Andrea and their children, and also to Val.
We are grateful to Pastor Huw Michael and the family for all the information on Mike’s life before the Pembroke Dock chapter began. None of us I am sure knew much of Mike’s earlier life, but we have all been privileged to be part of the last dozen or so years since he retired to PD.
It is fascinating to learn – bearing in mind Mike’s total involvement with Sunderland flying boats in recent years – that a photograph of three Sunderlands off the town was found by Andrew in the house. It was taken in the 1950s and may indeed show one of the aircraft in which our resident Sunderlander, Ron Boreham, flew with 230 Squadron. Mike and Ron became firm friends and shift colleagues for so many years.
From chatting to Mike on various occasions I know that the sight and the sounds of Sunderlands taking off and landing at PD, and just resting on the waters, had a profound impact upon him when he came on his regular visits to Pembroke Dock, staying with family friends the Wests in Hawkestone Road.
So, it was no surprise that, once settled in PD, Mike should gravitate quickly to the developing heritage initiatives. The Gun Tower Museum had only recently been taken on by the Museum Trust when Mike turned up to offer his services as a Volunteer. We joked many times since that it seemed he hardly went home from the Tower for the next six years! Indeed, Mike took the leg pulling all in good humour.
When it came to display cabinets, Mike was the one to turn his hand to making them, often recycling timber and glass panels to such good effect. We quickly came to realise that Mike could turn his hand to anything, and with his background as an electrician he was always on hand to offer advice on electrical matters, but he was happy to leave this work to others.
The 2003 summer began an exciting chapter in the town’s heritage story with the lifting of the first Pegasus engine from Sunderland T9044, for the ‘Wreck Detectives’ programme, and Mike was, from the beginning, in the thick of it.
The old saying ‘Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man’ has no better meaning than with Mike’s involvement in the ‘Sunderland Project’. The film company offered the engine to Pembroke Dock; we said ‘yes we are delighted to have it’ – but we hadn’t a clue what to do with it! Enter Mike and fellow Volunteer Allan Ross who said collectively, ‘We’ll have a go at it’, and indeed they were ever true to their word.
Allan, colleague and close friend of Mike, cannot be with us but he has asked me to say how very sad he is not to be here, and that Mike has been a fantastic colleague without whom we would not have been able to achieve what we have done with Sunderland T9044.
Many of us will remember Mike and Allan, in overalls and hard hats, cheerfully venturing into a rusty 12 ft high tank in the old naval depot after the water had been drawn out, and then working on the initial clean up of the sea growth-covered Pegasus. All in a day’s work, and there were many days like this.
Then came the follow up. The engine, housed in a tiny room in the Mechanics Institute, being worked upon and split into major components. How Mike and Allan achieved this can only be marvelled at, working in very basic conditions. As each part was ‘rescued’ the conservation tasks began. Mike would cheerfully regale to visitors that it took 60 to 80 hours to return an engine cylinder to display condition; his ‘piece de resistance’ was demonstrating how dentists’ picks were so useful in this work.
With the start of the Sunderland Trust in 2007, and the setting up of the Flying Boat Centre five years ago, Mike found new areas for his many skills and hard earned expertise. Mike’s handiwork on so many parts from T9044 are there for all to see, a lasting legacy of his skills and dedication to a cause which he held so dear.
As well as involvement with the Pembroke Dock trusts Mike also found much time to devote to Chapel Bay Fort and George and Emma Geear’s unique project and, like the PD Trusts, I know that George and Emma will always be grateful to Mike for all that he did to help them along the way.
Latterly, with Pat James in particular, Mike had been engrossed in the conservation, and more, of the Vickers K Gun from T9044. Again his skills were put to amazing use, transforming an encrusted relic into a unique artefact which when finally displayed as part of the T9044 story will also be a permanent reminder of his skills.
The wooden handle of the Vickers had long disappeared so Mike industriously worked at the Centre and at home to create a new one. Came the time to fit it and he found it was only 80 per cent correct in size….. No problem, Mike just went back to basics and made a new one, and it fitted perfectly!
Mike embraced plans by the Trust to move the Flying Boat Workshop to the Dockyard Chapel and had made wise and telling observations on how this could be achieved. Sadly, he will not be with us to see this happen but we have decided to name the Chapel Workshop area as the Mike Hurley Workshop.
Mike was a cornerstone of the Volunteer Team and will never be replaced. He worked with many people over the years and could at times be forthright in his views, and speak his mind. But it was always with the good of the organisation in mind – and he loved his work, never happier than when at the Flying Boat Centre, chatting to visitors, showing them how the work had been done. His long and unique contribution will never be forgotten.
The results of this work will remain a bright legacy of Mike’s great skills. His painstaking efforts and countless hours of dedication have been a key factor in the success of the Flying Boat Centre. He contributed many hours each week to the Centre and was ever willing to fill a shift or to turn out for special visitors out of hours.
We have lost a hugely valued colleague and our heritage projects will be much the poorer by his absence. We must count ourselves lucky to have known Mike and to have been able to work alongside him in various ways.
Again to Andrew, Andrea, Val and the family, we convey our sincere and heartfelt sympathies at this sad time.
Mike, we salute you and thank you for everything. Farewell, Old Friend.”