The Shiny Sheffield - A Home Fleet Commission
1951 to 1953 by Frank Coleman
Frank Coleman (roll over mouse)
We expected to leave Bilbao and with a short stop at Bermuda sail for Portsmouth, but we had forgotten that the west coast of South America was part of home waters, and the original twelve months was then stretched to thirteen. Hence our next port of call was Lima in Peru.
Before leaving Bilbao, the ship needed to re-victual, and rather strangely, ardent rum drinkers refused their tots and drew the 3 pence a day allowance instead. Fortunately no one whistled for their tot.
From Lima to Calloa in Chile, where anchored in the Harbour was the bulk of the Chilean Navy, the majority of the ships having seen service in the Royal Navy during the 1st world war.
The band with a R.N. Guard were required to travel by rail to the capital, Santiago, to attend an inauguration parade on behalf of the new president. He had been returned unopposed. It was rumored that his opponent had lost his life in a car accident shortly before.
The parade was formed in two columns of about eight units in each, facing to their left. The British contingent was at the right flank of the rear column, with another unit in front of them. Suddenly a multi medalled General started an inspection of the units in the front column going from his left to right and then to the rear column from right to left, making the British the last people to be inspected. As he came to each unit, their band would play some form of salute but not to be out done the R.M. Band treated him to a rendition of "Ilkley Moor Bah Tat". Almost at the same time a flight of R.A.F. Canberras (on a sales mission) flew over to a huge cheer from the R.N. Party.
On completion of the ceremony, the guard and band marched through cheering crowds, the band playing to the station. The crowd was so dense and was pressing inwards, so that the band still playing had to march in two files. No doubt there were one or two sore heads caused by contact with Dusty M's Bass Drum Stick.
At last we were on our way home via Kingston (Jamaica) for re-victualing and calling at Bermuda. As rationing was still in force in the UK, on the canteen manager's advice we stocked our lockers with the regulation 28lbs of rationed goods we were allowed to land at one time. This enabled the canteen to be re-stocked, and as we would still be "Home Fleet" after arrival at Portsmouth we would be able to purchase and land more "rabbits".
On November 1st we arrived back in Portsmouth after having again losing our boats in a hurricane after leaving Bermuda. I met my daughter for the first time.
Being "Home Fleet" we had accumulated six weeks leave plus two weeks for Christmas and on return from leave found that we had a new Captain of Marines, the previous one going to retirement.
The new Captain then arranged for the band (with some replacements) to have a break in the hutted camp at Fort Cumberland, Eastney. One day I found myself in charge of the band whilst the rest of the NCO's attended a meeting. Within days they were relieved to return to their barrack stanchion jobs at Deal. I found life much easier as the new Band Corporal was an old friend from our Isle of Man days. The Bandmaster was a pleasant person not known for tact, and in fact one of the classic stories of the Band Service is attributed to him.
"Bandmaster can your band play "In the Shadows"
band can play in the ******g dark"
We rejoined the ship on April 14th (missed the anniversary by one day) and sailed for Cardiff, Swansea, Fishguard and Liverpool, (for the Coronation). Then arrived at Portland where the Fleet was assembling prior to the Fleet Review.
At the Fleet Review in the Solent, each band after playing the National Anthem at colours played the National Anthem of a visiting navy. The Sheffield's Band drew the short straw and landed up playing the Brazilian National Anthem. This must be one of the longest anthems, as every ship in the fleet were obliged to wait for us to finish playing before the "carry on" was sounded.
This signaled the end of our commission on the "Sheffield" and on the 26th of June 1953, we returned to the RMSM at Deal.