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The Recollections of Desmond Gerrish

1947, 1948, At Ganges

Joining the Royal Navy. I joined in September 1947 at age 16, as a Boy Seaman, 2nd Class. I went to HMS Ganges, a huge training barracks for boys (3,000 of us) on the estuary of the broad River Stour at Ipswich. Ganges trained only seamen and communication boys. Electrical engineers, stokers, cooks, stewards and medical boys all went to their own individual specialist barracks dotted around the UK.

The first five weeks were spent in an Annexe Camp across the road from the main barracks, where they kept the new entries (200 every 5 weeks) separate from the hurly-burly of the real Ganges, while kitting out with Navy uniform which clothed you entirely, learning basic marching, learning to live in a Mess and doing basic school tests. We were batched together in groups of 30 for our entire time in Ganges (15 months) and lived in the very well designed dormitories containing 30 beds and lockers, with a dining area occupying the first third of the Long Dormitory. No frills, but excellent quality throughout,for instance, excellent parquet floors and immaculately clean paintwork everywhere.

Cleanliness was almost a religion at Ganges.

Once you had learned the rudiments of Ganges living, you moved over to the Main Barracks in the same batches of 30, which had fused in the Annexe. Ganges was laid out in groups of 10 Dormitories called Divisions. We went to Blake Division. All ten Divisions were named after RN Admirals: Rodney, Nelson, Drake, Raleigh etc. The 10 Divisions were all linked by glass–roofed covered ways,we call them Malls in modern parlance. The enormous Galley (cookhouse) was situated centrally, where 5 boys from each Dormitory collected the food in large metal dishes to race back to the Dormitory Dining Area.

Daily Routine:

Monday to Friday:

  • 6.30am Out of bed. Collect hot cocoa and hard tack biscuits.
  • 7.00am Sweep covered ways and general clean all round.
  • 7.30am Breakfast and clean Dormitory.
  • 8.30am Assemble on huge parade ground for Prayers, Notices and Ceremonial March past.
  • 9.00am To classes. Classes included ordinary school subjects: Maths, English, History, Geography, Mechanics and Electricity. Seamanship classes, rope work, sailing, anchors and cables, sheer legs, chartwork and rule of the road, signalling by semaphore, Aldis light and masthead flag signals, damage control and firefighting in ships, 4 inch twin turret gun drill, rifle range sessions and Physical Training (gym work), swimming and lifesaving.
  • 12 noon Lunch in Dormitory, wash up dishes etc. Change into sports rig.
  • 1.15pm To allocated sports event, which was a rotation of soccer, hockey, cricket, gymnastics, swimming, cross country, track events, sailing, rowing, rifle shooting, cutlass drill.
  • 4.00pm Showers. Change back into uniform. Tea.
  • 4.30–6pm Classes again.
  • 6.30pm Supper and free time. Occasional cinema, concerts, boxing matches all in the huge gym and rotated in allocation by Divisions.
  • 10.00pm In bed and lights out.


Mornings Wash clothes in the purpose built laundries, huge sinks, endless hot water, scrubbing brushes and hard tack Admiralty soap bars, together with hot air drying rooms.

Backward classes for any subjects that groups were lagging in.

Afternoons Organised recreation. Top teams had regular fixtures with outside teams, both inter–RN and local schools, in soccer, rugby, hockey and cricket. I was not good enough to get into any of the Ganges First Teams, out of 3,000 very fit 16/17 year olds, these teams were of County standard. Fortunately, there were 2nd, 3rd and 4th HMS teams in all the main sports and from time to time I won a place in these, in soccer, hockey and rugby. To keep the emphasis on more boys playing in matches than boys as mere spectators, there were many inter-Ganges games, like every Dormitory produced teams to play the other 99 Dormitories.

The sports fields were fabulous. At least 15 soccer pitches, 10 hockey grounds, 8 rugby pitches etc. All kept in immaculate condition by an army of civilian Grounds staff.

We were allowed to be spectators at the sort of semi-finals and finals of Cup Matches, or the occasional blood match like Ganges 1st Soccer XI playing HMS Vincent, our mirror image in Portsmouth.

Some Saturday afternoons were spent on the River Stour, sailing Naval whalers (crew of 7) or rowing the whalers, very strenuous activity and of course there were organised races in both sailing and rowing. I nearly forgot the twice as large Naval cutters with a crew of 12. We spent more time in the cutters than the whalers.

You could qualify to be a boy coxswain for both cutters and whalers by passing a practical test and this allowed you to sail or row these boats, complete with a crew of other boys, under your command without a Petty Officer Instructor aboard. I became a boy coxswain early on and added another badge to my uniform.

Saturday evenings Free time. You were never allowed out of Ganges.


Usual morning clean up all round.

Church parade in Best Uniforms, on the Parade Ground, in the gym and covered ways if raining. After lunch we had genuine free time for the rest of the day, write letters, darn socks etc, and generally laze around.

The Ranks were:

  • Leading Boy
  • Petty Officer Boy
  • Instructor Boy

I achieved all three promotions. The top rank of Instructor Boy was very special as there were only 10 of us out of 3,000 boys. It meant remaining at Ganges for an extra full term (4 months). The authority that went with the rank was awesome. Duties included taking command of Daily Parade and March Past, 3,000 boys, a full Royal Marine Band, a huge Boy's Drum and Bugle band, a Boy's Guard and all Officers and Adult Instructors accompanying their Divisions for the March Past. The salute was taken by the Captain of Ganges or the visiting Admirals. Minor movements of this huge parade, like Dressing the Ranks, Coming to Attention, Standing at Ease were carried out by a short roll on the drums followed by a single loud beat. Major movements were controlled by your voice alone and it had to reach the very back of the Parade Ground, crisp and curt.

You stood on the rostrum alongside the Captain, who, to us boys, was next in line to God. He would deliver his opinions as to the quality of the March Past and his highest accolade was "A satisfactory March Past, Gerrish".

Other duties included teaching New Entries over at the Annexe, teaching backward classes in Ganges, inspecting kits and Dormitories and general policing the smooth running of the daily routine from dawn to bedtime. Punishments at our disposal were harsh and terribly effective. The common one was to turn out the entire Dormitory in marching dress, carrying the heavy 303 Lee Enfield rifle for drill at the double on the Parade Ground in their precious free time slots.

Often the punishment was for the misdemeanour of one individual, who would be leaned upon again by the other 29 members of the Dormitory. No one, but no one, argued with Instructor Boys. Adult Instructors used these same exhausting punishments for remedying sloppy behaviour by their classes. A boy would collapse and subsequently die about once every one or two years from those punishments, with only a modicum of protest from relatives, Press and MP.s. Thankfully, I never drove any boy to anywhere near complete exhaustion.

The adult administration could order punishments ranging from caning to fines, after hearing the case by Officers. Serious offences were heard by the Commander or Captain as laid down by the Admiralty Law. The Captain had powers ranging from jail sentences (Naval Detention Quarters in Portsmouth) to dismissal with disgrace from the Royal Navy.

Sometimes, we Instructor Boys discovered serious crimes and gave evidence at the subsequent hearings. Unofficially, but universally accepted by all at Ganges, Instructor Boys would deal with minor offences by a few lashes with a knotted rope across the rebel's backside. Marginal cases of minor/not so minor followed the time honoured code of the Instructor Boy offering the offender "official report or my punishment". The latter was always chosen. Cover-ups were superb. From time to time MP's responsible for governing military training in the U.K. would visit Ganges and probe for unofficial punishments by questioning boys at random. The answer was monotonously the same from any Boy, "Oh no Sir"! The answer simply said we wanted no outside interference to the Rule of Law we found fair and just.

In this young, generally very tough, community of potential RN sailors there would be a sniff of mutiny. One occurred in my time. A Dormitory, which had more than the usual sprinkling of rebels and whose collective IQ fell far below the average, had undergone a year of despairing efforts by the Administration to get this bunch of 30 boys up to an acceptable level of knowledge and moral competence. Their Instructors were not the best either. The mutiny started when they were told they were to be held back for an extra term at Ganges. They collectively said they would no longer obey any orders.

Events moved with great speed and slickness. The Captain ordered the rogue Dormitory to be placed on Shotley Routine. This was the well documented contingency plan, two Instructor Boys move into the Dormitory permanently and the two best instructors take overall responsibility for getting the Dormitory back to normal.

The 'mutineers' knew the sequence of events as well as we did. They accepted us two Instructor Boys to live with them in their Dormitory without hostility. We quickly got their consensus to buckle down to the inevitable duel of strength, where time is the only variable. Both sides know Officialdom will win. The only challenge for them is how long can they put up with a particularly harsh routine before agreeing to conform again. This bunch lasted about 5 or 6 days. An unrelenting routine from dawn to lights-out of being hounded through endless parade drills, standing at attention for long periods, heavy, grinding chores such as loading bags of spuds into the Galley, hours rowing the heavy cutters against the tide, etc, and eating their sparse meals standing.

The Peace Treaty goes like this:

  • Us - We are impressed with their strength and grit
  • Them - They respect us by being tough but fair
  • Us - We've seen many classes qualify that were only half as good as you
  • Them - Tarnation, we can qualify like falling off a log if we want to!
  • Us - Why don't you?
  • Them - We will!
  • And they do.

All classes leaving Ganges go to destroyers in the Training Squadron based at Rosyth, near Edinburgh, for 3 months of sea training. Very unpleasant it was too.

The worst aspect was the food. Small warships, destroyers and below operated a ridiculous system, blatantly called 'Canteen Messing'. Each Mess of approximately 20 sailors was allocated a notional sum of money. You 'spent' this allowance by shopping from the ships butcher and grocer. You prepared the raw food in the Mess and then took it to the Galley for the ship's chefs to cook it. All this in a corkscrewing, bucking destroyer, playing war games in the winter gales around Scotland. As learners we ate very badly but survived. This system was very popular with the older hands for 2 main reasons:

  • You chose your own menu
  • Any 'allowance' left at the end of the month was paid to the Mess in hard cash.

Admiralty found resistance to modernising this feeding system from The Fleet in general until about 1950, when new Classes of destroyers and frigates were built with larger Galleys and meals were provisioned, menu'ed and cooked by the Supply Officer's team of properly trained cooks.

Living conditions were, of course, very crowded in all sizes of warships that had survived the war. The number of men Admiralty had to cram into every ship was mainly dictated by the number of guns the ship had. For instance, the universal twin 4-inch mounting needed 8 men to each barrel, which equals sixteen, plus another sixteen to keep a flow of shells from the deep magazines.

The average destroyer had four twin guns, so the total started at 128 men for its main gun armament alone. Add to this the torpedo crews, the smaller AA guns like Bofors and Oerlikons, depth charge and smoke float crews, radar plotters, engine crews, medicos and you arrive at the number of men in an average size of destroyer as 280.

Back in your own living quarters, called a Mess Deck, you had a communal rack to stow your very tightly rolled up hammocks during daytime. Each man had a locker, no bigger than a tea chest, for all his uniform clothes. One table, two benches and a small cupboard for your cups, plates or cutlery. And that was it for 20 men.

The training programme for us included all everyday seamanship skills, working anchors and cables manning the ships seaboat (the whaler), steering the ship, lookouts, working the ship's berthing harnesses, towing another destroyer, searching the upper-decks for foul weather etc.

The military training covered firing the guns, torpedoes and depth charges. The latter contributed to the crew's food rations, fresh fish.

The Captain would have the destroyer steered to find a shoal of cod. The sonar man would con the ship over the shoal, pretending it was a submarine and we (the depth charge crew) would fire to kill. In fact, the explosions mainly stunned the shoal, which would float up to the surface and be whipped into the steamboat. A good shoal could produce a couple of hundred huge cod.

Any ship any man joins is instantly allocated his Action Station. Mine in this ship was on the Bridge as Captain's Messenger. Our Ganges ranks no longer prevailed, but our first ships made ex PO and Instructor Boys as Messdeck Leaders and ex coxswains, as coxswains of the ship's boats.

Ganges invariably marked Instructor Boys' records as Officer Candidates and your subsequent Captains made sure you got the most responsible jobs and on-going on the spot instruction from all the ship's officers. Strangely enough, the greatest support and spontaneous teaching came from the ship's crew themselves, ranging from the senior Chief Petty Officers to Stokers in the engine room. Their motivation in this was summed up by the simple phrase, "Oh well, as you are going to become an Officer, we might as well make sure you will be a good one". And remember, all these adults had just come through the war.

Our rank at this time remained Boy Seamen First Class and the next step up to Ordinary Seaman occurred on your 18th birthday. Below that age, Admiralty acted as our 'parents' and strictly controlled our supervision by written laws. At Ganges we were permanently confined to camp. In these Training Destroyers, the Captains could allow us out of the ship to the canteen and cinema inside the Naval Dockyard at their discretion. We had to be back on board by 9 pm. We were allowed out to afternoon sports events, there and back in Naval coaches. Set amounts of your pay were given to you in cash, for pocket money, the rest went directly to your parents. You were forbidden alcohol, but you were allowed to smoke the small amount you could afford out of your pocket money. In a ship you became eligible for the same Duty Free smoking allowance as everybody else, 600 cigarettes a month, at very cheap prices, and pocket money could absorb this.

Leave was generous. 2½ weeks at Easter, Summer and Christmas and your rail fare paid by Navy, plus Navy transport to the nearest main line station. We travelled in uniform and only wore civilian clothes when you got home. Navy even gave us picnic bags for your journey.

After completing our Term in the Training Destroyer Squadron, we were sent to our home barracks to await being sent to ships of The Fleet as permanent crew members. Every sailor on joining the RN was allocated one of the three home barracks for life. These were Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport. We liked this period of about 6 weeks, since you were back in good RN shore accommodation with not much to do.

And the barracks was a transit base for the entire adult population of the RN, so we shared some of their privileges like cinema every night and later 'lights out', even though we were segregated in a building for boys only.

The Kitbag

Made of almost indestructible light brown canvas, standing 4ft high cylindrical, marked with your name and number and a padlock for locking. Your entire kit travelled with you in this monster plus your personal hammock roped up like a tight sausage.

So, eventually, in dribs and drabs, we were allocated to ships of the Fleets. There was the Home Fleet (European waters), the Mediterranean Fleet, the Far East Fleet, subdivided into the famous China Fleet (Yangtze Incident) and the West Indies Fleet.

Me and about 5 others were allocated to a destroyer in the Med' Fleet, HMS Chivalrous. First we travelled in a Troopship from Southampton to Gibraltar. At Gib' we moved over to our new ship which was not up to standard and after a few days we witnessed the fiery Rear Admiral of Destroyer Squadrons in the Med' storm aboard to inspect the calibre of the ship and hear him tearing off a blistering criticism to the CO, ending with "Your destroyer is not a fit ship for young trainees, who will move now to a better destroyer and you will go to sea under intensive manoeuvres until your ship gets itself up to Fleet standards".

We moved immediately to the destroyer nominated by RA(D) and watched our first ship proceed to sea under a black cloud. The three Destroyer Squadrons sailed several days later for Malta and our new Guardian, RA(D) chose to fly his flag (himself onboard) on our ship.

Unbelievably nowadays, he also shipped his wife back to the Main Base at Malta. She was given the Captain's Cabin and free access to the open Bridge. We learned, in hours, to fear her more than the splendid Admiral. She would rise at dawn to inspect the brightness of the brass we polished feverishly during the Morning Watch on the Bridge and then scan the sea as to the tightness of formation of the 24 destroyers racing in tight company at speed to Malta, all under her Admiral husband's command. We hit a Mediterranean gale 'en route' and I remember being on duty as Messenger on the Bridge at night, when a hatch door in the Gunnery Director above the Bridge flew open. The Officer-of-the-Watch, driving the ship, with enough problems of his own to contend with, shouted through the wind-lashed spray (open Bridges in those days) "Gerrish, get up there and shut that damned hatch". Even now I wonder how I did it. Except for our previous training, which imbibed you with the knowledge that orders were given for the utter necessity and you obeyed them without question.

After a spell in Malta to restore and paint up the ship, we sailed in company with another destroyer for a cruise around the Greek Islands. We spent a few days in Athens and, now we boys were proper ship's company, we were allowed to go ashore in daytime. So, we did all the tourist sites, which were deserted after 5 years of war followed by the Greek Civil War, Communists against Royalists, which was in full swing in the mountains at the time of our visit. Indeed, Admiralty carefully kept the entire Greek coast covered with pairs of destroyers in case the Greek fight escalated across the water to Communist ruled Albania.

We changed our pound notes in Athens for 40,000 Drachmas each, which would give us lots of spending power in the more remote Greek ports, where last week's rate of exchange of 20,000 D's to the pound still prevailed. This was my first experience in currency markets. We went next to Salonica. Most pleasant visit. Wonderful food in the cafes and marvellous beaches (kept out of minefields though) all around this busy fishing port.

News came in that all CW candidates (potential Officers) were to be sent to cruisers, which had a schoolmaster and classrooms. I was transferred to HMS Euryalus, when our destroyer got back to Malta, with a little apprehension on my part. In general, most sailors preferred the informal, friendly style of life in destroyers. Cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers, while having the better living quarters and more creature comforts, were much more formal and less personal. In small ships you knew everyone onboard well and lived in close company with the ships' Officers. The big ships were 600 men upwards and there was enough space for the Officers to live detached and aloof from the men.

Euryalus was one of 4 cruisers in this Squadron, Liverpool, Newcastle and Phoebe, the others. Mountbatten, having just finished being the last Viceroy of India and having ended the war in the rank of Admiral of The Fleet (top RN ranking) as Supreme Commander in Burma, asked Admiralty if he could come back in the RN at a lower rank to continue his Naval career. He was made Rear Admiral and given command of this newly formed Mediterranean Squadron.

He and his staff lived in the Liverpool (flagship), though he regularly lived for short periods in his other 3 cruisers, so we got to know him quite well. There were 6 of us CW's in Euryalus and we quickly settled down in this new life. Once again I was detailed to be Captain's Messenger, but this time he was a senior four-stripe Captain, RN and I had a much bigger ship to find those people he wanted to speak to or pass his orders to. Worst part of this particular job was having to be in my best uniform while on duty with him and just try going down the engine room to get, say, the Engine Commander in my spotless white shorts and shirt, without smearing grease on your clothes.

On 21st May our group started the first really demanding Course, Gunnery. This great empire was based at Whale Island, near the northern end of Portsmouth Harbour and had been growing in stature for over 200 years, as Naval guns advanced in size and accuracy. The Navy with the best guns and gunners ruled the oceans, right up to the 2nd World War, when the submarine and aeroplane interrupted this supremacy.

From the start of the 2nd World War the main purpose of guns in warships was to shoot down attacking aeroplanes, but the odds remained stacked with the 'planes until after the war when missiles replaced the guns. We were to learn our gunnery at the time of the first missiles being introduced into very limited service and hence our dependence remained with the guns.

The practical side of what we had to learn was robust, exciting and pretty easy loading and firing guns in turrets, firing the Bofors, Pom-pom and Oerlikon, fast firing smaller guns at dummy aeroplane targets, firing rifles and machine guns and, of course, Parade Ground work. Much more difficult to learn were the automatic machines, linked to the ship's radars, which aimed the guns at ship or aeroplane targets. The aim of the gun was continually being adjusted by these complicated machines to take account of your own ship manoeuvring wildly at high speed and the enemy target doing likewise. We had to learn the difficult mathematics that these machines were solving.

I did well in my Gunnery Exams, and they earmarked me as a potential Gunnery specialist for the future. However, long ago, I had made up my mind that war at sea was now ruled by the submarine and warships, with their guns, were already obsolete.

HMS Dryad

On 2nd July we moved to HMS Dryad, a lovely country mansion, to learn navigation which included the art of disseminating the vital information, pouring in from any ship's radars, into a clear picture of the battlefield. This was done on automatic machines on which sailors would plot the movements of ships and aircraft.

July was the time for the annual Sub-Lieutenants' Field Gun Competition, when each group would represent the establishment they happened to be at in July. So, we represented HMS Dryad and underwent three weeks' intensive training of Field Gun racing as an extra-curriculum activity. The risk of mangled fingers, arms and legs made this very gutsy Naval type of competition hair raising and always exhausting anyway, from heaving this ton of wheels, barrel and limber over barriers and obstacles set in the race track. In the run-up to Competition Day, Dryad plied us with treats and favours, not ordinarily afforded to lowly Sub-Lieutenants', like special meals in the Mess and free beer at times. Anyway, the 16 of us in the team got through all the training runs without serious injury and, each day, fractionally improved our race times. However, we didn't win the Competition and the day it was over our Mess treats ceased abruptly!

An interesting feature of the main Ante-room of Dryad's Wardroom was a huge wall plot of the D-Day Landings, frozen at the time Eisenhower ordered the Invasion to commence. It is still there today, preserved as a national museum piece. In August we moved on to the School of Amphibious Warfare in Southsea. This was a role met by the Royal Marines and we enjoyed the short break from the RN Schools, to learn the fundamentals of storming ashore in Tank Landing Ships etc. Later in August we moved to HMS Mercury, the home of the Navy's communication specialists, another appropriated mansion on the outskirts of Portsmouth. Subjects were radio, secret codes, flag signals etc. Mountbatten had been a communication specialist and his successors remained of the same ilk, polo playing upper-crusters (or so they thought!) aloof from the gunners and torpedo men. So, our bunch did not get with these types, who rewarded our disdain of them with low marks for our exams.


His name was Parry, who had come through the war with many distinctions, a good bloke, kind and friendly and a very senior Captain; he knew how to run a happy ship. Based on the age old Naval formula that efficiency came first, and the rest followed easily. The Commander was a war veteran, who suffered shell shock, named McWhinney, and was spitting image of Gilbert and Sullivan characters. Once, when I had to summon him to see the Captain, he was busy blanco-ing dirt patches on his jodhpurs before going to Marsa Club with Mountbatten and the boys! He also let everyone know that he painted watercolours. And Jock McPherson, a 3 Badge AB, lifelong Naval criminal, about the same age as the Commander, would dart into McWhinney's palatial cabin when pursued by the OOW and Naval Police for returning on board drunk (again!) and blatantly admire the Commander's latest work of art. The Commander fell for it every time, since no-one else ever bothered to admire his crappy paintings, ordering the OOW and his police team to push off and stop hounding Jock!

Jock was probably the most outrageous character in this cruiser full of close contenders. He went ashore every time leave was given and always returned hopelessly drunk, a Naval offence to return aboard drunk. He had false teeth top and bottom, not a tooth of his own left and these two precious plates, together with his hammock pillow, he would deposit with the Master-at-Arms (Chief of Police) before proceeding ashore. The pillow would be in one of the ship's 4 cells where Jock was locked up in on return and the false teeth returned to him two minutes before The Commander "heard his case" and summarily punished Jock next day.

Three other 'Wild Ones', all war veterans, deserted when the ship was in Athens to join the Greek Resistance Army (Greece was in a terrible civil war following the War) and one of them, AB McGarry, stole a ship's rifle too, since he learned the Greek Communists promoted you to Officer rank if you joined complete with a weapon. They were finally returned to Euryalus in Malta three months later for their inevitable Court Martial and two year prison sentences.

The war was too recent to wind down a mighty fighting machine from top gear. One Sunday afternoon in Malta, with a Force 11 Levanter gale blowing which had closed even Grand Harbour to normal traffic, our Cruiser Squadron was ordered to sea, in full Action State, to test our war readiness. The 4 cruisers were moored by 2 anchor chains each to huge buoys. No question of putting sailors on the buoys to unshackle these enormous chains in such violent sea conditions, so we cut our cables inboard and headed for the breakwater entrance. The huge breakwater was almost submerged by monstrous waves rolling over it and we had to go full steam ahead to punch through the breakwater entrance. Euryalus lost 2 big motor launches, smashed away from their davits by the same Levanter monstrous rollers which were sweeping over this big cruiser. The 3 other cruisers suffered similar superficial damage in the onslaught of breaking out of Grand Harbour.

Once at sea, ships can manoeuvre to suit the prevailing seas conditions and this we did on our Active Exercise of going to bombard pretend enemies in Crete, being continually attacked en route by the RAF imitating an enemy Air Force. We fired 'blanks' at them and they fired live ammunition at the 'splash' targets we towed astern. Cruisers were five or six times bigger than destroyers and the main decks were therefore much higher out of the water. Nevertheless, in severe storms, you kept to the higher network of cat gangways above the main decks when moving about in cruisers, so as not to be caught out by the occasional roller that swept the main decks.

The Bombardment Practice was spectacular. Live shells are fired at the Army Range, always on an uninhabited island, at dummy targets laid out by the soldiers. Warships always steam in Line Ahead for bombardment of land targets, the first ship of the Line opens fire abreast the target and as she finishes firing, the next ship of the Line has started firing and so on. The 'victims', for their part, experience an unremitting explosion of a large shell every 5 seconds, moving along the target road or whatever. For us, we get the thunder of our 5.25" turrets firing one barrel at a time in 5 seconds sequence and cordite smoke all over the ship. Upon the (open) Bridge we got lungful's of cordite smoke, which is not unpleasant to smokers, rather like a very strong cigar!

During my 2 years on Euryalus we visited all the major ports in the Mediterranean. One such visit, to Port Said, was political. King Farouk of Egypt was causing trouble to the UK Government by his declarations to his people that he was going to throw the British out of Egypt. At that time, we ruled Egypt, kept major military bases there and owned the Suez Canal. The Government knew Farouk would be quite friendly with Mountbatten as another 'Royal', so Liverpool and Euryalus were dispatched for a 'courtesy visit' to Port Said.

Mountbatten gave us the 'lowdown' on the passage there and asked us to put on a show of good behaviour, smart ships and dress during the visit. This we did and Mountbatten was Farouk's 'best friend' as the 5 day visit came to an end. Farouk told the two ships that he was so pleased with our visit that every man would receive a present from the King of Egypt. The 'present' was dished out to us on our way back to Malta, an orange and a box of Egyptian matches to each man. Mountbatten apologised for this by saying Farouk was really bonkers!

Schooling consisted of 3 half days a week of formal teaching by the Instructor Officer, subjects were Maths, English, History and Geography in a classroom in the ship, backed up by 'homework' in your spare time. There were about 6 of us CW candidates and, out of this bunch, I was the only one to go on, eventually, to become a fully commissioned Officer. Most of the others succeeded in becoming Warrant Officers much later on though. The wonderful Med' climate was not conducive to work of any sort. So, we all skived a lot. Daily work was invariably cleaning or painting ship.

The Quarterdeck, Officers' territory, was kept immaculate. The large expanse of deck was covered with teak planking lining the armoured steel deck underneath. We hosed down and scrubbed the teak deck every morning before breakfast. The minute the ship arrived in any harbour we would spread the huge canvas awning which shaded the entire Quarterdeck. This demanded at least 50 men to haul the rolled-up monster out of its locker and spread it over the central backbone wire, finally pulled taut by no less than 20 tackles.

During the Med. summer most Officers chose to sleep outside on camp beds on the Quarterdeck, but our awning 'roofs' were at a premium for space, the Forecastle and small areas amidships amongst the Boat and Gun Decks, so those who turned-in last had to gamble with the rain under the open sky. Our working dress through the long hot summer was simply a pair of shorts and sandals. We became very bronzed.

The ship's high side was painted overall every summer. Hundreds of us sailors worked on stages, a plank with 2 ropes for each pair of men, slung over the side, starting at the top and lowering yourselves at intervals until you had painted your section down to the waterline. Officially, once at sea level, you were supposed to step into the ship's boats complete with stage and paint pots and go up the gangway to start another section. But of course, sailors kept 'falling' into the blue cooling sea for an unofficial swim at every opportunity.

So, you've got the picture. Annual 'paint-ship', moored to a buoy in the middle of Grand Harbour, Malta, was an unruly, but always hilarious, carnival. It was also a contest of law and order. The 'law' were the agitated supervising Officers charged with completing paint-ship before dark. Every sailor who 'fell' into the sea was a delay for his allocated section. We not only 'fell in' for our own enjoyment but spent half our time untying the knot on one's neighbour's stage, for the 2 of the hapless 'stagers' to be catapulted into the sea, preferably from the highest point, together with their full pots of paint and brushes. In the meantime you spent half your working time defending your own stage from attacks from both sides.

The 'law', of course, had powers of punishments. You could be, and often were, charged with 'Deserting His Majesty's Ship, Euryalus, at Grand Harbour, at 1416 on Friday, the 8th day of July, in the Year of Lord, 1949' anytime you fell into the sea. This charge still carried a long prison sentence. So, at the subsequent Assizes, in front of the Commander, this charge would be watered down to 'Was negligent in carrying out duties properly assigned' and you were punished according to how the Commander assessed your real contribution to his 'paint-ship'. Anything from being let off if you were one of his good workers to 30 days loss of pay and leave if he knew you were an itinerant skiver.

Loss of pots of paint and brushes was much more serious. You were charged with 'Deliberate sabotage of Admiral's Stores' and since any Commander was rationed with paint and brushes to keep his ship pristine, he didn't 'water down' the charge and, if it was proved that it really was your fault, he would sentence you to 14 days' Extra Work, Drill, loss of pay and rum and loss of cinema and canteen privileges.

As a CW Candidate it was axiomatic that should never get an official sentence; it was the end of the line. I had some close shaves and the few times I was charged with any offence I was found 'Not Guilty'.

Sensible sailors, in the heydays of paint-ship, tied the brush and paint pot separately to their waists. I've seen less well prepared sailors swimming to depths of 30 feet to retrieve their slowly sinking paint pot after a 'fall in'.

At this time, 1949, it was 'de-rigueur' for Officers to pitch in and work at the especially objective tasks set to their men, but, fortunately, for good leadership, attitudes changed for the better and by the 1960s you could lead from the front!

My 16 months spent on board Euryalus was as an Ordinary Seaman until promoted to Able Seaman at age 19 years.

Benefits of becoming an AB were: more pay, eligible for daily Rum Ration and eligible for All Night Leave, previously you had to return onboard at midnight; now this was extended to 7am which meant you could sleep ashore in any of the many clubs (YMCA etc) or Bed and Breakfasts that catered for sailors in every port. Most important though, you were free of the Cinderella Syndrome of rushing to get back before the strike of midnight.

One of my several changes in job was to Officers Fast Motorboat Crew. Officers were ferried to and from shore or to other ships in sleek fast motorboats, while the sailors were ferried in large pinnaces, open to the elements. Quite a gruelling job. On duty for 24 hours at a time with 3/4 of the next 24 hours off. All the ship's boats were lowered and tied to booms sticking out from the ship's sides on arrival in any harbour. Each crew was made up of a Coxswain, Bowman and Sternsman. Every time a demand was made for your 'taxi' you had to clamber out along the boom and down a rope ladder to get into the boat, no mean feat in some of the Med.'s wicked winter gales. Your Officer passengers were collected and deposited at the large set of wooden stairs rigged down the side of the Quarterdeck. The crew, of course, had to keep their boat immaculate, which among other things, involved scrubbing it inside and out and polishing the brass work every morning at 5am.

When severe gales struck, all boats were ordered to 'lie-off' to prevent damage against the ship's side and you would ride out the storm underway staying close to the ship.

All the ship's boats were 'coxswained' by Leading Seaman and Petty Officers for the big pinnaces, except a small boat called the skimmer which was a very high speed 'flyer' carrying only the driver and one passenger, invariably the Captain. The driver was an AB and I was allowed this highly prestigious job for a couple of weeks. Most enjoyable.

Christmas, 1949, onboard Euryalus was also enjoyable. Day off for everyone. Special Christmas Lunch etc. The law turned a half blind eye to illicit drinks previously smuggled onboard and a benign attitude prevailed, just for Christmas Day!

The tour of duty for Officers and Men once posted to a 'foreign' Fleet was 2½ years, with no trips back to the UK for anyone. These foreign Fleets were: West Indies, based on Trinidad, The Med., based in Malta, The Far East, based at Singapore, the China Fleet, based at Shanghai. The Far East was subdivided to cover India, based at Trincomalee.

Once abroad, you clocked up one week's 'Station Leave' for every six months served on the station. Each station had built up over the years a variety of Leave Camps for Officers, NCO's and Ratings. Some of them were far better than modern day leisure hotel complexes; I went to the one for Ratings at Golden Bay, Malta. Run just like a hotel and the only required work of us 'guests' was to keep our living quarters clean. The great relaxation was to be out of the ship for a whole 7 days. Also, the luxury of sleeping in a bed, we are still sleeping in hammocks onboard.

Royal Marines

Every cruiser, battleship and aircraft carrier carried a detachment of RM's. In Euryalus we had approximately 30 Marines who were one turret's gun crew at Action Stations. Their routine duties onboard were mainly Sentry Duty in the Captain's cabin lobby, where the ship's rifles were stowed in racks; outside the ship's 4 cells when customers were in them (they were rarely empty in Euryalus) and keeping sentry on the Quarterdeck, under the Officer of the Watch, supervising entry and exit of anyone over the gangways, the only way into, or out of, the ship. They were the core of the ship's Landing and Boarding Armed Parties and had the machine guns (Brens) to support the sailors with rifles in the event of major armed landings against armed enemies. So, part of their time was devoted to training in the Infantry role, regular firings and marksmanship on the RN Ranges ashore and, when the ship was at sea for lengthy periods, sharp shooting practice at targets we put into the sea. Our Squadron of the 4 cruisers could land 800 sailors and Marines anywhere in the Mediterranean with no outside support. We practised this once in my time.

