Joined HMS KIRKLISTON [M1157] (minehunter) in Hong Kong. She was a 'Ton' class minesweeper built by Harland and Wolff at Belfast. Launched 18th February 1954 and completed 21st August 1954. August 1956 renamed KILMOREY as tender to Ulster division RNR. July 1960 reverted to KIRKLISTON. During 1962 to 1964 she was the first minesweeper that was converted to a minehunter. October 1964 leader of 1st Minehunting Squadron. April 1969 sailed to Hong Kong as part of the 6th MCMS (Mine Counter Measures Squadron). Kirkliston had been awarded a Sword of Peace (1971) for outstanding services by the ship's company in Hong Kong. August 1972 joined 1st MCMS. 1973 refitted in Gibraltar. September 1982 to 2nd MCMS.
I Flew from Brize Norton in an RAF VC10 and refuelled at Bahrain, Gan and Singapore before landing at Kai Tak airport in Kowloon, which took about 19 hours. When we touched down at Bahrain it was midnight and the temperature outside the plane was 98 degrees farenheit, we stopped for an hour for the VC10 to fuel while we topped up with a glass or two of rum.
On arrival at Kowloon I was met at the airport by a Chinese chauffeur in an official looking big black limousine, who took me across the water to Victoria on Hong Kong island. We arrived at HMS TAMAR shore establishment and I stayed there the night to eat and sleep before being woken up the next morning by Ling with a flask of tea in bed! Ling was a Chinese orderly that had a withered arm; his family also worked in the mess. Once again I was being taken across the water to the mainland. It was at Sha Tak in the New Territories where I left him and awaited HMS KIRKLISTON's Gemini craft to meet me and take me aboard.
A brief change-over from the previous radio operator (bunting tosser) then ensued before he left for the UK. The first evening aboard we anchored and most of us, including me, jumped off the foc'sle into the warm waters for a swim. It was lovely.
For the first time in my naval career I had a bunk to sleep in rather than a hammock. Not so comfortable but it was much easier to make your bunk up than to 'lash and stow' a hammock.
This was to be the best time in my naval career onboard HMS KIRKLISTON. The ship had a crew of about forty members that included four officers and a ship's dog called Panyo, who was in able seaman Graham Truscott's care. Apparently Panyo was found on the jetty at Shatin whilst KIRKLISTON was anchored offshore. A small ship meant that we worked hard, played hard and slept hard!
We 'showed the flag' around the islands for a couple of weeks by helping out the islanders. On one island in the New Territories, which was shaped like a figure of eight, they had cattle at one end and the people lived at the other end. Well that was the situation until recently when the cattle escaped to the other side of the island. We were invited to 'round them up', so we typically went ashore previously and bought cowboy hats and toy guns to act out the part! Needless to say we had great fun in putting the cattle back in their half of the island again. The engineroom Chief, (MEA) Malcolm Margetts, has reminded me that the frigate HMS CHICHESTER was in overall control at the time and that when he ventured onto the bridge whilst KIRKLISTON was at anchor, the call going round the MCMV's from CHICHESTER's Gunnery Officer was "confirm no arms or ammunition ashore".
Another island we built a concrete path over the top of the hills by blasting with explosives to cut through the rocks and trees. Before, the islanders children had to walk round the beach to school but in the winter it was often too dangerous. On another island we installed a generator so that they could have electricity for the first time. We felt as though we were doing a good job and having fun as well. One of the rewards was a free trip to the San Miguel brewery, where after the tour we had as much beer as we could drink and a coach trip back to the ship. I can still taste that wonderful brew now!
Mac was a good oppo and we often went ashore together, even when our wives came on station. When we were broke we used to hang out in the China Fleet Club and play the 'Yanks' at darts. After a couple of wets I found that I was pretty good at getting doubles whereas Mac was good at getting the high scores. Needless to say we won more games than lost, which enabled us to have enough free drinks to enjoy ourselves.
When HMS KIRKLISTON first came to Hong Kong in the autumn of 1969 she, along with the others in the squadron, sported the 'black foot' on the funnel. One day Mac and I were going ashore when we noticed the new ship's badge, a red dragon freshly painted and drying in the workshops. It wasn't long after a couple of 'San Miguels' that we thought it a great idea to have the dragon tattooed on our backs!
That night Pinky had tattooed the outline of the dragon on both our backs, after we had given him a description of what the dragon looked like. A week later one of Pinky's minions had filled the outlines of the dragons with colour. We both proclaimed at having the squadron's new logo before the ships did!
