Tony Atkins…All at sea.
This second half of Tony’s story is again composed of incidents that he recalled and wrote himself. I have abridged, and sometimes edited the contents. PC then and now are two different animals!
Continued from….. Tony Atkins…
In 1954 I am getting the call to seek adventure. Whilst enjoying my job at Boots the Chemist on the corner of Queens Road and High Street; where I served at the counter, dressed windows and wound the large clock on the Dome each day, it was time to move on.
My dear friend; both then and now: Malcolm Boughton, joined the navy before me and on speaking to him about his new life I was persuaded this was the way for me, so it was not long before I was on the Tube with my dad at the Junction on the way to Admiralty House in London.
It took two visits, lots of tests and a full medical before I was given the go ahead to start the procedures that would commit me to 12 years of my life in the Royal Navy as a Airman Airframe Mechanic. This was cutting the Apron strings, becoming a man! The time had come…it was now or never.
I was soon hugging and waving my Mum and Dad goodbye; in a tearful experience for all, as I boarded the train to arrive at Lee-on Solent to to enlist as a junior Naval Airman on route to training.
After being kitted out with a full set of gear from the stores I was sent to Hut P with the other new entrants, (Sprogs), all awaiting a draft to a New ship and a new career.
In October 1955 I was transported from Hut P. to HMS Bulwark in Portsmouth Harbour to complete the signing of my Certificate of Service for 12 years continuous service and to Swear allegiance to the Queen and Country.
Training to become an Naval Airman Ist class involved the usual drilling; discipline in all things, Gunnery Officers scaring the living daylights out of us, learning to use the 303 Rifle at Bisley rifle range; along with the Lanchester Bren gun, constantly painting rocks white, cleaning out the Heads (Toilets) and the mess when on duty rounds, doing our own dobying (Washing Clothes) with pussers hard (a large lump of soap that could well have lasted 12 years) and ironing. And if you did not conform in being personally clean; that’s body and underwear, the said rating would be placed in a bath and scrubbed raw with pussers hard using a stiff bristle broom, a lesson learned. There would be no more smellies in the mess. (Hygiene was always the order of the day).
Punishment; called Number 10s, was the usual term for Captains or Commanders defaulters, they did differ on board and on a shore establishment to meet the environment, but the Master at Arms (Chief Lawman) were always formidable foes.
In my case; just the once, I found myself under Punishment at HMS HERON shore establishment at Yeovil for parking my Scooter in the wrong place; (I used this for shore leave back and forth to Watford). My punishment was to run round for an hour at the double with a rifle held above my head: pick up all ciggie buts at the site: to be called at midnight to keep the coke fire going in the Glass House, and make Kie (Cocoa) for the duty shore patrol and Boson. I would say that in all, my punishment lasted for 24 hours, and I never made that mistake again.
Ever the one to learn I decided to go on a course on board HMS BULWARK to add Engines to my skills, and began learning about Ghost engines (Jets), Radial engines and Inline engines, I passed on board and was promoted to the rank of Airframes and Engine Mechanician. First Class.
From a junior naval airman 2nd class in October 1955 I steadily advanced to passing the Airmanship Exam to become a Leading Air Mechanic (A/E) on 25th Sept 1957.
Most Of my service was on board HMS BULWARK in the Air Engineers Department. She was a Aircraft Carrier and we called her “The Rusty B”. Her Ship’s Number was RO8. She was at 26,000 tonne, a Centaur Class light fleet carrier launched in 1948 and commissioned in 1955 at Belfast. Her motto was “Under thy wings I will trust”.
I also served at various Shore Establishments between Bulwark Drafts including.
HMS. Daedalus—-Lee-on Solent.
HMS. Gamecock–Nuneaton. (Training).
HMS. Sanderling–Paisley, Scotland.
On the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1962 for 5 years–Following my full time service.
My four Drafts on HMS. Bulwark took me to many places.
In 1955 we visited Oslo with three Naval Air Squadrons embarked.
In 1956 we joined the Mediterranean Fleet and we took part in the Suez Canal landings operations with our aircraft flying nearly 600 sorties attacking Egyptian airfield targets to support the Port Said landings.
During 1957/8 the Home Fleet made a World Cruise, we had four Naval Air Squadrons embarked. We trained in the Caribbean, took part in a five nation S.E.A.T.O exercise named Oceanlink, North of Singapore, and Operation Jet, an anti-submarine operation in the Indian Ocean. Emergency operations followed, ferrying Infantry and Vehicles from Kenya to Aden and ferrying troops from Aden to Aquaba at the North East end of the Red Sea. We were also involved in Lebanon and Jordan.
