Rear Admiral Nigel Charles Forbes Guild

Doctor of Engineering

17 July 2006 - Orator: Professor Dick Clements

Madam Pro Vice-Chancellor: Nigel Guild

In the 1840s, the Royal Navy began to develop steam propulsion for warships in order to free its captains and admirals from the tactical restrictions previously imposed by the force and direction of the wind. As these steam ships were developed, a new type of sailor was required to maintain and operate the engines. Old fashioned Royal Naval officers deplored the new methods of propulsion because coal firing was an intrinsically dirty and untidy process and, as such, repulsive to the spick and span sailor. They looked down on the operators and maintainers of these new fangled engines as 'rude mechanicals'. How far we have come! The modern warship is a technological marvel with very sophisticated communications, navigation, propulsion and weapons equipments. The officers who specialise in maintaining and operating engineering systems are a highly qualified corps within the Royal Navy without whom the current generation of ships could not operate and the next generation of ships would not be developed. Nigel Guild has followed a distinguished career as an RN Weapons Engineering Officer, culminating in a period as Controller of the Navy, with overall responsibility for the procurement of all Royal Navy equipment, and becoming Chief Naval Engineer Officer.

Nigel was born in 1949 at Simonstown, South Africa where his father was Medical Officer of the Naval Base. He was later brought up near to the Haslar Naval Hospital at Gosport and then attended Bryanston School. He always wanted to follow his father into the Navy, the only rivals to that ambition being a hankering, during the winter months, to be an engine driver and, during the summer, to be a county cricketer. Events quickly demonstrated that his talents lay elsewhere than in cricket, but he now owns several restored steam launches in which he can sometimes be seen sailing around Bristol Docks on a Sunday afternoon, so he has indeed become an engine driver of sorts!

On leaving school in 1966 Nigel joined the Royal Navy and undertook initial training at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. In those times most Royal Navy engineer officers went on to train at the Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon in Plymouth, but a select group were sent instead to study Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University. Nigel was fortunate to be in that group. It seems that Nigel was not the perfect Royal Navy Cadet, showing some deficiencies, he tells me, in shirt folding skills for the frequent kit inspections and being caught clock watching during drill training. Thankfully, despite such shortcomings, he passed initial training sufficiently well to be allowed to proceed to Trinity College, Cambridge where, as well as studying engineering, he developed a lifelong interest in rowing. He has been involved throughout his career with the Royal Navy Amateur Rowing Association and has served as both Chairman and President of the Association.

Following university and further engineering training in the Royal Navy, he served in HMS Hermes as a Weapons Section Officer and then as a Weapons Trials Officer commissioning systems in the then new type 42 frigates.

Each year the Royal Navy sends a small number of mid career engineer officers to universities to take relevant MSc degrees. During a short course at Bristol University's Burwalls centre, Nigel Guild met Jim Baldwin, of the University's Engineering Mathematics Department, and, seeing the relevance of some of Jim's ideas to problems in the maritime environment, proposed to the Royal Navy that he should come to Bristol and complete an MSc by research in the area of fuzzy systems. The work went well, several papers were co-authored and the Royal Navy agreed to his staying a second year at the end of which he wrote up for a PhD. According to Nigel, the experience produced new perspectives in the way he thinks about problems.

Back in the fleet, Nigel served successively in posts at the torpedo trials range, as Weapons Engineer Officer in HMS Euryalus, and then in Future Weapons Studies, this latter being his introduction to the art and science of ship design. After further more senior posts in operational weapons engineering he was promoted Captain in 1990 and became Military Assistant to the Chief of Defence Procurement. In 1996 he was appointed Director Combat Systems and Equipment in what was then the Ministry of Defence (Procurement Executive) – now the Defence Procurement Agency - at the new Abbey Wood Headquarters in north Bristol. Changes were afoot in the defence procurement business with the introduction of a partnering system, involving the Services and the defence industries, known as 'smart procurement'. In 1998-99 Nigel took a leading role in the initial implementation of the smart procurement system across the whole Defence Procurement Agency. In 2000 Nigel was promoted Rear Admiral and became Controller of the Navy, responsible for the development and delivery of all new equipment projects for the Royal Navy.

During his time at Abbey Wood, despite his heavy responsibilities, Nigel was always ready to help local units of the Sea Cadet Corps, acting as inspecting officer at Annual Inspections and encouraging the Cadets in their nautical ambitions. He also assisted the development of this University's Royal Naval Unit wherein our own students can gain insights into the roles and importance of the Royal Navy.

Since 2004 Nigel has taken overall responsibility for the concept development of the Royal Navy's new large aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, rejoicing in the title Senior Responsible Owner (Carrier Strike Capability). These new ships will be the largest and most capable warships ever built for the Royal Navy, displacing over 60,000 metric tonnes, carrying a tailored air group of some 40-50 aircraft. The development of these ships and the aircraft they will carry represents one of the most complex engineering projects being undertaken in the UK today. In parallel Nigel also holds the title of Chief Naval Engineer Officer and, in that capacity, has been involved in developing engineering training in the Royal Navy. The tri-service Defence Training Review, published in 2001, espoused a policy of increasing harmonisation of military training standards and qualifications with equivalent civilian qualifications. For instance it has long been an anomaly that a Royal Navy bridge watchkeeping qualification has no validity on a Merchant Navy bridge. Nigel has been heavily involved in the process of validating Royal Navy technical training for recognition by the UK Engineering Council, the regulating body for engineering qualifications in the UK. This will assist both engineer officers and technical ratings to achieve civilian qualifications, which will smooth their transition to civilian life when they leave the Royal Navy and likewise benefit UK industry and commerce. He also took over the reorganisation of the technical rating structure and the creation of a modified training structure for these ratings. When the changes are fully implemented all technical ratings will be able complete a foundation degree by accumulation of credits from their in-service training courses.

It was during his Initial Sea Training, in the Assault Ship HMS Intrepid, that Nigel met Felicity, the daughter of the Commodore of the Royal Navy Base in Hong Kong. They met again in Cambridge, where she was in residence at Newnham College, and they married in 1971. Felicity is a materials specialist and, whilst Nigel was serving at Abbey Wood, she was a Lecturer and then Reader in the Mechanical Engineering Department at this University. She is now Professor of Composite Materials, Queen Mary University of London. They have two sons, the younger of whom is following his father into the Royal Navy. We are very pleased to welcome Nigel's family here today.

Madam Pro Vice-Chancellor, it is my great pleasure to present to you Nigel Charles Forbes Guild, Companion of the Bath, alumnus of this University, Rear Admiral and Chief Engineer Officer of the Royal Navy, as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa.


Edit this page