There was also the RN Band. It was divided in 4 sections, one to each of the 4 cruisers. The whole band numbered approximately 32, so each section was eight Bandsmen. Routine duties onboard included keeping a bugler supplied to the 'round-the-clock' watchkeeping Quarterdeck staff. The ship's daily routine was regulated by a series of bugle tunes starting with Reveille, announcing Stand Easy, Rum Issue, Dinner, Tea, Supper etc. all played by the bugler over the loudspeaker system. And, of course, Morning and Evening Colours when the Ship's Ensign was hoisted and lowered. The sections merged together to become a Full Band on ceremonial occasions, usually in the flagship Liverpool, or on the jetty abreast the cruisers in foreign ports. Each Band section was expected to play music for the entertainment of ships' companies when at sea after work hours, mini concerts on the Quarterdeck, most enjoyable.

HMS Defiance

The only way to go home before you had completed 2½ years on your Foreign Station was for advancing your professional ability. For Able Seamen this meant going to one of the Schools of Weaponry, Gunnery, Torpedo and Sonar, and Radar, all situated in the UK. I chose TAS (Torpedo and Sonar) and travelled by Troopship to join the TAS School in Plymouth named HMS Defiance. Firstly, you enjoyed your Foreign Service Leave, 2 days for every month served abroad, in my case 18 months, so 36 days' leave, based at home in Walsall and taking trips to stay with relatives in Wales.

HMS Defiance was a floating museum. It consisted of 3 wooden hulled ships, last of the RN's sail warships, moored together off a place called Wilcove on the Cornish side of Plymouth harbour. Tin roofs and covered gangways connecting the 3 hulls kept the Upper decks dry from rain and spread over the spacious decks were lots of modern huts serving as offices and classrooms.

How to operate sonars and detect and track submarines was taught in automatic purpose-built trainers fitted with the up-to-date sonars, now being built into frigates and destroyers, ashore at Wilcove. Travel to and from Defiance was by ships' boats plying the short distance regularly all day.

Torpedoes, stripping them down, re-fuelling, fitting warheads etc, were taught in the huge workshops below decks. Similarly, large workshops for practical teaching of mines, depth charges and mortar bombs (the modern depth charge) were also below decks. We Sonar men were not taught these heavy, oily subjects, they belonged to another breed of sailors called Torpedo men.

The living quarters were excellent. Old mess decks, originally accommodating hundreds of men, had been modernised to high standards to house very much smaller groups of sailors. Everyone onboard liked Defiance in preference to brick built shore barracks, no roads and the tranquillity of being cut off from the shore, a touch of the Robinson Crusoe's! However, the day of the bunk bed had still not arrived in ships, so we continued to sleep in hammocks.

My reports from Euryalus were excellent and basically said 'positive Officer material'. So, at the end of the 4-month Sonar Course I was held back in Defiance, my fellow Sonar men went off to join ships again, because the Captain (a TAS Officer) got the idea of not losing a potential Seaman Officer to our arch-rivals, the Gunners! As I well knew, two of the many steps to actually get to Dartmouth were that you had to have achieved the rank of Leading Seaman and also passed an academic exam called the Higher Educational Test. Defiance said they were going to get me through these two qualifications right now to speed up my progress towards Dartmouth. I was now aged 20 years. And ready to have a go at these two awesome goals.

The school exam (HET) would be the easier of the two for me, since I had been nibbling away at education since joining the Navy. Passing a formal Seamanship Board, constituted of a Captain, together with 8 Subjects, all entirely practical, was daunting at my age. The average age of 'new' Leading Seamen was 28.

Once again, the confidence that 'you can do it' came in large measures from my own Officers. Firstly, the Captain, by name Blundell, like Captain Parry of Euryalus, a veteran and survivor of a ghastly war which they had won, quietly said 'You have the ability and it is your duty to go forward'. Underscoring this gold plated testimonial as to your worth was the common knowledge that no senior post Captain RN would put forward to the prestigious Fleet Board a candidate who could not at least put up a tough, determined attempt over the two whole days the Board had to test you to the limit. Passing or failing was of no great consequence to this first unwritten requirement. So, while Defiance organised a learning programme for me, I was apprehensive.

Their training programme covered all skills tested in any Fleet Board:

  • Boat work: coxswain of a ship's sea boat (also the lifeboat for man overboard) which required VERY fast launching from the ship's davits, then Coxswain of pinnaces and launches of bigger sizes inside harbours.

    You had to be able to sail or row all these boats in the event of engine failure. Above all, safety of the men under your orders, the crew.
  • Martial skills: power of command over squads marching, landing platoons (armed) and armed Boarding Parties.Seamanship: take charge of men working anchors and cables, rig hawsers for towing another ship, rig sheerlegs' (a seaman's extempore crane) and lift a ½ ton weight.
  • Signalling: send and read messages by flashing light, semaphore and masthead flags.
  • And so on.

I had about 3 months preparation time in between my onboard jobs and got in plenty of practice with boats and taking charge of squads of sailors doing seamanship tasks.


In the event I passed the Seamanship Board and was duly promoted to Leading Seaman early in 1951. Separate to this I also passed the HET exam.

My next move was to join HMS Devonshire; a big three-funneled cruiser adapted to give Dartmouth Cadets a taste of real seamanship for one Term before they completed their studies back ashore at Dartmouth. Here, I met up with fourteen or so other Sailor Candidates and, more or less, we remained the same bunch through our road to Dartmouth.

Manning the Devonshire was organised such that the Cadet Classes made up half the crew and suitably hand-picked Officers, NCOs and sailors made up the other half. Our half had to teach the Cadets in carrying out the day-to-day tasks of running a fully operational Fleet cruiser. Hilarious times, since you were encouraged to drive your Cadet Working Parties much harder than regular sailors.

Dangerous, occasionally, when these fledgling Naval Officers (about seventeen years old) made fundamental mistakes while hoisting and lowering boats in heavy seas, or manning the six-inch triple gun turrets for live firings etc. In my time onboard no Cadet perished, but we had some very close shaves and the ship's Sick Bay was always full of injured Cadets.

One bonus of serving in the Dartmouth Training Cruiser was the Term Cruises. These involved visits to 'choice' ports, like Copenhagen, Oslo, Lisbon, Gibraltar etc. often to Capital cities, since several Cadets, sons of European Royal Families, had been consigned to Dartmouth for their education. The Training Cruise involved carrying out war-like exercises with other units of the Home Fleet too.

At Gibraltar one of us CW Candidates was crossed off the 'List'. This was Michael Burke, son of an upper-crust Irish landowner. And we knew why, that father had frog-marched Michael into the RN Recruiting Office, insisting they took him into the Navy that very day, on his 16th Birthday! Michael had a brilliant mind and dazzling wit and on overdose of charm. But he was a lunatic! His pranks scared everybody, particularly the more refined Officers who saw Burke as an unexploded bomb about to go off any second! The Commander, John R Gower, a martinet, whom we would meet again at Greenwich College, was the only one who could handle Burke.

It was late morning at Gib. with everyone looking for Michael, long overdue from his shore leave the previous evening, when the Commander himself found Burke fast asleep on the Quarterdeck awning, clutching some charts and a sextant. At the subsequent Assizes he told his story. Became drunk ashore and fell in with a bunch of Irish travellers bent on stealing a yacht to sail around the world. It was agreed they would steal a yacht that night while Burke was to gather a navigational kit from the ship and be collected by them at Devonshire's gangway, thence off around the world, Burke navigating! He fell asleep on the awning while waiting for them. He was sent off to the Naval Detention Barracks in Portsmouth and unfortunately none of us ever heard about him again.

The new Captain of Devonshire was Dickie Onslow. Following the age-old tradition, the entire crew is mustered on the Quarterdeck for the new Captain to address us. 'Dickie' was known about for his daring battles, leading Destroyer Squadrons into action during the war and had a very good reputation with sailors. His face was similar to a bloodhound's wrinkled mug and his first words to us were 'I know I've got an ugly mug, but I can see a good number in front of me who would win the Ugly Competition well ahead of me, so I'm in good company!' He had us eating out of his hand from the word go. He went on, quite rightly, to become one of the Admirals on the Admiralty Board.

Towards the end of 1951 all fourteen of us CW Candidates from Devonshire were sent to our 'Prep' school at Victoria Barracks in Portsmouth, joining seven other CWs making us twenty-one in total.

Pay and Money Values

Pay as a Leading Seaman was now up to approximately £10 per week. At this time, you could buy:

  • A House for £600
  • Loaf of Bread 3d
  • A Car for £120
  • Pint of Milk 3d
  • A Bike for £12
  • 20 Cigs 12d
  • A Gramophone for £9
  • Pint of Beer 9d
  • A Suit for £12
  • Mars Bar 2d
  • Cinema 12d

The Navy still housed and clothed (uniform) and fed you free of charge, so your pay was unfettered. I was regularly saving small amounts at this stage. By now it was fashionably to go ashore in plain clothes rather than uniform, so we spent some of our pay on 'civilian' clothes.

Victoria Barracks

A barely modernised good quality Victorian set of buildings set around a huge parade ground in Southsea. It was shared between Royal Marines and Navy sailors. Our small detachment was self-contained. By this time our status as Officer Candidates was advertised with a white band showing just above the ship's name ribbon around your cap, marked men!

Victoria Barracks
Victoria Barracks

We lived in a spacious open dormitory and ate in the Barracks' Cafeteria. This spell was to be 3 months of uninterrupted academic studies, followed by exams, parade ground training and lots of sports games. The aim of this regime was to prepare us for the Admiralty Interview Board, your final and once only 'make or break' for anyone aspiring to become an Officer in the Royal Navy.

It was a relaxing three months with no 'work' work or duties to perform, just school and training. The Barracks were in the centre of Southsea, very accessible on foot or frequent buses to Portsmouth. Our 'pub' was the 'Still and West' on the waterfront at Portsmouth's narrow harbour entrance and our drink was Merrydown Cider, a lethal vintage brew normally sold in imitation champagne bottles, but uniquely sold out of barrels in this pub at the same price as pub beer. Women drank it out of wine glasses, men out of ½ pint glasses and us out of pint glasses.

At this age in life and in our optimistic situation, we were free spirits. Mortgages, jobs and careers, trades and professions, pension plans, packaged holidays, buying a car or house, hobbies, the real stuff of life which consumed everybody, except us! We were tough, reasonably intelligent and unburdened of the cares of life, free to enjoy our days and laugh a lot, with malice to no one. Hence our unfailing popularity with strangers in pubs, restaurants and public transport. We adopted the 'Still and West', put the pub on the map as a lively place to go in an evening and left it, like the Prospect of Whitby at Greenwich, to a prosperous future as top tourist attractions which they both remain today.

The old 'Still and West' was just what we were looking for. Flag stoned floors, strong wooden bench seats and tables, a wood fire which donated most of its smoke back into the room and originally built on the waterfront to capture the rough trade of selling huge quantities of cheap but strong alcohol to sailors who would only accept the very shortest journey to any inn. And it had a battered piano together with a matching player, Gladys. She was 60, painted and dyed, a voice like gravel and played the piano with demonic gusto. Our repertoire of endless bawdy rugby and sailor songs matched hers.

The 'noise' at times was deafening, particularly when we took visiting Rugby Teams out for the post-match evening. Our female camp followers were invariably WRENS and occasionally we had to assist in lifting one or more of them into the WRENS taxi when our dire warnings about the deadly effect of Merrydown had been ignored. Usually, on Saturday nights, we began the evening with a meal (mixed grills were favourites) and our favourite restaurant in Old Portsmouth was Monks Oyster Restaurant, still there too [1955].

The Admiralty Interview Board had its own establishment in Gosport complete with an overnight hotel for its Candidates sitting the Two-Day Board. The Board, one Admiral and five senior Captains, kept you under a microscope for the forty-eight hours you were imprisoned on the premises. Day One was a series of different practical tests where each of us in turn had to use the 'gang' to achieve the test set, like 'Get that field gun across a river' using the sparse dump of equipment (spars, ropes, shackles, timber pieces etc.) made available to us. We were physically tired at the end of this and happily bathed and changed to take our evening meal, Dinner, informally with the Board, chatting socially with them. We slept well that night.

Day Two was all interviews and short sharp written tests bounced on you at unexpected intervals. As well as interviews, separately, with each member of the Board, there was one with Admiralty's Psycho. Our considered opinion afterwards was that he was a nice gentle lunatic!

Towards early evening you presented yourself alone to sit at a very long polished table with the assembled Board sat the other side - a very lonely experience. A few final questions from them. Leave the room temporarily. Called back in for their verdict. They were kind and fatherly in their summing up of your performance, which included ice-cold criticism of your personal abilities and then gave their verdict.

I HAD PASSED (I nearly fainted!)

Out of twenty-four of us attempting that particular Board, twenty-one of us passed and, remember, we had been well filtered along the years leading to the Board. Nevertheless, we achieved one of the highest PASS rates of the Board since the war. I was in good company.


In January 1952 we joined HMS Hawke, the self-contained establishment inside the grounds of Royal Naval College, Britannia, the official name of Dartmouth. We had arrived! We were not called Cadets or Midshipman, but Upper Yardmen, to differentiate us from Cadets, who had entered Dartmouth via the same Admiralty Interview Board from civilian schools. The Cadet, crystalising into Midshipman, had to undergo four or five years training before qualifying to be a Sub-Lieutenant, whereas we Upper Yardmen had already done this time in the RN so our duration at Dartmouth was condensed into one year to qualify us as a Sub-Lieutenant. And what a year it was!

The buildings were relatively modern, grouped in tidy fashion, situated near the Lower Gate, as opposed to the Main Gate, for entering the extensive grounds of the College. There was room to accommodate approximately 40 Upper Yardmen, 6 Officers, our Instructors, and approximately 10 Cooks and Stewards to feed us. There was an intake of new Upper Yardmen each Term (4 months), numbers of any Intake depending upon individual's success at passing the Board. Until we arrived, twenty-one of us, the Intakes since the war averaged only 6! Hence we presented the regime with a challenge of sheer numbers they had not met before. When we arrived that January, the Senior Term numbered five and the Middle Term was six. They called us, the Junior Term, the Horde!

Each Upper Yardman had a single room (a cabin) and communal bathrooms. The Staff Officers had bigger cabins and the Captain, a separate house. But we all shared the Mess, a large ante-room complete with Bar, the Dining Room, Reading Rooms and Billiard Room.

Life in Wardrooms was an important part of our training. There was a formal Guest Night Dinner every Thursday evening, to which two or three guests were invited. Like all smaller Wardrooms, we ran the Bar ourselves and each one of us was rotated through the jobs of Wine Caterer (buying in and keeping the Bar stacked with beer, wines and spirits) and the Mineral Caterer, similarly for the mixers. All drinks were 'paid' for by 'chits' until end of month when you were presented with your Mess Bill, which had to be paid promptly.

So, we lived with our 'Teacher' Officers very closely, every meal together daily etc, just like any Wardroom.

Daily Routine:

Mornings: Classroom studies of Maths, History, Geography, English, Astronavigation.

Afternoons: Sport; rugby, soccer, cricket, hockey, swimming, dinghy racing, cross-country running.

In winter, when the weather was too bad for field sports, we were ordered to boatwork on the River Dart or to cross-country runs, the afternoons outside activity was never cancelled for weather!

Evenings: Classroom studies again


Mornings: Classroom studies

Afternoons: The Big Matc; Rugby, against local teams in Devon and Cornwall, occasionally against visiting sides, like Sandhurst and RAF Cornwall. Once a term we played the Officers and Masters of Dartmouth College, always a blood match with the Cadets cheering us on to defeat their lords and masters, which we did, just! And the last Saturday of term was reserved for us to play the Cadet 1st Team. They were approaching 18 years old and us 21 or 22. Hence the last Saturday of Term so any injured Cadets could recover during Leave rather than miss term time.

We knew our team had to build up a big score during the first half, because, as the battle went on, the younger Cadets were not as breathless and could run at full speed right to the final whistle, whilst our running speeds flagged towards the end of the game. Nevertheless, we were expected to win by reputation and maintain our place at the top of the League. It was always a much-prized scalp to beat our Upper Yardmen Team of 1951.

Evenings: Always a booze-up at Home or Away. Home meant a massive tea after the game for the visitors and ourselves, then into our Bar where the visitors enjoyed free beer at our expense until the pre-poured buckets ran dry. Thence to our 'pub' the Dartmouth Arms, for a free-for-all rowdy night of rugby songs.

When there wasn't a Match, we treated ourselves to a mixed grill at the pub before the serious drinking. Away games produced marvellous hospitality from the local clubs, who had their wives, mothers and girl-friends to cook and serve us.

Little Dartmouth town was very friendly to us Upper Yardmen since their only other customers from the College were the Staff Officers and Tutors. The Cadets could only visit the town on Saturday afternoons to consume tea and cakes, whereas we drank pubs dry.

Dartmouth had a good sprinkling of town characters too. All these were our cronies and enjoyed drinking and yarning with us. The milkman was Sir Jeremy Hinds, aristocrat fallen on hard times. The Bookshop was owned by Christopher Robin's son. (Mr. A A Milne, who wrote 'Winnie the Pooh' and other books, died in 1996). The Dartmouth Arms pub was owned by one of Wingate's Chindits. And the local fishermen and river ferrymen were kindred spirits. Otherwise most local people worked at the College, cleaners, caterers and groundsmen.

Sundays: Church at College Chapel or Dartmouth town Church. Rest of the day was free time. Occasionally, when the weather was fine, we would travel to Paignton by train for a Sunday day out and, in the summer, take picnics to the local beaches and swim.

One week of the year was spent living in London as part of our education. We took accommodation in the Navy equivalent of the YMCA where prices were subsidised and left more of our Living Allowance to spend in pubs in the evenings.

Our Officers took us to the usual places, Houses of Parliament, hosted by the Navy Minister; to Lloyds of London (did you know they have most of Nelson's artefacts in their private memorial Nelson Museum?) to most of the Palaces as official visiting groups; major Museums and Art Galleries.

One whole day was given up to a visit to Sandhurst Army College where we met our Cadet soldier counterparts. Sandhurst had just opened the newly thought of Indian Army Museum inside the College, bursting with bloodthirsty relics of that Army's two turbulent centuries spent subdividing India to British rule. They had to drag us away from it. By coincidence, The Festival of Britain had just opened in Battersea Park, so another whole day flew by amidst those glittering novelties.

In our own time, freelance in the evenings, we sought out the livelier pubs and nightspots of London Town. A great week.

Also included into our busy year at Dartmouth was a visit to Farnborough Annual Air Show. This year was the unveiling of the Vulcan Bomber, whose display flight was deafening. And a visit, overnight, to the RAF's Officer Cadet College at Cranwell. The Army and Navy get along well with very similar codes of daily life.

Neither Army nor Navy get along easily with the RAF, chiefly because of their differing codes of life, made up in the few hurried years of their new existence. What really offended was RAF's stiff determination to live life differently to that lived by Navy and Army Officers, which resulted in petty rules which brooked no criticism or humour. For better or worse, we viewed RAF people as pompous twits.

The Journal

And the hardest task of our year. In it you recorded the events of every day, to be written in succinct, grammatically correct English prose, containing your own views and opinions on topics pertaining to these events.

Your Journal, mighty tome, had to be handed to the Captain dead on 6pm every Friday night. Woe betide you if you missed this deadline.

He would read them, make written comments and return them to us over the weekend with the general grading of POOR, SATISFACTORY or GOOD.

As the year went on, if you collected too many 'POOR's, you were given a severe warning that your final assessment of Pass or Fail to become an Officer was in jeopardy. Most of us breathed weekly sighs of relief with 'SATISFACTORY's. 'GOOD's were rare indeed. One week, Ronnie Laughton who came from a noble Scottish family (his Aunt was Director General of WRENS during the war) and our best rugby player, biggest collector of 'POOR's and already under the cloud of one warning, came in to collect his Journal and whooped with glee. He said, "The Captain likes me! He has signed my Journal with his nick-name!" Since we all knew the Captain had no nickname, we put this scrawl under the magnifying glass to read 'SCRAPPY'. Ronnie was deflated for weeks! At one stage we tried to help him by dictating things to write, but the Old Man bowled this out at first glance of Ronnie's pages, so he was doomed to waiting under the gaze of the Duty Staff Officer.

Where is my Journal? They were official Admiralty books, deposited in the vaults of Admiralty when we left Dartmouth. Are they still there? Two members of our Team were 'failed' before year-end Finals. The first went towards the end of our first term with the common agreement of ourselves (not that we were consulted in any way!). A chap who had everything going for him, from a well-off family, but stricken with a supercilious and cynical streak, which sailors would resent in an Officer. He was returned to the Lower Deck Navy and recommended for release to civilian life.

The second, who went in our 3rd and final term, was Reggie Rocke. We were divided in our opinion; half of us considered Reggie to be good Officer material; the other half, not. His going was not swift since we had to await Admiralty decisions in this, a borderline case. One feature against him was his determined stance not to alter his soft rural Herefordshire accent. The Navy's pragmatic case for subduing strong regional accents was two-fold:

(i) Efficiency in battle calls for CLEAR orders from the Officers whether over radio, telephone or loudspeaker or simply the spoken word. It must never be mis-understood in the heat of battle.

(ii) Peacetime role of the RN involves deliberate diplomacy on behalf of our country and is implemented by our ships being sent to foreign countries as floating ambassadors. Once there they expected to hear English speech devoid of strong provincial or regional accent.

Reggie's argument was that many good men had served this country throughout history without surrendering their home accent and he wasn't going to surrender his.

There were, of course, other factors for scrutiny and debate, all distilling down to the crux, was Reggie going to be totally committed to Her Majesty's Royal Navy? The balance tipped against Reggie, who went on to a talented and successful career on the Lower Deck, becoming a Chief Petty Officer and, finally, a Warrant Officer.

Nearly forgot to remind you that King George VI died in January 1952. We were hurriedly mustered on the small parade ground, in formal uniform, not knowing why, until the Captain appeared in full dress uniform and sword straight to the dais. "Gentlemen, I regret to have to inform you the King is dead. Long live the Queen". That was all.

The Captain left

The Staff Officers, also assembled, then told us, quietly, that we would observe the official mourning period, I think it was ten days, by wearing black armbands and cancelling all social engagements. And that all uniform gilt buttons bearing a King's Crown would be exchanged within a day or so with replacement buttons embossed with a Queen's Crown. We were all quite sad, for we all liked King George and remembered he too had undergone the rigours is attending and graduating from Dartmouth College, little changed since his day.

The College possessed fleets of small boats, sailing dinghies, rowing boats, motorboats and 50 square metre (sail area) yachts, all berthed in an enormous Boathouse and Yard in the river. This 'factory' was staffed by Admiralty civilians, all qualified shipwrights and engine mechanics, who kept this hard-used fleet in tip-top condition.

The yachts, which had bunks for five, were seized off Germany at the end of the war and were excellent, fast sea-goers. One of the fleet of ten yachts was allocated for the sole use of us Upper Yardmen. They kept their German names. Ours was SEE BREEZE, the others, all 'SEE's, SEE SPRAY, SEE MIST etc.

One weekend in early winter, the First Lieutenant, George Cousins, a top-notch seaman, took four of us on a trip to Falmouth. We sailed on Friday eyeing and, after a rough night at sea, put into Falmouth that night. When we awoke on Sunday morning a severe gale was blowing, so it was planned to have a leisurely lunch onboard and sail for Dartmouth in the afternoon, when, hopefully, the storm would have eased somewhat. Some hope!

We finally sailed mid-afternoon, the only craft going out, scores of trawlers coming in for shelter. One or two of them shouted across to us to turn around and stay in harbour, which we didn't and heard faint shouts of "You're mad" from the fishermen. I was apprehensive. George was a known expert yachtsman and not given to rash decisions, but his quiet confidence that we should be back at Dartmouth in time for Monday classes stretched my faith in him. My eyes were fixed on the huge running seas outside the harbour and my short experience as a mariner told me it was really bad out there. And it was.

We steered the mountainous seas to put as much distance between us and the coastline as possible. We reduced to just a small foresail shortly after passing the breakwater and before dark the wind had increased to Force 12, making too much strain on even this small foresail, so we took that down too. Now we were sailing in bare masts, but quite enough to keep us moving ahead plus steerage, as long as we kept her head to wind. The yacht was permanently keeled right over to the gunwales and it needed two of us in the cockpit to keep the tiller forced up to hold this heading. By now George admitted his decision to sail had been wrong but, returning to harbour was out of the question, we would have been smashed on the rocks at the harbour approaches. So we were committed to riding out the storm, hove to, under bare poles, off Eddystone Lighthouse for that black night.

We took half-hourly turns on the tiller in pairs. Peter (Granny) Perry with me, John Caughey and Reggie Rocke, the other watch. George gave a hand all round in-between his dozes. The off-watch pair, down in the waterlogged cabin, would hand-pump out the flooded bilges before dozing.

In the middle of the night an extra big roller broke the after-locker hatch away from its fixing, an emergency to be dealt with instantly before the waves breaking over us filled the big compartment below. George worked like a demon possessed and between us all we got a lash-up cover in place sufficient to stop the sea flooding the compartment. In those days a yacht was a yacht. No engine or radio. Only a compass and a stove to cook on (ha, ha). We carried red Distress Flares and knew the Eddystone Lighthouse would see them. So, we kept the flares close to hand in the event of the mast breaking or rudder being smashed. At 4am-ish morale does a natural dip and, by then, the night Watches were sapping our strength. Peter's conversation (you talked to keep your spirits up) took a tack to the morbid. What a pity he hadn't made a Will and who would pay his laundry bill he'd meant to pay last week etc. I was quite rude to him and let my temper go, spiced with some choice swearwords, to the general effect that I was fed up with him, fed up with this ridiculous yacht, fed up with the First Lieutenant, George, and vowed I'd never go to sea again in anything smaller than the Queen Mary.

There was some faint hand clapping from below at the end of my tirade and Peter laughed his head off. I felt better too!

Shortly after dawn the wind moderated slightly, but, more importantly, shifted in direction more favourable for a 30-mile dash to Salcombe River, our closest port. And this we did with a fully reefed foresail giving us good speed over the ground. We made Salcombe and moored to a buoy about 2 miles upriver. George raced off to 'phone the College before they started searching for us. We were more than happy to flake out on deck in weak sunshine in our waterlogged oilskins and sink into deep sleep.

Revived, we made the short passage to Dartmouth, eating slabs of corned beef sandwiches washed down with piping hot cocoa en route and berthed back at Dartmouth late Monday evening. George's last remark as we trudged uphill to a bath and a night's sleep was "find out from the others what you missed in Monday's classes and catch up in spare time". He wasn't joking either!


All of us were oddballs in one way or another, that's why we achieved Dartmouth, rubber-stamp conformers had no place in the RN The more colourful amongst us was:

Ernie Lourme, Canadian Navy, who got away with murder under the real RN excuse of "Oh, well, he's a Colonial, what do you expect!" Oldest of all us, Ernie was a very amusing extrovert with a quasi-American/Canadian accent. He was not stopped from greeting visiting Admirals with a slap on the back and a gushing "Gee, Admiral, you know, it's a great honour for me to be allowed to shake your hand". They loved it. If a Brit did that, we'd get a severe reprimand.

His kindred spirit up at the College was Count Paderewski, a Pole, who escaped Poland and fought with The Allies in the war, now a Staff Tutor and, yes, related to the Polish pianist. Ernie frequently invited the Count as his private guest to our weekly Guest-night dinners. And the two of them would be one of our 'cabarets' in the Bar after dinner. They were perfect foils for each other. Ernie's brash Canadian New World style bouncing off the Count's impeccable aristocratic demeanour. The Count was very fond (of course) of fine brandy, which Lourme would ply him with jugfuls, while the Count had a mission to persuade Ernie that vodka would alleviate Lourme's intolerable colonial rawness. And the two of them would play our battered Mess piano with our more than enthusiastic approval, particularly Paderewski's Cossack, leg-kicking dance tunes.

Then there was Benjy Leach. Son of a devout Welsh miner. Physical appearance, short, squat, broad shouldered, large head and big conk, with walking gait consistent with giant springs strapped to his feet. He was an intellect, a radical and permanent humourist. When he got out of hand with drink, which he loved, we literally had to sit on him to stop his execution of pranks dangerous to himself and usually harmful to furnishings and fittings in his vicinity. One Saturday evening, late on in the Dartmouth Arms, we suddenly became aware of his absence and started searching; we found him atop of the statue, centrepiece of Dartmouth's' town fountain in the main Square, talking to the duty policemen, patiently waiting for Ben to climb down. As the policeman transferred the responsibility of Ben's rescue to us, he said, with great conviction: "That gentleman up there is the most interesting person I've ever spoken to.

Gerry Williams, another Welshman, played scrum half for the Navy, renowned for his endless repertoire of very amusing Welsh Rugby songs which he sang with a trained and talented voice.

Bill Thornily, a Cornishman, just 5ft. 6in. but built of reinforced concrete. Played full back and many 6ft. plus giants on the way to score a try against us, with only Bill left between him and our try-line, suffered Bill's crunching tackle and the shock of crashing to the ground, winded. And so on.

Our Final Exams fell in late December 1951, completing the one-year course to become Officers. Serious business this. The exams took the best part of a week and would result in one of three outcomes:

  • Pass Instant Commission to Acting Sub Lieutenant.
  • Borderline Fail Complete one more term and try exam again.
  • Fail Leave the Navy

We had competed seven of the eight Exams by Thursday, with only Navigation left to do on the Friday. But, it had been arranged by us to have a Farewell Party at the home of a local landowner, a friend of ours throughout the year and indeed his family. His Manor Farm was 3½ miles up country from the College. We walked, of course, and had a splendid evening, homemade cider, hams and a baron of beef. Outside, unbeknown to us, a blizzard was raging.

We left after midnight into the teeth of the blizzard at a lively pace since drifts were already building up. It was a difficult walk and the only bloke to lose his sense of humour was Ernie Lourme, who slipped continually in his high fashion poncey shoes bought from Harrods. We laughed. He didn't. His raving was a thesis of 'All Brits were thick as planks, evidenced by their living in the worst climate in the world'.

We lost our way several times as snowdrifts covered the narrow country lanes. But eventually the dim lights of the College appeared below us and we were safe and warm in our beds at 2.30 am We completed the last exam starting at 9 o'clock next morning. A close shave. Most of us passed our Finals. Ernie Lourme was put back one term and then passed.

Now, in the last week of term before Christmas Leave, events moved at lightning speed. Admiralty gave you a lump sum of money to buy Officers' uniforms and you, individually, chose a ceremonial tailor to fit you out. Most of us chose Gieves, the best and most expensive. Gieves and the other Naval tailors had measured us back in mid-term and, of course, had pre-empted our Finals on the gamble that most of us would pass. So, it was no surprise to find that final fittings of uniforms began as soon as results were out. Within three days of passing we were dressed in Sub-Lieutenants' uniform. The full kit was enormous:

  • >3 Day Reefer Uniforms
  • 1 Mess Undress (Evening Kit) + 6 boiled shirts
  • 1 Overcoat
  • 1 Raincoat
  • 3 Action Dress outfits
  • 2 Caps
  • 1 Sword
  • 3 Pairs Shoes
  • 1 Pair Evening Dress Shoes
  • 1 White Waistband for Ball Dress

Tropical Kit:

  • 6 Sets of shirts and shorts and log stockings (Day Dress)
  • 3 Ice-Cream Suits (Best Dress)
  • 3 White Monkey Jackets (Evening Dress)
  • 1 Cumberband
  • 2 Pairs White Buckskin Shoes
  • 6 Sets of Shoulder Epaulettes

And, last of all, a long black metal trunk which would take about 1/3 of the above uniform, designed for sea- cargo, when posted abroad. Minor items, like an Officer's Identity Card, books and manuals, came from the College 'factory'. The very last day of term was the ceremonial 'Passing out' Parade. Parents and families invited, my mother and sister, Jean, came, and an Admiral to officiate.

Thence off home with our mountains of baggage for Christmas Leave and to await our appointments to ships. My appointment came by post at home on 21st December 1952. Their Lordships directed me to join HMS Woodbridge Haven, a frigate, in Portsmouth Dockyard, on the 8th. January 1953. Which I did, leaving all my Tropical Kit in store at home.

HMS Woodbridge Haven
HMS Woodbridge Haven

She was a nice, small class of frigate with a fair bit of deck and accommodation space, built with two reciprocating engines (old fashioned, slow, but immensely reliable) and was based on the Clyde, under the Senior Officer, Clyde. Her duties were to act as 'pretend killer' of submarines for the Clyde Squadron of Submarines to practice against. Her complement was very small while employed on this peacetime training role. Her Captain was Lt Cdr Longbottom; First Lt. was just a junior Lieutenant; Navigator a Sub Lt; a Warrant Officer, Gunner and Engineer, just 5 Ship's Officers plus me for four months' training (ha! ha!); with so few Officers I knew I would be given a share of real duties and that would be my training. In at the deep end again.

We sailed from Portsmouth for the Clyde on 9th. January. Once there it was straight to work, day running in the Clyde approaches for submarines to practice themselves against us and securing to a buoy in Rother Bay every night. Longbottom made me an Officer of the Watch as soon as I joined, as OOW you drove the ship, with the Captain close at hand by bell or voice pipe when emergencies arose.


