to ex EM Keith (Humph) Humphries for the following dit:
suppose September 8th 1959 dawned just like the millions of days before
to the rest of the navy personnel but for 3 young EM2ís and 2 even
younger REM2ís this was a momentous day indeed. Just after morning
Colours we were detailed to muster outside the Crushers office at
Collingwood, each with a kit bag, that was to see the light of day for
the first time and a brand new tool box, the contents of which still had
on them the manufacturers preserving grease.
At 0915 prompt a tilly arrived to take 5 bewildered and anxious
souls (though nobody was admitting to such a failure) to a far off land
called Pompey Barracks and then the following day to commission what was
going to be for them the best ship in the fleet. After the joining
routine of the barracks had been completed, we strolled over to the
dockyard to view the finest ship since the Vanguard only to discover the
fighting 25 propped up in dry dock with all her bottom showing, a bit
ignominious for a lady.
The following morning we were marched from
the barracks, through the streets, to the dockyard and had our
commissioning ceremony with the Chaplain and Captain D.
Later that day there was a slight lurch and then lo and behold we
had water under our keel and were floating like a proper ship should.
After a few days of banging ones shins on
hatch combings and very gingerly descending ladders while facing them,
we were beginning to feel like experienced hands, especially when on a
run ashore in Pompey sporting a ships name on your cap tally rather than
a shore base.
After a couple of weeks alongside we at
last set sail for delights of far away Portland and something
mysteriously called sea training. The next 5 weeks were a succession of
0800 starts and midnight finishes, if you were lucky. Day shoots, night
shoots, action stations, damage control parties, chasing submarines,
what fun we had, it was quite a disappointment when it was all over. The
wonderful day dawned when it was all over and we returned to Portsmouth
and a weeks leave, before sailing for the Far East.
On the trip back to Pompey we new boys had one last ignominy to
endure, something called typhoid, smallpox and yellow fever jabs. With
forearms swollen and throbbing to the touch it was so pleasant to stand
up in the corridor all the way to Waterloo, daring anyone to come within
It never ceased to amaze me the sense of
humour of the average matelot. We had a Coder on board who was one of
the last national servicemen. Whenever we were alongside in the evening
the tannoy would announce, Coder -------, shore telephone call. (lucky
Friday Nov 20th dawned, grey and miserable,
the day we sailed for 18 months away from home. It was not a very happy
day, everyone on a short fuse and as miserable as sin, then some wag
cheered everyone up for bang on 0700 was heard, Coder ------, shore
telephone call, and that after being at sea for 9 hours. Iíve often
wondered if he went to the gangway to take it.
days later and with the temperature rising and the sea definitely
getting bluer we docked alongside in Gibraltar and sampled the exotic
delights of a first truly foreign port of call. A bit of a let down
really, they were more English than we were.
Then on to what can only be laughingly
described as the flesh pots of Malta. 2 days in Valetta, first day I was
duty and the 2nd day was a Sunday. Wow,
there was more happening in the local cemetery. This life of Yo
Ho Ho and a girl in every port was a bit slow to get off the ground.
A few days later, through the Suez Canal
and on to Aden for a taste of Arab culture, a more awful, red hot,
filthy, smelly, fly ridden dump it was difficult to imagine. Why did the
government later ask Mad Mitch and the Argyllís to fight so hard to
keep it? After 2 days there it was a pleasure to set off for the Indian
Ocean and the long crossing to Colombo in Ceylon.
I canít remember much about Ceylon other
than a coach trip was organised to Kandy, the ancient capitol. The
following morning, what was laughingly called a coach arrived at the
gangway. The driver of which, ever determined to please with his
constant beaming smile and his one word of English, which happened to be
Yes. To say the man was a maniac was probably giving him the greatest
compliment heíd ever received. He had about as much road sense as a
flat rabbit. Donít remember much about the return journey, a bit
difficult when you have your eyes closed and were reciting the 23rd
psalm the whole time. The
coach itself could make smoke better than any world war 2 destroyer. The
next day we sailed from Colombo and expected to reach Singapore just
before Christmas. How wrong can you be, Britain was building a new RAF
base on the island of Gan in the Maldives group and because a bit of
local industrial relations trouble the light blues called for a bit more
protection from the navy blues. The frigate Mounts Bay was on duty there
and we were sent as reinforcementís to stop any inter island
squabbles. We spent best part of a month there, over Christmas and New
Year, generally lying around on talcum powder beaches, with the warm
Indian ocean to swim in. Those who werenít there couldnít understand
the trauma we suffered in those 4 weeks, the constant battle against
sunburn, swimming and idleness was quite distressing.