Another run ashore with Mac and after a few 'bevies' we ended up with an earring each. Next morning when I found it there I couldn't believe it. I can tell you that I took it out very smartly!
During Christmas Day we had the usual activities of "Captain's Rounds", the most junior rating dressed up as the Captain and inspecting the messdecks before Christmas dinner. Whilst enjoying a 'few beers' I showed the film "The Sand Pebbles" three times; the film was nearly 3 hours long!
This draft was supposed to be married accompanied. In fact our wives couldn't join us until after the first six months, as our married quarters hadn't been completed yet. Getting nearer completion date my oppo Grumpy and I went to view the flats. My flat was numbered A23 and right up at the top of the skyscraper called Bonham Towers, only the Wren's penthouse was higher. On the day of the visit the lifts weren't working yet. You've probably guessed it, we walked all the way up those stairs, even though the flats at the bottom would look exactly the same as ours! There wasn't a 13th floor, due to the Chinese superstition, but there was a Lower, Middle and Upper floors before the numbering started, making my flat 25 floors up. We both had painful legs for the next few days.
Bonham Towers was in Bonham road directly opposite the University of Hong Kong on Victoria island. There were several small 'corner shops' nearby but nothing bigger. Grumpy and I found the nearest shop that stocked 'San Miguel'. It was literally the size of one room with an open front and a shutter for security. We sat on the kerb drinking. There were no Heads nearby, just a wash basin and a hole where the waste water used to flow into it. The waste water would then flow over the pavement and on to the road. The good lady put a curtain up and a small hose pipe from the tap into the hole - so that we could use it! This way we could stay drinking the cheaper beer all afternoon.
One evening in the China Fleet Club, Grumpy and I were enjoying our first 'San Miguel' of the evening. This was after a hectic days exercise and having had our tot just before we went ashore. This character came in and sat with us and imposed himself by interrupting our flow of conversation and beer with statements that he was an undercover 'intelligence officer'. Obviously he'd just watched the latest James Bond film. It was also obvious that he wasn't a matelot either. He was like a thorn in the flesh.
I'm not sure what exactly happened next but all three of us ended up at the front desk in the police station opposite. After being interviewed, both Grumpy and I were invited to join the 'police chief' (I might add, who was in his civvies) in an open topped sports car for a free evenings entertainment! Don't know what happened to the imposter, only that he was still being interviewed by the time we left!
That night all our drinks and 'big eats' were absolutely free - neither one of us paid a dollar and that included the 'police chief'. Every bar and restaurant we went into, the proprietors invited us to partake freely of their drinks and food. What a night that was. We arrived back on board for 07:30 the next morning having had no sleep and busy relating our story to everyone of our experience that night.
When our wives finally came to join us in May, we lived ashore and we were known as RA's - short for 'Ration Allowance' as opposed to G's - short for grog, this meant that I didn't have the tot of rum whilst I was living ashore. I missed the rum, but to be honest I preferred living ashore. However this didn't last for long. We were soon saying goodbye to our wives.
One of my daughters, Lynsara, was very ill and was in the British Military Hospital over in Kowloon. I did request that I swap with another rating from HMS TAMAR whilst the ship was away exercising around the Far East. However the captain advised me that this wasn't possible due to the many months it had taken us to work together during exercises. He said that there are two people that aren't dispensable on a small ship and that one was the captain and the other his radio operator. In other words he was turning my request down.
HMS KIRKLISTON sailed for Bangkok in Thailand. Once again I had my ration of rum each day, some compensation at least. Due to not having used up all the allocated victualing money for the end of the quarter, the supply branch went and splashed out on oysters so that we could have 'carpetbagger steaks'. After a few days out from Hong Kong we had the awaited dish on the menu. This was a disaster as all but one of the crew ate the oysters, which were contaminated, and we were all violently sick with gastro-enteritis. The ship then had to anchor somewhere off the coast in the Bay of Thailand as no-one was able to carry out their duties. I found the biggest white ensign I could find (size 12) to be hoisted as a battle ensign up the mast so that we could be identified as British. Remember, the Vietnam war was going full blast and we didn't want to be involved along with the Americans and Australians.
Anyway the next day we carried on with our journey to Bangkok where we recuperated. Although I recovered from the gastro-enteritis I never actually felt as well again as I did before this episode.
One evening in Bangkok, the officers had a cocktail party onboard for the British Embassy Staff and other dignitaries and I volunteered to serve the drinks with a couple of my mates. The reward for doing so was to have some free drinks at the end of it and afterwards we all went ashore.