The Captain taught me, on the Bridge for a few hours that first day, the somewhat complicated rules for manoeuvring as a submarine target/attacker ship.

Ship and submarine were allocated a box area on the chart. Adjacent box areas were allocated to other ships and submarines. You were responsible for your own submarine's navigation once she had dived to make sure she did not collide with the ships and submarines next door. The ship steered complex zigzags set down in the Admiralty Manual.

The submarine had to steer towards you and attack with 'pretend' torpedoes, he fired a red Grenade Flare to simulate firing torpedoes. Then you would both open out to start another Attack Run, about twelve to fifteen runs a day was normal.

To get in position for a torpedo attack the submarine would have to expose his periscopes several times, albeit for just a few seconds. Our job, the OOW and his two lookouts, was to sight that periscope and then the OOW broke away from the zigzag and steered at Full Speed to ram the periscope! It was entirely the submarine's responsibility to go deep before you rammed her! The first time I did this, with Longbottom at my elbow, my nerves were taut as we sped over the patch of water where the periscope had been, praying there would be no grinding collision which meant instant death to the submarine. You got used to it in time, but we later heard of several close shaves when the submarine was late or slow in his act of plunging deep and safe below your keel.

After a couple of Attack Runs, that first day, the Captain said, "Okay, Gerrish, you've got the hang of it. All yours; I'll be in my cabin if you need me".

And so you learned, very fast in the hot seat, so much so that by the end of the my month you were competent in command of the ship involved with Runs of three frigates being attacked by two submarines in the one box at high attack speeds.

On Sunday we were resting moored to a buoy in Rothesay Bay. HMS Contest, a destroyer, was the only other warship in Rothesay Bay that weekend, similarly moored to a buoy and she happened to be Duty Emergency Ship that day. It was blowing a severe Gale Force 9. At noon we received the first news that the Stranraer to Larne (Scotland to Ireland) Ferry, SS Princess Victoria, was encountering mountainous seas on her short passage to Larne. At about 1 o'clock the Ferry reported 'difficulties' with the stern doors, but repairs progressing.

At three pm the Ferry's Master reported 'more difficulties with the repairs to the stern doors' and asked for a ship to stand by him. HMS Contest was despatched and at 'best speed'. The storm was worsening. At five pm the Ferry reported 'taking in water around the stern doors' and we were ordered to sail as well. Shortly after five pm we got the desperate signal from the ferry 'Am sinking'. Contest was still crashing through the huge seas to get to her and arrived just after the Princess Victoria had sunk, with the seas littered with dozens of wooden life rafts and three hundred and seventy men, women and children floating in life jackets. The Irish Lifeboat at Donaghadee was nearest to the disaster and rescued fourteen souls out of the sea. Contest saved another fourteen. They were the only ones saved out of the three hundred and seventy. It was dark, bitterly cold and icy winds of eighty mph turning the sea into a maelstrom. Most of the passengers died from cold within minutes of entering the sea.

We arrived on the scene at seven pm and joined the frantic rush search of going to every torchlight, attached to the lifejackets, to see if the wearer was still alive. The storm was dispersing the bodies, life rafts and debris over a very large area. The two warships were joined, as the night went on, by merchant ships diverted to the area.

Our sailors had to be roped with lifelines because the seas were rolling in over our decks and you would be swept overboard without a lifeline. The Bridge wasn't much better off, the standard open Bridge design of those days, as seas would break over occasionally, but always drenched with wind-washed spray. Conning the ship was okay since you had the pedestal compass to hang onto but, navigating on the paper chart, waterlogged, in the cupboard at the front of the bridge, was a nightmare. The Captain, of course, was conning the ship and two of us took turns in being OOW to assist him. All four of us took turns in taking charge on deck, ready with scrambling nets and lifelines to rescue survivors, there was no question of lowering a boat. It soon became clear the most important job for the Deck Officer was not to lose any of our own sailors overboard.

By ten pm that foul night we must have brought the ship close alongside over one hundred 'torch lights' and stopped just long enough to examine the 'wearers' very closely under our powerful searchlights for any sign of life. Sometimes it was just one person, dead in the lifejacket, sometimes clusters of two, three or four. And the wooden life rafts had torches too, so we examined those. Sometimes there would be dead people who had tied themselves or been tangled up in the life rafts' ropes.

By now all of us at the scene knew only a miracle would produce even one person alive. The ferry's two big main lifeboats had been found earlier on, upside down. We knew they were empty because the violent seas occasionally rolled them upright for us to look into.

So, we organised a planned search on the chart, allocating the two warships and three merchant ships with boxes on the chart for each of us to search methodically, throughout the night. I took over as OOW for the Middle Watch, midnight to 0400, found things had quietened down and the five ships all steering legs inside their own search boxes. The Captain, exhausted, went to rest in the bunk at the back of the Bridge about 0100.

At about 0300 the merchant ship in the box next to me suddenly turned the wrong way out of her box and right across my bows. She was a big ship too, almost like a liner. No time to wake the Captain, I took violent evasion manoeuvres and we passed safely under her stern. The Captain arrived just as I was manoeuvring clear of the merchant ship. He realised what had happened and said I had acted just as he would have done. I had his complete trust from now on.

The search for anyone still alive was called off next morning and we spent the rest of Monday recovering the dead bodies, gruesome. We landed our 'mortuary', about seventy, in Belfast on the Tuesday and returned to Target Training for submarines in the Clyde areas.

One of my several duties was Boarding and Landing Officer. It was arranged that the Armed Landing Parties of Contest - and ourselves - would carry out an exercise on the remote end of Rothesay Island. Contest's contingent were to act as rebel guerrillas and my Platoon had to land, find them and engage them. The ship's boats landed us as close to the target hills as possible and off we set following compasses and maps on a raw day in February. We tramped for hours through marshland and bogs, ate our meagre rations, lugging our rifles, Brens and radios. Frequently lost on the map and soaked by incessant rain. We never saw a solitary soul, never mind Contest's Platoon. My orders were to return to the jetty in Rothesay town and signal for a boat before 8 pm that night. That was a distance of six miles. Hardly had we started back on the coast road when a bus trundled along so in we piled. It was days later before the Captain learned about our bus 'lift' and was furious! It was having drinks in Contest that the two Captains squeezed all the details from me and my opposite number in Contest (also in the dog-house, they were worse lost than us) and it all simmered down to a big joke. Sailors aren't soldiers!

I enjoyed my four months at Woodbridge Haven and learned a lot and left with a good report to join the RN College, Greenwich, after my Easter Leave.

So, at Greenwich, the twenty of us ex-Upper Yardmen Sub-Lts were re-united and to meet the one hundred or so ex Cadet/Midshipman/Sub-Lts who were to be our term mates for the next two years. Their intake included Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, Indians and Pakistanis, all undergoing British training until joining their own Navies as fully qualified Sub-Lts

We had to complete two terms of 'General Studies' at Greenwich before starting eighteen months of intensive Navy Training, Gunnery, Torpedoes, Navigation etc. at the great Schools spread around Portsmouth.

Greenwich taught nothing Navy. We were allowed to choose some subjects of interest to oneself and all of us studied English History, English Language and Mechanics. I added a study of World War 1 and studies of the British Theatre to this list. The Tutors were mainly civilians, Honours Degree men and a sprinkling of Navy Officer Teachers, plus one Army Major on the teaching staff who was my tutor for World War 1 Studies. Perks of studying theatre were the constant supplies of free tickets to most shows in London! Penalty was being cajoled to join College's Amateur Dramatic Group who put on one blockbuster play each term in the high league groups around London who vied with each other and vied with the pros. This was not my scene at all and skived out by 'achieving' small bit parts. One play was Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 2 which rambled away for three hours. The leading parts took all their spare time for the whole Term, learning their lines and rehearsing.

Sport was predominant. Each Term numbered approximately one hundred and twelve Sub-Lts, making two hundred and twenty-four very fit cookies to make up teams. The College ran a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Rugby team. Similarly, for Hockey. We ran only two Soccer teams.

I graduated from the 4th to the 3rd Rugby team and played in the 2nd Hockey team. The fixtures involved all the top-drawer teams around London, Barts, Guys, London University, Sandhurst etc. and Hockey Fixtures were centred around Tunbridge Wells, the Mecca for English Hockey.

The leagues played away every Wednesday and Saturday and the away games took us to most interesting places with fabulous post-game evening parties.

Living In The College

Allocated three to a room, sparsely furnished, but huge sized rooms, with communal bathrooms spread around the long corridors. All meals in the wonderful Painted Hall, served by ex-Servicemen civilian stewards. Solid silver antique cutlery and tableware and the College's own chinaware. We lived well. The main Bar was underneath the Painted Hall, devoid of anything smacking of modern living comforts. Just about the same as a large 18th Century London tavern, flag stoned floors, dim lighting and very little furniture, but endless space and a very long bar for service. Even the ashtrays were the copper Spit kids salvaged from the old sailing ships, which sat on the flagstones (the spit kids, not the sailing ships!). And we loved the 'Dungeon'. You were not distracted by bric-a-brac and ornaments from the sole object of downing a good pint in very lively company and endless risqué yarning.

The College above ground is built upon a labyrinth of stone walled tunnels and corridors leading to storerooms and the like. When you got to know the geography well, on rainy days, you could get to any College building without getting wet. Except to the WRENS' Quarters, where the underground corridor leading to that tempting sanctuary had been shut off with iron gates which Colditz would have been proud of!

We stayed as a group of ex-Upper Yardmen for 'pubbing' and did the same for the 'Prospect of Whitby' on the riverfront at Wapping as we had for 'Still and West' in Southsea. Getting there wasn't easy, through the Blackwall road tunnel.

Very few Sub-Lts owned a car. Bill Thornily inherited a stately old Hillman Minx from an aunt. The record for crushing passengers inside and hanging on the outside was a total of twelve. Chris had a Bullnose Morris, an antique even then. And Frank Sprague had a ridiculous sports car with the largest bonnet ever built, leaving two seats for normal passengers. We squeezed in four!

So, this fleet of three weird models somehow got us to and fro the Prospect most evenings. There were no Drink/Drive laws in those days otherwise we would have been imprisoned for life. Travel into and around London was easy and cheap; trains, Tubes or buses.

Our spending money didn't go far in London. We were always skint. Two extra sources of nightlife income we quickly tapped were WRENS or American tourists.

The contracts were very simple:

  • WRENS - we will take you to 'Prospect' if you buy our beer
  • Yanks - we will let you join in with our singing and antics if you keep buying us beer

Most of us went up to London on the night before Coronation Day to enjoy the parties and extra 'buzz' as the crowds poured into London. A few of us returned to the College at about dawn, to bathe, change into dry clothes and breakfast before going 'Up West' again. Unbeknown to me then, Hazel was one of the sightseers and probably we passed very close to each other. We had no special advantages and had to jostle for sites which would give a good view of the Queen and the procession. The end-of-term Ball was always a grand occasion, more so this summer of 1953 with London packed with nobs attending the Coronation.

Summer Leave from Greenwich was ridiculously long, seven weeks, and most of us used the time to earn extra money ready for the next term's demands. I worked with a farm near Walsall and clocked up a little extra cash plus a good workout for flabby muscles.

We said goodbye to Greenwich College in December 1953 and, after Christmas Leave, all of us turned up at Portsmouth. There were nine Schools we all had to pass there, so we were split up into nine Groups, approximately fourteen Sub-Lieutenants to each Group.


My group started at HMS Deadalus, the Fleet Air Arm's HQ at Lee-on-Solent, in January 1954. We had to work now. All nine Courses were towards qualification for the rank of Lieutenant. Examination failures meant back-classing and ultimately sacking.

The four week 'Air' Course was crammed will all aspects of Naval air warfare. From time to time we would break off from classroom studies to grab flights in fighters and helicopters. Hairy times! My worst one was in a Sea Fury (maritime version of the Spitfire) piloted by a bloke demobbed after the war but doing his mandatory few flying hours required by the Reserve regulations. Him in front, me behind and off we go for a training flight over the Channel.

He mistakenly thought we were budding Fleet Air Arm pilots and gave the plane to me for practice and in a short time, with him as Instructor, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, climbing, diving and turning over the Isle of Wight and Solent. Then to my alarm he said over the headset, "Thanks, that gave me time to familiarise these new controls, which have altered considerably since my last flip a year ago". And that he had to complete a set list of manoeuvres - loop the loop, side rolls, max. speed dives etc. He put the Sea Fury to full speed and did all these dreadful things which produced those G-forces that paralyse the body until the plane levels out. We landed easily, switched off, shook hands and off he went back to his solicitor's office in London. I went to my bunk to lie down!

It was a busy Air Station; squadrons from carriers coming and going, training flights all the time for qualifying Pilots and Observers, flights to test new weapons, radars etc. Occasionally our Instructors would take us out for airfield work, pulling chocks away, bat manning planes coming in etc. Once we galloped out to help with an emergency landing of 6 Trainer planes, pilots on the first solos, who had been diverted from their parent Air Station through bad weather. Their first approaches to this (for them) unfamiliar airfields were horrifying. Too high, too low, too fast, too slow, too nose up or completely out of line with the runway. They were 'talked' to open the throttle and go around again several times, until, one by one, they all landed, with bumps, stalls and smoke coming from brakes. Tough little aeroplanes these single-seater Trainers.

Night flying was part of our training. The 'plane, a Sea Prince was used; a twin-engined, 12 passenger, work-horse and this we fitted out as a navigation classroom - cold, dark and bumpy nights, learning air navigation on flights around Biscay.

We enjoyed our four weeks at Lee-on-Solent. It was a friendly and lively Wardroom to live in, quite different from the more strait-laced mainstream Navy, whose nickname for Fleet Air Arm people was "Airy Fairies". They spoke of us a "Fish heads".

HMS Victory. (Not Nelson's preserved Flagship of the same name, but the huge sprawling Barracks next to the Dockyard, right in the centre of Portsmouth).

We moved to the Victorian Wardroom here at the end of January during a very cold snap of ice and snow. We were billeted two to a cabin. These rooms had open coal fires for heat. The Stewards would clean out and lay a fire ready for lighting each day and leave a strict ration of one scuttle of coal. Coming in freezing cold from the day's classes, we lit our fires and piled on the coal which was consumed by early evening. We quickly learned how to rustle from other inmates, public rooms and the outside dump guarded by sailor sentries!

We were here for 3 weeks to learn Naval Administration. The Law of the Navy, embodied in The Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions (QR and AI), had to be learned almost by heart. Also, the multitude of Forms and Documents that had to filter out of your ship to your Squadron Commander, him to his C-in-C and each C-in-C, finally to Admiralty. Some Forms were sent weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, some ½ yearly and a whole batch of annuals! Woe betide any ship which was late with any of these returns. The only relief from days of grinding 'Office' work was an occasional visit to listen-in-to Trials taking place in the Civil Courts or a Court Martial and a visit to the Royal Naval Detention Quarters (Prison), a chilling experience of an Establishment, which, in those days, was always full of inmates, undergoing an extremely harsh punishment routine.

HMS Pheonix. Taught Officers and men how to fight fire, flood and radiation from enemy damage inflicted on your ship. And how to protect your ship's company from attack by gas or germs. We moved to this prefab School for a two-week course, though remained billeted in Victory, bussing daily to and from Pheonix.

During the war there had been an ever-increasing mad rush in gas and germ warfare research by both sides. Fortunately, the war ended before these ghastly killing agents were ready for use. All of it had been top-secret, but now, in 1954, we had to learn how to combat enemy attacks using gas or germ shells or bombs, since Russia had these ready for use in her arsenals. They explained the effect on humans, and it was grisly. The newly invented Nerve Gases were probably the worst out of all these lethal ways to kill people. One shell bursting anywhere near to your ship would have the entire crew dead in six to seven seconds, if you did not protect each individual. The several seconds to die was dreadful!

Almost instant paralysis apart from violent involuntary twitching, until the last spasm when you were dead. And there was no antidote. So, we learned, with very keen interest, about the protective clothing and masks, rapidly becoming available in R.N. ships, to stop this stuff from touching your body. With Nerve Gas it only had to be a microbe touching your skin to kill you.

Germ warfare was mind-boggling. The shell or bomb again to release the Germ cloud which had been made from germs that put The Plague, Black Death, Yellow Fever etc. in the shade. You were given the sentence of an hour or so to die if you ingested one sniff of this stuff. Again, no antidote, only protective clothing and masks.

So, even if you were beautifully dressed in these spaceman suits before the attack came, you still had to clean your entire ship once contaminated after the attack. Admiralty did a rush job to fit all warships with top-to-bottom sprinklers, special hoses and cleaning detergents. The same mammoth water-wash system was needed to get rid of radioactive particles if your ship had been anywhere near, like 1,000 miles, from Atomic Bomb burst!

The ghastly horror of Nerve Gases and Germ Warfare Agents leaves succeeding generations with a nightmare. Those stockpiles are held in all the major countries of the world. Britain's is chiefly at Porton Down (1996). When will they be destroyed? Can they be destroyed? When will there be an accidental leak as we have already experienced with Atomic Power Stations? Nasty thought!

HMS Pheonix also taught us how to keep your warship afloat after-action damage, flood and fire. This subject was an antidote after the grisly subject of Atomic, Gas and Nerve Contamination and we threw ourselves enthusiastically into the practical job of putting out fires in warships, pumping out flooded compartments, making temporary repairs to holes letting in seawater etc.

On 8th October we left the signallers of Mercury to join HMS Vernon situated in Portsmouth Harbour just inside the entrance of the harbour and opposite the submarines on the Gosport side, at HMS Dolphin. So, back to learn more of my former 'trade' of warfare underwater. The official title of this 'trade' was Torpedo and Sonar, TAS for short, previously the TAS had stood for Torpedo and Anti-Submarine; much the same thing really.

Vernon had a much friendlier Wardroom Mess than "Whaley" (their arch-rivals, the Gunners) and, added to this, Vernon was right in the heart of Portsmouth where it was only a short walk to the Officers' Club and to the liveliest pubs and restaurants. So, we took to Vernon very kindly.

The subjects we had to get through were:

  • SONAR - foremost in the RN's battle against submarines
  • SUBMARINE KILLING WEAPONS - the faithful old depth charge had been superseded by mortar barrels firing patterns of six huge bombs at any angle from the hunting warship.
  • MINES - how to lay ours against the enemy and how to sweep or render harmless the mines the enemy laid against us. This subject, like Sonar, was racing ahead with new technology demanded to keep up against Russia in the Cold War. Mines were becoming very clever killers; some to blow up on hearing the noise of the ship's propellers; some to blow up when the magnetic field of a ship approached it; some to fire when the wave pressure of a ship came near. Mines were fitted with combinations of these 'brains', as well as booby traps to kill minesweepers.
  • DIVING - we had to learn frogman diving to be able to search the underside of your ship against enemy divers who stuck limpet mines on your hull.
  • TORPEDOES - destroyers still had 10 torpedo tubes, so we had to learn the destroyer torpedo fairly thoroughly. We were briefly taught submarine torpedoes, particularly the electric ones which had a crude 'brain' to steer for your propeller noise and how you could decoy them with a 'noise' machine towed astern.

We had a very pleasant 2 weeks based at HMS Osprey, the practical Sonar School belonging to Vernon, in Portland. A couple of squadrons of destroyers and a small group of submarines were based at Portland for the specific purpose of training people on how to detect a submarine in real life. So, we went to sea daily and all took turns in operating the sonar machines, steering the ship for dummy attacks etc. Back at Vernon we had other exercises to sea; with submarines to fire their torpedoes; with minelayers to lay dummy mines and with minesweepers to sweep the dummy mines.

Mastery of Under-Sea Warfare was currently the chief property of Admiralty, so it was no surprise to us to find that Vernon hummed with excitement and was staffed with the cream of Officers, fresh from their Victory over the U-Boat, the German magnetic mine and defeat of German battleships with our destroyers firing torpedoes. And it remained my favourite subject.

Exam marks, common to all Courses we did, were out of a total of 1000.

  • 500 to 600 was a THIRD-CLASS PASS
  • 600 to 800 was a SECOND-CLASS PASS
  • 800 plus was a FIRST-CLASS PASS

If a bloke was brilliant enough to get all nine Firsts, he would be promoted Lieutenant one year earlier than another who got nine Seconds and two years earlier that the poor fellow who scored nine Thirds. Most of us aimed at Seconds and fought hard to avoid the dreaded Third. I had got close to scoring a First at Gunnery though Vernon TAS was obviously my best chance to get a First and one First anywhere we looked upon as good insurance against the pit-fall, ever present in the hurly burly of high technology exams, of slipping by one mark only into the Third trap.

I missed my Vernon 'First' by eight measly marks. I scored a total of 792 and you needed 800 for that elusive 'First'. Slightly surprising that Vernon didn't fudge the extra eight marks, since headhunting was actively carried out by Vernon and Whaley (Guns) to grab the best Sub-Lts. with a gentleman's agreement of: 'This Establishment will favourably endorse your future request to Admiralty to specialise in TAS once you become a qualified Lieutenant'. This headhunting was completely unofficial of course, but both Vernon and Whaley had told me 'off the record' that they would support my application to specialise with them.

But specialisation in any of the five Executive Branches, TAS, Guns, Comms, Nav, Air, was four to five years away for us qualifying Sub-Lts.; and anyway, a Lieutenant could still choose not to specialise at all and simply go on to Admiralty with brilliant careers.

December 1954

We left Vernon with fond memories of a good place staffed with good 'blokes' and moved to HMS Collingwood in Fareham for our last Course. This was to learn the technical aspects of Electrical Machinery in Warships and the Electronics of Radar, Sonar, Gun Computers etc.

We knew this was going to be an abrasive affair since Electrical Officers (the Greenies) like Engineer Officers (the Plumbers) were in effect subservient to us Exec.'s who would be their bosses as First Lieutenants and Commanding Officers (i.e. Captains of ships). So, we were their fledging 'bosses' and they had to teach us the secrets of their trade.

The advance and expansion of all things Electrical during the war carried on apace post war, as the Electrical Scientists and Engineers of the major powers were pushed by the militaries to give us more lethal means of defeating opponents. Collingwood was a mirror image of this Electrical War Revolution and had rapidly expanded to become the RNs largest Training Centre.

So, we reluctantly learned the complexities of all things electrical in modern warships and continually objected to learning the inevitable complex circuit diagrams of Radars, Sonars, Radios, Gun Computers etc. by saying that it was the responsibility of all Electrical Officers and Ratings to know all this in our warships and not ours as Seaman Officers.

Halfway through the Course our Officer Instructor panicked and persuaded the Captain of Collingwood to give us a pep talk on the importance of this electrical knowledge, which he did, laced with dire threats of what would happen to our careers if we failed the Exams. By now we knew we had the upper hand, because of the storm which Admiralty would direct at Collingwood if we failed our exams en-masse. So, the day before our exams, the Senior Course Officer took us through previous exam papers and by us saying we hadn't a clue if this or that question turned up in our Exam. We frightened him enough into telling us what questions had been set for us! That evening we all swatted the known questions and achieved the best overall results out of all our Courses. Collingwood's Training Staff was so relieved we hadn't embarrassed them with shockingly low-grade results that they gave a Farewell Party for us.

Which partly made up for the earlier injustice of the Night of the Pigs. It was one of the weekly Guest Nights, when halfway through dinner, the Commander banged his gavel and ordered our Group to leave the Mess. Mystified, we shambled into the anteroom where the Duty Officer was waiting.

"Okay" he said, "Your pathetic prank of unbolting all the doors to our piggery has backfired and now you are going to round them all up in the rain". It wasn't us, but our reputation earned us the blame and we willingly enjoyed the sport of chasing pigs in our boiled shirt, stiff wing collar Mess Undress Uniform. We chased them up and down the many roads that criss-crossed this mini town of dormitories, classrooms, Mess Halls etc. with all the whoops and noise of a Wild West Show. Delighted when a dozen or so of the faster porkers got into the garden of the Captain's house and another batch into the grounds of the Married Quarters. By 1 o'clock in the morning we still hadn't secured a single pig back to its pen, but we had woken the 3,000 inhabitants of Collingwood. Then came the news from a mightily harassed Duty Officer that one of the Electrical Officers Courses had finally owned up to the prank and that we may go to bed.

We consolidated out victory by turning up late for the first lecture next day, saying we had all caught colds from the several hours endured in the pouring rain last night. Great lark all round.

Now we had completed the quite gruelling nine different Courses of Naval Warfare to become 'qualified', as opposed to 'Acting' Sub-Lieutenants and off home for leave and to await our appointments to ships of the Fleets. Mine was to join HMS Aisne, a big modern Battle Class Destroyer. Even better, she was one of the four Battles that made up the 4th Destroyer Squadron in the Mediterranean Fleet, based at Malta. The other three were: Agincourt (the Leader), Barossa and Corunna

HMS Asine
HMS Asine

The whole Squadron was changing crews, the previous ones having finished their two-and-a-half-year Commission abroad. I had to join Aisne in Chatham Dockyard on 1st December 1954 and duly turned up to meet the newly joined Captain and Officers, I was the last to arrive.

  • The Captain Archie Grey, a Commander and Comms specialist
  • First Lieutenant Mike Mcguire, a Senior Lt. Cdr. and Salthorse!
  • Gunnery Officer - Dennis Hannay - Lt.
  • Navigating Officer Alan Geidt - Lt.
  • Comms. Officer - Brian Gallagher - S/Lt. (SD)
  • Warrant Gunner - Smithy Smithers - S/Lt. (SD)
  • Engineer Officer George Wood - Lt.
  • Electrical Officer ** Pike - Lt.
  • Supply Officer ** Benny - Lt. (SD)
  • Additional for Training 'Duffy' Duval - a Fleet Air Arm Pilot finished flying Warrant TAS 'Buster' Brown - S/Lt. (SD)
  • Additional for Training ** Kite - Electrical S/Lt.
  • Squadron Staff Officer Lt. Cdr (Ordnance)

That evening, at pre-Dinner drinks in the comfortable Wardroom, I realised the unspoken fact that they expected me to be the 'life and soul' of the Mess for the next 2½ years we would be together. And by the end of that evening I knew my close cronies would be Mike McGuire, Dennis Hannay and Smithy. The others were going to be great friends but did not have the chemistry to set the world on fire. They were the perfectly reasonable conformers. Our smaller gang was the radicals!

The ship had just finished a good overhaul and renewal by Chatham Dockyard. The Wardroom furniture and fittings were spanking new and the Officers' cabins had been similarly refurbished. The cabin layout in the Battle Class was eight single cabins under the Bridge and, quite separately, three double cabins near the stern. I shared one with Duffy. Advantage of living in the 'Casbah' was being out of sight of Captain, 1st Lt. etc. The disadvantage was journeying to the Bridge to keep Watches in bad weather along catwalks and up vertical ladders. Very dangerous at night in severe gales with heavy seas breaking over the catwalks. The few days left in Chatham before sailing to join up with the other two destroyers at Portland allowed me to acquaint myself with my responsibilities.

These were:

Ship's TAS Officer, with 'Buster' Brown under me as the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine Mortar Bombs Warrant Officer. I was in sole charge of the Ship's sonars. My Action Station was in the Sonar room under the Bridge, from where I was kitted up with the machinery to control the sonars, the torpedoes and the mortars.

No other Officer in the ship had any knowledge of how to use the anti-submarine armament, other than the Captain, whom Vernon had briefed on how to handle the ship while me and 'Buster' 'found' the submarine and attacked it.

Of course, I had experienced Senior Ratings to operate the sonars for me and 'Buster' had come up the ranks as a Torpedoman and had a squad of experienced Torpedo Mechanics. Finally, there was a Specialist TAS Officer on the staff in Agincourt who helped and guided us Sub-Lieutenants in the other three destroyers with our awesome responsibilities.

Another of my jobs was that of Fo'c'stle Officer. You worked the ship's anchors and cables. I had a Division of forty sailors and two Petty Officers to do the work, including the daily upkeep of all the front end of the ship. And, of course, the welfare and good being of these sailors was my prime responsibility.

Yet another job, the worst and most hated by all Seaman Sub-Lieutenants, was to run the ship's Admin. Office. The 'Office' itself was a cramped little steel room in the bowels of the ship. The records of the Crew, hundreds of forms for regular reports to Admiralty, pay documents for the Crew, ledgers and stationery, were all crammed in iron filing cabinets. One typewriter and one hideous duplicating roller machine worked by hand and flooded with ink. Fortunately, my Leading Writer, a rating trained in secretarial and accounting work, was a gem. He would spend long hours stuck in this ghastly office typing, accounting and sorting without complaint. He would sort out incoming bags of official business mail for me, ready for me to present the important papers to the Captain. The replies to letters and reports to Admiralty drafted by the Captain would have to be immaculately typed, duplicated and despatched by the Writer and myself.

The galling part of having to be immersed in the burden of paperwork was that we had a Supply Officer onboard, 'Benny' Benson, who lived a quiet life simply attending to the food and stores of the ship and handling the cash part of the fortnightly pay system to the Crew. Admiralty had ordained this state of affairs after the war, so that Seaman Sub-Lieutenants would gain practical experience of Administration before going on to command ships themselves. 'Benny', of course, often helped me and my Writer out when we were in trouble, which was often"!

Apart from your allocated responsibilities, the main demand on any Seaman Officer was driving the ship at sea by the system of keeping Watches day and night. Traditionally, the Navigator and First Lieutenant did not keep Watches, so our roster in Aisne fell to the remaining four of us Seaman Officers, plus rotating 'Duffy' as 2nd Officer of the Watch for him to gain experience. The Squadron was often at sea for three or four weeks at a time. For the four of us OOWs it meant keeping a four hour Watch every twelve hours and in bad weather with the open Bridges of ships in those days, this life style became quite wearing as you struggled to do your other work as well when not on Watch. The Watches themselves were exhilarating and always packed with action, as the Squadron moved at high speed in close formation, barely a ship's length apart, whenever at sea. So, you steered your 3,500-ton monster at these fast speeds exceedingly careful in this very close formation, always alert to avoiding catastrophic collisions should the slightest thing go wrong!

Wardroom Mess

Because the 4th Destroyer Squadron was part of the Med. Fleet, our Wardroom Stewards and Cooks were Maltese, the best at this trade in the world. And part of their contract was that they only served in Med. Fleet ships. Another part of the same RN contract ensured their pay was only ½ that of equivalent RN Ratings. But they were eternally cheerful and 'mothered' us with genuine concern for our everyday well-being.

Financial costs of living in the Mess (a high spending Club) were most fairly apportioned by Admiralty Law. The hefty bills the Mess incurred from parties, dinners and entertaining locals at our ports of call were apportioned to us on a stripe basis, the stripes referring to the number of stripes on your uniform equivalent to your rank. So, at the end of each month, when Dennis Hannay, the Mess Secretary had balanced his books, he divided the amount owed by the total of stripes in the Mess, viz:

  • Captain 3 stripes
  • First Lt. 2½ stripes
  • All Lieutenants 2 stripes
  • Sub.Lts. 1 stripe
  • Warrant officers ½ stripe

A fair system where the higher paid members subsidized the lower paid ones. One's personal expenditure at the Mess Bar or buying one's own visiting friends drinks was also governed by Admiralty Laws which limited the amount of alcohol you could purchase on a daily basis. We frequently had to fiddle the books to smooth out over-runs!

HMS Agincourt (the "Gin Yard") Squadron Leader Commanded by a senior Captain destined to promotion to Admiral if he didn't make a mess of the post, in this case, Nick Copeland, with a superb war career and destined for the Board of Admiralty. Hearty sense of humour and physically a tough nut, with no inhibitions about hard drinking at the right times. We all liked him. His Staff were:

  • STASO, Guns and Navigator specialist Lt. Cdrs.
  • Engineer and Electrical both Commanders
  • Supply Lt. Cdr.
  • Secretary Lt.

Because staffs in Squadrons and capital ships were invariably referred to in common parlance as their trade and Squadron Number our lot came out as jokes:

  • GOFA
  • SOFA
  • EFOR
  • LFOR

Both high and low used these subjects quite politely. So, my Captain would say to me, "Go over to Agincourt and ask SOFA's advice on this matter". In Agincourt, should I bump into Captain D. you would explain, "Just going to see SOFA, Sir!".

Civilian dignitaries, particularly foreigners, were baffled at this barrage of "Oh, meet our GOFA". Or "I'll introduce myself; I'm SOFA".

They were a good and lively bunch and I got on famously with them. It was no coincidence that, of the 4 destroyers, 3 of 4 Sub-Lieutenants were ex-Upper Yardmen. Benjy Leach in Agincourt, Derek Wallace in Barossa, me in Aisne. Nick Copeland had been able to choose his Officers himself - such was his influence inside Admiralty. Bungy Edwards in Corunna was the only Dartmouth Sub. and him because Nick was a distant relation.

The Squadron had great power and prestige within the sea-going Navy and our compatriots on other ships of the Fleets disparagingly referred to us as the 'Royal Yacht Squadron'. But Nick's standing at Admiralty was not sufficient to overturn Admiralty's decision to sail the Squadron from our home ports for 18 months absence in the Med. just before Christmas. The men, 350 of them in each destroyer, were annoyed that they could not have Christmas with their families for the sake of a few days' delay in our departure. The measure of 2½ years' absence abroad was far too long and outdated in these modern times and during our period abroad it was shortened to 1½ years.