When I was training at Collingwood, the
morning ritual by our instructor, a Chief Electrician, consisted of a
10-minute brain washing about how important the mighty green empire was.
Without the electrical department no warship could function he ranted
and you are the cream, never forget that. Needless to say after this
every morning for 26 weeks we believed every word he spouted. I and the
rest of the class arrived on our first ships as the Fuhrer reincarnated.
It didnít take long to have a little reality inserted between the
ears. The object of this trip back in time is to set the scene for the
following. While at anchor off the island of Gan, it was decided by the
powers that be, that each department could have a Banyan on one of the
deserted islands. The day for the electrical departments dawned bright
and clear (just like every other day really). So about 25 souls out of a
total complement of around 30, massed in the whaler, with the Electrical
Officer in command. Dressed in sunglasses, flowered shirts and trunks
for a long arduous day at the beach.
After a short while in the whaler it became noticeable that the
ship and the whaler were getting further and further apart, at
considerable speed, around 14 knots to be exact. This was clearly
impossible as pussers whalers werenít designed to do water-skiing.
Then the bow wave from Carysfort was spotted and that she was rapidly
disappearing over the horizon - shades of Captain Bligh and Fletcher
Christian. Cast adrift in an open boat, things werenít too bad really-
we did have half a crate of beer each. Apparently shortly after we cast
off for our day ashore a signal was received to up anchor and meet up
with RFA Tide Flow for a spot of refuelling somewhere in the Indian
Ocean. Returning about 12 hours later and with three quarters of the
department running around a deserted island like demented Tarzanís it
was quite a shock to realise that the mighty green empire werenít as
important as they thought they were. It took quite long time to live
that one down.
After surviving this hell hole for 4 weeks
the day sadly arrived when Cavalier appeared over the horizon to take
over the reins of guard ship, but unfortunately no amount of bribery
would make them go back to Singers. Still every cloud has a silver
lining, we managed to get a 5 day trip to Calcutta as a bit of R&D
after the rigours of the Maldives. Had a wonderful time in Calcutta
every where was larger than life, it was amazing to see buses with more
people on the outside than on the inside
Because of this little detour we had now
missed our slot in Singapore dockyard for a 3 month refit and Caprice
took our place instead. So naturally as normally happens in the navy, we
had to take over her duties in the interim. Back to Ceylon and
Trincomalee for a 3 week exercise with all the other navies in the area.
Finally and with more and more parts not working, we returned to the
base at Singapore and a long overdue refit. This necessitated the crew
being transferred off and housed in Terror Barracks for a while. Every
morning at 0700 we were bussed to the ship for a strenuous morning of
trying to keep out the dockyard mateyís way and the Chief Elecís
sight, before returning exhausted at noon to Terror for a well deserved
kip in the cool. Its a hard life this mans navy is.
Around the end of June with everything
working as it should be we moved back on board and duly put to sea to
give everything a thorough test. Returning a few days later,
preparations were put in hand for a 4 month trip down to Australia and
New Zealand. Leaving Singapore in the middle of August and cruising
passed some of the islands of Indonesia we spent almost a week to get to
our first port of call down under. Darwin turned out to be a quite a
culture shock, no television, no regular cinema, only a couple bars
selling chilled beer with strange sounding names in funny sized glasses,
called midis and schooners. One
of the lads in my mess liked it so much he decided stay a little longer
- like the rest of his life. Strange thing to do, considering everybody
knew one another by their Christian names, also it was a thousand miles
down to Alice Springs and then another thousand miles to anywhere else
of any size.
Next on the itinerary was the North
Queensland town of Cairns, on arrival the first person to see was my
rather subdued messmate handcuffed to a couple of burly Aussie cops. The
town itself had a feel of the Wild West about it, with most of the
buildings constructed of timber with verandas and boardwalks. The local
brew was becoming a bit more palatable with practice. Youíve got to
keep working at it havenít you? The locals, being mostly Brits or
recent descendants, were great with their hospitality, getting a liking
for this outdoor life and barbies.
On to Brisbane, big city, lots to see and
do, lots to drink and did. Only there for 2 days which seemed to pass in
something of an alcoholic stupor. The next port of call was Auckland New
Zealand, which was to be our base for the next 5 weeks. Putting to sea
on a Monday morning for A/S exercises with the submarine Anchorite and a
Kiwi frigate and returning on Fridays for a weekends jolly in Auckland.
A submerged rock put a stop to the exercises when Anchorite managed to
hit it and put her nose out of joint. Auckland Bay is a mighty big
stretch of water but the sub managed to find the only bit that wasnít
charted, shades of needles and haystacks.
