Day Called Yesterday
The passage of time, a journey we all undertake with varied stops
along the way. For some the journey is tragically short, for others
the burdens are too heavy. Adventure and heartache go hand in hand
and are all part of life's wonderful tapestry. In this section the
aim is to recreate some of the 'happenings' on my journey.... so
From the age of seventeen with what little education there was
behind me I set out to see what lay beyond my home town. I joined
the Royal Navy. It was an adventure just getting to Portsmouth.
I had my first ride in a train. That is not so surprising when you
consider that travel was not a thing that the working class were
familiar with. Just a few weeks before my enlistment I had my first
trip in a car. Yes, these were all 'firsts'
Another first was my introduction to H.M.S.
Vanguard..........................and H.M.S.King George V
(two old flames of mine)although I only served on the Vanguard.
Whilst I was onboard we had a visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
ll. The occasion was the 'Spithead Review' 15th June 1953.
Now that was a sight that will never be seen again. The Fleet
was disposed in nine main lines and two additional main lines
containing representitives of the Merchant Navy. Spithead,
the stretch of water between
Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight accommodated the Graqnd Fleet
and was reviewed by Her Majesty onboard the Royal Yacht. The Fleet
snaked up and down in 'line' over a distance in excess of nine miles,
some one hundred and eighty seven British ships with fourteen Colonial
There was also 300 aircraft representing all types
that were currently in service by the Fleet Air Arm. On completion
of the review Her Majesty came onboard H.M.S. Vanguard to, first
dine with her officers and later to 'Illuminate' the fleet. All
ships were dressed overall and on her command (a flick of a switch)
the fleet lit up like a giant floating Christmas tree.
The band of the Royal Marines were called upon to provide the music
and reels and other Scottish jigs were enjoyed by Her Majesty on
Needless to say the other ranks were rewarded for their effort
with a 'make and mend' and 'spice the mainbrace' so all in all we
had a spendid review.
It had always been an ambition of mine (as a sailor) to place my
head between wo big ones ( guns... I'm talking guns here) and my
first love (Vanguard) helped me to realise a young man's dream.
I remember very well Her Majesty's visit, why
you may ask. It was the first time I had been addressed by
Royalty. I remember Her Majesty turning to me and looking
up into my eyes (she is quite a small Sovereign) and with
a hint of a Mons Lisa smile playing about her lips she said
in a sort of stage whisper,
"You are standing on my dress."
Well! My toes just involuntarily curled up in my shoes, thus
removing the weight and relasing the trapped garment. Blush!
Well I did not know whether to blush or f**t in fact I probably
did both, however not being allowed to speak unless asked
a question I could hardly apologise! That was not to be my
last meeting with Her Majesty our paths were to cross again.
It was like a visit from the 'Boss' really.
Her Majesty the Queen being 'piped' onboard H.M.S. Vanguard
15th June, 1953.
As it is with all of Her Majesty's visits there
is inevitably a procession of minor Royals to follow and on the
occasion of the 15th June (Spithead Review) we had of course none
other than Lord Louis Mountbatten. (A prototype for Andrew eh?)
An inspection of the Royal Marine Guard of Honour by Lord Mountbatten
In all of these so called 'impromptu visits it is the ship's company
that draws the short straw. There are weeks of preparation, painting
and polishing. One wonders if these Royals ever get the smell of
fresh paint out of their collective noses. A wee anecdote comes
to mind involving the B.B.C.
|They had obtained permission to film varying aspects
of the ship for a programme called 'Ships of the Line' or some such.
Of course what they wanted was tradition and that meant the filming
of the rum issue. Now the Spirit Room is well below decks and once
there there is not room to swing a cat. (That is an old naval saying,
meaning, no room to swing the cat o' nine tails) So there was no room
for film crews. However the 'grog' issue (a mixture of one part rum
with two parts water) took place up forward on the upper deck. Now
weeks of cleaning had gone into the preparation of the measures and
grog tub (orders from above) the brass bands on the tub and the 'toast'
The Queen' in brass lettering was now shining
like polished gold. Then cometh the day, cometh the hour......the
pipe was made over the ship's tannoy.... 'Up Spirits' The
issue was duly made to the Chiefs and P.O's messes (neat rum)
the rum for the ship's company was duly placed in a firkin
and sealed. A Royal Marine stood guard over the rum until
such time as the pipe was made for all 'rum bosuns' to muster
f'ward with their fannies ( a mess kettle) to collect the
rum for their respective messes. The Officer of the Watch,
the Regulating Petty Officer (M.P.) the duty butcher (otherwise
known as Tanky) and Jack Dusty mustered as the issuing party.
|Here is that broad beamed
beauty herself in all her Majesty....H.M.S Vanguard... leaving
Portsmouth Harbour and on her way to Gibralta.
Then it happened..........
"Belay there! Belay! A high pitched voiced issed forth
from this... this... thing in a mauve chiffon scarf. (The
director B.B.C.) " Belay" he must have just read
a couple of chapters of Horatio Hornblower.... " We cannot
film, the camera lights are reflecting in that damned brass.
They need to be dulled down." An A.B. was dispatched
to the sick bay to get some clear gel. Meanwhile there were
mutinous murmurings coming from the assembled crew because
the issue had been delayed.
Finally the A.B. returned and the brass attachments were
duly dulled with the aforesaid gel. "That's better love,
carry on please." and with a wave of a matching mauve
handkerchief, we issued the rum. Here is a typical 'grog'
tub not from the Vanguard I hasten to add, from a museum,
hence the pretty white railings.
|H.M.S Swiftsure acting as the enemy target
ship was so badly damaged that she had to be escorted back to a safe
port. And yes there was some damage done to the old Lady, both port
and starboard whalers were wrecked. There was a few sea-sick sailors
and a few bruises to nurse, but that man is life in the Royal Navy.