We had trouble in various forms in all 4 ships. Aisne's worst rebel turned out to be a young stoker, who smashed all the gauges in the Engine Room thinking this would delay our departure until well after Christmas. It didn't. And his Court Martial sentenced him to 12 months in prison.

The Squadron met up at Portland for a week's work-up. Firing all weapons at practice targets, practicing Action Stations day and night etc. Then we sailed in close formation for Gib. A few days' shore leave there, then on to Malta for Christmas.

Our berth in Malta was moored to buoys in Sliema Creek, two anchor cables fastened to a buoy at the bow and another 2 to a stern buoy; the next destroyer's bow cables were secured to your stern buoy and so on down the Line. Always a difficult task for me as Fo'c'stle Officer and my men. And, each time we berthed in Sliema Creek, we had to paint these monsters of chain cable a pristine white, as soon as we had secured them.

The Med. Fleet was just as big as it was when I was last here in the Euryalus. Four or five Aircraft Carriers, a Cruiser Squadron, 2 other Destroyer Squadrons beside ours, a Submarine Squadron, Troop Landing Ships, a Fleet Air Arm Aerodrome plus the RAF at two Aerodromes, Royal Marine Commando Brigade and Army Garrison and a host of Troopships, Supply Ships. Fleet Tankers etc. Malta was a bustling place.

A diary of Aisne's eighteen months with the Med. Fleet is written in a booklet I had to publish for the ship. So, I will keep to just a few incidents that were personal to me.

While on a visit to Beirut, I was detached to take a mixed bunch of 40 sailors on a 3-day expedition, camping in the hills and open country north of the city. We had a marvellous time, hobnobbing with the nomad Arabs, with whom we got on famously, swapping our whisky for their Arak around the campfires at night.

Arrived back in Beirut to find Aisne and all the other ships, except HMS Forth, at sea searching for 4 Aisne sailors missing after a sailing accident. We lived on Forth for 2 days until Aisne returned to harbour. I was to live in HMS Forth, a large Submarine Depot Ship, later in my career, as Staff TAS Officer to the 7th Submarine Squadron.

We were at sea in July when my promotion to Lieutenant came through by signal from Admiralty. I had known the approximate date but forgotten Aisne would be at sea. So, I hadn't bought Lieutenant stripes before we left Malta on this occasion. Any other Captain would be relaxed about this. Not Archie Grey though, punctilious to a tee, he read the signal out to me, congratulated me and said, "No doubt I shall see you properly dressed on the Bridge in the morning". Meaning turn up in Lieutenants' stripes!

That evening, my last day as a Sub-Lieutenant, I grovelled, beseeched and cajoled Dennis, Alan and Duffy to loan me a pair of their shoulder epaulettes. They were my only source. George the Engineer had purple between his stripes. Benny, the Supply colour, white. Pile was an Electrical Lieutenant so had green. In those days only the ruling executive Seaman Branch had no colour inserted between the gold rings. My 3 Seaman Lieutenant colleagues were determined to enjoy the spectacle of me turning up at 8 o'clock in the morning to keep my Forenoon Watch on the Bridge still wearing Sub-Lieutenant's stripes and listen to the tirade from the Captain. It was a conspiracy! Later that evening, when the 3 Seamen had gone to bed, George, the Engineer, newly promoted to Lt. Cdr., said he had plenty of Lieutenant epaulettes and that all I needed to do was to obliterate the purple cloth with black ink. Brilliant! I was saved.

We wore tropical uniform in the Med. summer-white shoes, stockings, shorts and shirt. The shirt had shoulder systems for you to attach your rank in the form of shoulder epaulettes. So, I appeared prompt at 8 o'clock on the Bridge, immaculately dressed as a Seaman Lieutenant. The Captain was pleasantly surprised, the 3 conspirators were crest fallen and slunk away.

At 3 minutes past 11 o'clock that morning the ship ran into a Sliema shower. The Captain watched in horror as the black ink spread in an ever-increasing stain down my white shirt, over my white shorts and revealed the glowing purple between the stripes. Archie Grey would have happily ordered my execution, but, restrained by modern Admiralty Law, the worst he could legally come up with was to stop my leave and bar allowance for 30 days!

The 3 conspirators, over-the-moon with this unexpected source of my disgrace, had had their laugh and then loaned me several pairs of brand-new epaulettes quite surplus to their needs. We were in port in Athens several days later and Agincourt invited the other 3 Wardrooms for a drink. My absence was quickly spotted, and the tale of woe was greeted with great laughs. Nick Copeland, obviously, told Archie privately, that it was just the sort of wheeze he expected from his Sub-Lieutenants and to rescind the punishment forthwith!


Fun Visits


The whole Squadron went there for a week's visit. Rome city was an ½ hour train ride from the port of Civitavecchia and the Squadron gave 3 days' leave to half of the Crew alternately to stay in Rome. The Officers had a surfeit of invitations of people to stay with and I chose one of the house-sit flats in the British Embassy Complex. Amongst other social events, the Squadron fielded a Rugby team to play Rome at their National Stadiums. The game followed a very alcoholic lunch at the British Embassy, so ½ our team were seeing double as the game began. At one stage I made a great sprint to reach a ball kicked over to my wing and got it at full speed with only 2 Italians between me and a Try. I knew I couldn't get past both of them, so tried to kick the ball over their heads while still sprinting. Unfortunately, the running kick went backwards over my head and the chance to score was gone! Otherwise, Rome was a sightseer's paradise, since modern tourism hadn't begun and our Italian hosts took us round the magnificent ruins, which were deserted and open to any casual visitors.

Mike McGuire, as 1st Lt., was always busy in his job and gave his 3 day leave ration to me, with the usual frown of disapproval from our starchy Captain. Worse, in my gratis 3 days, we junior Officers gave a Party in the Embassy flats for the Captains, Staff and 1st Lts. of all 4 ships. I predicted Archie would decline, not his scene, I nearly fainted when he was one of the first to turn up. He nearly fainted to find me one of his hosts in the heart of Rome. Brownie points were thin on the ground for me. And then non-existent, as Archie was about to take his leave, with his usual well-mannered charm, thanking each host in turn, when he finally spotted the bottles of gin, brandy, whisky and Pimms, all patently duty-free, smuggled out of the 4 destroyers! But again, as Captain D4 had turned a blind eye to this triviality, Archie had to dismiss the attractive thought of Court Martialling me for my part in this. And the British Ambassador had complimented us on providing the most excellent drinks, so much better than what could be bought in Rome!

Game, Set and Match again, but the tournament of Cdr. Grey v. Sub. Lt. Gerrish had a long way to run yet. And rank was on his side.

By staying in Rome for 6 days, I avoided the daily misery of those left onboard, since the 4 destroyers were open to the Italian public daily. Huge crowds every day, long queues of Italian families with picnic hampers making a day out of it and, all of them, in search of any loose fitting to be taken home as a souvenir!


This huge port and rambling overcrowded city was still recovering from war damage and lawlessness. Poverty reigned throughout. Crowds of small boys would hustle you in the streets and their skill as pick pockets was famed. Smithy, our veteran Gunner, who had survived the worst ports and back streets of all the Mediterranean, didn't even know they had taken his wristwatch until going to bed that night! Naples was the NATO H.Q. for the Med. Area and predominantly American. They gave a lavish Fancy Dress Party to welcome our 4 destroyers and Mike McGuire won 1st Prize, a live sheep. It lived onboard Aisne as the ship's mascot to the delight of the Crew, until the inevitable broken leg from falling down ship's ladders meant it had to be shot. For weeks after the sailors refused to eat any lamb dishes appearing on the menu in case it was their friend, Larry. We spent a day at the ongoing excavations of the Roman city that Vesuvius had buried in volcanic ash, a thousand years ago. Whole streets of houses were being revealed in perfect condition and, inside the houses, meals still on tables etc. Fascinating

May: Port Said

The act of Jews returning illegally to British governed Palestine suddenly flared up. The European Jews ran an organisation of hiring passenger ships to take thousands of Jewish families, landing along the Lebanese coast. Aisne was sailed in a hurry from Malta to Port Said, to be available to the Palestine Police, if they needed extra help in preventing the landing of illegal immigrant Jews. We spent 10 days idling in Port Said, which was, for us, a pleasant holiday. My brother, Roy, was stationed at an Army post down the Suez Canal and arranged a few days' leave to stay with me in Port Said. We rigged up a camp bed in the cabin I shared with Duffy and Roy enjoyed several days being shown the sights and nightclubs of Port Said. Finally, we were sailed to Cyprus and left there to intercept a Merchant Ship suspected of carrying illegal Jew immigrants or arms. The intercept would occur in the middle of the night and I would have to board her with my armed Boarding Platoon. Previous boarding's carried out by RN Commandos had an ugly history. The Jewish women would rip off your steel helmet as you approached their level up the scrambling nets we used to climb up the side of the ship and pull your hair, while others stabbed at your eyes with knitting needles. If you let go the scrambling net you fell - to be crushed by your own ship lying alongside the immigrant-runner. We quickly realised shaved heads were the order of the day for boarding parties. The first encounters were carried out using only blank ammo in our guns. When 2 Royal Marines were killed, their friends loaded live ammo in their guns ready for the next boarding, but this was discovered by their Officers and Royal Marines were withdrawn from boarding duties.

Nevertheless, lives were lost on both sides and the Jewish organisers agreed to cease this method of planting Jewish people in Palestine. The ship we stalked that night was suspected of carrying supplies of weapons for the Stern Gang terrorists fighting the British inside Palestine, but that she might have small numbers of illegals as well. We were closing to go alongside her, me and my men ready on the Forecastle, nowadays armed with live ammo, ready to leap aboard, when a signal from Admiralty rescinded the order to board. The ship's owners had agreed to divert the suspect out of the Med. We sighed with relief and went to bed.


I had previously visited this very popular city as a sailor in HMS Euryalus. Visiting this time as an Officer opened more doors, like Embassies, Corporations and wealthy locals. Beirut was part of the Western world, so again, I wangled a trip to Damascus, across the Lebanese border into the country of Syria, where you were back in the old Arab world. was always quite happy drinking arak with Arabs and found their way of life more civilised than drinking cocktails in westernised Beirut.


I'd never heard of this small port on the eastern coast of Sicily, lying on the coastal slopes of Mt. Etna. Aisne was sent there alone as a reward for some hard work we had done. Other people knew what I found on arrival, it was a honeymooners' paradise spot for the rich, a bit like Nice. An American millionaire invited the Captain and all Officers to his luxury mansion on the slopes of Etna, which still rumbles and burps as a semi-dormant volcano. The place was staffed and run like a private hotel. So, we swam in the pool, served drinks by his red-coated staff, watching the smoke puffing out of Etna, before a sumptuous dinner party, which went on until the early hours. The retired millionaire thoroughly enjoyed our carefree attitude to life, and we enjoyed the ambience of that fact of life where money was of no consequence! Archie, our stiff Captain, spent the whole evening and night drinking the finest French champagne, which suited his image of what life should be and actually, became tidily, and me and the boys for a change. It did him good!


A Spanish port in North Africa right opposite of Gibraltar. We were sent on a 'Let's be friends with the Spaniards to cool the row about Gibraltar', i.e. a diplomatic visit. The Spanish Foreign Legion, which had spawned General Franco, President of Spain, had obviously been told, by Franco, to put out the red carpet for us. Their HQ Garrison Fort was in the hills just inland from the port. Once there, you were back in Beau Geste days and they entertained us royally. We declined their offer for us to ride their stallions armed with lances to play sticking the pig. The pigs used in this game were the menu for the soldiers' evening meal! We also declined their offer of a bit of marksman practice, shooting at the occasional Tureq rebel who ineptly exposed himself to fleeting views from the Fort's ramparts. On our side, we gave the Grade 'A' CTP and informal parties in the Wardroom. It was late in the evening during one of these parties that a storm broke without warning and we had to put to sea to avoid damaging the ship alongside the concrete jetty. Getting the quite inebriated Spanish men and women ashore over bucking gangplanks in a screaming wind amused the Crew no end!

Dry Dock, Malta

For a couple of weeks for repairs. The Crew moved ashore to the very comfortable Barracks at Riscasli and worked on the ship during the day. A skeleton duty-watch camped on the ship overnight, stifling hot and smelly. The night I was Duty Officer terminated at 6am with me dressed in Ice Cream Suit and Sword, embarked in the C-in-C's barge (the Green Parrot) to act as his representative to welcome the Crown Prince of Spain and his wife to Malta as they arrived in their private yacht for an informal holiday. Archie Grey had kittens when this signalled duty was bounced on me and fussed about reminding about protocol, getting his steward to press and polish my Ice Cream Suit and Sword, detailing his steward to spend the night onboard with the dire duty of wakening me in plenty of time for this little bit of Fleet protocol. All went like clockwork and I found the Prince and Princess most charming and friendly to the extent of their insisting I join them for breakfast as an apology for having caused me to rise so early. In the same vein, the Prince said why not take my straitjacket off and relax. If Archie could have seen me, breakfasting with the Royal couple, naked to the waist except for a pair of Marks and Spencer's braces, while the C-in-C's barge, with a crew of 8, hung about waiting for me, he would have had a fit! As it was, he immediately de-briefed me, on my return, to ascertain all went well and his relief was apparent until upon leaving his cabin. I casually remarked "Oh, by the way Sir, the Prince and Princess will be coming onboard on Saturday as my private guests for a drink!". I knew his dilemma. On the one hand he would have a sleepless night worrying about the protocol of this, should my invitation have been passed through C-in-C's office etc. While, on the other hand, the very attractive thought of him being able to meet the Royal couple onboard his own ship, with all the kudos this would gain him with Captain D. and his fellow COs was enough to risk any Foreign Office rebuke which might arise. Poor Archie, I really was a thorn in his side and I never wanted to be. It was just that our personalities were so different. Dry dock in Malta's summer gave the whole Crew a wonderful break living ashore, working Tropical Routine. 6.30am to 12.30, which gave the best hours of the day to ourselves. We played a lot of tennis followed by swimming in the sea. Then drank Pimms as pre-dinner drinks and off ashore after dinner. Life of Riley really. One evening, we organised a Barbecue at Malta's only beach. By late evening there was only one other massive bonfire of driftwood blazing in the darkness, when we decided to swim, in the nuddy, we hadn't brought swim trunks with us. Buster Brown, well merry from the evening's drinks, came out of the sea in the darkness and galloped starkers to the light of the wrong bonfire! The beach party of refined people was flabbergasted at the sight of this lanky lunatic, naked, dancing up and down!

The Captain, Commander Archie Grey, DSO, RN.

This is a suitable point to put the record straight and pen an accurate description of Cdr. Grey as, so far, we have only dwelt on our two contrasting personalities.

Cdr. Grey was a very professional punctilious Naval Officer of the "Old School" who had fought through, and survived, the war. General manners and Naval rank structure were paramount in his life. He was totally and utterly dedicated to his Sovereign and the Royal Navy. I saw and respected the genuine Archie Grey, now getting old, when he remained on the Bridge for 3 days and 3 nights in foul weather during a major Fleet 'War Exercise', without sleep, politely refusing to delegate, even for a couple of hours, to his 2nd–in-Command, the 1st. Lieutenant. At the end of this greatly demanding War Exercise he was near to the end of his strength and very close to serious exhaustion. The whole Crew respected his devotion to duty and were happy to know he had finally gone to his bunk to sleep. He would trust me with the ship when he slept, as he did with the other Seaman Lieutenants and, as the Commission progressed, he went out of his way to teach me the great skills of Warship Command.

His wife, a typical British blue stocking, came out to Malta for a couple of weeks when Aisne was in dry dock and the pair of them, living in a rented house, gave several parties for Aisne's Officers. One such was a swimming picnic off the rocks in the sea. The picnic hamper had been bought in Harrods of course and Mrs Grey had prepared this picnic feast superbly well from the shops in Malta. They were nice people when they entertained.

Archie's failing was being behind the times. He was oblivious to the post-war change where class barriers had been radically altered. Two incidents occurred which sharply revealed his opposition to said change.

All destroyers', frigates' and submarine (small ships) pay ledgers were kept by WRENS in their shore base offices. Every fortnight they sent us the Crew's pay with a slip copying part of the ledger. About every 6 months, the WRENS were sent onboard to audit the ship's ledgers and iron out all the many minor queries that had accrued over 6 months. They worked with my Leading Writer in our cramped, hot, stuffy little office all day, going back to WRENS Barracks for their lunch, except, if problems had arisen, they would forego lunch to help the Leading Writer to get his books straight. Just this had happened, so I took the 2 WRENS up to the Wardroom for a cool beer fully endorsed by Mike McGuire (1st Lt.) who insisted on buying the girls a drink in thanks for their help, when in stepped Archie for his lunchtime drink. He went straight back to his cabin, sent for 1st Lt. and said he was horrified to see 2 Naval Ratings (the WRENS) drinking in one of Her Majesty's Officers' Wardrooms. I made my case to the Captain in a fair old temper, pointing out that the girls work for the ship as their permanent job, do us a lot of favours in ensuring our pay is always bang on time etc. and that 2 very smartly dressed WRENS taking ½ hour off, having foregone their own lunch, were entitled to the minor courtesy of being given a drink! The 1st Lt. cooled me down by pulling rank, reminding he was 2nd-in-Command and President of the Wardroom Mess, and that the issue was between the Captain and himself.

I was re-assured by the 1st Lt. standing upon his principles and taking his total responsibility in this trivial matter, but I was very riled that Archie, the Captain I respected and would remain loyal to, could so seriously react to a simple courtesy because the old rules affected his mind so pitifully.

Six months later the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, a very senior Admiral, made a routine visit to the ship, arrived in his Navy black limo, driven by a WREN. The Captain welcomed C-in-C onboard and introduced him to us ship's Officers, lined up at the gangway. Following this the C-in-C said to Archie "Perhaps one of your Officers could escort my Driver to the Wardroom, while we tour the ship, rather than leave her sitting in the heat on the jetty". Archie had the grace to give this pleasant task to me. So, I was able to take a Naval Rating (WREN) for the second time to the Wardroom, but, this time, at the suggestion of the C-in-C himself! Chatting to the girl over a drink, I found out she was a granddaughter of Admiral ABC Cunningham, one of our very illustrious wartime leaders. The next day, Archie sent for me and very freely admitted that, on the first occasion of me taking WRENS to the Wardroom, he had been wrong in issuing a reprimand. Matter closed.


Eighteen months away from home and families made all forms of sport important to us as a way of passing time. Rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket were the chief team sports. Hockey and soccer were played most throughout the Med, since they did not need grass pitches (rare in the Med.) and could be played on the hard sand pitches abundant in this hot climate area.

HMS Aisne could put out pretty good teams in all sports, but our better matches were when we turned out 4th Destroyer Squadron teams. I always played for the Squadron at hockey and rugby. At hockey, 3 of the Aisne players were always selected; Archie, the Captain, Smithy the Gunner and an AB. Archie had learned the game on the playing fields of Winchester School, he was good. Smithy and the AB had learned hockey in India, parents were Indian Army; they were very good.

We played a lot of matches whenever in harbour and, at times, Archie and me became good friends, sipping a cool beer and comparing bruises whenever the game finished. Smithy had one of the most powerful hits in hockey and Archie would buy him a beer for every casualty that limped off the field having got in the way of a Smithy-drive! We always fought very hard to win.

Rugby games were less frequent, shortage of grass pitches, but we played a fair number of Squadron games as we roamed across the Med. My shipmates in this game were Dennis Hannay, the Gunnery Officer, the ship's PTI and 2 other CPOs. Officers played a lot of tennis. For our own fun and recreation and, of course, socially, invites to Clubs and mansions etc. It remained in our time a game for upper classes, like Polo, and the snob attitude prevailed. We conformed and always turned out in immaculate whites.


There was a fair old snob connotation within ships of the Fleet as to which Wardrooms dined better than others. Admiralty paid a standard sum for feeding Officers and each ship decided how much they would supplement this fixed sum out of their own pockets for additions and luxuries to be added to the menu. But, like most things in life, money alone was not the whole answer. For Naval Officers' Messes the linchpin was how good your chief chef and caterer were. We were well off in Aisne, having 2 very good Maltese Petty Officers in these 2 key jobs. The absolute best were sent to serve Admirals.

Our daily menus in Aisne were hearty, to say the least:

Breakfast: always a full cooked breakfast and local lovely fruits. Lashings of real coffee.

Lunch: a 4-Course meal at which chef's soup together with his famous croutons would have made a meal in itself. He always baked his own bread too. Delicious.

Tea: quite a substantial snack. Always toast and jams. Often boiled eggs or herrings, or kippers.

Dinner: another 4-Course meal where, because time was not so pressing as at lunch, the quality of the cheese and fruit, taken with port to finish dinner, was an important feature.

Dennis Hannay was the natural to be entrusted with our Mess Food kitty, his wife was French, and he had a most discerning palate from a lifetime of eating the finest foods. His late-night party trick, when all the catering staff were asleep in their bunks, was to produce a snack of toast and boiled eggs. The toast easy enough in the Pantry's toaster, but the eggs he boiled in the Pantry's electric urn which made our tea and coffee during the day. The Catering Staff were always furious next morning and would complain formally to the Captain. Nothing was ever done, since the Captain and his civilian guests also revelled in this late night 'cabaret' snack!

We changed into Evening Dress and bow-tie every night for dinner, even at sea. The only times this formality was skipped had to be storm weather or Exercises which involved Action Stations. Everyone had individual friends scattered throughout ships of The Fleet and on occasions when you met in harbour, it was customary to invite each other for lunch or dinner onboard. This was a pleasant way of eating out, just like going the rounds of restaurants in a city.

Leaving the Med. 25th September 1955

The 4th Destroyer Squadron left Malta for the last time, to join the Home Fleet. We called in Gib. on the way home and continued on to Chatham for ten days' leave to each Watch. All ship's leave had to be allocated in 2 halves, one half to keep the ship ticking, the other half on leave.

So, for the second time in my life, I left the Med. with regret. I love that part of the world. Chiefly for the climate which is the best in the world for British people, lots of sun, but not searing heat, and a very short winter and, also, for the mix of old civilisations, southern Europe, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France to the north and, to the south, the top end of Africa, the Arab world.

I went home for my 10 days' leave and the family were pleased to see me. There were gifts for them all that I had bought for their exotic value, so I was pretty popular all round. Back in the ship at Chatham, while the other half were on leave, came the invitation to Rogers-Coltman's wedding. Wyndham (his Christian name) was a popular member of our Sub. Lt.'s Year, had invited four of us in the 4th Destroyer Squadron, Benjy in Barrosa, Derek in Corunna and me and Flaxman in Aisne to have a drink and talk over whether to go or not. Not easy. With the other half on leave, we were Duty Officers every 2nd day; the wedding was in Worcester, none of us had a car and rail meant several changes, lugging our best uniforms and swords. We decided all too difficult and we would send off our regrets.

The First Lieutenant, on hearing our wimpish decision, stormed in with a tirade about the paramount importance of attending a team-mate's wedding come hell or high water. As soon as we countered 'No transport' he hurled the keys of his newly purchased car at us. Then we said 'Duties', he countered by saying he would do my Duty and detail similar Officers to do the same in our sister ships. Good old Mike and off we set for Worcester, sharing the driving (hairy at times). The wedding was immensely successful, in Worcester Cathedral (Wyndham's family were wealthy landowners) and it turned out that sixteen of us from ships all over the Fleet made it to his wedding and gave him a decent Guard of Honour. Great occasion.

October 1955

The Squadron sailed to gather with the Home Fleet at Rosyth for exercises. Then we went round the top of Scotland and came down the other side through the Inner Hebrides. This is a deep-water passage but scarily narrow in many places as it twists and turns through dozens of islands scattered off the rocky mainland. We did a show-off and the four destroyers went the whole way through at high speed in close Line-Ahead, much to the surprise of the few people who live on these shores. My stint of conning the ship was so busy that I didn't even have time to light my customary cigarette! Thence to Liverpool for Remembrance Weekend. Each destroyer had been allocated a different place in this great port, Birkenhead, Liverpool Central etc. Aisne to Port Sunlight, the section of docks belonging to the Lever Bros. Company. Indeed, we quickly found the Lever Company owned the whole of this considerably sized town. And they were the most generous hosts we had met anywhere.

Remembrance Weekend was most important to Liverpool. They had lost so many lives in the terrible bombings all through the war and lost so many of their sailors in the convoys battling against U-Boats. So, Port Sunlight was grateful that we were there to share in their Parades and Memorial Services. They held the Royal Navy in high esteem, and we did not let them down. Our sailors turned out Guards and Platoons as smart as the Royal Marines and had the ship gleaming for those days we were open to the public, who came onboard in droves.

We got off to a cracking start. First event was Drinks and Lunch for Town Council and Lever Company bosses, on the day of our arrival. Captain and all Officers lined up at the gangway, Best Dress and Swords, to welcome the Mayor and his Council, all Labour Party. Archie was apprehensive about handling a working-class Labour Mayor and, sure enough, after his fast run down the line of Officers, he went straight over to talk with the sailors on duty, with loud remarks like "How do the Officers treat you lad?", "What's the grub like onboard?". The sailors were as embarrassed as Archie with this turn of events and the Captain got the message to us 'to get this lot into the Wardroom as fast as possible before the whole Council had wandered off to the sailors' Messes'.

Once safely gathered in the Wardroom their obvious dogma enmity towards Officers and bosses evaporated. We had stocked up with beer of every description as a guess of their tastes. Not a bit of it. They asked for our finest French brandy, drank nothing else for 2½ hours while they regaled us with non-stop hilarious jokes, told us we were the best bunch of lads they'd met for many a day and dismissed Lunch as an unnecessary interruption to drinking! They addressed themselves by the name of the Council department they each ran. So, it was meet 'Sewers' or 'Roads' or '"H"education' or Hospitals etc. They left when the Mayor made his excellent 'Thank you' speech which he rounded off with the gift of the three Council chauffeur driven cars for our use over the weekend and an invitation to dinner in the Town Hall that night. What a bunch! What a party! And throughout, Lord Lever, Chairman of Lever Company, talked to them all, every man an employee of his, on intimate family terms. He did stay for lunch and told us the 'Council' had really taken a shine to us, since normally they treat official functions as boring, time wasting events. The same Council and their wives laid on many parties, at their own expense, in their Working Men's' Clubs, for all our sailors over the weekend.

We sailed on Monday with many people of Port Sunlight on the jetties to wave goodbye. Officers and Crew waved back to those warm-hearted, generous people of Port Sunlight. The four destroyers met up as we steamed down the Mersey, out of Liverpool in the Irish Sea and made for Belfast, the Squadron's next visit. Another PR visit, to another great port, which again had long associations with the Royal Navy.

Port Sunlight was just one of the many small towns which make up Liverpool. Belfast was a city, so all the events went up a step. The Captains and Officers of all four ships were guests of the City Corporation at a Banquet Luncheon in Belfast's magnificent City Hall. The whole thing went on until past 5 o'clock. We were in Ireland. And the Irish love making humorous speeches! Finally, our hosts, the Aldermen and Councillors of Belfast, stood and sang us well known Irish songs to emphasise how pleased they were to have the four destroyers visit their city.

The next few days were packed with events. Playing rugby, soccer sand hockey against Queen's University, visits to Harland and Wolff, that great shipyard, building Aircraft Carriers and the like for the RN Visits to all organisations that had any connection with the Navy or the Merchant Navy. We were at full stretch to meet all the invitations. Our departure this time was marked by a blast of military music from The Band of the Irish Fusiliers as we formed up in close Line-Ahead for the trip down Belfast Lough on our way to Londonderry.

The Squadron did a two-week programme of Anti-Submarine exercises, working with an American Destroyer Squadron. Londonderry was the HQ of NATO Anti-submarine Warfare and was run jointly by the RN and RAF, not only to keep ships and aircraft proficient at killing submarines, but also to try out new tactics and weapons. The winter storms had started, and it was rough ploughing around the Irish Sea chasing submarines. All destroyers suffered minor damage from rough seas - Agincourt lost one of her boats. There was a brief rest from this wild activity on the three occasions we spent briefly in harbour to analyse the exercises at HMS Sea Eagle's lecture halls.

Thence return to Aisne's home port of Chatham in December 1955 to give fourteen days' Christmas leave to each watch in turn.

Chatham Dockyard January 1956

The Squadron joined in several major Exercises with the Home Fleet around the British Isles, Bay of Biscay and one, which ended up in Gibraltar again In May 1956 the Squadron changed Crews completely and we handed over to the new boys, with some relief, having completed our allotted time successfully and with great flair. At the end of my Commission, the thought foremost in every mind is 'Where will Admiralty send me next?' Archie saw every Officer individually and told us the gist of our final reports he had sent to Admiralty. In my case it was 'A competent Seaman Lieutenant who had shown good skills in Torpedoes and Anti-submarine Warfare and was a strong leader'. However, as a young man, newly promoted to Lieutenant, he recommended I be sent to an Aircraft Carrier or Battleship, where there were plenty of senior Officers to curb my headstrong ways'. While I was not pleased at the thought of being sent to a big ship, I knew it was a good report. So off on leave back to Walsall to await my next posting. The little brown envelope duly arrived ,and I could hardly believe what I read. "Appointed in Command of MSML 293 based at Londonderry" What had happened to Archie's recommendation of 'Big Ships'? Then I recalled that all our reports went through Captain D4, Nick Copeman, for his endorsement or alteration. Nick had obviously disagreed with the 'big ship' idea and had put me right back in the front line with a Command of my own.

1st May 1956

Arrived in Londonderry and took Command of ML 298. There were two of these wartime MLs now reduced to one Officer (the CO) and nine men, based at a small jetty close to Londonderry's town bridge across the River Foyle and we belonged to the Senior Naval Officer, Northern Ireland (SNONI and Captain of HMS Sea Eagle). His name was Phillip Pawlett and I was to know him well. A veteran of the War with distinctions gained in Command of destroyers and finally in Command of squadrons of destroyers before the war ended, he was now a very senior Captain held in high regard by Admiralty.

The other ML 496, was commanded by Charles Patterson. He had entered at Dartmouth, sailed through his time as Cadet, Midshipman, Sub. Lieutenant and, as a successful newly promoted Seaman Lieutenant, volunteered for an Admiralty scheme to reduce the chronic shortage of Electrical Officers, by switching branches and going to University for a couple of years to learn Electrical Engineering. It was the access to University that he badly wanted, thoroughly enjoyed his University life, qualified as an Electrical Officer and, the minute he was back in the Navy, said, "Sorry, I've changed my mind; don't want to be an Electrical Officer; please let me get on with my Seaman career". Admiralty, having spent all that money on him said, "Up yours" so Charles resigned the Navy as an Officer and promptly re-joined as a sailor. Then progressed up the slow ladder to Officer again, this time via the Upper Yardman route. So there he was, a bit senior to me, a Lieutenant for the second time, whereas he could have been a Lt. Cdr. if he hadn't switched branches all that time ago. We got on well and the two MLs worked well together. Charles, of course, was much older than me, married, with three children.

The MLs were fast boats, used as gunboats in the war, but now allocated to Sea Eagle, chiefly to recover the expensive Sonar buoys, dropped in large numbers by Coastal Command Aircraft in the Exercise Areas off Londonderry to detect submarines. Recovering these devices that floated on the sea, sending out sonar pings underneath and radioing the results back to the aircraft circling above, was relatively easy, fairly easy to find and not too heavy to lift on board. But returning to base with each day's haul, usually about 30 Sonar buoys, involved the 22-mile trip up the infamous River Foyle.

Entering from the North Irish Sea was okay because the channel was deep and fairly wide and then you were in a huge inland waterway stretching two miles wide. This vast expanse of inland water was only a couple of feet depth and hid the real river which was deep enough for ships but very narrow and tortuous. Of course, it was marked by wooden beacons, built into the shallow water on both sides of the river, roughly a mile apart as you progressed the twenty-two miles upriver to 'Derry. But you often got caught in blinding rain squalls, mist or fog patches, obscuring the next beacon and you had to keep moving ahead as a steady speed to offset the strong currents, relying totally on your compass to steer you safely to the next beacon. Hair-raising at times. Many ships, including myself in my next boat, went aground and had to be pulled off by a Tug. As you approached the City of 'Derry, the land closed in on you dramatically, like a canyon, but not a straight one, the first half went round in a semi-circle, the second half, a semi-circle again in the opposite direction. Someone in the past was descriptive when they called this violent bend in the narrow, fast-running tidal river, The Crook!

Once through the infamous Crook you were in the deep and expansive harbour of 'Derry, twenty two miles inland, with plenty of wharfs and jetties that berthed the Convoy Escorts of the war, the nearest port before starting the 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. The Navy, post-war, kept the Base manned and functional. Albeit greatly reduced from the war days. There was a small dockyard which repaired ships, and the submarines based at 'Derry had a Mother Factory Ship called HMS Stalker at one of the dockyard wharfs. Down-river, past the Crook, was an Admiralty Fuel Depot, with long jetties, where the numerous Convoy Escorts used to fuel, ready for the Atlantic run. It is called Lisahally.

The RAF kept a toehold from the wartime days, when Flying Boats were based in the bay off Lisahally ,and now kept a Rescue Ship, similar to a coaster, which berthed over at the dockyard near Stalker.

