I joined the Royal Navy at HMS Ganges in 1965, at age 15, and after a year’s basic training went to HMS Dryad near Pompey to train as a radar operator. Following six weeks Sea Training on HMS Hermes (then a fixed-wing carrier), I joined my first ship, HMS Keppel; dockside waiting in Gibraltar for three months. The border was open then and the old La Linea was a rip-roaring intro to mob life.
Thence Fishery Protection in Derry Squadron up around Iceland and Scotland. I slept in a hammock in those days – if you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a lovely way to kip in rough weather.
HMS Keppel on Fishery Protection Duties c1967
HMS Berry Head came next. We took her out of refit and off to Singapore at 12 knots (proverbial slow boat to China). The Suez was closed then so all the way round the Cape; got a good taste of Africa and developed a soft spot for Mombasa in particular. I spent twelve months in Singapore, with regular trips to Hong Kong and Penang.
HMS Berryhead passing Berry Head en-route to Singapore (1969)
My next ship was HMS Leopard, Med exercises mostly, then Glamorgan - Med again, operating with US 6th Fleet. Great runs ashore. There was a memorable day off Malta when the helicopter was sent ashore to collect Frankie Howerd to perform for that evening's Sods Opera.
HMS Glamorgan Entering Grand Harbour, Malta c1973
I passed for killick on Glamorgan and went to Portland to train for Helicopter Controller. That was to be the main focus for the rest of my service life.
I joined Bacchante in Chatham and went off to the Cod War, then to New York for '76 Independence Celebrations escorting Royal Yacht.
Whole ship's company transferred to Scylla in Gibraltar the following year, and shortly afterwards I went teaching at the Helicopter Control School in Portland before joining HMS Birmingham. Med again, then the Caribbean and US East Coast.
HMS Birmingham Swings Into Action
Left her in ‘81 and was teaching again in Portland when the Falklands started up. I was virtually hijacked by the Captain of HMS Liverpool while teaching their HC and taken kicking and screaming down south.
But hostilities had finished by the time we got there and I was drafted ashore to help set up Naval Party 1242 in BFFI HQ Port Stanley. I was there five months. The experienced must have affected my brain because two months later I volunteered to go back for another five months, this time through the winter.
Sea Lion Island - Inspiration for my haunting novella Diddle Dee
My last ship was HMS Illustrious. As you will no doubt realise, I’ve left out a million and one stories and escapades from the above account, but of all of those, my time on this ship was the most eventful, and sometimes not in a good way. So I’ll just finish with a little dit about an event that made the national news headlines at the time.
We were just on our way on the Global 86 deployment as flagship when in the Solent one of our gearboxes exploded. The resulting fire was a bit scary and took six hours to get under control. Needless to say, we limped back into Pompey for three months of repairs. We eventually caught up with the Task Group in Singapore, then on down to Oz, Brisbane for a jolly, Sydney to celebrate their Navy’s 75th anniversary, and Perth/Freemantle for the Americas Cup.
HMS Illustrious in Sidney Harbour 1986 - My Last Ship
After three years on 'Lusty' I volunteered to go and look after the RNR in Birmingham, permanent RN staff, for a year. However, I was still there three years later when my time was up.
And that's my naval career in a nutshell.