There was about a half mile walk in the dark along a dirt track with trees and bushes either side before coming to the main road, which was lit up. Whilst we ambled along the track we heard shouting and some dark figures running towards us. We ran like the clappers towards the light. I felt my white front, which I was wearing, rip down the back. At the time I thought one of them had grabbed it and pulled. They were obviously after our money. We escaped from them and as soon as we were in the light they had disappeared quickly and obviously didn't want to risk being identified.
This was when 'Grumpy' saw that my white front wasn't just ripped but was covered in blood. Apparently the assailant must of had a knife and plunged it downwards just catching my white front from behind and slightly nicking my back. Blood was all over my ripped white front and trousers, though it had stopped bleeding quite quickly. The choice was either to go back to the ship, and probably risk an encounter with the assailants again, or go ashore as planned. Needless to say we went ashore and enjoyed ourselves with a few drinks through the rest of the night, avoiding the police and Naval Patrol. After all, it would be very unlikely that they'd believe our story. My Guardian Angel had certainly been with me that evening.
We later exercised off Sattahip in Thailand with the Americans by recovering mines in preparation for them doing the real thing in the war. The mother ship was the USS CATSKILL and whilst we off-loaded mines we were allowed to go aboard and drink fresh milk and eat steaks, which were flown out from the States each day! We finished the exercise three days early. The powers that be, instead of congratulating us and allowing us more time ashore, told us to recover some real mines somewhere off Malysia, which were laid during the Second World War!
Unfortunately there were a couple of mishaps. One of the crew (Lew Hoad?) had his thumb sheered, back aft on the sweepdeck, whilst a mine was being hoisted onto the USS CATSKILL. There was quite a large swell and we were bobbing up and down like a cork in water, as opposed to the USS CATSKILL, which was more stable due to her size and weight. After the mine had started to be lifted, Kirkliston dipped down in a trough and then immediately rose on a crest of a wave that was higher than the mine dangling on the davit. The consequence being that the stern of our ship hit the mine with the crew members thumb sandwiched in between. He was flown to the Philippines, courtesy of 'Uncle Sam', where I understand the hospital were able to save his thumb.
Later we were having another go. John Lang, the Jimmy, was standing on the after end of the sweep deck when they heard an alarming sound from the hawser, just as we were going down and the Catskill was going up. John just had time to shout "Clear the sweepdeck". The next he knew was being dragged out from under the mine, which had crashed onto the deck when the hawser snapped. The mine hit John in the back throwing him onto the deck and thankfully landed across the wire holding the second mine. He must have been unconscious for a few seconds as he certainly did not remember the actual incident itself. If that other mine had not been hanging over the stern he would not be with us today.
On another occasion we used the USS CATSKILL to make us some dressing lines as it was going to be a 'dress ship overall' occasion within a few days. Mac and I had permission to lay the wire out and sew the flags on the CATSKILL's deck as it had much more space than we had on the minehunter. As you can imagine, this was a boring job and so we smuggled a few cans of beer under the flags to keep us sustained. This was the only alcohol that we knew of on their ship, as the US Navy were 'dry ships'.
After this we went to Singapore, Port Sweatenham (demonstrated the ships sonar for prospective sales) and then on to Penang in Malasia. We enjoyed the break very much. Sadly my opposite number wasn't competent at his job, which meant that I and the two radio operators on the HMS SHERATON had to relay all the messages throughout from when we left Hong Kong. This meant I was working most hours of the day and being called out at night for weeks on end during the exercises. Singapore gave me a much needed break. The radio operator was immediately drafted off the ship to re-take his course as the captain didn't consider him able to do his job. Funny thing was he passed with flying colours and 6 months later got rated up to killick whilst serving onboard an aircraft carrier. Seems he was only capable amongst others, but on his own he couldn't cope. Jim was his replacement and we got on very well together as a team
As if I didn't have enough health problems, I then developed gingivitis and could only drink liquids because all my teeth were loose and the gums went grey. There was no dentist onboard. When I arrived in Hong Kong and immediately saw the dentist he told me that he had only seen photo's of this condition being so bad. Anyway I recovered from the gingivitis but not from the fatigue I was feeling. This was the start of the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that I was to have with me from then on.
We then sailed back to Hong Kong for a refit. The ship was hauled up a slip and we spent about three months getting her ship-shape again. This meant me getting the flags washed, mended or renewed. The whole flagdeck had to have all the paint chipped off and re-coated. I designed a new locker for the emergency 'Not Under Control' lights that were made up at HMS TAMAR workshops. I was pleased with the end result. Lots of shore time to be with the family again.
