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When I was a young man of just seventeen tender years, I served on HMS Phoebe with some of the best mates a man could ever have. (The filming of the TV programme Warship was our old ship and here is some footage.) Over 50 years later some of us are still here, still friends….
When I was a young man of just seventeen tender years, I served on HMS Phoebe with some of the best mates a man could ever have. (The filming of the TV programme Warship was our old ship and here is some footage.) Over 50 years later some of us are still here, still friends.
We were Communicators and the daily ‘newspaper’ was typed up and then reproduced on the office Gestetner. Often the Gestetner fluid had to be renewed more regularly than one might think, but there were those who considered it a decent drop mixed with orange juice. Anyway….
The newspaper was called The Moon, named after our ship’s name Phoebe, who was identified with the moon, as was Artemis and Diana, both also ships of the RN.
A few weeks ago we were visiting an old shipmate in New Zealand and an old copy of The Moon came out of the locker. (The other amazing coincidence was that another old shipmate had contacted my friend in NZ and had been searching for him for many years. We had a great converse and commented on the fact that two of us were together in the same place after all this time.) It was a pleasure and an honour to catch up with you Ken, (you know your own surname!)
Second diversion. Yes, The Moon.
To be able to read one’s own work from so long ago, and before I took up journalism was…ummm.. interesting. Of course, there was an official secrets act and some things could not be said, even within the ships company.
We were in Aden, (now part of Yemen.) Sad to see what the place has become, and how we were a part of the tragedy, though of course we could not have known at the time. It is what it is.
The most delightful thing about reading this old material was the old sense of humour. One that remains today, though perhaps the style of writing may have changed a little.
So, if you want to know what it was like doing a short gig with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in the middle of the capital city of Crater this is what it was. (I think. Perhaps. Maybe it wasn’t, but it seemed like it at the time!)
Not so long ago I heard a senior officer say, “In times of tension the greatest menace to both the enemy and the allies is a sailor ashore with a gun that he doesn’t know how to use.” Wise words indeed, but still a few sailors with guns managed to worm their way into various army companies ashore in Aden.
We were taken ashore by boat from our floating observation post (the ship) at four o’clock on a Thursday. We were to return on the following Monday. The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, at the time occupying the notorious district of Crater, were to be our hosts. They first won recognition as the Thin Red Line at Balaclava, but I won’t go into the details of that particular punch up because I will tend to get carried away with the past and not the present.
Well, here we were, rifles in hand, and not a little nervous, wondering what in heavens name possessed the Boss to let us run wild in terrorised Aden. There were rumours being passed around that we were hand-picked from the “cream” in the hope that the terrorists might do something to dispel our high spirits. The officer who met us on the jetty told us not to worry if we exceeded the speed limit on the Journey to the Argyll’s base, as the ‘baddies’ were quite happy to take potshots at anything that appeared to be Made In Britain.
The area we had to pass through to get to the base was almost as notorious as Crater. It is known as Ma’ala, and as we cruised along…. (cruised??) at 60mph in a Land Rover with little more than a wire covering around us, all eyes were fixed on the flats once occupied by service families, and now, from time time “occupied” by the terrorists.
In a very short time, which seemed like eternity, we arrived at the base. But not before my fingernails had suffered irreparable damage, (Where was Barbara Castle when she was needed?) Kit, my comrade in arms so to speak, remained unperturbed or so it seemed. Marvellous control that man.
Without pause to regain our ruffled composure, we were sorted out into three groups of two, herded into Land Rovers and lorries, and transported to our respective platoon’s observation posts. Kit and I were go to Thirteen Platoon, trust our luck! It was quite well placed for the superstitious watcher of the number thirteen right in the very heart of Crater City. The “Jocks” as they are called greeted us with cries of “Och! We’ve nae sooner got rid o’ the Arabs an’ we get invaded by Englishmen!” Kit of course resented the remark being a stout-hearted Irishman from Ballymena.
The first patrol was at ten thirty. This was just to clear the streets of anyone who could be mistaken for an arab terrorist. The officer in charge of the platoon pointed out that the purpose of the patrols was to draw terrorists out into the open. “You mean I just wait for someone to chuck summat at me?” I wailed. “Exactly.” He smiled.
I shrugged, gulped, trembled and cocked my SLR rifle. For some peculiar reason I didn’t fancy being a clay pigeon for some trigger happy “golly” who didn’t know me but still hated my guts!
Something metallic clattered at my feet. My nerves just would not stand much more and with a cry of “Grenade!” I hit the deck, hands over head.
One eternity passed. Then another. “OK” said a voice. I looked up and there was a large Argyll clutching my grenade. A Coca Cola can. “Oh well.” I shrugged, dusting myself off. “Everyone makes mistakes.” Nevertheless, we soon got into the swing of things and before long we were just another couple of soldiers.
While we were chasing unfriendly persons in Crater, our friends were chasing equally unfriendly persons elsewhere. Two of them were not issued with khaki drill, but had to make do with their number 8 working uniform, (blue trousers, and shirt,) and became rather conspicuous, especially with the blue berets someone had loaned them. Some enterprising Jock had stuck stars of David to them. (I might add at this point that all Jews had long since been evacuated from Aden for obvious reasons. When some (friendly?) Arabs excitedly pointed at the two guys, and enquired of the officer in charge who they were, they were promptly told that they were Isrealis, fighting in Aden. From what I gather it was the first time anyone has been seen with a look of shock, panic, horror, and fear on his face all at the same time.
During our stay we only had a couple of “incidents”, one being a roof-top chase in which a few home-made bombs were found. The culprits disappeared into a mosque and were not caught. A few searches of cafes and bars produced some Russian and Czech made grenades and a few small arms.
All too soon we had to leave, but at least when we got back on board we were able to get a bath and some decent food. The stuff the platoon’s “cook” served up was terrible, but after all what can one expect from a man who has had only a one week course in cookery. To give him his due he made excellent custard.
G.W (Then aged 17)
NB: RIP to “Kit” Carson who died in a car crash soon after leaving the RN, and to our other mates who have now crossed the bar.
NB: The BLUE links will tell our story.