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Bill King

Commander of a submarine in the Second World War, he went on to sail around the world

Bill King of Oranmore Castle, who died on Friday at the age of 102, was the last surviving submarine commander of the Second World War and an adventurer who sailed singlehandedly around the world on board Galway Blazer II, a junk rigged schooner that he designed himself.

In a long life crammed with danger, trials and tribulations, William Donald Aelian King distinguished himself as a naval officer in the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the Far East, before retiring to a life of relative peace and tranquility, farming in Co Galway, where he created an organic farm and garden and wrote books.

He was commanding officer of the T-class submarine Telemachus, which sank the Japanese Kadai-class submarine I-166 in the Strait of Malacca on July 17, 1944. Commander King unleashed six torpedoes, one of which found its mark with the loss of 89 lives.

Sixty years later, in 2004, Akira Tsurukame, whose father died on I-166, and Katja Boonstra-Blom, whose father was killed when the I-166 sank the Dutch submarine K XVI, met with Bill King at Oranmore Castle. Together, they planted a tree in the grounds to honour the fathers of Mr Tsurukame and Ms Boonstra-Blom.

By the end of the war, Commander King had been awarded seven medals, including the DSO on May 9, 1940, for "daring endurance and resource in the conduct of hazardous and successful operations in His Majesty's submarines against the enemy".

Commander King's father, William Albert de Courcy King (born 1875), was also a war hero and served with the 36th (Ulster) Division in Belgium. He was killed in battle in May 1917 and buried at Dranoutre Military Cemetery in Belgium.

As a result of his father's death in combat, Bill King was primarily brought up by his mother, Georgina Marie MacKenzie, and his maternal grandmother. He later attended the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth from the age of 12, where he was a noted boxer and cross-country runner.

In 1949, Bill King married Anita Theodosia Mouira Leslie, who died in 1984 aged 70. She also gave distinguished service during the war as an ambulance driver in the French army. General Charles de Gaulle presented her with the Croix de Guerre after hostilities had ceased. She became a writer after the war and under the name Anita Leslie wrote more than a dozen books including a biography of Francis, (later Sir Francis) Chichester -- the first man to sail around the world singlehandedly with only one stop.

After the war, the couple settled at the 15th-Century Oranmore Castle on the shores of Galway Bay, once the stronghold of the Clanricardes, a prominent Norman family in Galway. To help combat his wife's asthma, Bill King developed an organic farm and garden.

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In the 60s Bill King signalled his intention to sail around the world. In the book Deep Water, he wrote that sailing was a means of recovering psychologically from 15 years of service in submarines, which, as he put it, had left him "a nervous wreck".

As he planned his own solo effort, word emerged that the Sunday Times was intent on organising the Golden Globe race and at the age of 58 Bill King became the oldest participant. He said he never felt lonely or depressed on his sea quest because of the beauty surrounding him. "You are alone with God; there's no opportunity to sin."

The boat capsized and he had to be towed into Cape Town. A second attempt the following year also ended in mishap when he collided with "a large sea creature" (a whale or shark), which shattered the hull.

A further epic sea journey, which began in 1970, was successful, with Bill completing his global circumnavigation in 1973.

A family notice published on Friday read: "Commander Bill DSO, DSC submariner and yachtsman set off on a new voyage on September 21, 2012, aged 102 years.

"He was surrounded by the loving care of his daughter Leonie and son Tarka. Reposing today at Oranmore Castle from 4pm to 6pm. Funeral service tomorrow at 4pm at the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, Lombard Street, Galway. Private Interment. Donations in memory of Bill to RNLI."

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