Late in the year Bulwark was to spend over a year in Portsmouth with a conversion to Commando Carrier.
In 1961 Operation Vantage saw Bulwark land 42 Commando during the Kuwait crisis when Iraq threatened Kuwait with invasion.
In 1962 in Exercise Common Assault 3 we trained The Hong Kong garrison in landing techniques.
1964 saw us in Borneo waters against the Indonesians.
The World cruise of 1958 was an eye opener for me. A young lad from Watford who thought he knew it all. Many of us were new hands and quite carefree and inexperienced. We all had our jobs to do and did them well and with good grace. I worked with the other lads from 29 Air Engineering Department mess at keeping our aircraft compliment serviceable and I operated the large crane on the flight deck; nicknamed Jumbo. When an aircraft did not land softly; although even in a good arrested landing, softness formed very little of the experience. Sometimes I had to lift and dump over the side a plane, (or several) that was blocking the landing area. With nowhere else to land it was imperative the facility was kept clear.
In January 1958 On route to Trinidad we called at Admiralty Bay, Bequia Island, were we took the opportunity to repair the ravages of the Atlantic crossing. it was an uninhabited Island, (then) without landing facilities so we were taken by Whaler and dropped off in about three feet of water to wade ashore.
After taking the usual anti-shark precautions, hands were piped to bathe in glorious clear blue water where the temperature was 80 degrees F.
We were allowed ashore for what was called Banyan Parties. We as ratings could dress informally in what was called Pirate gear, and run amuck amongst the coconut trees and blue sea lagoon.
A Banyan Party was very much like a Picnic come BBQ, tins of beer and vitals to fry or roast on island beach fires, duty free ciggies, and lots of general good natured banter. Afterwards I went exploring with my mate Gorilla! (Because of his stature). Despite his size it did not stop him from fleeing at great speed when the beach we were on suddenly start to shift about. I stood, frightened to death, as the beach heaved and then rose about 4 inches to reveal what looked like rocks which changed from dark brown to a vivid red. Then there were snapping pinchers and red bellies coming towards me. We had wandered into a massive King Crab Colony and they were coming for me! I got away quickly following this frightening experience. Not the last such in this part of the world!
With Port of Spain, Trinidad our first real opportunity to go ashore and meet the locals, this was what happened later in January 1958. (Somewhat abridged for polite company!)
Those under punishment and stoppage of leave,”to muster”, voiced the officer of the day over the Tanoy. Followed by ” Liberty men to starboard side”. (That was us, who’re going ashore).
Having showered, shaved and phoo phoo’d, (Phoo Phoo, the Navy term for Johnsons Talcum Powder; which was not looked upon as being a feminine cosmetic in the Navy during the fifties). I donned my number 2 uniform; bell bottoms and white front, clean lanyard and silk, and making sure I was displaying seven creases on each trouser leg, shoes a shining, I was ready.
This was our first look at life from the other side; I had no idea what to expect.
Blimey! as soon as we hit the town we were surrounded by the local talent, and encouraged to set foot into “The Stork Club,” WOW! The atmosphere was electric, other than Suez in 1956 this was my first experience of the grown up world in a foreign land.
Over in the corner of the room was a small combo band, playing West Indian tunes, and groups of ladies sidling up to HMS BULWARKS ships company.
Being big heads we answered to “do you want a drink?” With “Sure! Rum!!”, “we were weaned on rum” we shouted.
It was not long before most of us were so grogged up we were anybodies, and sure enough off we were led to a large Bamboo building close to the market place by a bevy of young Trinidadian women.
Each paired off with whoever, and into the individual rooms we went. (excitement rising, and a little trembling).
Reality! As soon as I was sat down on the bed this delight of delights began telling me that she wanted a white baby, and that if she had a white baby she would qualify to live in the UK.
She said that the streets in London were paved with gold and that she would do anything to get there. (I know this may be not currently be considered very PC, but neither is lying, it’s what she said)
Warning bells rang; and you guessed it, I wanted to get out of there. “What is the matter” she said, “shall I get my friend as well, am I not enough!” “Yipes for Gods sake no!” I shouted. But too late! in came this Amazon of a woman who was listening to everything that was said through the bamboo wall next door. “For heaven’s sake help me someone please!” I shouted, surely I was not going to be forced into fathering more children with the second young women as well. (What would my mum say?) Ithought this is it Tony, you’re going to be killed and dropped into the Harbour. When Yippee!! Saved, as all my other mess mates who had come ashore with me burst into my room shouting, “come on Tony, let’s get out of here quickly.” (they had all had the same treatment and were just as scared as I was), well I ask you?