I took over from an extrovert character who offered to sell me his car which had been converted to run on the same high-octane fuel the ML ran on! No thanks! After he had departed, I received a Summons to a Court in Scotland, on a charge of shooting grouse out-of-season when he had brought the ML through the Caledonian Canal. The Crew confirmed that the 'Old Skipper' shot at anything that moved on the banks while transiting the Caledonian Canal and hinted that meal times were tastier than normal! The Summons was re-directed his way via Admiralty

After a month on commanding the old ML 296, we handed her over to the dockyard for scrapping and I took my small Crew to Southampton to collect our brand new Mine Sweeper ML She was a beaut! Built by Moody's, the yacht builders of Southampton, it had been accepted into RN ownership by the RN Small Craft Base up the River Hythe and they now had a week to hand it over to us. They demonstrated the complicated minesweeping equipment, Radar and Radio and Twin Oerlikon gun etc., in daily runs up and down the Solent. All they wanted from us were reams of signatures, saying everything was in apple-pie order. They were a friendly bunch of cut-throats, tucked away in this beauty spot of Hythe, littered with superb pubs on the fringes of the New Forest and just hoped Admiralty had forgotten the existence of the small idyllic Base, it was called HMS Diligence. The last thing they wanted was for any of us collecting Crews to bother Admiralty with reports of missing items or defective equipment after we had sailed our new craft away, so we found in the months to come duplicate stores and stores surplus to requirements, they had done everything to make us a very satisfied customer, with no thoughts of irritating Admiralty with complaints!

So we sailed our brand-new boat on the 3-day voyage to 'Derry and got there comfortably. SNONI and his Staff were waiting on my jetty like a bunch of schoolboys eager to examine their brand-new requisition. It was planned to relive all the minesweeping gear and the Twin Oerlikon gun to be mothballed, at 24-hours' notice for replacing in the dockyard, I would need twice the number of Crew to go operational as a Minesweeper; there was no war on and Admiralty kept us in peacetime numbers.

We did, however, keep the obvious built-in equipments, Radar, Radio and Echo Sounder not fitted in the previous MLs The one disadvantage was engines. Mine were a pair of beautiful Roll-Royce Diesels with massive HP to tow the heavy cables for minesweeping. But their maximum speed was only 12 knots. I knew this low speed would give me problems, since survival and safety in the N. Irish Sea for a small craft was the ability to get to a shelter and harbour quickly when the notorious winter storms gusted in with very little warning. My nearest harbours were 'Derry, Portrush and Belfast, on the Irish coast, and just the Clyde on the Scottish coast. Over the next couple of years I ran from shelter in them all from time to time.

My spacious cabin, towards the stern, was fitted as a Wardroom for 4 Officers to live in, and I had it all to myself, very nice. Better still, I was given a large room in Sea Eagle's Wardroom to live in when I was not at sea overnight. The Crew didn't have this luxury and lived permanently on the ML, which they preferred anyway. And my times living in Sea Eagle helped them, since they did not have to cook my meals when I lived ashore.

The ML, as a ship, earned me the sea-goers ration of Duty-free spirits, 6 bottles a month which came from the wine merchants in Glasgow, so my well-stocked bar became a magnet to my shore-based cronies living in Sea Eagle.

Another of our routine tasks was to ferry the classes of NATO Officers down river to the destroyers, frigate and submarines anchored just inside the mouth of the Foyle, they would have their day of practical learning of AntiSubmarine Warfare out in the Irish Sea, while we recovered the Sonar buoys, and then bring them back to 'Derry late in the evening as the warships re-anchored at Magilligan inside the Foyle. Similarly, we ferried mail and stores to submarines that would R/V at Magilligan. Occasionally, NATO would organise learning courses for Senior Officers, including Admirals and Sea Eagle would coach them to the small fishing port of Portrush for me to collect them there, rather than inflict the 2-hour trip down the Foyle.

Entering Portrush harbour was exciting. The little harbour lies right on the coast of the Irish Sea and you have to make a dash at high speed to get through the narrow entrance gap in the breakwater to crash through the big rollers. Immediately through the breakwater you have to slam on the brakes, or you are aground on the shore shingle! Then you turn on a sixpence (easy for me with 2 propellers) to berth on a quay the same length as the ML, 112 feet long. Going out was much easier. The Senior Officers assembled on the quay invariably clapped on completion of my entering and berthing manoeuvres and I had to remember to salute them and not bow!

Another job I collected was to survey the depths of the main channel along the whole 22 miles of river, to establish the areas requiring dredging. SNONI's staff were continually plagued with complaints from the endless stream of visiting NATO destroyers and frigates stating the depths of the channel printed on the charts were incorrect and that, in fact, shallower depths prevailed where the warships had to plough through river-bed silt. The ships had been right since my Echo Sounder survey soon proved a serious build-up of silt and dredging went on for months afterwards. The IRA became offensively active again in Northern Ireland (Ulster) having been quiet for quite a few years. From now on, the lives of us handful of men in the 2 MLs changed for the worse. Chiefly because we had to patrol the River Foyle all night, alternately. The object of the patrols was to prevent the IRA from running guns and bombs across the border between Eire and N. Ireland, the border was the River Foyle; Donegal (Eire) was the River bank on the left hand side going downriver and the County of 'Derry was the right hand side shoreline. We continued our normal daytime duties for Sea Eagle as well. Patrols at night meant showing no lights, except the sudden blinding switch on of our searchlight to probe the Donegal shoreline at very erratic intervals. Your every other night off in harbour was early to bed and catch up with missing sleep.

The Terrorist Campaign soon hotted up with bombs going off in 'Derry city, the Railway Station, Civic Buildings, shops etc., and since the shore barracks of HMS Sea Eagle was the juiciest target, the British Government sent a hefty Army contingent to defend the large and sprawling grounds of Sea Eagle.

The berth for us 2 MLs remained by the Town Bridge and the jetty was open to public access, so we had to give our sailor on Night Watch a rifle. Remember these sailors were young National Servicemen aiming to complete their two-year Conscription sentence as safely as possible before their return to the luxuries of civvy life. So, I disobeyed SNONI's orders to issue live ammunition to these very young inexperienced sailors, knowing full well the IRA never presented themselves to be shot at anyway and the real enemy was the murderous boredom of these poor kids trying to stay awake through the dead Night Watches, when nothing ever happened except rain. Me and the coxswain kept the live ammo ready in our pockets. Charles in the other ML had done the same. Over a year later when I handed over to the next CO, I gave him the same advice, which he disagreed with and said he would issue the bullets to his sentries. Less than two months into his Command there was the inevitable shooting accident by a sentry and one of his shipmates was seriously wounded.

The RAF did worse and armed their ship-sentry with a revolver. One night the sentry flipped and shot the ship's Engineer Officer dead while asleep in his cabin, stemming from a grudge the man held against the EO. The IRA were winning without firing a shot themselves at the Navy and RAF

Civil-Terrorist killings escalated as the Ulster unofficial fighters took on the IRA themselves and, by now, Admiralty decided the 2 MLs needed more protection from terrorists' bombs and had a high security wire mesh fence built to cage in our jetty and storehouse. This eased our minds a bit, but produced endless irritations, like boxes and parcels of legitimate stores for us, or for onward delivery to submarines down river, being left outside the fence when both MLs were absent. These then had to be treated as IRA bombs, until we could carefully open them up away from the boats to prove them safe before loading onboard. What a carry-on it all was. And the floodlighting, that came with the fence, made our poor old ship-sentry a sitting duck to any IRA sniper hiding in the many houses overlooking our jetty, so we had to devise ways for him to keep out of sight while he tightened or loosened our berthing ropes while the tide rose and fell throughout the night. My very intelligent, loyal Leading Wirelessman, married, born and living in Belfast, devout Catholic, came back from one of his weekends in Belfast, shortly after the IRA Emergency had begun, with this message, "The IRA have no grudge against the 2 MLs and would not attack us". I believed him. We were not attacked in any form or shape for the rest of my two years in Command, while Sea Eagle and other Service targets were seriously attacked over those two years.

July 1956

I was detailed to act as Guardship for the Royal Ulster Yacht Club's Annual Regatta. The Yacht Club, situated just inside Belfast Lough at a posh town called Bangor, vied with Cowes for prestige in the yachting world. Normally, Admiralty allocated them an Aircraft Carrier or, failing that, a cruiser. This year the RN was fully employed with Suez and other trouble spots, so they made the RUYC scrape by with my MSML 2593. SNONI detailed Charles Patterson, the other ML Skipper, to come with me to assist with the social obligations of the weekend. We had already received an invitation for "The Commanding Officer and Twelve Officers of MSML 2593" to their Annual Diner!

They clearly had no idea how small an ML is So we arrived as scheduled on the Friday and berthed in Belfast main harbour, where the Club Committee came onboard to plan the ML's activities for the Regatta. They thoroughly enjoyed a drink with me and Charles and made it quite clear that we were guests of the Club for the entire weekend and our dinner that night was already booked in a Belfast restaurant where our hosts would be the full Committee and wives! Delighted! Even better, now they knew my ML wasn't much bigger than an ocean-going yacht, they also booked rooms at Club expense in a hotel for me and Charles. What a nice way to live!

Regatta day was great. Races for all classes of yachts and dinghies; just inside the Lough entrance for the smaller classes and outside in the Irish Sea for the bigger yachts. I had embarked the Club's Racing Committee for the day, and we moved around to start races, record results at finishing lines, adjudicate at disputes etc. The Regatta halted for lunch in the Clubhouse and continued after lunch for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. The Club had its own safety and rescue launches for the smaller classes, but they were grateful when we towed one of the bigger yachts in after losing its main mast. The instant the last race of the day was finished we all moved like lightning to get ready for Dinner and Prize-giving that evening. For me and Charles, it was full speed down the Lough to our berth in the docks, hotel bath and change into Best Evening Uniform (boiled shirts etc) and chauffeur driven limo to deliver us to the Clubhouse out at Bangor. The Dinner was magnificent. Full formal Dress, tails for Club Committee, Dinner Jackets for Members, Uniforms for Lord Lieutenants, and us. The wives in Ball dresses. We sat at the Top Table with the Club Commodore and other VIPs, so I had to behave myself, to begin with at least!

On the outskirts of wealthy Bangor is a small village called Bushmills, which is the name given to the world famous liqueur whisky made there. The owner of Bushmills Whiskey was a lifelong Member of the Club, so it was no surprise to find that they served 'Bushmills' with the soup course, 'Bushmills' with the fish course, 'Bushmill' with the main course and 'Bushmills' with dessert! At the end of Dinner, everyone was in a very mellow state! For my part, in conversation with the owner of Rover salesrooms in Belfast, I conceded that it was unthinkable that a man of my position, one of Her Majesty's Commanding Officers, did not possess his own car. I forgot all about that little chat as the evening/night progressed.

Boyd Wilson, the aged owner of Bushmills, insisted that Charles and myself return to his mansion in Bangor for a nightcap drink. He promptly fell asleep in the car and his chauffeur said "Normal routine. The Housekeeper (a dragon female) will put him to bed, but you must have your nightcap, or he will sack us in the morning! We did. And the same driver then took us home to our hotel in Belfast. What a night!

Sunday morning was a blissful lie-in, until the Hotel Porter came to my room, handed me a set of car keys, and said my car had just been delivered and was in the Hotel car park. It was a beautiful six-cylinder Rover, second-hand but glistening in pristine condition, the last of the long bonnet, with huge headlights, models. So I eventually paid my friend from last night the modest sum of £250 and Charles drove it back to 'Derry while I sailed my ML back.

My next job was to base the ML is the small harbour of Campbeltown, just inside the Mull of Kintyre on the Scottish coast, to recover Sonar buoys daily, dropped throughout a large NATO Anti-Submarine Exercise for one week, in that area. Thence to be Guardship again, for Port William's Annual Regatta. Completely the opposite to the prestigious RUYC we had just completed at Bangor, for Port William was a small rural village at the top of Luce Bay inside the Mull of Galloway, with a tiny stone jetty which dried out completely at low tide. The reason why Port William got Admiralty's favour was due to the influence of the Lord Lieutenant of the County, no less than Admiral, Sir Dalrymple-Hamilton, KCB, now retired. We arrived in the evening of Friday 27th July 1956 and anchored as close as possible to the jetty. The Committee brought ashore in dinghies to plan tomorrow's Regatta events.

Again I had another Officer to assist me, a Fleet Air Arm Sub. Lt. Sent to the ML to gain a week's sea-going experience prior to his OOW Exams. Next day the Regatta was a miniature of Bangor's effort, but just as enjoyable. My crew borrowed a boat and took part in the rowing races. I had invited any of the townspeople, who could get boatmen to ferry them out, to come onboard for a look-round and a large number did, including the Admiral and Lady Hamilton, who stayed for tea with us. The evening Dinner and Prize-giving was in the Church Hall, the largest room in the little town and, of course, it was the most friendly sort of occasion unique to rural communities, where lords sit down with labourers.

High tide next day, Sunday, was at 12 noon, so I told them the ML would berth at the jetty and give a Drinks Party. Big cheer! The first guests came onboard at 12 noon. At three minutes past noon the Leading Telegraphist rushed out of his Radio-shack and told me the weather forecast had issued a warning of very severe gales in the Irish Sea. Belfast, across the Irish Sea, was my nearest shelter. Fortunately, the Admiral was on board and he instantly realised there wasn't a minute to waste, shooed the few guests off the ML and undertook to explain to guests still arriving. We slipped from the little jetty at full speed and headed down Luce Bay, a journey of 1½ hours to the Mull of Galloway. It was too late. By the time I drove the ML past the Mull headland into open sea, we could see the NW storm had already turned the Irish Sea into a boiling cauldron of white spume and mountainous waves. The course for Belfast meant the whole fury of the storm would be on our beam and the risk of rolling over, capsizing, was unacceptable. I sent my next signal to Sea Eagle telling them Belfast was out of the question and that I was going to ride the storm out in Luce Bay. By midnight, the storm was up to Force 11 and it was all I could do to hold the ML head into wind and seas. T hen as the seas built up even more, my propellers were coming out of the water momentarily each time we slid down to the troughs of the waves, causing the engines to race and overheat. My Engineer stayed in the cramped engine room knocking back the throttles each time the racing started, and I eased the revs every time we hung for a few seconds on the top of a wave. Our lives depended on those 2 Rolls Royce engines. We needed them both for steering, the rudders alone could not turn the ML back into the wind every time a big wave lifted the bow out of the wind, one engine full ahead, the other full astern was the only way to turn both to keep crawling away from the rocky shoreline, that the storm was driving into.

The 11 of us were soaked to the skin using both hands to hold on to stay upright and only ships biscuits for food. But we didn't care one jot about that as long as we could all hear and feel the throbbing of those 2 precious engines. The Radio-shack, now waist deep in water, picked up the BBC News to hear that the sail ship, "Monyana", an Argentinian Sail Training Ship, had foundered and sunk in the English Channel with the loss of all life, about 90 Cadets and Crew. We all tightened our life jackets and got on with the job of keeping this little ship afloat and away from the rocks.

Being Sunday night Phillip Pawlett, our boss back in 'Derry, was Guest of Honour at a Mess Dinner in HMS Launceston Castle, berthed at Lisahally. He was soon told of my predicament and left immediately for the Operations Centre in Sea Eagle to take charge and had already ordered Launceston Castle to slip and proceed at all speed to assist me in Luce Bay. Conditions were so bad at Lisahally that it took 2 Tugs to get the frigate away from the jetty and she did not reach me until the afternoon of the next day, Monday. A passage which she would complete in 4 hours in moderate weather had taken her 16 hours in this terrible storm. During Sunday night, when the storm was at its worst, Admiralty had diverted the nearest merchant ship in the area to 'standby' me. It was the SS Irish Cedar, a lovely big cargo/passenger ship and she stayed close with me until dawn when the storm had moderated and I had gained good ground and better shelter right at the top of the Bay.

HMS Launceston Castle arrived, quite battered herself, on Monday afternoon, anchored at the top of the Bay and I secured to lines she passed over her stern. We were now able to put on dry clothing, make ourselves a hot meal and get a night's sleep. It was over. At 8.30am next day, Tuesday, the two of us sailed in company for Belfast. The storm had moderated down to an ordinary gale which, while still rough, was peanuts to the now spent-out storm. We topped up with fuel, spent Tuesday night in Belfast and returned to 'Derry on Wednesday. After the excitement of the past few weeks away from our base, we were quite content to settle back into our normal work. And I had my new toy, the Big Black Rover car to play with.

September 1956

Another big NATO Exercise and this time the ML was based at the ferry port of Larne, the only other decent harbour on the Irish coast in-between 'Derry and Belfast. A good week and a pleasant change of scenery (Pubs!) for the Crew.

November 1956

Our last break this year from day running in and out of 'Derry recovering Sonar buoys to the tiny fishing port of Coleraine, situated just round the corner from Portrush. For once, the Staff had come up with an idea of jobs for the MLs which neither SNONI nor myself could reject as madcap!

There was a big floating iron box, called pontoons in maritime lingo, belonging to Admiralty, left over from the war and almost forgotten, still moored to the Quay at Coleraine.

The brainy Staff had worked out that this pontoon would create another berth in 'Derry for destroyers, if it was attached to the main dockyard jetty. So, I was ordered to go and get it! I said that was no job for a self-respecting ML; send a Tug instead. The Staff played their trump card by pointing out that the entrance to the River Bann was too shallow for a Tug and only the shallow draught of the ML could cross the sandbar at the mouth of the river, at the top of the tide and with both my engines Full Ahead to cut a groove through the sandy bar. Charming! We did it, and, once across the bar, the 12-mile run-up the River Bann was blessed with deep water. Crossing the same sandbar coming out was now complicated by the fact that I had a 30-ton slab of pontoon in tow. We built up our speed as the river mouth came into sight and hurled the ML and pontoon into the surf breaking over the sandbar. The ML made it okay, but the strain was too much for the wires towing the pontoon, which snapped like paper streamers! So, we were safe in deep water out in the open sea again, but the pontoon, also in the open sea, was adrift and heading for the rocks.

We roared after the bucking pontoon and managed to get one line secured to it, just sufficient for me to tow it, slowly and gently, further out to sea away from the coast, when we got more tow-lines secured and began the slow tedious voyage back to 'Derry. On arrival, the Staff said, "There you are, we told you it could be done". My reply was, "Roll on the next war, it must be easier than peacetime!".

January 1957

Charles Patterson, the CO of the other ML, was duly relieved by Alan Burns. Alan was junior to me, so I became Senior Officer, MLs. He was married with one small child and I soon became fond of him and his very nice little family. Much to the annoyance of my splendid Crew since becoming Senior Boat meant I could allocate the grottier jobs to the other ML and pick the nicer ones for ourselves, but they soon found I was undertaking the jobs which kept us out until late at night, so that Alan could get home earlier to his little family.

Once my Crew had sussed out this twist of fate, they concluded it was high time for me to get married and spent all their chat on the virtues of married life and reminding me that 'Age 26 years' was pushing it a bit to remain a bachelor! They didn't have to wait long.

Spring 1957

HMS Sea Eagle - Londonderry
HMS Sea Eagle - Londonderry

I first set eyes on Hazel at one of Sea Eagle's Cocktail Parties. A large and crowded Ante-room, Hazel and chum, Oona, in the middle, standing aloof and clearly indicating a frosty atmosphere. So, the usual question to my chums, "Who's that girl?". My know-all friends came up straight away with the clear answer, "Forget that one. She is the Mayor's daughter, doesn't drink and is quite unapproachable".

I left it at that for this evening and continued our serious business of downing as many drinks as possible before the CTP, together with the regime of free drinks, ended. I did, however, issue the boast to my crowd of cronies, that, within a few days, I would date the same Mayor's daughter and I vaguely remember a bet or two was made with the odds stacked against me. What are friends for?

On a very dull and dreary evening a few days later, lounging around the Mess in Sea Eagle after Dinner, the Army contingent of our cronies club admitted to the rest of us, Navy, RAF and a Marine, that they were going to honour a charitable pledge to support the local Workhouse Hospital's Dance and would the rest of us make an appearance too!

Our boredom and lack of prospects on that particular evening were so severe that we reluctantly agreed to shuffle off with them on the age-old philosophy of always support your mates, however grisly the prospect may be.

As we walked out of the Barracks the plan very nearly evaporated when the two Army blokes, sheepishly revealed that there was no alcohol at the Dance! I quelled the outburst of protests by saying "Walk on, towards my ML (a slight detour) for drinks there first". That salvaged the situation and, several drinks later, the mob was ready to face a Workhouse Hospital's Dance with tee-total refreshments.

Completely surprised, I spotted Hazel as soon as we walked into the Dance. I went into top gear. Danced the first couple of dances with Matron to enlist her support in my conquest plans. Matron introduced me to Hazel, a Nursing Sister at this Hospital, whom Matron approved of. The conquest plan flowed like a dream, dances with Hazel, stayed late to help with the clearing up.

Next day I bought some flowers and had them delivered. Shortly afterwards Hazel agreed to spend an evening with me, having dinner in one of the city's hotel restaurants. From then on, on my part, it was an all-out Blitzkrieg. Frequently round to Hazel's parents' house, very conveniently around the corner from Sea Eagle, for tea or, later, to cajole Hazel to come out with me. I took great care to be nice and polite to Hazel's parents, Grandmother and immediate neighbours, all of whom tolerated me very well. Weekends were the main times for me to drive this conquest on. We would motor off on Saturdays and Sundays, across the border into lovely Donegal for lunches or evening expeditions for dinner. I gained another notch up the ladder when Hazel introduced me to her very close friends, Pam and Roger, at their home on Buncrana, in Donegal. The other ML now took the brunt of being last in and certainly caught any weekend duties that cropped up, much to the delight of my Crew. They accepted that for me to be engrossed seriously with Hazel was as good as getting me married. And I know more than Crew, parents and neighbours. For by now it was simply a case that Hazel and I would marry and spend the rest of our lives together. All I had to do was to bring Hazel round to the same conclusion. I still had some way to go to carry Hazel off to the altar, there were plenty of rivals on the periphery who might up-the-anti and crash in with counter prospects if they got wind of my bid.

Fortunately, I had powerful support in progressing this new relationship towards a wedding. The entire Wardroom of Sea Eagle were backing me. Best of all, Phillip Pawlett, our chief at Sea Eagle, was a close friend of Hazel's father, Sam Dowds, the Mayor of 'Derry, and he obviously told Sam that I was quite suitable to marry Hazel. All the married Officers' wives, including Mrs. Pawlett, went out of their way to impress upon me that Hazel was too good a prize for me to lose at this early time in our romance and for me to watch my P's and Q's very carefully. I did.

The relationship galloped on at a fast pace set by me, slowed only by my duties with the ML, like every other night patrolling down river. On these dark nights Hazel would switch on and off the upstairs loo light in the Dowds' house, sending a 'Goodnight' as the ML passed that bit of the river seen from the house. Her father, Sam, had to steady Hazel standing on the loo seat for her to see our Signalman flash back our reply which was just a series of flashed on the Aldis light. Very nice.

Until one day Alan (the other ML) and myself were urgently summoned to an Anti-IRA emergency briefing in Sea Eagle. Ushered in behind closed and guarded doors, there was SNONI, the Ulster Police Chief, the Army Brigadier and a gaggle of each Department's Intelligence Officers. So was Sam Dowds, as head of the City's Council. The Ulster Police had called the Meeting to tell us their Intelligence knew the IRA were about to shift their wave of terrorist bombings from Belfast to 'Derry. Amongst other tit-bits of intelligence they shared with the meeting was this one.

'They had intercepted flashing light signals across the river but the experts were still trying to crack the code'!

Three people in that room knew it was Hazel's loo light 'Goodnights' to me. Sam said nothing. Neither did Alan (the other ML). And no way was I going to own up. The Ulster Police did not have a sense of humour! Needless to say, we packed up flashing lights to each other. I suspect the Ulster Police are still trying to crack the code that never was, or, at least, still have it on file!

We had a good romance. Tennis fairly frequently (Hazel was a good player and often she beat me, to my surprise). Teas and dinners as guests of friends on both sides. Hazel attending the Saturday afternoon hockey matches, I played for Sea Eagle, and more teas after the game. We gave one Cocktail Party in the ML for Hazel's friends. Dinner a couple of times as guests of the Pawletts, along with Hazel's parents. And the Summer Ball. We spent a weekend in Edinburgh staying with Hazel's married sister, Sylvia, married to Douglas Girvan, crossing from 'Derry to Glasgow in the ferry which carried a lot of cattle and a few passengers. Hazel's father gave us £5 to buy dinner for the 4 of us in one of Edinburgh's best restaurants and this we did easily inside the sum of £5 in 1957. Work that out for inflation, roughly equivalent to £80 in 1987. Sylvia and Douglas approved of me, another test passed. And I became a frequent guest to dinners at Deanfield, Hazel's home.

Towards the end of 1957 I knew my next RN posting was brewing. So I had to strike. Hazel agreed to become engaged to me, thank Heaven. Shortly after this great event my posting came through, to be seconded to the New Zealand Navy! I had completely forgotten that, back in HMS Asine, a call came from NZ to Admiralty asking for RN Volunteers to help build up NZ's Navy, and at the time, unattached, it was attractive to me and I volunteered. This little bombshell from the past was dealt with immediately by a 5 minute 'phone call by SNONI, my boss, to Admiralty, cancelling the NZ appointment and replacing it with an appointment to the Frigate Squadron at Portland. All without any discussion with me! As a father figure to both Hazel and me, he told me later that day that, not only was NZ out of the question with our impending marriage, I would have been absent alone in NZ for 3 years, but because we should shortly be newly-weds, it was important that I had a posting where I came ashore regularly to consolidate our marriage. He got me a plum job too. It was to go as Navigator to HMS Pellew, the ship of the Squadron Leader of the Portland Squadron. The date of my appointment to HMS Pellew was 4th November 1957.

Hazel and I planned our wedding to take place in her Church in Londonderry during my Easter Leave in 1958. So off I went. But not before selling my Rover car to Sea Eagle's Engineer Officer, he had first option, and it was George Wood, who had been the Engineer in Asine with me, so I couldn't refuse an old mate anyway. Hazel knew salaries of younger Naval Officers did not allow luxuries while struggling to support a wife!

In fact, the Admiralty's view of marriage was still autocratic. If you married at age 25 and upwards your pay doubled. The Officer who dared to marry before age 25 stayed on single pay until he became 25 years old. Very few did. I was okay at age 26.

November 1957

The bloke sent to take over my ML, Mike Healey, was senior in rank to me, so poor old Alan on the other ML would remain the junior boy. I departed to Portland.

The Portland Squadron was made up of ten Type 14 Frigates, recently designed and built as specialist Anti-Submarine Frigates and the Squadron's job was daily to take classes to sea just south of Portland and teach them how to find and sink submarines, always using real submarines as targets. My job in this daily treadmill was to drive the ship out of Portland Harbour and to our assigned 'Box' in the English Channel, together with another frigate as escort. With luck, the submarine assigned to me for the day would be on the right spot I had told him to go to the night before and I would position the 2 frigates at the other end of the Box. Then we would tell the sub. to dive and the classes had to find him with the ship's sonars and carry out dummy attacks when they found him.

We were usually back in harbour for the night at about 6pm, after repeatedly making searches and attacks on the evading sub. throughout the day. And, of course, we lived on our ship, no cushy shore accommodation this time. HMS Pellew's Captain was Commander Wallace-Thompson, a Fleet Air Arm Pilot rising in the ranks. He was big, drank like a fish and was a martinet. If you did your job well and with vigour, he was fine. If you did your job badly, or faltered, he would crush you. I got on with him okay, but not without a few stand-up fights. The First Lieutenant was a quiet type and did not stand up to outbursts from the Captain which only resulted in Wallace-Thompson berating him needlessly. The other six ship's Officers fell equally into the two camps; those who were self-assured in their abilities and would tell the Captain to his face if he ordered something dodgy in their own departments and the other half, who gave in and endured unnecessary berating. Even the Commanding Officers of the other frigates were scared of Wallace Thompson and he was their boss. It helped if you were able to match him when drinks were on the go, I had no difficulty in this department!

January 1958

I spent my New Year Leave in Londonderry, when we all finalised the coming Easter Wedding. Back to HMS Pellew for a busy term's work. Close to Easter, Pellew and another frigate had been detailed as Escorts to the Royal Yacht taking The Queen on an official visit to Holland. The Queen disembarked at Rotterdam and the 3 ships moved around to Amsterdam from whence The Queen would leave in 3 days' time. She would give a Farewell Dinner in the Royal Yacht for the Queen and King of Holland and the Dutch Government and the Yacht would leave immediately the Dinner finished.

Unfortunately, the Captains of her 2 frigates were also invited to The Queen's Dinner; Wallace-Thompson was over-the-moon. Bad sign. He could hold copious amounts of booze, but he would not be able to fight off sleep when he came back on-board after all the excitement and drink. He had hardly climbed up to the Bridge, still in Full Dress Uniform, when the expected signal zoomed in from the Royal Yacht, "Weigh anchor and rendezvous outside Amsterdam".

A thick fog had settled on the shoals and banks of Amsterdam's estuary and I had a job on my hands navigating the ship through this mess, crowded with other ships groping about in the dark and fog. The Captain knew he could contribute nothing after his party and left everything to me, the 1st Lt and the OOW But he sat down on my vital chart table and dozed off. His large bulk partially covered part of the chart we were navigating through and I heaved him to one side each time I had to find our next heading from the chart. We got to our R/V safely, together with the second frigate and, just after midnight, HMS Britannia, ablaze of light, steamed past us and we fell into station astern of her, en route to disembark The Queen at Dover next morning.

I was booked to catch the last train out of Plymouth, where Pellew had to go, on Saturday, for me to catch the Saturday night ferry from Liverpool to Belfast to get to our Wedding on the Monday in 'Derry. There were no ferries to N Ireland on Sundays.

My agony began as the Royal Yacht kept signalling slower speeds on the run that night to Dover, the seas had built up a bit and we all knew The Queen did not like rough weather, which meant we were going to be late at Dover, before being released by the Yacht. Towards dawn I had worked a table of speeds Pellew would have to do, to get me into Plymouth in time to catch that last train. We were released at 9.30am on Saturday morning and I immediately rang on the revs. for 21 knots and set the tightest course for Plymouth. The top speed for this class of frigates was 22 knots. Wallace-Thompson, who well knew my 'last train' situation, after a night in his bunk, came to the Bridge, had his boyish jokes of, "Let's stop the ship and have a whaler race". I was praying he would endorse my 21 knots order. Then he picked up the 'phone to the Engine Room and barked, "I'll have your guts for garters if you can't move this tin-can at 23 knots". The whole ship knew my deadline and bless 'em, the Engine Room boys did us proud. We stormed down the Channel like a greyhound sand berthed in Plymouth with time to spare for me to catch that train, on that Saturday afternoon.

Then the overnight ferry from Liverpool to Belfast and on Sunday morning the train from Belfast to 'Derry. I'd made it! Mike Healey, CO of my old ML, was to be my best man and I was billeted in his house for Sunday night. Just as well, since I had not packed my sword and told him to borrow one from the Sea Eagle mob, I'd worked that scheme out before departing from Pellew. What I'd forgot was legion. No cuff links, no starched collar, no black socks etc. All this was supplied from Mike's kit, what are Best-men for?

Next day, Monday, off to the Church to marry Hazel at 11a.m. It was Hazel's Presbyterian Church and the Minister had agreed to let Sea Eagle's Naval Padre share the Wedding Service, all very cosy. Our Naval Guard of Honour was headed by Phillip Pawlett and made up of my old mates in Sea Eagle. Mr Eaton had a cine camera and took the movie in colour, we still have it too! The Reception was at Sam's Club in 'Derry and Hazel and I left for our honeymoon at 5pm that happy day. Sam had loaned us his nice new Austin Cambridge to tour southern Ireland. First stop was a hotel across the border in Donegal. Thence to Dublin for a week in the splendid 'Grand Marine' Hotel out on Dublin's coast, it's still there and still a superb hotel.

Thence over to the west coast and an overnight stay in Cong Castle Hotel, available to millionaires only now. Back to 'Derry for a couple of days packing wedding presents and saying goodbyes before Hazel and I set off to a Bed and Breakfast house in Plymouth. And me back to work. HMS Pellew had undergone a refit in Plymouth Dockyard and we still had several weeks to finish it. So I was home every night and our Bed and Breakfast landlady made a good home for me and Hazel. Pellew soon gave a Sunday Lunch Party, mainly for Wallace-Thompson and the Officers to meet Hazel, they heartily approved of her as an addition to the ship's wives. We had bought a brand new Austin A35 Van in Plymouth as our 'family car' and once the refit finished, Hazel set off, loaded with all our worldly possessions, to our Married Quarter in Portland, while we steamed the ship from Plymouth to Portland.

Our Married Quarter was, in fact, a private house, rented out to Admiralty, fully furnished of course, in Wyke Regis, close to Portland Dockyard. A nice place to live, but a bit lonely for Hazel who had little to do in the long day times we men were at sea. The few ship's wives met up regularly for coffees and tennis and the ship did its bit on weekends by having cinemas, suppers, lunches etc. for the wives. And the wives followed us for a weekend visit to Teignmouth, staying in local hotels.

Dorset was a pleasant County to live in and we took weekend drives to Dorchester and the country villages surrounding the County town. We did not like Weymouth, a seaside town which offered little other than Bed and Breakfast houses. During Summer Leave we drove to Cardiff for a few days, visiting my family, all now back in Cardiff. Hazel was now expecting Susan, being monitored by the local GP in Wyke Regis, a doctor we had confidence in. He booked Hazel into the Wyke Cottage Hospital for the birth, which was comforting to us.

