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A YEAR ON THE ARK
by Ian Epps
it's not Noah's (I'm not quite that old) it's the one between the one
sunk by the Germans in WWII and the one scrapped by Cameron in 2010
and it's just some recollections of my year spent on the Ark Royal
joined the band when it had already been on board for some time and
the ship was due to sail to the Far East in a week. They were short
of a Corporal and the Drafting Office said I needed some sea time if
I wanted to qualify for a third stripe. It would have been nice to have
more than a weeks notice but that was the way of things back then. Freda,
(my wife) was not best pleased as we had two young girls and a weeks
notice did nothing to enhance the thought I had just signed on for another
ten years. But then it's what happened in those days and it was only
a year which was a lot better than two and a half which was the norm
when I joined in 49. It was no use the wife going to welfare and complaining,
they would have told her she shouldn't have married a serviceman.
We arrived on the 2nd of July and had one unpleasant surprise. At the time Aden was in the midst of trying to gain independence and bombs were being thrown around, into cafes and cinemas and anywhere else that would cause mayhem. The authorities ashore were not very happy with the thought of a thousand sailors piling ashore each day and it was decided that only one watch would go ashore each day and the band who were the only personnel onboard who had weapon training were to be sent ashore to patrol with the Army. I spent six hours a day on the streets of Aden patrolling with the Army but it seemed a lot longer. Willey Chamberlain relieved me as he took the other patrol.
then had two spells alongside with some added sea time so that they
could fly the aeroplanes. It's a funny thing but back then they thought
that aircraft carriers had to have aeroplanes flying off and on them.
Now it appears we are building carriers which will have no British built
planes to fly off them or fill the hangers and the ones we were going
to order from the Americans can't land on because of a badly designed
arrester hook; it's a funny world we live in now.
I had never been to Hong Kong before and must admit that it was an enjoyable two week stay. We managed to show ourselves around and gave some local residents a concert; at least we were guaranteed that they wouldn't run away as it was one of the local hospitals.
then had a six whole weeks in Singapore the main reason being that one
of the boiler rooms was gutted by a very big fire, to give some idea
of the heat generated, ladders down into the boiler-room melted. For
once many of us were sorry that we were delayed as it meant that we
would miss the trip to Sydney and Melbourne. It had been agreed at a
high level that as the band would have a lot of engagements both on
the ship and ashore we would get very little time off in both ports.
The Captain had stated that anyone in the band who had relatives or
friends in Melbourne could take a weeks "Station Leave" and
then fly to Fremantle to pick up the ship after it had finished an exercise
with the Australian Navy. Gloom and despondency, I had arranged to stay
with a cousin and her husband who had emigrated in the 50's on the £10
a Christmas visit to remember but all too soon it was back to Singapore
until the end of January when we sailed for a visit to Gann, the American
air base in the middle of the Indian Ocean and Mombassa in East Africa
and arrived on the 18th of February.
those who read my first "Dit" on my time in the East Indies
on the Gambia & Newfoundland in the early 50's you may remember
that when in Mombassa the band were sent up to Nairobi to entertain
the locals towards the end of the Mau Mau uprising. We had been billeted
with local families and I had stayed with Wally Walton and Tex Tyler
with a Major Cade and his family. I had over the years kept in touch
with him by letter so when we arrived I gave him a ring as he had said
that if ever I was in the area get in touch. He asked where I was and
when I told him Mombassa he asked for how long. To cut to the chase
he invited me and a friend up to Nairobi, it seemed an ideal way of
repaying Pete Shelton for my very enjoyable Christmas and with the Captain
of Marines blessing we left the band in the capable hands of Sergeant
Chamberlain at the rest camp and caught the overnight train.
saw a lot of the local countryside and the animals in the National Park
as we were guided by Major Cade but all too soon the holiday was over
and it was onto the train and back to Mombassa and the Ark. We sailed
on the 5th of March for the Mozambique Channel.
Flight Deck Games
We were relieved by the Eagle around the middle of March and we steamed back to Singapore where we stayed until the end of April. When we were in the Mozambique Channel to relieve the Eagle we did a three ship "Raz" as an exercise and then sent Eagle on its way as they were due in Mombassa for some R & R.
Our second stint differed very little from the first but we didn't care as we knew it was our last as when we saw the Eagle again we were off to Aden on our way home.
We arrived in Aden on the 31st of May and anchored off for twelve hours prior to transiting the Suez Canal on the 4th of June.
Then it was off to Gibraltar where we stayed for three days for a last 'rabbit run' and then it was all points north to Devonport on the 11th where our families came onboard and the following day we went on leave.
When we returned from leave Pete Shelton had left us Richard Chamberlain had been made temporary Bandmaster and I had picked up my third stripe and off we sailed to Oslo for a visit before returning to Portsmouth for Navy Days. Whilst we were there I went up to Frogner Park which I had visited in 1956 when I was serving on the Midshipmen's training ship, HMS Devonshire. [that's the one with three funnels] The park had not changed, it was still filled with some wonderful sculptures and I took some photos in colour but I think my original ones taken in 56 gave them more atmosphere.
When we left Portsmouth it was a trip down to Lands End to dispose of excess aviation fuel and any items from stores that had been opened. The ship was due in Devonport for a full refit and her new ski deck and stores would not accept opened boxes of components and the avgas tanks had to be empty in dry dock. I sometimes wonder what they do now in a similar situation. Then it was back to Deal to find out what wonderful places "Drafty" was going to send us next. Mine was down to Excellent to join Flag Officer Portsmouth's band with Captain Roy Nash and Bandmaster Peter Hemming and that was fun.
Richard Valentine -1996 - 2012 © - All rights reserved