Naïve as we were we all learned something that night, our previous bragging of conquests home and abroad forgotten. We were praised by the Captain for “not catching anything”; only a few did. We had all watched the film on the way out! It was us that were very nearly caught.
On our return from across the Atlantic we had a spell in No1 Dock in Gibraltar, for ten days we alternated between “self maintenance” and trips ashore to view The Rock of Gibraltar. We were shown the fortress built inside the rock with its cannons and WWII artillery to control both the approaches and the Straights over to North Africa and the entry into the Med. We were told there was enough food stores and equipment and ammunition to keep the fortress operational for years under siege.
Our officers were allowed to cross the border to Spain but us ratings could only have our pictures taken below the signpost. We made good use of the “Winter Gardens Pub” where too many “Tots” led to my being picked up by the shore patrol. I managed to talk my way out of punishment! Our visit to the summit of the rock introduced us to the Barbary Apes, who would steal everything not held onto.
On Easter Monday we sailed for the Far East via the Suez Canal and Aden, before sailing on to Singapore.
During 1957/8 The British nuclear test took place in the South Pacific. Named operation Grapple. Nine detonations in all were carried out above and around Christmas Island. They were all above ground to minimise fallout and were either hoisted to altitude by a tethered balloon or dropped from a Vulcan Bomber. HMCS Warrior was the Headquarters ship for the operation and apparently we on Bulwark were only invited to witness as we were passing on our way from Aden to Singapore. The first Hydrogen detonation in November of 1957 was only moderately successful, but we were to witness the largest H-bomb ever detonated by the UK scientists on April 28th 1958. Kiritimati (Christmas Island) was the site of the air burst and the yield was 3.0 megatons.
We all felt excited on Board Bulwark when the Captain Tanoyed us to tell us “we could all see history in the making”. It was like having a Make and Mend Day with no duties.
We were not issued with protective gear of any kind, and were not told about Radio Active fallout. In retrospect I believe that the officers were unaware of the possible dangers. We were in our working clothes with bits of smoked glass or sun glasses to shield us from the promised flash. We were stood on the Flight deck facing Starboard as instructed. “Do not stare at the flash without using your smoked glass or sun glasses” or it will blind you. Turn to face Port only when instructed”. We felt a whooshing noise in our ears, then a brisk breeze and a massively bright flash that seemed to go right through us. We turned and saw a massive white cloud like a tornado with a large head forming like a mushroom. There was a bright light in the cloud and a warm wind blowing past us.
We felt no threat at the time, why should we? We were soon back to normal duties, it is only in the intervening years that we heard of the misery caused to many of the men involved in these tests and disabilities to some of the children they fathered. Were we used as Lab Rats? Many think we were.
The Bulwark and its crew and airplanes were involved in supporting the ground troops from the UK and many commonwealth countries when the newly independent (1957) Malaysia was under attack from the guerrillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army; the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. The war was termed Dacurat Jawi and it was in recognition for the efforts of all the forces concerned we belatedly received our medal known as Pinjat Jasa Malasia (PJM). It was not until late in 2011 that all restrictions were removed to receiving and wearing the PJM.
In September of 1958 the Bulwark was involved with providing assistance in a two tanker collision in the Persian Gulf off Oman. Distress traffic was intercepted concerning survivors with the tanker Anglian Diligence informing us that the tankers Melika, registered in Liberia, and French vessel Fernando Gilabert had collided and both were ablaze and abandoned. Several vessels were in attendance to recover the survivors and a Doctor was being flown from HMS Ceres. Bulwark took the Melika in tow; after catching it. (The vessel had been left in gear and was under way, such was the haste to abandon by its crew)
It was taken to Muscat and Bulwarks 845 Naval Air Squadron won the Boyd trophy for their part in the salvage. At this time the operation was awarded the largest amount salvage monies ever to the ships involved.
After leaving full time service I had jobs in the dispatch department of a distribution company in Rickmansworth Road and then as a Prudential Insurance Agent calling on customers for their Endowment payments and Insurance premiums with pockets full of half crowns and pennies. It was during 1962, whilst still on reserve service that I became engaged to Barbara; another ex Kingswood person from Fern Way. We were married at St Peters Church in Bushey Mill Lane on the 19th of December 1964 (fifty years ago).
That is the end of my story. Many other escapades and adventures filled my mainly enjoyable 12 years of service in the Royal Navy. I still discuss via Skype with my old mate Malcolm Boughton some of those activities in Cassiobury Park and the High Street, after all, “all the nice girls love a sailor”. He lives in Australia now and I dedicate this effort to him, and thank him for his friendship of a lifetime. After all; it was all his fault in the first place!