But… the Navy system overtook this cosy plan. Career wise I was doing well in Pellew and the Portland Admiral's Navigator got the Admiral to recommend me for specialization in Navigation. Nice of him, but I was determined to specialise in TAS So, I applied through the system and got it. I was to join the 1959 Long TAS Course, starting on 4th January 1959 at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. All this appointing occurred in late November 1959 and domestically put the cat among the pigeons! I had to find somewhere for Hazel to live near Greenwich, no Married Quarters in London, and, anyway, the Long Course was spending only one term at Greenwich before moving to HMS Vernon in Portsmouth for the 15 months following Greenwich. At the last minute a contact with a bloke, about to leave Greenwich, secured us with his rented flat in Blackheath.

Christmas 1958

So, we said farewell to HMS Pellew and set off for Blackheath in our little van, bulging with our possessions, now increased by bay clothes and accoutrements, on New Year's Day. We had booked into a small hotel in Blackheath for our first night, to give us time to sort the flat out the next day. I telephoned the flat's owner, a wealthy doctor's widow, who said the previous tenant had no right to pass his tenancy on to us, but we met and mollified her and got into the flat. It was a typical large Victorian house, split into 4 Flats, so at least we had 3 other tenants as immediate neighbours. The widow owner lived in a lovely house over on the posh side of Blackheath. Our dwelling was pretty crumby and rundown, but in the bleak mid-Winter of London we were grateful to get a roof over our heads. Hazel made the flat comfortable, while I went to Greenwich College daily to study Nuclear Physics. After a couple of weeks, we decided to confront the widow for a reduction in rent to compensate for the worn and tatty furnishings and the inadequate heating appliances, the best of which was our own paraffin heater! I carefully chose the day of confrontation to be the day we paid our first month's rent, in cash. This was arranged to be a Friday on my home from College, 4.30pm Arrived at the widow's posh house, to be ushered in by the widow, wearing sunglasses, who told me to sit down while she poured me a drink, to the remark "That she knew how outrageous we Navy boys were, drinking from morning to night". I didn't argue! The drink was a huge measure of gin topped up with vintage cider! She drank the same, but much faster than me. In no time I realised I had a very lonely recluse on the way to being an alcoholic on my hands. We spoke of all subjects in life, except the rent. I stayed for three of the Atomic drinks and reached the limit where I could still drive home. It was unfair, but in going, I made my request for a reduction in rent, instantly granted, and threw in "How about a bit of better furniture and heaters", to be granted later on! A great factor in this negotiation was that we had established that both the widow and Hazel were Irish. Very soon afterwards she came round to the flat to have tea with us and meet Hazel. The other tenants told us this was a 'Royal Visit', they lived in terror of her evicting them, so never complained. We felt sorry for her and gave her our friendship which she obviously enjoyed. We were invited for 'Cocktails' but this and subsequent times, I made sure Hazel was with me to stem the alcoholic onslaught.

Our 'Nest' secured, Hazel went off to register with the local GP and book a hospital for Sue's delivery. What a 'bombshell' this was! The switched-on GP categorically made it clear that no way would Hazel get a bed in any London hospital, they were all booked ahead to chronic demand and only emergency cases got admitted. He told us women had their babies at home and that many, many of the homes were far less suitable than ours.

We felt indignant. It was not our bad planning that had brought about this change of area. So, Hazel passed the news to her father and, next day, Sam Liggot, 'Derry's Obstetrician and friend of the Dowds family, contacted us to say, "Don't worry. I will fix it! And he did. A bed in King's College Hospital, near Greenwich, was allocated to Hazel and the Obstetrician in charge there was Sir John Peel, Obstetrician to The Queen! Phew!

Sue was born on 1st March 1959, after Hazel had been in hospital for 2 weeks, Sue was late. For that 2 weeks, I would visit every evening on my way home from College, driving through dense rush hour London traffic, usually in fog, sometimes through snow and the Ward dreaded my arrival harangue of "Stupid drivers, lousy climate etc." Hazel was more acclimatised to my statements, but, usually, burst into tears each time she reported "No baby today", which silenced me and the rest of the Ward into platitudes of "There, there, no hurry; the baby will come when its ready".

1st March 1959

Conveniently, Sue was born on a Sunday, which allowed Hazel to return home on a Saturday, which gave us the weekend to settle in a Baby routine. And, most fortunately, Hazel's Aunty Evie lived in London and promptly moved in with us to look after Hazel and Sue. Aunty Evie was the best thing to happen at that critical time.

The Term at Greenwich finished in April and we moved to an Admiralty Hiring (private hire) in Gosport, Aunty Evie and all. We had 2 weeks' Easter Leave to settle in before the TAS Long Course recommenced at HMS Vernon, directly across the harbour by Navy ferry boats. The house, fully furnished, was bliss after the London flat and had a garden complete with a tortoise as permanent resident. The area was working-class Gosport, so immensely friendly neighbours and very central for ships and the vital ferry.

The house was, if anything, over furnished and in moving items around to suit our taste, we also integrated our few personal effects. It became apparent that the piano in the middle room was worth moving to another room. Pianos are very, very heavy! Incredibly, me and Aunty Evie did it and that evening we celebrated our success by getting fish and chips from the local chippy-shop and bottles of Guinness from the Off-Licence!

The 1959 Long TAS Course

We were 22 in number, 3 were Officers from the Australian Navy and all of us were Lieutenants. John Caughey was from my own year as Upper Yardmen. We had all come from different ships throughout the Navy, but soon welded together for this 15-month elite Course. Shortly after starting work at Vernon, we gave a spate of private parties amongst ourselves, in our own homes, to get to know the 'Course Wives', we hardly met any at Greenwich, since very few had moved house there and the men would dash home to the Portsmouth area every weekend. Hazel laid on our party as a Drinks and Buffet Supper Evening, which meant a crowded house that night. One of our characters was the Hon. Barry Gibson, delightfully vague (thick?) and in line to inherit his father's Earldom. He spent the first part of the evening repeatedly (and repeatedly forgetting) everyone what was Desmond's wife's name, always in a loud voice!

Finally, we made the ground move and swept over to Hazel announcing, "Heather, how delightful to meet you and what a superb evening you've laid on for us". We learned as a group to issue a loud groan in unison on the many times that Barry made his faux pas over the next 12 months.

Our Course Tutor was Nigel Phillips, a qualified TAS Officer, presently a Lt Cdr and hopeful of promotion to Commander if he steered us to successful qualification. The Captain of HMS Vernon was Morgan-Giles, another TAS Specialist, who would be promoted to Admiral in due course and, once retired from the RN, became the MP for Winchester. He was a good bloke and we all got on with him.

The quality of teaching was superb. All done by TAS Officers, who were the top of their tree in their sub-specialist departments, Sonar, Torpedoes, Mines, Diving, Anti-Submarine Weapons, Demolitions, Aircraft Anti-Sub. and Submarines themselves. A lot of the tuition was practical. Back to Portland for 6 weeks, where we were given control of the same Frigate Squadron I'd just left, to practice screening Convoys against Sub. attack and carry out multi-frigate attacks on submarines whenever we detected them in our Sonars. We went flying in Shackletons from RAF airfields, searching for submarines our in the Atlantic, assembled torpedoes in Vernon's worksheds loaded them into submarines at HMS Dolphin and went out into The Channel to fire them underneath Target Ships.

The Course went to HMS Sea Eagle in 'Derry for 5 weeks advanced Anti-Submarine Warfare. Hazel and Baby Sue came over to stay with Hazel's parents. The weather in the North Atlantic outside 'Derry was just as terrible as my ML days. For a 5-day Exercise we had control of 8 destroyers, 12 maritime aircraft and a squadron of land-based helicopters. Four submarines were dotted about an immense sea area and our job was to find them and dummy attack them. The gale blew for the entire 5 days and several destroyers suffered superficial damage as we drove them at speed once a submarine was detected, you had to, to stop him from making high speed bursts to escape our hunt. A sailor was badly injured in the destroyer I was in and the ship's young Doc. asked for one of us to visit him in the Sick Bay. Another of our Course, Richard Todd, was aboard too and immediately volunteered. Richard fainted 3 times in the Sick Bay before the Doc. Finally said he had acquired another assistant, thank you! So much for us killer TAS-men!

There was a lull in the action which allowed me to get in some sleep on a camp bed in the destroyer's Wardroom. I awoke, when the ship's piano broke its rough-weather ropes and came hurtling towards me, just in time to jump out of the way as it smashed into the bulkhead. I resolved then that the way to kill enemy submarines was in Hunter Submarines, rather than these battered Surface Forces. Which is what happened in the years to come; Surface Forces are no match to the well-handled submarine deep below you. We had a good 5 weeks operating from Sea Eagle and went out in the submarines and maritime aircraft as well as in the destroyers and frigates, throughout the many fast moving Exercises taking place all the time in the North Atlantic.

Before going over to Sea Eagle Hazel's father, Sam Dowds, visited us in Gosport, chiefly to see his new granddaughter, Sue. I can't remember why Granny Dowds didn't come, but it must have been to stay looking after her elderly mother living with them in Deanfield. During the few days Sam stayed with us, he was invited to lunch with the Rear Admiral of The Reserve Fleet, an old friend of his from 'Derry days, in the battleship, HMS Vanguard, now in Reserve. The Admiral told Sam to bring me along as well. This gave me a lot of kudos that day, as I was collected in the Admiral's Launch at Vernon's jetty, telling the other 21 Course Members I night be late for lessons after lunch, but if anyone wanted me, I was lunching with the Admiral in HMS Vanguard! Thank heavens Sam had come over, to carry Sue around and get to know her, because, dreadful tragedy, shortly after his visit to us, Sam died of a heart attack, peaceably, in his armchair in his house, Deanfield, on 14th August 1959.

I was on Summer Leave. We didn't have a telephone. Someone in 'Derry knew to contact HMS Vernon That evening, a Police car called with the sad news, the Duty Staff Officer in Vernon had sent the Gosport Police to pass the message to us. We used a neighbour's phone to contact Hazel's mother and learnt a cabin had been reserved for us on the ferry, Liverpool to Belfast, for tomorrow night's crossing. Frantic packing and off we drove in our little van just in time to catch the ferry. Van was parked in ferry's car park, only foot passengers in those days. We were met by friends in Belfast who drove us to 'Derry, Sylvia, Douglas and their newborn, Alan, had arrived ahead of us, from Edinburgh. Sent Evie, having left us, arrived from London, as did her 2 daughters, Marjory and Pat. Sam's sister, Aunty Cicely, came from Dublin. Sam's brother, Bertie, black sheep of the family in the past, asked if he could come to the Funeral and arrived from Ebbw Vale in the Welsh Valleys. The Family had gathered.

The Funeral was attended by large numbers of Ulster people. Sam was very important in Ulster political life. As Mayor of 'Derry, he had been instrumental in assisting the US giant, DuPont, to set up its most modern chemical factory yet, in Londonderry, bringing all those skilled and well-paid jobs to Ulster. He was Chairman of the Ulster Tourist Board and many similar organisations. Above all, he was extremely popular to all political parties in Ulster. Hazel and Sylvia agreed that 'Dolly should continue to live in the large house, Deanfield, since the family maid, Celia, still lived in and the part-time gardener would look after the garden. 'Dolly, Granny Dowds to use, was keen to keep the big house going, so there was always plenty of room to accommodate the Girvan family and ourselves whenever we visited at holiday times.

A bit earlier on in that 2-week Summer Leave, Hazel and I had bought a house. It was No 1 Ellachie Gardens, in Alverstoke, the posh part of Gosport. Timing was brilliant, since the Royal Navy was reducing its size dramatically and offered its surplus Officers generous redundancy terms for retiring early, nicknamed the Golden Bowler. So, almost every other house in Alverstoke, Officer territory, was up for sale. No 1 was owned by a Navy Dentist who had opted for redundancy and was desperate to sell before taking up his civilian job in Bristol. It was the top of the short-list of houses we had seen, but perhaps a bit too ambitious as a first house for us young newly-weds with infant Sue to bring up. The Agent left his deck chair on Stokes Bay on that sunny Saturday afternoon, saying it would not do to wait until office hours on Monday and that he would take us to see the inside of the house and introduce us to the owners right now! So we met and saw. By Sunday afternoon me and Hazel decided to make an offer. We were welcomed by Dentist and wife.

Hazel did another look around the house with Mrs. Dentist, while me and him imbibed gin and tonics and chatted about common acquaintances in the Navy! Our pleasant interlude ended as the two women joined us in the lounge, both asking if we had struck a deal! The Girls had been leaving us two men alone thinking we were negotiating a purchase. To placate the two wives, I said to him, "We love the house; it's worth more than we can offer at our early stage in life". He said, (we were two good Navy friends at this stage) "What can you offer?" I picked a figure which was the total sum of our savings to date, it was £2,450. He said, "Why not. We know each other Navy-wise, I would rather sell to you and Hazel rather than keep waiting for a sale through the Agent, who has been trying to sell for over 6 months anyway. We accept!" And that was the happy conclusion.

Faced with furnishing a large 4-bedroom house, we decided to hold back half our savings and raised the other half of the house price with a Halifax mortgage. The Dentist and family left with relief to his new job and home in Bristol and we moved in a few weeks later.

Hazel was now a busy house owner, housewife who quickly made the house quite comfortable for the 3 of us., albeit that 2 of the bedrooms were left initially without a stick of furniture, they and other rooms surplus to our immediate requirements, could wait. The pleasant garden took some of our initial time too. During the working weeks, me full-time at Vernon, Hazel, with Sue in tow, would scour the second hand shops of Gosport looking for all the furniture we needed and on Saturdays, when I was available, the 3 of us would make final purchases. Hazel had an eye for good bargains and the selling shops would often say to me when we made a 'buy' that Hazel was a very hard woman to bargain with! We still have (1997) a good number of furniture pieces bought in our earliest days. Right from the start we found No.1 was a 'friendly' house to live in, its construction, layout, garden and very peaceful situation, with just 5 houses spread around a circle at the end of a cul-de-sac. As the weeks went by, we completed furnishing the entire house and, during our time at Vernon, the following stayed with us: Douglas, Silvia and Alan; Roy; Aunty Evie frequently; my Mother; Jane: Chris; Hazel's Mother; Jeanette; Shirley (a friend of Hazel's).

It was an attractive spot for holiday visitors, with unspoilt Stokes Bay looking across the Solent to Ryde in the Isle of Wight, just round the corner from No 1. And they all loved Hazels' cooking too!

HMS Vernon was one of the top establishments among the 25 to 30 Naval establishments dotted around Portsmouth's huge harbour. Only HMS Dolphin (Submarine Headquarters) and HMS Excellent (Headquarters of the Gunnery world) ranked with Vernon.

So our social life was good. A Ball at the end of each Term. The Mess open to families every Sunday for lunch. Regular Cocktail Parties for visiting foreign ships when Officers' wives were expected to attend. Dinner occasionally with the Captain, in the Captain's house. The first time he and Mrs Morgan-Giles invited the TAS Long Course to Dinner is a story of diamonds. We all knew how his wife was an Australian sheep heiress, the Morgan-Giles family were pretty well off, with a yacht building business in Cornwall too, but we didn't realise how rich Mrs Morgan-Giles was until that first Dinner. Mrs Morgan-Giles rode horses, sailed yachts, was a tough cookie and had a heart of gold, but she was certainly not a hot-house flower! At Dinner, our wives thought Mrs Morgan-Giles was over the top with pop jewellery, large chunks of white stones on rings, earrings and pendants. It was only sometime after that Dinner that we learned they were all solid diamonds! The Captain and Mrs Morgan-Giles were very good hosts and entertained a lot. One Sunday evening an urgent message from the Captain came into the Wardroom guest had cancelled at short notice. There was only one of our Long Course in the Mess at the time, when the Duty Staff Officer said, "Be a good chap and go and have dinner at the Captain's party".

We had just finished a pleasant 5 Course Dinner in the Mess, but you do not offer weak excuses when a Senior Captain asks you a personal favour, so he rightly moved next door to have dinner again at the Captain's Table, thinking he could get away with helping himself to minute portions at each Course. Captain M-G greeted him warmly and introduced him to the unattached lady whom he would sit next to at the now full, large table. Unfortunately for our bloke (one of our 3 Australians) his 'partner' turned out to be a professional hearty eater and undertook to heap his plates to equate to her own shovellings! He got through the star-studded evening with honours but didn't eat a bite of food for days after! And another time, Captain Morgan-Giles asked if one of us would join his weekend yacht party. The Hon. Barry elected for this gem and turned up in white flannels, College blazer and cap, what style! The magnificent yacht was moored in one of Vernon's basins, always polluted with oil sludge from the harbour and you boarded from a pram dinghy. Barry was pushing the pram off with Mrs M-G in it, overstretched and fell in the basin. He swam towards the immaculate yacht, only to hear from M-G, "You can't come onboard in that disgusting state; go away and have a shower"

Years later, M-G sat as our MP in Parliament and Barry sat as an Earl in the House of Lords and M-G would always say to Barry, "You didn't really mean to clamber onboard covered in that filthy sludge, did you?" Earlier in the year Sue was christened in Vernon's Chapel. The Course had decided at the outset, with quite a few Christenings looming, that we would give each child a silver napkin ring, engraved name, date etc. and stamped "The 1959 Long TAS Course". Sue's remains in daily use. The year flew by for us all and in February 1960 came the week of intense Exams. We all passed and became Qualified TAS Officers.

We knew our appointments back to sea would be good ones, Vernon had its own department in the Admiralty appointing office and, anyway, the First Sea Lord at the time was Admiral Sir Charles Lambe, himself a TAS Officer, who had taken the trouble to spend a day with us before we qualified. We were the largest number ever to qualify, previous years averaged 6 or 7 Officers since 1900. After World War II, when the submarine became the deadliest threat to all Nations, the Admiralty increased the number of TAS Specialists qualifying each year until it rose to our number of 22, when it then levelled off.

My appointment was to join the Teaching Staff in the Section that trained Officers at Vernon. We taught Sonar and Torpedoes to qualifying Sub Lieutenants and we taught newly appointed Captains of ships on how to defeat submarines with the equipment fitted in their particular ships. Vernon was a very large Training Establishment, teaching some 3, 000 Ratings at different grades at any one time.

Family wise, it was very nice to have an extra year at Vernon, all the others of my Long Course went off to ships spread around the world. The job itself I found very demanding. Teaching the Sub Lieutenants was okay, since their ongoing concerns depended on good exam Results. Teaching or updating senior Officers on their way to command ships was more daunting. They looked to you as the TAS Specialist to bring them bang up to date with the fast-changing art of Anti-Submarine Warfare before they took Command of their warships. But they all respected your experience and would often stay late after class by very politely asking you to go over different aspects, like defence of a Convoy, again, to be very sure they had really grasped the tactics of Anti-Submarine Warfare. The younger Officers knew the way to pacify me was by offering me a cigarette at question or discussion time and occasionally the senior Officers would do the same if they asked me for special tips on how to outwit the submarine once the formal teaching was over.

One very hairy duty inherited by the Officer Teaching Section in the past, was to travel in a Dockyard Launch up and down the length of Portsmouth Harbour in the evening, firing off 16oz. charges just below the surface, to imitate the splash made when an aircraft drops a one-ton mine. This happened once every fortnight for the benefit of a Corps of volunteer civilians called Mine Watchers. They are dotted around the British coast in little huts and trained to observe the drop of an aircraft mine and to plot its position accurately enough for our Minesweepers to blow it up. They come to Portsmouth for training, plotting the positions of my bangers. The charges were fitted with a 4 to 7 seconds time fuse, which we triggered off in the boat and hurled over the stern on a piece of string, hoping for 7 seconds firing delay. Those that went off at 4 seconds lifted the stern of the boat clear out of the water!

After one-year teaching in HMS Vernon, towards the end of 1960, I was appointed as TAS Officer to HMS BLACKPOOL, one of the new class Anti-Submarine Frigates, this one just finishing being built in Glasgow. We were even allocated a Married Quarter in Glasgow. Domestically it was all too cosy to be true. We had over 4 months to plan the move, which for me and Hazel included letting No.1 Ellachie as a fully furnished let, before moving to Admiralty's nice fully furnished house in Glasgow. And the ferry from Glasgow to 'Derry meant we could visit Granny Dowds regularly. Hazel was now expecting Billy, whose dates meant he would be born before we had to move to Glasgow. All very convenient.

March 1961

Captain Morgan-Giles sent for me in the middle of a routine teaching day in Vernon. So, off to his Office and he came to the point straight away. One of the Minesweeper Commanding Officers in the Singapore Squadron had slipped a disc in his back and had to be invalided home. This had happened yesterday. Our TAS Appointer in Admiralty had telephoned M-G to say Admiralty had agreed the post could go to a TAS Officer. M-G had selected me. Could I be ready to fly to Singapore in a week? Yes, I answered. M-G probed a bit more. What was my family situation? Well, Hazel is due to give birth next week, but her Mother is resident with us to assist. Right, keep him in touch with Hazel's progress. Billy was late. M-G got a week's delay approved by Admiralty, they were anxious to get the Minesweeper operational as quickly as possible. In the second week, with Billy still in no hurry to be born, there was a general consensus of Hazel, Granny, and Dr. Luffingham that I was better off out of the way. At this stage Captain M-G agreed and I was given a flight to Singapore next day.

Quite recently, the Joint Services had agreed to move their sailors, soldiers and airmen, to and from Foreign Stations, in passenger aircraft rather than the very slow Troopships. The Services contract went to a company flying Britannia's. The 4-engined (propellers) Britannia's carried 80 passengers and took 3 days to get to Singapore. Part of the contract said that the Services would nominate one of the Officer passengers in every flight to be in full charge of the other Service passengers, in the event of anything going wrong with the 3 day flight plan, like delays through breakdowns at the 3 fuelling stops or unscheduled landings in foreign airports for emergency repairs. Guess who was Senior Officer Flight, this time? Before boarding I was briefed by an RAF bloke and given the Government briefcase. Inside, amongst a bulk of documents, was the Government cheque book, which I would use to pay hotel bills and transport costs if we encountered unscheduled delays or stopovers. Thankfully, these did not occur on our flight.

The scheduled fuelling stops, Karachi, Bombay and Gan, were of several hours, where passengers could stretch legs or rest in the airports and a good night's sleep for everyone at Gan, an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, owned by the RAF When you finally landed in Singapore, right on the Equator, all 3 Services gave 3 days' Rest to their Servicemen, to recover from the flight and to acclimatise to living in Singapore's hot and very humid climate. My 'rest' was in the luxurious Wardroom of HMS Terror, the Naval Barracks situated in wonderfully cultured Park grounds (it even had its own 18-Hole Golf Course) close to the mammoth Dockyard, which also accommodated the Officers' Club, vital to all Naval Officers, serving and living on ships. I'd had one night's sleep in Terror, when my First Lieutenant, temporarily in Command of HMS Wilkieston, appeared, at my breakfast table, in his best uniform, to welcome me to Singapore and my new Command, HMS Wilkieston. Very nice and very sensible of him, because I was going to use my 3 day Rest period to acquaint myself rapidly with local knowledge of the Far East Station, the 104th Minesweeping Squadron, and the names and abilities of the Officers and Men in HMS Wilkieston, before I took formal Command in 3 days' time

It turned out that he was just about to complete his 18 month tour of duty as 1st Lt. of 'Wilkie' and would be relieved once I had grasp of my own duties, so was keen for me to let him return to England as soon as I was reasonably happy in Command. Fair enough. Him now being an 'Old Hand' on the Station, meant he was well versed on how best to live amongst the literally thousands of orders and regulations which governed the British Forces in Singapore and Hong Kong. For starters. He told me we had a chauffeur driven RN car at our disposal all day, since this was the right of any Commanding Officer on the Station.

We spent the day, touring the Dockyard; him introducing me to those Dockyard Officers whose Departments were important to HMS Wilkieston and where they were situated in a dockyard as big as a city.

We looked at Wilkie from the dockside, I wasn't going aboard until I took Command in 2 days time, and then spent the afternoon at the Club Pool, gathering place for most Officers and families at that time of day, and met quite a few people in the Minesweeper circuit.

The Station worked Tropical Routine. Work started at 6.30 a.m. and finished for the day at 1 o'clock. It was the most popular routine worked anywhere in the RN, you had long daylight hours for your own leisure, and you did your work before the tropical heat of the day got to its hottest.

Singapore's climate

Among the worst in the world for Europeans on short tours, 18 months to 2½ years, but European Planters who lived there from 10 to 40 years got more used to it. Since you are on the Equator there are no seasons. Every day of the year is exactly the same, brilliant sunshine at 6.30am and instant darkness at 6.30pm That's bad enough for Europeans but far worse is the humidity which prevails unabated day and night. You pour sweat all day and all night.

And you breathe air saturated like steam all the time. The human condition of lethargy strikes every European in varying degrees, even the strongest, best-motivated people succumb to lethargy. It's the best place to send wild, unruly, over energetic children, they succumb, like the adults, to a life-style akin to our quietest Monasteries or Convents. How to exist as a European? You laze around and reduce those times in life, when frantic energy is needed, to the absolute minimum and spend hours in and out of the Club Pool. As Minesweepers, we were pleasantly cool once at sea, though we baked in Singapore Dockyard.

Three days after landing in Singapore, I took Command of HMS Wilkieston. I met the other 2 Officers and met the Crew - 4 Petty Officers, 8 Leading Hands and 24 Men. Wilkie had just finished an annual dockyard overhaul, which left us 2 days to paint the ship, before sailing for a 3-day shake-down session at sea, to test all our equipment.

The 104th Minesweeping Squadron

HMS Wilkieston
HMS Wilkieston

Consisted of 8 Minesweepers and a Frigate as Mother/Factory Ship. There was also an RFA Oil Tanker, RFA Gold Ranger, permanently attached to the Squadron, to keep us fuelled on our long treks around the Far East. Mother ship was HMS Woodbridge Haven, yes; the same ship I had served in years ago when we were involved in the Princess Victoria foundering, since then extensively modified for her present role as Flagship for Captain Minesweepers and his Staff and as Repair Ship for the Minesweepers.

The Minesweepers were: HMS Houghton a Commander-in-Command as Squadron Command and HMSs Woolaston, Dartington, Fiskerton, Chawton, Puncheston, Maryton and Wilkieston.

I was the first Specialist Officer to get a Command in this Squadron. Hitherto, all CO's were 'Salt horses', Officers who had chosen not to specialise or had been turned down, about half the Navy was made up of specialists.

When the other 7 CO's heard I was coming they worried, since the complicated technology of Mines and Minesweeping was a TAS Department job. They already had the Staff TAS Officer in Woodbridge Haven and another member of my own TAS year, Bruce Nicholls as 1st. Lieutenant in HMS Houghton, to guide them. But this was a different kettle of fish. As CO's, we took advice from Specialist Staff Officers, but how we drove and what we did with our ships was entirely the absolute, unquestionable responsibility of the CO. Only another CO. or CO's up the ladder, like Captain M/S or the Commander-in-Chief himself, could question the decisions of other Commanding Officers. They knew the Commander-in-Chief would ask me to pass on my specialist knowledge to my fellow CO's, "They will listen to you more than the advice they get from the TAS Staff Officers!"

The 'Seven' had one trump card, they were all senior to me, 2 of them were already Lt. Cdrs. When we all finally met up, drinks aboard HMS Woolaston in Singapore, I was able to blow away their suspicions with the simple statement that I expected all of them to help teach me how to command 'Wilkie' safely and well, since they were all accomplished CO's, running taut, but happy ships! We never looked back, I was now a full member of that elite club of 8 Commanding Officers.

My immediate boss was Commander Gus Halliday, a Fleet Air Arm Pilot, CO. of HMS Houghton and, of course, his First Lieutenant was my chum, Bruce. No problems there. My overall boss was Captain Dudley Davenport (Cuddly Dudley), Captain M/S in HMS Woodbridge Haven. A much-decorated Officer having served with distinction throughout the entire war, chiefly in Command of destroyers. He had a lovely personality and made no bones that his chief responsibility was to us 8 CO's. He befriended us totally, guided us greatly and defended us from interference from higher echelons right up to Admiralty. In return, we Commanding Officers gave him our total loyalty. One of his many pleasant courtesies was that as soon as you berthed your Minesweeper alongside the 'Woodha', his First Lieutenant would escort you straight to the Captain's Cabin, where Dudley's Steward would have your favourite drink on a silver salver as you stepped into the Day-room, at any time of the day or night! And he had no favourites. Any CO. in his Squadron was treated on an equal footing, warts and all!

Before I met all the others, the Squadron was away in Hong Kong waters, I had to sail 'Wilkie' out of Singapore up to the uninhabited island of Pulau Tioman, up the Malayan coast, and put the ship and Crew through the shake-down period.

'Ton' Class Minesweepers

Designed in the 1950s to meet the escalating Mine Warfare race which erupted during the Cold War between Russia and the West. Russia was pushing design of mines towards inventing an unsweepable mine. Russia had already invented mines which would fire from the Magnetic Acoustic or Pressure effect of a target ship passing overhead. Some of the mines needed a combination of all 3 effects at the same time to make them fire, so the Minesweeper had to simulate the 3 effects at the same time to fire them, hopefully safely astern of the Minesweeper. The mine scientists on both sides had a Ball building Anti-Minesweeper booby-traps into their devilishly lethal mines and minesweeping became a very dangerous business. All these mines lay on the sea bed, but they still threw in the old-fashioned mine anchored to the sea bed but floating out of sight just below the sea surface, which would fire when ships bumped into them.

So, Admiralty threw in its top resources when faced with the expense of building a new fleet of post-war Minesweepers, which would have to defend British sea lanes for the next 20 years at least. They went to town and built 40 Ton-class. There are still Ton-class Minesweepers from the first mammoth build alive and purposeful in the Navy today (1997, 40 years old!). They were built entirely of wood, strengthened with aluminium ribbing and fittings, both materials non-magnetic. And the wood was the best Teak available in the world in great thickness, no wonder there are still some serving as good as the day they were built. The first of the Class had open Bridges (no roof) but later ones like 'Wilkie' and all the 104th had aluminium and glass enclosed Bridges. The engines were twin Deltic Diesels, with a massive HP equivalent to ocean-going Tugs, we had to tow very heavy electric cables astern as part of our Magnetic Sweep. Twin propellers for tight manoeuvring when sweeping narrow lanes. Top speed was 16 knots with both engines running and 13 knots with one engine running, which was our normal way of travelling to conserve fuel. The main sweep was the Electric Loop, a heavily insulated and armoured cable, 4 inches thick, which floated 1/8th of a mile at its furthest point from your stern, and, through this loop, you pulsed belts of extremely high voltage electricity. It was the magnetic effect of this huge electric current that fired magnetic mines. The ship had a Generator as big as one of the engines whose sole use was to "Pulse the Loop".

Acoustic mines were fired by a crude 2-ton device, hung over the ship's side into the sea, fitted with an electrically driven hammer which banged away inside this metal drum, rather like a pneumatic drill. Pressure mines were fired by a similar device which was hung out on the other side of the ship, this one oscillating like a piston to send pressure waves down to the sea bed.

Lastly, the simplest sweep of all, a wire hawser, which you passed one end to your other Minesweeper and the 2 of you towed this wire loop to snag and cut the mooring cables of contact mines. Once out, they bobbed up to the surface and you exploded them with rifle fire.

When sweeping very narrow channels through Minefields laid around the approaches to major ports, just wide enough to allow the biggest of ships through, the Minesweeper's navigation has to be of pinpoint accuracy so we were fitted with the best equipment available in those days, a High Definition Radar, Gyro Compass and High Definition Echo Sounder. We marked the sides of these narrow, swept lanes with our own spar buoys.

During 'Wilkie's' 3-day shake down we streamed, rested and recovered all these sweeps and, on Day 3, HMS Chawton (Brian McCormack) joined me to practice and test the Wire Loop Sweep. The Squadron were on their way back from Hong Kong and HMS Chawton had been sent on ahead to have Day 3 with me and, on Day 4, Wilkie and Chawton re-joined the Squadron, which steamed into Singapore in Close Formation Line ahead – WOOHA, followed by all 8 Minesweepers, me, Tail-end Charlie, since the Line Ahead Formation went in strict order of seniority of the Captains. There was a benefit in this, since Wilkie was always last to berth alongside and had the fresh air by being outboard of Trots of 4 Minesweepers berthed alongside each other, quite an advantage in the steam-heat of Singapore Dockyard.

On arrival, I met, for the first time, Captain M/S Squadron Commander and the other 7 CO's. I was, now, really part of the Squadron.

A few days later, Wilkie and Dartington were on the way to Borneo for a Piracy Patrol when I got the signal from Admiralty telling me that Billy had been born. Beer all round for the Crew and great relief for me.

Families joining the Men folk Abroad

Admiralty had a simple system. If the men were in shore depots, like HMS Terror in Singapore, where they could go home every night, they were sent to stay for 2½ years and Admiralty would pay for the family to join him, provide a Married Quarter, School and Hospital and increase the man's pay enormously to look after his family inside a foreign country. Men in ships, like Minesweepers and Submarines, permanently fixed to the Station, would only serve 18 months in those ships and subs., but the families stayed at home.

