In the Med. with HMS Carysfort - 1957

While the ship was in Malta, with time on our hands a few of us senior rates took up the offer of hiring bikes from MEDFOBA (Med. Fleet Outward Bound Association) for a weekend, cycling off to the island of Gozo.  Names of who they were? – I can only remember POME’s Rudge and Mayhew plus a ‘Geordy’ Mechanician. We slept rough under the stars.  This turned out OK. Mind you the bikes were none of your lightweight 21 gear jobs we have about today, we were each issued with a ‘Postie’s Red Devil – remember them? They weighed a ton!

  Therefore after this episode, some while later on anchoring off  St. Raphael, southern France for a few days ‘jolly’. We volunteered to take a few of the Junior Ratings cycling up into the hills of southern France. Having taken on board from the base in Malta about a dozen of their heavy red bikes plus rucksacks we were ready. Our route as far as I can remember was to make for the town of Grasse – famous for it’s perfume. (I think we all bought a tiny sample for the girl friends back home.)

We were each loaded up with a heavy rucksack with sleeping bag and the necessities of life for a few days living rough – again no tents. The first hour or two went well until the roads became steep. You would have thought it to be the young 16 and 17 year olds who would set the pace – not a chance – it was us ‘old’ two badgers who had to bring up the rear, chivvying the Juniors along. We feasted well on local baked baguettes, cheese and fruit along the way. Two days later on arriving in Grasse, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Pooling our resources we booked ourselves into a couple of rooms in a cheap Chambre d’ hote, and spread ourselves out to sleep. I’m sure us senior rates must have taken the beds while the ‘erberts dossed down on the deck – only right too! Moving on next day – when the going got tough again we were strung out down the hillside like a snake - with one of us bringing up the rear for fear of us loosing a backmarker. Imagine what it would have been arriving back on board, reporting to the Officer of the Day – “Sorry Sir, we are one short, he’s lost somewhere up in the hills between here and Grasse”  

At villages when we stopped for a break, the local lads would soon gather around, look at each other and nod their heads in dismay at our great heavy machines – the French know a thing or two about cycling, ‘Tour de France’ and all that – they just couldn’t imagine how we managed. One evening out in the forest having found a likely spot for the night, we lit a fire. We had previously just enjoyed a good meal with a few bottles of wine. With a good fire going and after spinning yarns for a while we all ‘turned in’, in a circle feet towards the fire – cowboy style. Having all just about ‘dropped off’ when the noise of a siren woke us suddenly. Dashing through the trees searchlights blazing came the local sapeurs-pompiers (fire brigade). Out hoses and our fire was very quickly no more, just a steaming heap. We were told in no uncertain terms – Pas des Feu  (No Fires). As by now it was raining hard we finished up the night sleeping in filthy old barn nearby. With ‘Jack’s usual sense of humour we soon laughed it off, wondering what all the fuss was about. Any way in the end we did all make it back to the ship.

David Miles (P.O.El. 1956 –58)