Had a great time in Auckland, the people
were terrific, took a bit of getting used to having the pubs close at
1800 but it didnít take long to learn the routine - buy a 6 pack like
everyone else and soon the invitations to parties appeared like magic.
We managed to get a weekend in Tauranga during our stay in NZ. Lovely
place, lovely people, when the ship was open to visitors on the Sunday
it must have been the social occasion of the year, 6000 crammed together
on the upper deck, made sardines feel quite lonely.
All good things come to an end and the day
dawned when our stay in New Zealand was over and we sailed for Sydney in
company with a damaged sub. The sea was up a bit and Anchorite was
shipping a bit too much water for safety, so around we turned and
arrived back in Auckland for one last unexpected run ashore. Things
calmed down a bit, so we tried to get across the Tasman Sea again. After
4 days of nursing the sub we finally docked in Garden Island, the Aussie
naval base in Sydney, We were due to be here for about 4 weeks, some of
the time was spent in dry dock, astern of their carrier, Melbourne.
Some of the crew managed to get a weeks
leave, whilst there. myself included. Spent a pleasant week ashore
seeing all over the town in company with John Vernall, He drove me mad,
all the time he never stopped talking about his girl back home.
Our wonderful 4 months away from the heat
and humidity of Singapore was rapidly coming to an end, so we had to say
farewell to down under and the now familiar places like Kings Cross and
Circular Quay and head back up the east coast to Cairns and Darwin and
When we arrived back, the dockyard was full
to overflowing with ships of all sizes. It appeared that Lord Louis was
retiring and going to do his final farewell by reviewing the fleet from
his barge. All crews had to line up in best whites on the starboard side
and give 3 cheers as he sailed by. After a respectful period and when he
was out of sight we were stood down.
Louis, liking what he had just seen wanted to do it again, so he
had the barge turned round and came back again. Their was one hell of a
scramble to get back to the upper deck before he drew alongside. Iím
sure the old fart did it on purpose.
Christmas was rapidly approaching, so
Carysfort along with 5 others ships sailed for Hong Kong.
It was one hell of a shock to go from the heat of Singapore to
finding slush on the jetty as we tied up in H.K.
6 weeks we were there in total and I think every part of the area
was visited by at least someone from the ship - a fantastic time was had
by all. I had a suit made,
it cost me 150 Hong Kong dollars (£7-10s) and was ready in 2 days, best
suit I ever bought.
Returning back to Singapore in early
February, the days to the end of the commission were being counted down
eagerly, with just about a hundred to go. We soon found ourselves back
in the thick of things and a return to Trincomalee in Ceylon for Jet60 -
2 weeks of mayhem to spoil the running down period. On the way back the
ship anchored off Penang for a few days swimming and relaxing before the
hectic final 2 months. After a couple of weeks alongside in the dockyard
we sailed for what was to be our last visit, a 5 day trip to Bangkok.
Had a great time in Thailand but the end of the commission was on
everyoneís mind by this time. After arriving back at the dockyard a
constant stream of matelots heading for shops in Neesoon amd Sembewang,
buying up everything that could be carried home on the plane with us.
May 10th turned out to be the longest day
that ever was. We sat in
Terror barracks all day waiting for our flight, which was to take off at
1930 for the trip back to Blighty.
Eventually time passed and 100 of us clamoured in to lorries to
be transported to Singapore Airport for what was to be for the vast
majority, our first flight. Squeezed into a Vickers Viscount we took off
and headed into the night for the first refuelling stop at Bombay. Pitch
black when we arrived and as hot and humid as Singapore. Soon up in the
air again for another 7or 8 hours before landing in Istanbul for some
more juice. Off once more, soon crossing the Alps and before long the
final approach and landing at Stansted. When the wheels touched the
ground the collective sigh from 100 passengers was very noticeable.
Finally we were home and introduced to what was to become a very
familiar thing in the future, waiting for baggage.
Put onto coaches and dropped off at various
rail terminals in London. I had a while to wait for my train from
Euston, so I had a wander outside to a pub and had my first taste of
English beer in 18 months. Standing at the bar, I was deeply aware of
suddenly being on my own, where were all the familiar faces that were a
constant reminder of navy life, gone to the 4 corners of the country.
One moment you are laughing and joking on the plane and coach and the
next not a soul to talk to. Although
I was excited about being home and was impatient for my train, I
remember feeling a sudden loss.
if there is anyone out there who reads these ramblings of a geriatric
ex-matelot, why donít you come to the Spa Centre in Scarborough the
first weekend in September every year, youíll be sure of a warm