Today was a sad day as the rum issue ceased to be any longer due to their lordships at the Admiralty believing that in today's modern Navy there was no need for it, due to the better food and accommodation as well as using highly technical equipment. However the officers and senior rates could have a choice of spirits and didn't have to have it watered down either. We were now allowed to purchase three cans of beer a day - officially in compensation. We usually found means to increase our entitlement one way or another!
I loved Hong Kong and serving onboard the minehunter HMS KIRKLISTON. We worked hard, played hard and slept hard. Sometimes to extremes, which isn't too healthy especially as I never recovered to my former state of health before we left Hong Kong for Bangkok. Responsibility was immense at times due to no-one else that could take over your job at that time. This made it stressful, though usually enjoyable too. I would of liked the opportunity to of stayed with HMS KIRKLISTON and sail her back to the UK, however this wasn't to be so as fate had other ideas in store for me.
Flew back to England. Lynsara had apparently caught salmonella on her journey out to Hong Kong in May 1970 when she was just a couple of months old. Whilst at Changi airport in Singapore she was given a bottle of milk, which it was later said probably was contaminated by salmonella. At the time no one knew this. It wasn't long before Lynsara was taken in to the British Medical hospital over in Kowloon. Her only diagnosis was that she wouldn't thrive and therefore didn't put on much weight. Come the following January 1971 the hospital authorities were worried about her and decided that she would be 'medevaced' (medically evacuated) back to the UK.
Next thing we know we are all packed and flying out of Hong Kong for the last time. We had a three day stop-over in Singapore and were put up in the Lion City hotel, which was very exclusive. Flew on to Cyprus for re-fuelling where we felt the very cold temperatures in comparison to Hong Kong. About four hours later we touched down at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The Navy were going to send Lynsara to the Royal Naval hospital Haslar near Portsmouth but I wanted her to go to an NHS hospital in the hope that she would be made better again.
They granted me my wish and Lynsara was taken into Scott's Isolation hospital at Plymouth where she was diagnosed correctly with salmonella. After a few days seeing her motionless and with tubes seemingly to be attached all over her poor weak body, she started to get stronger and eventually recuperated.
Joined HMS DRAKE at Devonport after having taken all my leave that was due to me. They gave me a married quarter outside of Plymouth.
Joined HMS HERMES [R09] (aircraft carrier being converted to a troop carrier) that was having a major refit at Devonport dockyard. The duties during the daytime were in the signal offices ashore sorting out the signals and doing other communication duties. Once every four days I was required to sleep onboard as part of the duty watch in case of fire etc. I used to take my sleeping bag rather than take my sheets and collect blankets each time. Moved from the married quarter outside of Plymouth to St Budeaux.
Joined HMS SCARBOROUGH [F63] (frigate). The SCARBOROUGH, TENBY and EASTBOURNE were the Dartmouth Training Squadron, which trained the cadets as part of their officer training before they became midshipmen. I really wanted to go back to the minesweepers/minehunters to finish my time in the Royal Navy. The 'powers that be' had other ideas.
HMS SCARBOROUGH sailed from Devonport after everyone having finished their Christmas leave. First stop was Gibraltar then on to Catania in Sicily. Not much had changed since the first time I was here in 1965. The streets full of noisy cars beeping their horns with their drivers acting out the latest Grand Prix. I didn't climb mount Etna this time round. We then met up with HMS ANTRIM and exercised with her. On to Augusta and then Civitta Vechia in Italy. Here is where we had a few days off to explore Rome and the Vatican. I saw the Coliseum where I reminded myself that Dad had seen this same monument while he had been here during the 2nd World War. My younger brother Barry too had seen it whilst he stayed unofficially in the British Embassy to sleep, in the days when he was a 'poor artist'.
From Italy we did more exercises and then on to Gibraltar.
Sailed around the Greek Islands and saw Athens once more. I saw an amazing scene on one of these islands; a long line of caterpillars in 'Indian file' for about thirty or more feet in length. Someone broke the chain up by putting their foot in the way, this however didn't stop them going around his boot and rejoining up again!
Arrived back in Devonport for Easter leave. HMS SCARBOROUGH was then to sail for more exercises in the North Sea and Baltic. She called in as far north as Oulu in Finland, which isn't in the Arctic Circle and therefore no 'blue-nose' certificates awarded, though still cold enough for Oulu to be ice-bound most months of the year. I exchanged with a radio operator who was serving on HMS JUPITER, which was having a refit in Devonport dockyard at the time, only to return to HMS SCARBOROUGH later in the year.