However, Admiralty encouraged any of us 18-month'ers to get families out to the Station, as long as you did it at your own expense. This was only within the means of Commanding Officers and Senior Officers really.

Hazel and I had agreed for her to join me as soon as she and Baby Billy were fit to travel. We had out our names down with the RAF who helped us 'Unofficials' by transporting families for free, whenever they had spare seats in their Trooping Aircraft.

Hazel's number came up 2 months after Billy was born, as long as she could get to Lyneham within 24 hours of the 'phone call. Fortunately, Granny Dowds was still staying with us and was able to help getting Hazel, Sue, Billy and baggage safely and in time to Lyneham. We had rented Ellachie Gardens house, fully furnished, to a Naval Submariner and gave him the keys before departing. Granny left Lyneham to return to her home in 'Derry and my family set off on the 3-day journey to Singapore.

Luckily 'Wilkie' arrived back in Singapore on the day Hazel arrived, Bruce Nicholls was waiting on the jetty with the news and his car, so post haste to Changi Airport to collect them.

Bruce already had his family in Singapore, and we stayed in his bungalow for several days, while I put the skids on and rented a sparsely furnished bungalow in Johore Bahru, just across the Causeway from the Naval Base.

Five of the Minesweeper CO's had brought their families out, two weren't married, and several Submarine CO's also had their families in Singapore. Together, this small band of 'unofficial wives' were a tightly knit club which was treated with respect by the numerous official wives, "How on earth do you manage on half pay and no Married Quarters?".

The 'Club', very resourceful women to have got there in the first place, managed very well thank you and were even envied by the affluent 'official' for the club's great esprit de corps and 'family' bonding. This started the minute any unofficial family arrived. The 'Club' helped you find a rented house, accumulate extra furniture, buy a second-hand car, groceries, and helped you to choose an Amah. The 'Club' wives and children met every day at the Officers' Club Pool and woe betide any affluent outsider who tried to muscle-in on this 'best' party gathering! The 'official' had to live within a rigid 'pecking order' of rank or seniority of respective husbands and wifely toadying up the ranks to try and enhance their husband's promotion prospects was the cause of the many hilarious daily guffaws that came unabashed from the club's corner. The 'officials' knew they were being laughed at. And why not!

Just before I left home, we sold our A35 Van and bought a new Morris Traveller, duty-free (£500 instead of £700) to be shipped to Singapore on the first available space aboard the Admiralty Store Ships running to Singapore. It arrived a few weeks after Hazel and the children arrived, a very worthwhile luxury, since there was no public transport suitable for Europeans and the second-hand market consisted mainly of unreliable old Bangers. The car was an essential part of daily family life. We shipped it home again when the 'Wilkie' tour finished in 1962, used it for 4 years in the UK, then shipped it out to Singapore for the second time in HMS Forth in 1966 for our use on this second move to Singapore. We sold it to the local Chinese for almost £500 in 1968 when we returned home again. It had been a wise purchase back in 1961.

The Bungalow and Amah

At No.4, Jalan Waterworks, Johore Bahru. Fairly typical block and cement post-war construction, colour-washed inside and out, imitation marble floors throughout (for coolness), windows without glass, iron grilles to prevent burglars and wooden shutters for storms, electric ceiling fans, carport to shade the car, a high wire mesh fence around the entire plot with tall iron gates for car access. The medium-sized garden, mainly set to grass, surrounded the house. All modern plumbing, bath and shower room, 3 bedrooms, a huge open-plan lounge, built-in closets and storerooms. Built on the back of the bungalow was the Amah's room and kitchen and washroom, all very small, as the Chinese were accustomed to spartan, cramped living quarters. Our Amah, Tan Yan Te, aged about 50, lived in, except Sunday night when she returned to her husband and family, spoke virtually no English, but quickly taught Hazel pidgin Malay words, suffice to plan menus and domestic chores, did all the family laundry, cooked every meal and kept the entire bungalow immaculately clean. For all this service, she earned the pathetically low going-rate of £40 monthly plus food and spartan living quarters. We liked her very much and, thankfully, she liked us, particularly Billy, who as a male baby infant was precious in Chinese society. She would quite happily carry Bill on her hip with one arm for hours, while she cooked and cleaned with the free arm. Bill didn't object and often the only way to stop him crying was to hand him to Tan Yan Te when the crying stopped like magic. Her Malay - Chinese diction turned 'Billy' into 'Milly' and Sue was addressed as 'Sue-Zan'. Hazel was Missie and I was Tuan. We were a happy family and lived well on her excellent cooking skills and Hazel's shopping abilities. Buying the family groceries was not easy. Mainstay for Naval wives was the NAAFI Store inside the Naval Base, supplemented by the more expensive cold storage shop in Johore Bahru. Vegetables and fresh fruit were best left to Amah in the crowded native markets.

There was a very irksome complication of driving through the strict Customs Control Station entering Malaya from the Duty-free State of Singapore, at the Malayan end of the Causeway. Each day that Hazel shopped for groceries and household items in NAAFI or any other shop in Singapore we were required by Malayan Law to declare every item and pay any duty arising, small amounts on food items, but hefty amounts on clothing, alcohol, tobacco, furniture, toiletries etc.

The wives 'Club' told us it just wasn't on to declare ordinary items, which incurred delays of paying to Malayan Customs who moved like snails while the kids sweltered in the stationary car. We went along with this daily trip home from the Naval Base, by covering any shopping with swimming costumes and towels and taught Sue to say, 'Nothing to Declare' in the Malay language "Tiadda Appa Abba" and the fearsome, armed Malayan Custom Officers were so fascinated by Sue's blue eyes and blonde hair that they waved us on without the dreaded search.

Johore Bahru was a quaint, quiet rural area to live in and very close to the Naval Base. But only a handful of British Service families chose to live there, us Naval 'Unofficials' lured by the lower rents and cost of living and a sprinkling of 'Officials' who were 'Horsey People', the Sultan of Johore had his Palace and precious Stud Horses in Johore Bahru. Most Service families were in Married Quarters dotted around the big and glitzy City of Singapore, which they preferred anyway.

Piracy Patrols

We Minesweepers were away at seas a lot. Piracy Patrols meant 2 Sweepers and RFA Gold Ranger away around Borneo for 5 to 6 weeks at a time. Piracy was an age-old problem around Borneo and Indonesia.

Piracy went on in the Sulu Sea, an almost forgotten patch of very shallow ocean riddled with coral reefs and small inhabited islands stretching all down Borneo's east coast right down to the Indonesian Islands. On my first Patrol I was astonished to find most of this area blank on our charts, with the terse words "NEVER SURVEYED" in the middle of these expansive areas covering most of the chart, riddled with shallow submerged reefs. To steer safely through the unmarked twisting deep-water channels, I went up Wilkie's mast, so that you could see the underwater reefs better, plus the modern availability of Polaroid sunglasses, which doubled your vision while peering through the surface glare and your eyesight penetrated the undersea world quite clearly. Nevertheless, you went at dead slow speed and I was imprisoned up the mast until I'd got the ship through the reefs into deep water again. This could take as long as 8 hours, so a wide brimmed floppy hat and cotton clothing was essential in the Tropics, plus a dumb waiter my Crew had rigged up, to deliver cold drinks and snacks as the hours ticked by. A message went down to the Officers' Steward in the Wardroom asking for a jug of iced lime juice to be delivered to the Captain. Jones, a young man not blessed with quick thinking, duly appeared on the Bridge, with gleaming silver salver, jug of iced lime juice and polished glass, asking the Duty Signalman, "Where is the Skipper?" Terse answer. "Up the mast". "Oh, very funny, I don't think! Now tell me where he is. I've got work to do". At this point, the Officer of the Watch intervened and said, "Strange as it may seem to you Jones, the Captain is up the mast. Go on to the roof of the Bridge and you will see a hoist. Put the jug on the hoist and haul it up to the Captain". Jones didn't like heights but got up the ladder to the Bridge roof and worked the pulley to get the jug to me. Before departing, he had the forethought to shout up to me, "Will you have lunch in the Wardroom or up there, Sir?" We steeled on sandwiches up the mast.

The Pirates

Copra, from the coconut, was the main crop of all these little islands. They had to get their annual harvest to a port where large ships called. The only port on the east coast of Borneo was a small trading post called Sandakan. So, 3 or 4 islanders would set off with the island's crop carried in a primitive small sailing craft, on a journey of hundreds of miles, to sell the crop to the merchants in Sandakan. The Pirates intercepted them at sea and either stole the entire cargo to sell themselves or rob the islanders of the lump sum of money if they caught them returning home. Borneo, in those days, was a British Colony and, over the years, had tasked the British Navy to do occasional 'blitzes' on the Pirates. Never high on Admiralty's list of commitments, it was only small amounts of cargo involved and in a very remote area, difficult to police by anybody.

There had been a blitz a few years before I joined 'Wilkie', when the Navy, together with the Borneo Police, had arrested a handful of Pirates, who were convicted in Court, mainly on the evidence of the islander boatmen victims. The penalty for Piracy was hanging or at the very least, a Life Sentence in jail. Following this, the remaining Pirates realised the only people who could convict them in Court were their victims. So they began murdering the crew of any craft they robbed. Once this grisly business started, the British Government ordered Admiralty to provide regular patrols, to stamp this out.

In my time, HMS Puncheston arrested a suspicious dugout canoe equipped with a powerful outboard engine and a crew of 3, who were not fishermen or cargo carriers. We knew as we approached Pirates they ditched their machine guns overboard or tied them to marker buoys, before we could get alongside them. Puncheston searched very thoroughly and found 3 spent bullet cases in the bilge of the canoe.

A British Assize Judge, sent from England, found the 3 guilty of murder and all 3 were hanged. The spent bullet cases matched the bullets taken out of the corpses of 2 missing island traders, washed up on the Borneo coast.

Dr Sukarno
Dr Sukarno

Another complication came from Indonesia. Ruled by Dr Sukarno, another post-war dictator, who had promised the Indonesian people to regain Borneo from the British, it had been part of Indonesia in the distant past. The Pirates were mainly from the Indonesian Islands, but pirated Indonesian islanders as well as Borneo islanders, so the United Nations had drawn a dotted line on the map, saying Britain must eradicate piracy north of the line and Indonesia south of the line. The British Government soon became aware that Indonesian Navy Gunboats, on Piracy Patrols, carried out acts of piracy themselves for their own monetary gain. The occasional Gunboat that illegally crossed the line looking for victims departed at high speed on the approach of a British Minesweeper. Things were pretty tense between the British and Indonesian Governments.

Before departing Singapore on my first Piracy Patrol, the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, Sir David Luce, sent for me. His brief to me was clear and concise. If I intercepted an Indonesian Gunboat in the British part of the Sulu Sea, I was to arrest him if I could catch him (the Gunboats were much faster than us Minesweepers). Should there be any resistance by the Gunboat, I was to open fire with my guns, without waiting for signalled permission to engage from Admiralty. This he gave me in his own handwriting, to save me from Court Martial, since we all knew the proper procedure in peacetime was to get Admiralty permission to open fire. The time delay of signalling to Admiralty in London and getting an answer back, a matter of hours, was too long for these fast-moving confrontations in the Sulu Sea. Admiral David Luce was a good Commander-in-Chief and became First Sea Lord not long after this job. As it happened, the Indonesian Gunboats got wind of the Royal Navy's tough stance and kept well away from British zones.

We had RFA Gold Ranger based in Sandakan and we would rendezvous with him once every week, to refill our fuel and water tanks. Her Master, Dan de Vere-Moulds, became a close friend of mine. Bored sitting in Sandakan for weeks on end, he and his Crew looked forward to our weekly signal, ordering him to our chosen R/V at sea. At the R/V, as well as the vital fuel and water, he would bring fresh fruit and vegetables from Sandakan, bring us mail and take letters home for posting in Sandakan. His Crew would invite my Crew aboard the Tanker, for beer, supper and a film. After my first 6-week Patrol, it took a full 3 days to get there from Singapore and 3 days back, six Minesweepers went on a "Blitz Patrol" together with HMS Bulwark, a Commando Carrier, with No.42 RN Commando embarked and the Carrier's Fleet Air Arm Squadron of Troop-Carrying Helicopters.

RFA Gold Ranger
RFA Gold Ranger

Once in the Sulu Sea, all of us Minesweepers were loaned a Platoon of RN Commandos, to be our Boarding Party. This little Armada spread out in a huge line to sweep right through the Sulu Sea, Bulwark covered 100 miles across herself, since she used her helicopters to search over the horizon abreast herself. We Minesweepers were placed 20 miles apart, horizon-to-horizon in daylight and our radars easily covered this 20 mile spread at night.

The 'Sweep' took about 4 days. As well as boarding every ship and craft we found, we also got rid of drifting buoys and drifting coconut palms, below which the Pirates used to hide their arms. On Day 2, Bulwark sent me to sink a huge iron mooring buoy, drifting loose, spotted by one of her helicopters.

We soon found it and the Marine Sergeant asked my permission for his platoon to sink it with their Bren Guns. I didn't think that the Bren's small calibre bullets would hole this monster, but as we had ½ an hour before darkness, I let them try for fun. Well, all the usual rivalry between Sailors and Marines came to the fore and my entire Crew turned out on deck to watch the Marines blasting away at the buoy, with the usual ribald remarks of, "You couldn't hit a Brewery brick wall". Their machine guns emptied magazine after magazine at the buoy, they were hitting it all right, but their small bullets were bouncing off the very thick iron sides of the buoy.

With just ten minutes left to sunset and orders in from Bulwark for me to re-join the Big Sweep, I picked up the ship's Talk Mike and said, "Bofors Crew Close-up, 4 Rounds Rapid Fire at the buoy's waterline". By the quick time my Gun crew had closed-up, I had violently spun the ship around to have the bow and therefore the Bofors gun pointing at the buoy, my final order, "Engage". Boom, boom, boom. boom! All 4 shells blasted the buoy and it sank instantly. The Marine Sergeant was with me on the Bridge and he handsomely conceded it was best to leave maritime matters to the Royal Navy! Below decks, in the living accommodation, the Sailors and Royal Marines were bosom buddies, both impressed with the skills of each other as Defenders of the Realm! The Bulwark and massed Minesweepers' offensive put the Pirates out of business for several years.

1961, Clearing Wartime Mines from the Balabac Straits

The United Nations launched a worldwide campaign to rid the High Seas of mines left over from the war. The 104th Minesweeper Squadron were detailed to clear the Balabac Straits, the main shipping route from the China Sea, around the north cape of Borneo, leading into the Celebes Sea and thence to Australasia.

The Straits were quite narrow, winding through small islands and submerged coral reefs. We researched wartime archives and found that the Japanese were the first to mine the Straits, followed by the Americans in the second half of the Pacific War when the Japanese were retreating. We also found that both sides had air-dropped a lot of mines which had landed outside the main shipping channel in shallow water used by fishing boats and other small craft. So, the RN's Hong Kong Squadron of 6 Inshore Minesweepers (craft similar to my ML) were detailed to sweep the shallow waters, allowing us 8 Coastal Minesweepers to concentrate on the main deep-water channel.

Captain Minesweeper (Cuddly Dudley) set up his base on HMS Woodbridge Haven and RFA Gold Ranger, anchored close to where the small Inshore Minesweepers were to operate, leaving us bigger ships 100 miles to the north in the Straits proper. So, whenever our big magnetic-loop sweeps broke, (roughly every 3 days), we had this hideous 100-mile passage through the reefs to get repaired alongside the WooHa, and you went day or night, regardless. The 8 of us prayed that any breaks occurred in daylight, the passages in the dark were hair-raising! One night, HMS Houghton, the Squadron Leader, and Wilkie were going to WooHa for sweep repairs. Great, I thought, because all I had to do was follow-my-leader! We had just entered the narrow channel through the reefs when his vital Radar broke. I had to creep very close to him, both of us at dead slow speed and then lead him for the 90 miles left. Another sleepless night!

The whole operation was going to take seven weeks of non-stop minesweeping, day and night, and Captain Minesweeper knew well the worst strain was on the Commanding Officers. So, any time we berthed alongside WooHa, he made sure us CO's were well rested while the 'Factory Gangs' worked on the sweep repairs. Baths, meals, films, drinks, all in air-conditioned luxury of WooHa's Wardroom. Bliss for the several hours before repairs were completed. One night, Ben Bezance, CO of Dartington, had the usual hospital treatment in WooHa and his repairs completed at 03:30. Dudley said to him, "If I was you Ben, wait for dawn, 0530, and have a passage back in daylight". "No Sir" says our bold Ben, "that would waste 2 hours of sweeping time". "Very creditable Ben" says Dudley, "so off you go then".

He did. Straight up on a reef less than ½ a mile from WooHa at full speed. HMS Dartington came to a halt fully stranded on a big reef, which at low tide meant she was sitting in one foot of water. It was a misunderstanding between Ben and his young Sub. Lieutenant Navigator, the Navigator had laid off a perfectly safe and sensible heading for leaving WooHa, but Ben had used full power on both engines to turn once slipped from WooHa and turned his ship so tightly that when he rang on Full Speed Ahead and shouted, "What heading Navigator?". The poor Sub. Lieutenant could only give Ben his pre-planned course, which, following Ben's dramatic tight turn, lead them straight up on a reef.

Dartington was fortunate in that she ran up on a dead coral reef, similar to a bank of shingle, no jagged rocks to rip open her bottom. Work began immediately to empty her heavy stored, ammunition, oil fuel, all heavy objects, taken off by WooHa's boats, fuel oil and drinking water tanks emptied by pumping over to Gold Ranger, who anchored as close as she dared to the reef. The simple object was to make Dartington as light as possible, ready for WooHa to tow her off the reef at the next high tide. In the event, all this took 3 days until finally WooHa pulled Dartington off the reef, Dartington still watertight and no damage to her propellers. A great feat of seamanship by Captain M/S, his Officers and Men, who kept our running repairs to sweeps going throughout. Two Admiralty Salvage Tugs, racing towards us from Singapore, were ordered to return to Base.

After our own Squadron divers had minutely surveyed Dartington's bottom to confirm no damage or potential leaks, Dartington re-embarked her own stores, fuelled up and departed for Singapore Dry Dock, for the final survey by Admiralty Constructors and a re-paint of her bottom.

Ben Bezanze's inevitable Court Martial was delayed until the whole Squadron was back in Singapore. He chose me as his "Prisoner's Friend", my responsibility was simply to make sure he appeared at Court at the appointed time, rather like being Best Man at a Wedding, although, I did have to take his life in the last resort, if he chose to make a run for it!

Ben pleaded 'Guilty' to the solitary charge of "Did hazard Her Majesty's Ship, Dartington" and exonerated his young Navigator of any shred of blame, standard conduct for any Navy Captain and after the Court heard the glowing testimonials as to Ben's ability as a Commanding Officer and Seaman, the Court sentenced him with 'Severe Reprimand'.

To this day, Ben claims he would have got away with just 'Reprimanded', rather than next step of 'Severe', if the buttons on my Ice-cream Uniform hadn't fell to a clatter on the marble floor of the Court Room on the last occasion of that long, hot, drawn-out day, that I had to march him back into Court. The Court President was a BigShip type of Rear Admiral, who didn't really go along with the less formal ways of Officers and Men in small-ships or submarines! The great result was that Ben was not 'Dismissed his Ship' and thankfully finished his time with us as CO of HMS Dartington. We all conjectured that the C-in-C, Admiral Sir David Luce, had inferred that this would be a 'suitable' outcome, when he appointed the Court.

It was lovely to be back in Singapore after the 7-week non-stop minesweeping job and for me a bit of home life, with Hazel, Sue and Bill. Not so Dudley, whose family remained in the UK The Squadron was his family now and he hated lying idle in Singapore Dockyard. So he cooked up a scheme of taking the Squadron to India to work with the Minesweeping Squadron of the Indian Navy and persuaded the C-in-C this was a very good idea, after all, India was now one of our important allies in the Far East!

C-in-C, wise old owl of course, picked the bones out of Dudley's enthusiastic plan. The voyage from Singapore, across the Indian Ocean, was 4500 miles. Our ships were officially designated as Coastal Minesweepers, not ocean-going ships, and C-in-C sent Dudley away, saying, "If you can come up with a navigational plan, that allows a safe anchorage part way of this long voyage for repairs and rest for the Crews, then I will allow it.

Dudley (Captain M/S) was back in C-in-C's office next morning with the 'Safe Anchorage Plan'. It was to be the Andaman Islands, a group of almost uninhabited islands, the last land before crossing the Indian Ocean. Sir David Luce approved and off we went. The voyage turned out to be pleasant and no strain at all for the Minesweepers and the Squadron arrived fit and well at our first port in India, the large and pleasant port of Madras. We spent several days at Madras, socialising with our RIN hosts and local people, before sailing around the southern tip of India to the Indian Naval Base at Cochin. We spent two weeks at Cochin, going out to sea for minesweeping exercises with Minesweepers of the RIN and back into port for lots of very good socialising between the two Navies.

Our voyage to southern India was so successful that once back in Singapore, Captain Minesweeper asked the C-in-C if the Squadron could visit Northern Australia. The voyage was just too far for C-in-C and he came up with a plan for the Squadron to visit Indonesia instead. Relations between UK and Indonesia had improved and UK and Foreign Office fixed for us to do a Courtesy Visit to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia and main port of the country.

We would be the first official visitors from the Western World since the end of the war, when Sukarno and his army threw out their Dutch masters and aligned their new independence with the Soviet Communist bloc. The seven-day visit was a success with both sides pushing to lay on as much goodwill hospitality as could be crammed into one week.

At one of the Indonesian Government's Parties, halfway through this amiable evening, the Indonesian Police Chief whispered to the French Ambassador that, regrettably, local thieves had stolen the Ambassador's car! Earlier that day the Indonesians had been told that, regrettably, the Ambassador's car had been stolen in Paris. What a coincidence!

Both cars were recovered next day!

The Indonesians Navy lay on a demonstration of their Naval Forces for us in the Straits outside Surabaya. Lots of VIP's had been invited to watch and Wilkie took the British Ambassador. We steamed up and down the Straits watching the Indonesians perform, together with a submarine they (Russian built) showed off. The Ambassador was a friendly, easy-going old cove and quite enjoyed 'roughing it'' in a Minesweeper for the day. He was delighted when Steward served Tea, tea and buttered toast at 4pm, took him back to his childhood days, apparently, and said, "These Orientals just don't understand the finer points of life!"

Our Squadron Commander, Gus Halliday, a Fleet Air Arm Pilot, was uneasy about his post. He had carried out several bombing raids on Surabaya in the last year of the war, as a preliminary to pushing the Japs out of Indonesia. He hoped the Indonesian Intelligence Services would miss this juicy bit when they put the inevitable microscope at all of us in the Squadron while we were their guests in Surabaya. Out Intelligence was desperate to get real knowledge on how effective Sukarno's new venture into arming himself with a Submarine Squadron was. Could these Soviet-built submarines really take out a British or United Nations Task Force if we had to invade Indonesia?

We got the answer and it was an emphatic, No! The Indonesians had put their Senior Submarine Captain as our Liaison Officer. We quickly learned that he was competent, but his Officers and Crew were useless. With the few other submarines, the CO's were just as useless as their Officers and men and spare parts were so long overdue, that only our man's submarine could go to sea by picking bits needed from the harbour-bound other submarines.

Exercises with the USN

Back in Singapore for a spell in harbour. Then off to the large American Naval Base at Subic Bay, in the Philippines, to do exercises with the USN I had been given a Midshipman Engineer, who had failed his Seamanship exams. My brief was to get him up to scratch ready for a re-take exam. So, I detailed him, to be OOW on a quiet morning while the Squadron was steaming in Line-ahead en-route for Subic. All he had to do was to follow the Minesweeper ahead, keeping the ordered distance of 200 yards apart.

I was in my cabin doing the inevitable paperwork that had piled up in harbour when there were 3 great 'clumps' under the ship's bottom. I was on the bridge in leaps and bounds as the 3rd 'clump' occurred near the stern and I saw a huge tree trunk bob to the surface. I whipped 'Wilkie' out of the Line and stopped the engine. I knew what had happened. The South China Sea was littered with waterlogged teak trees which had broken loose from the logger's row of hundreds of trunks being shipped out from the teak forests of Borneo. My Midshipman had failed to see this rogue and steamed right over it. At the subsequent Inquiry he swore he never saw it, maybe he didn't; they floated just below the surface and it takes a keen and experienced eye to see them ahead in time to steer around them. I knew the 3rd 'clump' was my propeller striking the log and I knew the propeller was bent from the vibrations before I stopped the engine.

Engineers and divers came over to inspect the damage. The other propeller was undamaged. We were halfway between Singapore and the Philippines. Warships are always repaired without delay to get back on active service. It was decided to fit a new propeller in Subic. The RAF had to fly the new prop. from Singapore and the Americans at Subic Base agreed to fit it on our arrival. The Yanks were very efficient. Within 2 hours of my arrival, they had the bent prop. off and the new one on.

We did Minesweeping Exercises with the USN Squadron, off and on, for 2 weeks, with interludes in harbour for rest and recreation. The American Base at Subic had replaced their main Pacific Base at Pearl Harbour. Consequently, it was no surprise to find that Subic Naval Base was as large as a city.

We came back and visited Subic several times during my Commission and, because RN Minesweeping was more advanced that in the USN, they treated us very well.

The Far East

Out of all these sea-going travels, Hazel and the children only got to Hong Kong and Manila. First time to Hong Kong was when the Squadron was programmed to spend 4 weeks, operating out of Hong Kong, together with the small sized Minesweepers of the Hong Kong Squadron. A great break for us all since the climate in Hong Kong was much fresher than the humidity of Singapore.

The Singapore Naval Movements Office had fixed for Hazel, Sue and Bill to have a free passage in a British Troopship (like passenger Liners, without the glitz!). They arrived the day before the Squadron got to Hong Kong from the Philippines. However, one of the Squadron, HMS Fiskerton, had been sent on ahead for repairs and I told Fisk. CO to look after Hazel until we arrived. This was Jeremy Black, later to become C-in-C of the Home Fleet, who duly made himself responsible for getting Hazel and kids safely housed in the YMCA Club, pre-booked. Gordon Morris, another of our Squadron COs, was assisting Jeremy in discharging this burden and when they found the Club Restaurant closed, tossed a coin, one to babysit, the other to take Hazel out for dinner. Gordon baby-sat and Jeremy, showing off, took Hazel to one of the smarter restaurants in Hong Kong for an excellent dinner, his treat! Except when the bill came, he remembered he had no money with him (not unusual for Naval Officers, we expect to sign chits and pay at the end of each month). So, he did what we all do on these occasions outside our Mess and Club chit system and borrowed the money, to pay the bill, from Hazel. He repaid Hazel's vital housekeeping money promptly next morning with a flourish of Hong Kong dollars in full view of the many onlookers waiting at the Boat Jetty in HMS Tamar. Never occurred to him to be slightly discreet in such a transaction!

Our meagre budget, no allowances, drove me to finding a cheap hotel in Kowloon, the YMCA Club, funnily enough, was for girls only, and we stayed a few days in Kowloon, before moving back to Hong Kong Island, to spend our remaining holiday time staying in the Naval HQ Flats, up on the Peak as guests of Richard Todd and his wife, Joy. Richard was CO of one of the Hong Kong Minesweepers and was on the same Long TAS Course as me, so we all knew each other pretty well from those days.

Richard and Joy were a particularly devoted couple with lovely children. So, it was very tragic, some years later, when we learned that Joy had died in a car crash in England. Richard and the children survived the crash, all injured.

Our time in Hong Kong was very pleasant. Hazel even found time to browse the Aladdin's Cave of Hong Kong's shops, stall, emporiums and stores, while looking after and entertaining Sue (3) and Bill (1) all day long.

I enjoyed the stolen time to be with them; usually got 'home' in the evenings during the week and at weekends I was usually free from the ship at lunchtime on Saturdays and mid-morning on Sundays. There were lots of Navy parties throughout, as long as we arranged babysitters, often sailors from 'Wilkie'.

Hazel and the children travelled back to Singapore in the P&O Liner, Iberia, which called in to Manila en-route as part of the tourist programme. The Squadron returned later, after a visit to Bangkok, to take part in the King's (King of Siam) Birthday Celebrations.


This was an interesting event, since the Squadron was sent as the Queen's Representatives. So, we received the Royal Treatment. The Thai General, in charge of the big and busy port of Bangkok, ordered the huge merchant ships, berthed at the main quay, out to buoys in the river, so that we could berth in comfort at the best billet in the port. Big black cars took all of us Commanding Officers to the Palace, where we signed the King's Birthday Book and had a brief audience with him and his Ministers. They were all very pro-British.

It was a luxurious weekend for all of us in Bangkok, wined, dined and feted by the different branches of the top brass, who knew their King would approve their hospitality to us. One evening, it was the turn of Bangkok's Police Chief to show us around. Most illuminating as we toured Bangkok, early evening, prior to dinner at his residence. At that time the prostitute trade was Siam's biggest foreign currency earner, and the brothels had the Government's green light to operate without Police interference.

The Squadron sailed from Bangkok, in time to rendezvous with the Royal Thai Navy and carry out action exercises over several days and nights with them. On completion, we returned with them to the RTN Main Base, these days a popular holiday resort for foreign tourists, enjoying the lovely palm-tree lined beaches that we enjoyed before the holiday hotels were built.

East Coast of Malaya

Back at Singapore for a short spell and then 5 Minesweepers were ordered to individually visit 5 'ports' along Malaya's East Coast. Geographically, the East Coast has no natural harbours, but has many river estuaries, carving narrow channels through the sandbars. Small towns had built up just inside the river estuaries and small craft could berth safely, once inside the river mouth. The charts of the East Coast had not been updated for over a hundred years and had no data on the immediate approaches to the rivers. We were told to make our own surveys and find out which rivers were deep enough for a Minesweeper to enter.

On arrival, I took soundings on our 2 Echo Sounders and, finally, anchored close inside a hook-shaped bay, quite close to the river estuary. The westerly Monsoon weather system blew all the way across the South China Sea, building up a very heavy swell, which ended on the sand barrier of Malaya's East Coast. Wilkieston rolled like a pig while at anchor in this never-ending swell.

Next day, I sent my First Lieutenant in Wilkie's very small motorboat, together with 2 sailors, to take soundings of depths at the sandbar across the river's mouth. Wilkie's draught was 12 feet, so I needed a minimum depth of 14 feet for me to enter that river safely. He came back with depths of only 10 feet at the bar and depths of 40 feet once over the bar into the river. Tantalising to think if I could get 'Wilkie' over that narrow strip of sandbar, I would be in a wide and deep river in calm water out of this infernal swell. The 1st. Lt.'s survey had already confirmed to me that I would not attempt it at the real risk of getting the ship stuck aground and foundering in the heavy swell, simply to obtain a calm berth for the next 2 days. However, for my own satisfaction, I went in our little motorboat to see the bar for myself. At the bottom of one of the troughs in the swell I could see the bottom of sand. Decision was adamant, stay out at our anchorage.

My judgement was a disappointment to the townspeople. They were looking forward to our company alongside the town river berths. All these small communities were lonely, since they were cut off from normal access, except by long boat journeys upriver, taking days, to reach the road network which ran up central Malaya. We gave them a Party onboard, but only the bravest came in their small fishing boats across that hazardous sandbar. We were glad to leave and get back to Singapore, out of that awful rolling swell.

Pulau Tioman

The one place we all liked up Malaya's East Coast was the very picturesque volcanic island of Pulau Tioman. About 30 miles out to sea, uninhabited, with lovely beaches from which the island rose very steeply, clad in dense tropical vegetation, to its perfectly shaped peak like a cone-shaped pyramid. We Minesweepers went there whenever we could. Our sailors loved the freedom of this majestic island and would spend all day climbing up it. Only the very strong got right to the top. And, in the evenings, we all enjoyed Barbeques on the beaches, lit up by the biggest bonfires I can remember. The movie, South Pacific, used shots of Pulau Tioman as their backdrops for the story's Island of Bali Hai.

Kota Tinggi Falls

Cool river water tumbling over a boulder-strewn slope, about 20 miles up-country from Johore Bahru, on a good road built through the jungle by the Mining Company at Tinggi. A natural picnic spot for us families with children, who played in the cool rock pools, surrounded by jungle.


A big town up the West Coast. I took a week's leave and all of us motored up Malaya for a family holiday. We stopped off for a few days at a little fishing town half-way to Malacca and stayed in a Government Rest House, right on the beach.

When the British ruled, these Rest Houses were the best hotels anywhere. The Rest Houses were given to the Malay Government at Independence and were unfortunately neglected by them. On arrival, our Malay, charming Houseboy nearly had a fit when he saw our picnic basket, saying 'Strictly forbidden, No food in Rooms'! We over-ruled him and settled into our rooms. We understood his concern, when, shortly after turning in, we saw the biggest rats imaginable beating a trail to our picnic basket, full of goodies! It was removed to our car pronto!


Southern Malaya was almost all taken up with rubber-tree plantations and roads ran in straight lines through the plantations. At about every half mile, there were the small villages, called Kampongs, set just off the road on either side, which housed the plantations' workers, mainly Chinese-Malays, in small fragile huts built of bamboo poles and palm leaves, raised off the swampy ground on wooden stilts. The density of numbers of rubber-trees kept out the sunlight, everything was very gloomy, and you could only see for a few yards when looking into these dense plantations. Adding to this poor visibility was the smoke from the charcoal cooking fires of the Kampongs, along with the appetising smell of Chinese fried rice, spices and chicken. The hordes of domestic chickens wandered free around the Kampongs and on the road too. Most lengths of road had been tarmac'd, but you still found some stretches still just dirt tracks and passing lorries left a long trail dust you could hardly see through. Motoring on these narrow, straight roads through the plantations was slow and sweaty work.

Back to Naval Matters

The reason that Minesweeping in the Far East became top priority stemmed from the Russian and Communist China threat of expansion in the Far East. Russia had the biggest stockpile of mines in the world and the mines were both diverse and advanced. The Western Allies had worked out that Russia could immobilise all our Fleets by mining the approaches to all Naval Bases in the Far East. Warships would either be imprisoned inside the Base Ports or cut off at sea without access to fuel, food, and ammo. Similarly, if Russia or China overran any neutral country by invasion, they would plaster that country's coastline with mines to stop an Allied Counter-Invasion.

The US Navy, by far and away the biggest and most powerful Naval Force in the Far East, had never got on top of this complicated task of sweeping enemy minefields. They welcomed us British Minesweepers as their chief ally and they fixed for us to exercise regularly with their own Minesweeping Squadrons to help teach them to destroy enemy mines laid in channels through which their Aircraft Carriers and Strike Fleets had to pass. In effect, the American Minesweeper Squadrons were integrated with the RN Squadron (the 104th MS) and placed under our command. Every 6 months there would be a combined US, British, Australian and New Zealand major Fleet Exercise in Far East waters, lasting about 3 weeks and we Minesweepers would inevitably end up leading these massive Fleets, through very narrow mineswept channels, to their anchorage, needed to launch the invasion landing against pretend Russian or Chinese-held territory. We enjoyed the temporary glory of nuclear-powered Aircraft Carriers following very closely in our wake and instantly obeying every compass heading we gave them! One false step and they were goners, and they knew it.

We made some good friends with the American Minesweepers, they had a Commodore as boss man flying his flag in a huge Mother Ship, and until we came to join them, they had been the Cinderella's of the US Fleet, no longer now; they were with us and moved up to top dogs!

One of the many Minesweeping Exercises we did was in the approaches to Hong Kong harbour. And on this occasion, we tested out a new plan of moving 8 or more Minesweepers around the patch of sea to be cleared of mines, which was circular, rather than the conventional up and down lanes which wasted time doing cumbersome turns towing the lengthy sweeps at each end of the straight lanes. It takes 3 to 5 days to sweep a lane, because of the infernal mine device called a Ship-Counter. The Ship-Counter in a Mine can be set from 1 to 4 "counts". Set to one, means one ship or Mine sweep can go over it without exploding. The second ship or 'sweep' to go over it will blow it up. And so on. We had to sweep each lane 14 times to make sure we had swept all mines, including those set to Ship-Count 14! Devilishly cunning!

So, on Day One of this Exercise, we got this circular Racecourse of 8 Minesweepers with lengthy sweeps towed astern, going all very well in daylight, when ordinary merchant ship traffic could navigate safely through this ring of moving Minesweepers. But at night, ships approaching our 'ring' could only see the complicated Navigation Lights indicating 'Minesweepers, towing, long, Sweeps'.

At about midnight, the Liner, Oriana, sailed out of Hong Kong and ended up in the middle of our 'ring'. By now, she was thoroughly confused and sensibly stopped engines to sort out how she could steer out of the 'ring'. After a while, she could see the pattern of things and made a dash to pass between 'Wilkie' and the Minesweeper following me.

Unfortunately, she steered too close to pass astern of 'Wilkie' and would cut across my sweeps, so I flashed the International Signal "You are heading into danger" at her. She came to an abrupt halt and did not leave the 'ring' until daylight when she could actually see our sweeps and steer clear of them.

One of the few shore lines the RN in the Far East had, to practice live gunfire, was Ninepins Island, just outside Hong Kong's harbour, uninhabited of course and rising to a height of approximately 1500 feet. So, any time RN warships visited Hong Kong, the opportunity was taken to practice and test the ship's guns against targets painted up Ninepins' steep, rocky slopes.

Just before we Minesweepers left Hong Kong on this occasion, on our way back to Singapore, Captain M/S ordered all Minesweepers to do a Target-shoot with our Bofors guns. I was doing my run past Ninepins and once abreast the Target Area, ordered the Bofor's Crew to commence firing. The first clips of shell were nicely exploding in the Target Area, when suddenly, the fiery tracers of the shells were rising right up the Island towards the top at an alarming rate.

We all hit buzzers to tell the Guns Crew 'Cease Firing', but the buzzers didn't get through until at least 2 shells zipped over the top of Ninepins Island. The problem was that the hydraulics which raise the gun-barrel up and down and left and right had jammed to 'Rise' and, with the gun firing automatically, it took barely a couple of seconds for those two shells to go over the top of the Island before the Crew could stop it firing. We all knew, that on the other side of the Island, the sea was full of fishing boats and junks. We all dashed to the other side of Ninepins and we were relieved to find we hadn't hit a fishing boat or junk with those two live rogue shells. When we shouted over to a group of Sampans, asking, "Did you see 2 shells exploding?" They answered, "No-see shells, but velly-good fireworks chase Devils away"!

Towards the end of my 18 months in Command of Wilkieston arose the task of towing the six Inshore Minesweepers (about the same size as MTB's or the largest variety of ML's or Gunboats) of the Hong Kong Squadron, back to Singapore. Admiralty were upgrading the Hong Kong Squadron to the same much bigger 'Ton' Class of Minesweepers as we had in our Squadron. The six inshores were to be shipped back to the UK as deck cargo in one of the Navy's biggest Transport Ships. The only crane big enough to left them onto the Transport Ship was in Singapore. How to get the 6 inshores from Hong Kong to Singapore? It was too risky for them to undertake the voyage themselves, 1,500 miles across the typhoon-ridden South China Sea, and they would have to re-fuel several times in the rough Monsoon season, never mind the typhoons! Solution, let the Singapore Squadron tow them! So, six of us were detailed off as 'Tugs', while the other two would act as 'Tankers', constantly filling up from the tanker, Gold Ranger, and pumping into the 'Tugs' as they plodded on towing their inshores. Fortunately, 'Wilkie' was nominated as one of the two tankers so I was free to roam around this Convoy, 'selling' fuel to my mates! We hit a few patches of very rough Monsoon weather, but regardless, got those six inshores quite safely to Singapore in seven days. Quite a successful feat of seamanship.

A bloke, named Jeremy Black, took Command of HMS Fiskerton a couple of months after I had taken Command of 'Wilkie'. He was the second Specialist Officer, following me, to become a C.O. in the Squadron. His specialisation was in Gunnery, so all our First Lieutenants, who were automatically designated the Gunnery Officers in our Minesweepers, shuddered. They needn't have worried. Like the rest of us CO's, Jeremy gave all his time and concentration to running his ship safely and mastering the somewhat frightening art of streaming, towing, and recovering Mine Sweeps. Just the speed of the ship alone was critical when working the sweeps. A precise speed through the sea was mandatory for each phase of streaming, towing, and recovering the sweeps -carried out by the First Lieutenant and his Sweep deck Gang (about a dozen well trained Seamen), on a Sweep deck at the stern cluttered with huge reels and mini cromes, all powered by fast electric motors. So, the Captain was like the Conductor of an orchestra. Get one move or sequence wrong and everything collapsed into an almighty shambles. Dangerous too. If, for instance, the Captain ordered the wrong speed at the time of ordering the kites to be lowered into the sea, these ½ ton brutes would fly back out of the water and crash down on the crowded Sweep deck like a murderous missile. Operating Mine sweeps concentrated the Captain's mind as much as that met by Submarine Captains carrying out a torpedo attack. You had to be on the ball with a capital 'B'.

A couple of amusing incidents with Jeremy, he was a top-notch charmer with a huge sense of humour. He and I struck up an immediate partnership, coupled with a fun rivalry between us, his ship against mine, in all sports and Minesweeping races.

His ship, Fiskerton, was selected by Admiralty to be the 'Tester' of fitting Air-Conditioning into all Minesweepers. The Admiralty Engineers soon had a prototype Air-conditioning system fitted to 'Fisk' for trial. The Officers and Crew of 'Fisk' were basking in the refreshing seventh heaven of coolness without pouring rivers of sweat. Jeremy, of course, flaunted his new-found miracle right into the faces of us other seven CO's, "Can't understand how you chaps exist without Air-Con. Admiralty knew the only reliable ship in the Squadron to fit Air-Con", and so on.

HMS Fiskerton
HMS Fiskerton

The CO's 'Club' stood Black's gloating for two whole days, then we counter attacked. His core gloat referred to sitting on his Air-Conditioned loo after breakfast each day, reading the tissue-thin edition of The London Times, which Admiralty posted to us all and which disintegrated rapidly from our dripping sweat in our boiler house loos. We made a roster for ourselves, using 10-minute intervals, to occupy Jeremy's loo, before he finished breakfast. A couple of days of this routine, with him last in line at No.8, soon got the desired compromise from him. No more gloating and we could all use his Air Conditioned facilities after him!

A more refined activity of the CO's 'Club' was to gather together with Captain M/S and his Staff Officers, once a month, for Sunday lunch at Raffles Hotel. On these occasions, we behaved ourselves and simply enjoyed the great food, service, and décor, of this, the best of Britain's excellent show of standards in the Far East.

June 1962

Hazel, Sue and Billy returned to England. We sold most of the furniture we had accumulated during our stay in that unfurnished bungalow, in Jalan Waterworks, Johore Bahru., no great deal really, since you had bought cheaply and sold cheaply to other Service families, coming and going in those days. We did, however, ship our virtually new Morris Traveller car back to Britain and filled it with some items of furniture we had grown fond of and still have now. My date for going home was in August and by then, with the family back at home and no car, living in HMS Terror whenever my ship was in Singapore, I was itching to get away.

Towards the end of July, Admiralty appointed John Caughey, we had joined the RN together, became Officers together and qualified TAS Specialists together, to relieve me in Command of HMS Wlikeston in August. Great news for me. Much easier to hand over Command to a close chum, rather than someone you had not met previously. Quicker too, since chums trust each other and no need for nitty gritty audits and counting the ship's stores etc.

There was a flight home on the day after John arrived, so I booked it. The next flight was a whole week after that one.

'Wilkie' was programmed to remain in Singapore for 3 weeks, undergoing a normal overhaul, so John would have plenty of time to get to grips with his new Command before going to sea. Nevertheless, a handover in 24 hours was pushing it a bit, most handovers were spread over 3 days, interspersed with lots of 'drinks' parties to meet other CO's, Staffs and bosses.

I pencilled in a programme which didn't waste a minute and started with a fast drive from Changi Airport the minute John's plane landed. I had sent an Admiralty car together with my First Lieutenant and his orders from me was to get John back to the ship and I gave John my cabin to change into Uniform. He opened his suitcase and exposed a plethora of woman's clothing! He had collected an identical suitcase without checking the label. John, notorious for doing things like this, had struck again! My First Lieutenant went back to the airport to exchange cases, while John and I began the Handover Programme with him in civilian clothes.

We completed the Handover Programme with time to spare and I departed home from the same Changi Airport next day.

I had a couple of months of Foreign Service Leave due to me and we spent most of this time happily, improving our house and garden in Alverstoke, we had let it out to a Submarine Officer ad his nice family, Martin Bourdillon, who handed it back to us in better condition all round than when we left. They so loved the house, they asked for first offer if we ever wanted to sell. We took a holiday to stay with Granny Dowds in L'derry and another to spend a few days with the Girvans.

AUWE - September 1962

My next appointment was to join the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE) at Portland, as Trials Officer for a programme designing a new type of torpedo, to replace the long-outdated ones still in service with RN Submarines, including Britain's first ever Nuclear Submarine. AUWE was the Navy's 'Factory' where Navy Scientists and Naval Officers had to invent the weapons for fighting under the water: Sonars, Torpedoes for our submarines to fire, torpedoes for ships, aircraft and submarines to kill enemy submarines, mines for us to use against enemies and minesweeping devices for us to negate enemy mines and depth charge type weapons for our ships to kill enemy submarines.

Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment
Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment

At this time, the world was at the peak of the Cold War, the West lined up against the Communist Bloc, and Russia's Fleet of Nuclear Submarines was the worst threat against America and us Allies. So, AUWE was a very busy place and all our work was very secret. Originally Code-named 'Ongar'. Now in service as the Mk 24 (Tigerfish).

The 'Inventors' had already spent three years creating this new torpedo when I joined the Team. There were six of these prototype Torpedoes, hand built in AUWE's Laboratory Workshops, ready for Test Firings. Another Team of Admiralty Scientists and Naval Officers from the Sonar Division of AUWE had also spent three years, designing and building an Electronic Cabinet (as big as a wardrobe!) to guide the torpedo through the water, altering course and depth as the victim submarine violently evaded. Steering the torpedo was done by sending electric signals to it down a very thin wire which peeled out of the torpedo as it raced towards its target, firstly at 24 knots (to stay quiet) and then at 35 knots as it closed the submarine target. There was a Sonar set in the head of the torpedo to guide itself for a hit on the target in the final stages of the attack. The Naval Officers working with the Scientists were all highly qualified Engineer and Electrical Officers. As a Seaman Officer, my job, as Trials Officer, was to take charge of one submarine to fire the torpedoes, a second submarine to act as target, a Factory Ship to service and load the torpedoes into the firing submarine and several small craft designed to lift each torpedo as it surfaces on completion of its firing-run and bring it back to the Factory ship.

The boss of submarines (Flag Officer Submarines, FOSM) and my boss at AUWE (a Seaman Captain) both instructed me with the two paramount responsibilities:

  1. Give the Scientists every type of Test Firings they asked for, short of sinking one of the submarines
  2. Do not lose even one of those precious six Prototype Torpedoes, which had to get us through a series of tests, experiments and proving Firing Runs over the next two years.

The Scientists themselves gave me a 3rd message: Do not let any of your men, the Torpedo Crews in the Submarines and the Admiralty civilians in the Recovery and Factory Ships, even scratch the delicate skins of these 2-ton torpedoes, as they loaded and recovered them and, heaven forbid, they ever bump them, risking damage to the delicate arrays of electronics which packed the inside of their precious torpedoes!

Top marks to the Scientists. This aspect was really important. All previous torpedoes had been made of thick, very strong steel and the works inside them were all strong, metal mechanical devices. They were designed and made in the same robust way we make farm machinery, to take all the punishment a harsh environment would inflict on them and still function. Our new torpedo was, in fact, a Guided Missile, which had to have kid-glove handling, on its every journey from a jetty, into the Torpedo Compartment of the submarine, along the rails to be rammed gently into the Torpedo Tube. And after the firing, to be plucked out of an invariably choppy sea, to be taken back to the Factory Ship. So, the submarine sailors and Admiralty boatmen had to be re-educated. This I often did when they were loading or recovering, chiefly with blistering, paint removing, nautical swearing, as they handled these 2-ton monsters, swinging about on crane wires. The message got through. "The Trials Officer will have our guts for garters if we even as much as scratch one of his precious tin fishes!"

Autumn 1962

Family wise, we moved from our own house to a Married Quarter house in Wyke Regis, halfway between Portland and Weymouth. It was one of about 30 newly built houses in one estate that Admiralty had built to accommodate the families of RN Officers. The estate was well laid out around a central park of grassland and the houses were very pleasant to live in, with fairly big gardens too. We rented our own house, fully furnished, again to an RN Officer, posted to that area.

We had barely settled in, in December 1962, when weather forecasts said snow for the UK in general. Hazel remarked on this while shopping at the local Butchers. The Butcher replied that the Weymouth area never had serious snow because the Dorset hills protect us.

There was an almighty blizzard next day and the whole of Dorset was cut off for 6 weeks! Poor old Bill (approaching 2 years old) and Sue (approaching 4 years old) did not know what hit them. A few months ago, living on the Equator in Singapore, now living in an Artic freezing world of snow! Following the initial blizzard, there were frequent additional falls of snow, but the worst aspect throughout were the sub-zero temperatures which remained day and night. A number of people lost their lives throughout the County of Dorset. Worst case was a family of four visiting relatives by car in rural Dorset and caught in the first blizzard when returning home. Their car was found under a snowdrift, only when the thaw cane 6 weeks later. We were perfectly alright in Wyke Regis. Portland Dockyard combined with the Council to keep the main road clear of drifts between Portland and Weymouth. We drove to work and shops, very gingerly and at slow speed on the gritted hard packed frozen snow.

Out Torpedo Test Firings were carried out in Loch Fyne which you approached just inside the very broad estuary of the River Clyde. Loch Fyne because it is the deepest water without going off Britain's' Continental Shelf out into the Atlantic.

Loch Fyne is like a fjord, importantly to us over 800 feet deep. The advent of the Nuclear Submarine allowed these subs to dive to hitherto unknown depths of 800ft. So, our new torpedo had also to operate in these crushing great depths under the ocean surface. Amongst other things, a series of tests had been planned to run our torpedo, gradually deeper, until we got her running down to 600 ft. Also, Loch Fyne was quite near to Glasgow at the head of the Clyde, with rail, road and air links to the south coast of England. Even better, moving away from Glasgow down the Clyde was the port of Greenock and an Admiralty Base for ships and cranes to load our torpedoes which were transported from AUWE in Portland, to Greenock, in convoys of Admiralty lorries.

Lock Fyne

We would spend several months at AUWE preparing the 6 Torpedoes for a 6-week series of Firing Runs in Loch Fyne, together with alternative components to find out which component parts in the torpedo gave the best results. When everything was ready, the 6 Torpedoes, plus alternative Torpedo Heads, plus spare torpedo batteries and boxes and specialist tools and recording equipments, were sent in lorries from Portland to Greenock for loading onto RFA Sarepta, our Torpedo Trials Factory Ship. The Scientists, me and my partner (an Engineer Officer, Pat Threadingham) would travel to Greenock by overnight sleeper train, London to Glasgow and join Sarepta at Greenock, to sail down the Clyde and set up our base in Rothesay Island. The Scientists and Trials Officers had lodging in small hotels or boarding houses near Rothesay Pier. Our own launches would ferry us out to Sarepta (moored overnight on an Admiralty buoy in Rothesay Bay) each morning and return us ashore again in the evening.

The two submarines joined our flotilla. HMS Cachalot, the firing submarine, fitted out with the Torpedo Guidance Console and HMS Otter, the target submarine, fitted with steel guards over her vulnerable spots like the main vents, rudders and propellers. Sarepta would load the 6 torpedoes into Cachalot and off we all sailed to the nearby Test Area in the Clyde Estuary. I was always in Cachalot to set up each firing run, placing the two submarines about two miles apart and telling them what courses to steer and spreads to use and what depths to go to, before I started the Run by ordering the 2 subs to dive. Then Cachalot would fire a single torpedo and the Scientists would guide it to hit Otter, (the torpedoes had special heads designed to crumple easily minimising the collision damage to Otter).

Otter at Portsmouth, 27 August 1983
Otter at Portsmouth, 27 August 1983

Throughout our two-year series of Test Firing runs, we achieved an average of one hit out of every two shots, against a target sub which zigzagged and radically altered depth to try and avoid being hit. This was a huge step forward in Torpedo Warfare where the best hitting rate was one hit for every ten torpedoes fired, against "sitting duck" targets of surface ships, Naval and Merchant.

At the end of each Test Firing, the torpedo would blow water out of its ballast tank (same as a submarine surfacing) and bob to the surface, to be hauled from the sea by our Recovery Launches and taken back to Sarepta where the AUWE Mechanics would strip it, put in new batteries etc., ready for firing again next day. Yes, the Mechanics worked through the night and slept in daytime.

There were, of course, setbacks on many days of Firing Trials, apart from anything else, our 'Laboratory' was the sea and even in the wide Clyde Estuary, it could be very rough. Searching for a torpedo when its guidance had failed was very time consuming, it could have gone in any direction for 5 miles. They floated just below the surface and very difficult to see.

They were fitted with a small noise beeper which Sonar could pick up when within ½ mile of the torpedo. This and sometimes a smoke marker as well, helped a bit, but you still had to get close to the torpedo, before seeing it. In poor weather conditions we would stop the Trials and form up the two submarines and the two Recovery Launches to search the Area in Line. Occasionally, when gales were forecast and time for finding the rogue torpedo was running out, I would signal for aircraft to assist with the search. In the end, we always finally found the rogues which had surfaced. Not so those which dived out of control straight to the bottom and stuck fast in the muddy seabed. Out of the 5 firings that did this, we got 4 back, but one was lost forever.

Once we had diagnosed a lost rogue was on the seabed, it became a case of two Recovery Launches towing a chain, one end fastened to the stern of the second craft. The 2 boats would steam ahead, dragging this loop of chain over the seabed, in the hope of dislodging the 'stuck' torpedo, which would then float up to the surface. It was a slow, laborious search which could take one, two or even 3 days.

Our second lost torpedo is embedded in the sheer cliff face, 300 feet below sea level, of Loch Fyne. We were doing a series of test runs to take the torpedo as deep as we dared (500ft.) in the narrow canyon which formed Loch Fyne, barely ½ mile wide in places. On this particular firing, all went well initially. We had positive guidance after launch at periscope depth and was stepping the torpedo down in 50ft. steps, when, having got down to 300ft., the torpedo's gyro failed. It took a hard turn to port and seconds later hit the underwater cliff face head on, at full speed (35 knots). There was an explosive noise in our headphones, we always tracked the torpedo on the S/M's Sonar, then deathly silence. After 9 months of many test firings, we now had lost two out of six of these precious missiles. However, AUWE came up trumps and made two more to bring our total back to six again

Trials & Titbits

On those days we managed to complete the firings early, both submarines would race back to Rothesay Bay, so that the Officers could get in a round of golf at Rothesay Island's excellent course. As well as the Municipal 18 Hole Course, there was also a 9 Hole Course on a private farm up in Rothesay's hills we used when remaining daylight was of short duration; worst hazard here were the flocks of sheep grazing the fairways! The fees to play were minimal, unless you killed a sheep, then it was £10!

In one small hotel we stayed, the sole TV set in the Lounge was hogged by the more permanent residents on the Channel for Soaps. One of our Scientists made an electronic zapper small enough to be carried in his coat pocket. It worked! The only Channel clear of terrible interference was the Channel we wanted to watch!

After one of our firings in Loch Fyne, the torpedo went erratic on the surface. It should have been easy to find in the narrow confines of the Loch with calm weather prevailing, but at dusk we still hadn't found it. Back at our digs that evening, we were despondently drafting out a signal to AUWE telling the boss the circumstances of this loss, when in walked a Policeman to see us. A Mrs Ferguson, an old and respected lady, had telephoned the Rothesay Police Station to report;

"A great silver beast of a torpedo had ploughed a nasty groove right up to the edge of her lawn and would the Police tell someone in Admiralty to take it away".

We burst out cheering, bought whiskies all round including the Policeman. And delicately pulled our "silver beast" back into the water next day.

Drinking in Scotland in those days was the scourge of the Working Class. The two Recovery Launches allocated to us were manned by Admiralty civilians who lived in Greenock but had to remain living aboard their craft and away from Greenock until our particular 5 or 6 weeks set of Trials were completed. Unfortunately, in those days, those men were paid weekly in cash, sent down the Clyde by their boss in an Admiralty Launch. On my very first Trial, the two Skippers came to see me and asked if I would take custody of 2/3rds of everyman's wages, not to be handed back, until the Trial was finished and all of us safely berthed in Greenock. I knew the harsh, tragic fact that they would have spent their entire 6 weeks wages on whisky if I didn't take custody and not a penny left for their families. They were good men. Salt of the earth seamen, very similar to our tougher Navy sailors, who, once you had their trust, would risk life and limb for you.

And they did, many times for me, when we often pulled off vital firings, in very dangerous sea conditions for them to retrieve the 2-ton torpedoes.

One Monday, we received a secret signal in Cachalot from Admiralty, saying there had been a potential 'leak' about our Top-Secret Project. A newspaper reporter in Manchester had presented his Editor of a local Manchester paper with his article on;

The Royal Navy's newly invented Torpedo Test in the Clyde, going well and the new Torpedo was far in advance of anything America or Russia had.

Of course, the Editor did the mandatory thing and phoned the Ministry of Defence to get clearance to publish. Special Branch Detectives descended on the Editor's Office shortly after the phone call to the MoD.

It turned out that a sailor from Cachalot on Weekend Leave at his home in Manchester, unwittingly told his mates in his local pub what his submarine was doing all this time up in the Clyde. One of those mates was the young reporter. No harm done after the reporter signed a document committing him to the Official Secrets Act. The sailor was punished with a hefty fine, for forgetting that the torpedoes he helped to heave around were classified Secret.

The Captain of HMS Otter, Shorty Turner, was one of the most colourful characters amongst a generation of Submarine Captains renowned for their skills and individualism. Our Scientists were not too sure about Shorty, they well knew his reputation as a flamboyant extrovert, until one day when 6 Scientists and myself rode Otter to study the sonar picture of our torpedoes as they approached Otter. We were discussing results of a run which 'hit', with him in the small Wardroom, when over the sub's intercom came the brusque report, "Flooding in the After Compartment".

Shorty flew out of the Wardroom, issuing his vital commands crisp and very audible as he 'flew' the short distance to the Control Room; "Blow all Main Ballast, Full Ahead both engines, 'Planes to Hard Arise, Crew to Emergency Stations". He had the submarine safely on the surface in a matter of seconds, that's all the time you have when a pipe fractures and the sea is flooding in with explosive force.

Recovering from the trauma of a very close brush with death, the Scientists' doubts about Shorty were wiped away! Joker he might be, but his real being was that of an experienced, deadly competent Submarine Commanding Officer.

The Captain of HMS Cachalot, like Shorty, was also an experienced Submarine CO; both of them having had several commands of older type submarines, before getting command of these relatively new and biggest class of subs ever in the RN

Lemmy Strang was much quieter that the bombastic Shorty, thank heavens, but again a powerfully confident character, with a huge sense of humour, typical of Senior Submarine CO's. His two other great interests were Dinghy sailing and golf. He had been in Britain's Olympic Team in the Class of Dinghies he raced and none of us could beat him at golf.

When Cachalot was being fitted out for these Torpedo Trials, Lemmy and his First Lieutenant, James Laybourne, (later to become Captain of the Royal Yacht, Britannia), had their own crew fit a big knife switch in the Control Room, just the switch connected to nothing. They included the 'switch' in the set Drill leading up to firing any torpedo; the Captain orders the following steps:

  1. Select No 6 Tube
  2. Flood No 6 Tube
  3. Open No. 6 Bow Cap
  4. * Make the knife switch * (spurious)
  5. Standby No 6 Tube
  6. Fire

They devised this ruse, partly in fun, but also to have the upper hand over the Scientists. And it worked. It was well over a year and a half of successive Firing Trials before the Scientists finally twigged that the hundreds of times, they had heard Cachalot's Captain order "Make the knife switch" in that deathly quiet, tense few moments before firing, was just a joke!

This gave Cachalot's entire Crew an edge over the Scientists, they all knew it was a joke and not one of them would ever let on!

Trials Ship 'Sarepta'

About the size of an average 'Coaster', Sarepta was captured from the German Navy, purpose built by the Germans as a Torpedo Trials Ship and confiscated by the RN at the end of the war. As well as her Torpedo Workshops, she also had one Torpedo Tube built into her bow, underwater. Occasionally, we needed simple runs not requiring Cachalot's Guidance System and I would do these firings, reminiscent of my days in HMS Asine when I controlled the torpedo firings in that destroyer. There was a cabin, reserved for the Trials Officer, as well appointed as the Master's Cabin, so if we were late returning to Rothesay, I would forego my lodgings and stay overnight in Sarepta. There was also a comfortable Dining Room, separate from the Crew's Diner, to feed the Scientists and AUWE.

Mechanics, cooked in the one antiquated ship's Galley by Hector, a toothless Glaswegian getting on in years and known as the best ship's cook in the Clyde. Hector got through his long days hardly eating any food himself, but continually taking 'sips' of whisky from dawn to dusk. However, he always came up with delicious, hot, substantial meals just when we needed them, particularly on cold winter days with raging gales. Great characters those Clyde seamen. Yet another unit of my Trials Fleet was MFV 782 (Motor Fishing Vehicle), very stout wooden built craft, on the design of deep-sea Fishing Boats, modified by Admiralty to work as general-purpose craft.

MFV 782 had a crew of six and was employed by me ferrying Scientists etc. to and fro shore to subs, Sarepta etc, also trips to and fro Greenock to collect Trials kits from AUWE and ferry Scientists leaving or joining the Trials and ferrying Admiralty VIP's who visited us to watch day's Trials. She assisted in searches for 'lost' torpedoes and often acted as target for torpedo shots by towing an electronic 'Box' making the same noises as a submarine propeller. Remembering the trip from Rothesay to Greenock was approximately 30 miles, MFV 782 always worked very long hours every day. And was our strongest boat for any work in very rough weather. On one occasion, when the Trials were based up at Tarbert in Loch Fyne and late at night, we had to get Cachalot's First Lieutenant from Tarbert out to the Sub underway in the Loch, before she departed upon an important mission across the Atlantic. It was blowing a very severe Gale Force 10 and even in the relative shelter of Loch Fyne, the seas were mountainous. The conditions were way beyond those suitable for a helicopter to do the transfer.

Good old Mr Rhiorc, MFV 782's Skipper and his crew volunteered to have a go. We all of us watched that terrible night as Mr Rhiorc made a dash at full speed to clear the rocks at the narrow gap out of Tarbert Harbour. Having got clear of this hazard, he clawed his way at slow speed out towards Cachalot underway in the centre of the Loch. All of us, me ashore, MFV and sub, were in continuous voice radio contact and now Lemmy Strang, in Cachalot, told us both he was going to turn on the spot at full power a few times to make a 'pan' of dead water, just before Mr Rhiorc was due to nudge his bow alongside Cachalot's bow, just long enough for the First Lieutenant to make his leap. In the instant he leapt safely over, so a bottle of duty-free whisky went the other way into sure hands of an MFV sailor! Cachalot dived and set off at speed to intercept and trail a Russian group in mid-Atlantic. MVF 782 steamed to the head of Loch Fyne and anchored. A job well done.

I completed a series of 13 six-week Trials over the period of the 2½ years I worked at AUWE It was a comfortable job family wise. It was the only posting where there was no requirement for Duty Officers outside normal working hours when at AUWE, when you were free to go home at the end of each working day. The absences from home for the 6-week Trials periods were really no different from being away from home in ships at sea.

Our Married Quarter in Wyke Regis was a good place for Hazel, Sue, and Bill to live, chiefly in that all our neighbours were Naval families of Officers working at AUWE, parents and children all much the same age, so, plenty of good company for the wives and children when the men were away from AUWE Pat Threadingham and myself used one of our cars for getting to work daily leaving the other car to be shared by our wives. The anniversary of my statutory 8 years in the rank of Lieutenant fell while I was at AUWE when I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. This time, in a settled shore job, I had no difficulty in getting all my uniforms ordered with the new 'stripes' ready for the appointed change-of-rank day.

Towards the end of my time at AUWE, I bought 2 tons of Portland stone off-cuts for the garden paths at our house in Ellachie Gardens. Portland stone had been in high demand for the great buildings of London and other major cities since Victorian days, because of its white polished surface. We knew the quarry and its men at Portland, who supplied London with the last remaining reserves in blocks 8ft. long, after they had cut off all the irregular sides, hence the off-cuts, at a give-away price. The off-cuts came in slabs varying from 1" to 2" thick, one side smooth flat from the quarry saw-cuts, the other side irregular and full of ammonite fossils. One of our slabs had a perfect ammonite fossil 15" in diameter. I wonder if the people who now own (1998) Ellachie Gardens, realise the wealth of fossils, including that perfect specimen of 15" diameter, that lie hidden on the underside of their garden paths? The 'gem' lies right in front of the front door porch.

Our neighbours in the Wyke Married Quarters were intrigued when the quarry lorry tipped the 2 tons of stone onto our garage driveway. I moved the slabs to Alverstoke, 6 cwt at a time, in our Morris Traveller, each time I had to attend a Meeting in HMS Dolphin and left them stacked in our garden in Ellachie. The Morris coped easily, equivalent to 6 adults in the car, plus my own weight, but I had to avoid sudden braking situations! The return trips from Dolphin to Weymouth, with an empty Traveller and Meeting accomplished, were joyful occasions for me, Mission accomplished! Weymouth is a seaside holiday resort, so Hazel, along with other young families, would enjoy jaunts to Weymouth's Beach, where Sue (5) and Bill (3) could idle the day away, paddling, sand-castling and picnicking. Both children, on separate occasions, gave Hazel a nasty turn. Sue, swimming in the shallows, started being pulled out by the under-tow and shouted for help. Hazel, fully dressed and in charge of Bill, was very grateful when a lady in a swimsuit hauled Sue back to the beach. Another occasion, probably a Summer Bank Holiday, when Weymouth Beach was more crowded than usual, Hazel suddenly realised Bill was nowhere to be seen. An agonising half hour of searching, to find Bill in the Lost Children pen at the other end of the beach!

Frederick William Simpson, DSMCapt Charles Nixon-Eckersall