Between the two world wars Britain had by far the largest and most impressive naval fleet in the world - and it was kept fairly busy - policing and/or impressing its empire - upon which the sun never set! Now, bled white by the Second World War and receiving none of the American aid that was being poured into rebuilding the defeated axis countries, Britain was fighting to economically survive. Consequently, as the ships of our 'victorious' fleets sailed off to be broken up, the Mediterranean was instead flooded with large U.S. warships.
One important 's.t.f.' (showing the flag) visit we were to make was to Istanbul, so Euryalus headed towards the entrance to the Dardenelles, stopping only to deposit a wreath into the sea off the Gallipoli beaches, where an earlier 'Euryalus' had landed unfortunate units of the Northumberland Fusiliers.
It was a lovely sunny day and our passage through the wide, hill-bordered channel was interesting. As most will know, the Dardenelles divides Europe from Asia and at its northern end is the Sea of Marmora. Our information was that the U.S. Fleet was visiting Istanbul and would be leaving the next day. We had consequently been warned that a 'Guard and Band' would be required to provide 'passing honours'. As we sailed quietly along the wide channel, both the band and RM detachment were scattered anywhere and dressed in anything when a sudden piped order ordered the Guard and Band to parade on the quarterdeck IMMEDIATELY! Ahead the channel was clear of any ships, at least as far as the next bend. However away to the left, as though marching across the hills and fields could be seen a veritable forest of masts, aerials and radar scanners - the Yanks had left early and were now almost upon us. The next few minutes were slightly frantic, especially for me as band librarian, but all the band and most of the marines were on the quarterdeck as the two fleets passed - fairly closely. I think that their flagship was the USS Fargo, a heavy cruiser that looked battleship size to us, bristling with radar and other antennae and equally impressive armaments. Behind her were two only slightly smaller warships, followed by a number of destroyers, each one physically larger than Euryalus (Had they lowered a 'gasoline gig' doubtless it also would also have been much bigger than ours). As the Fargo passed, our diminutive band belted out the US Anthem. We then just had time to catch a glimpse of a shining mass of musical instruments before being deafened by a thundering rendition of 'God Save the King'. Their band must have consisted of 30 + players and included two Sousaphones - the entire thing also being amplified. On behalf of my mother country and myself I remember feeling somewhat humiliated and embarrassed!
In Istanbul we were moored not far from the shore and a liaison office was established on the jetty. There were English-speaking translators available and were most helpful to all the ship's company. Turkish is not an easy language to learn. Many 'official visits' from local officials and dignitaries were made and the band and the guard were kept busy. The next day a 'Garden Party'/Reception had been arranged at the British Embassy and having 'de-bused' we were soon deployed under a shady tree on a beautifully lush green back lawn (we hadn't seen any really green grass for a long time) whilst the officials and guests circulated as we ran through our repertoire of selections from musicals, marches etc. (In those days our copies of "Oaklahoma' and 'Annie Get Your Gun' were held together with sticky tape!) The Ambassador/Consul and his wife were very kind and thoughtful people and trays of cold beer kept arriving at regular intervals. They also had a pleasant 10-year-old daughter whose name was Daphne and she stayed alongside the band and acted as our liaison, by reminding her father every time our glasses emptied. Amongst the guests was a tall U.S. Marine Colonel, probably a naval attaché. By sheer coincidence we just happened to have the music for 'Anchors Aweigh' with us so we gave a special rendition for him. As soon as we began it, he parted from his companions, came over and listened, before thanking us. Then he went away and shortly afterwards yet another tray of drinks arrived - this time of whisky! For some quite unaccountable reason (?) our playing became louder and louder as our faces grew more and more flushed and instructions to stop playing and 'pack up' came not a moment too soon! Mr and Mrs. Ambassador were exceptionally nice people, and when they thanked us for playing, gave the band an exclusive invitation to visit their country residence right on the shores of the Black Sea for afternoon tea the following Sunday. On the appointed day, another musician and myself had also been invited by a pleasant pair of English speaking university students (met when the ship was open for visitors) to go swimming with them in the Sea of Marmora which, being relatively shallow, has nice warm water and sandy beaches. We had an enjoyable morning with our new friends but had to leave early to be back in time for the bus that was taking the band to the ambassador's home. Needless to say, we missed it by about ten minutes! Then the liaison office came up trumps. Someone scribbled some magic symbols on a piece of paper and then put us onto a regular Turkish bus. We produced this paper at regular intervals, receiving smiles all around. A one point we changed buses (no money would be accepted for fares). Eventually we were put down in a sandy town square and a taxi was pointed out to us. Out came that magic paper and the magic worked yet again. A five minute journey and there we were. Mr and Mrs. Ambassador were as amazed at our managing to find their residence as we had been! When we joined the rest of the band they were drying themselves off after swimming. Another immaculately groomed lawn ended right at the edge of the Black Sea (named misleadingly as it was very blue.) Having put on our still damp swimming togs we dived happily into the water - and nearly died! It must have been at least 15 to 20 degrees colder than the Sea of Marmora. As was later explained to us, the Black Sea is filled by rivers fed from Romanian and Ukrainian mountains. The remainder of the band having already experienced it, could have warned us but didn't and were of course, highly sympathetic! We left Istanbul next day. Our visit although short and busy, was most enjoyable.
I earlier mentioned our Captain RM. He was of the blustering 'do
as I say' variety and not prone to listen to explanations or reason.
Early in 1949 Euryalus visited Trieste and at that time its sovereignty
was in dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia. Euryalus was to moor
alongside but unfortunately, as we approached the city and port,
a ferocious 'mistral' was blowing down from the mountains and
was so strong that the ship took a noticeable list to starboard,
which lasted until we arrived alongside the docks and into the
shelter of buildings. The 'Garden Band' were summoned to the quarterdeck
as usual for the 'entering harbour' and with chinstraps down we
formed up behind a gun turret. Such was the strength of the wind,
doubling up of all mooring cables was deemed necessary so miles
of greasy wires covered the decks. The Captain RM was worried
that his 'G & B' wouldn't be formed up in time and screamed
at us to 'double' into position. Our Band Sergeant attempted to
point out that it was dangerous to run in those conditions, but
this only resulted in an even more loudly screamed "I said
DOUBLE". We were not at all impressed by this order but obligingly
shuffled off around 'Y' turret as slowly as we could. Once out
of his sight our Alto Sax player lifted his instrument above his
head and dashed it down onto the deck, having allegedly stumbled
over a cable whilst doubling. It was a splendid sight to behold.
Bits and pieces flew off in all directions, most of them blowing
straight over the side. Now apoplectic, the aforementioned officer
was reduced to spluttering incoherence - and the dockside was
rapidly approaching. Fortunately, the ship's Captain had more
sense than our fearless RM variety (come to think of it, so did
almost everybody else aboard!) and cancelled the Guard and Band.
Our fearless saxophonist later faced a local court of enquiry
but his explanation and our innocent agreement with it had to
be accepted. It took quite a while before a replacement sax arrived!
'You-know-who' never ordered us to 'double' again! From Trieste
a coach trip was arranged to nearby La Serenissima (Venice). Unfortunately,
the weather was poor and the canals mostly smelled foul, which
tended to colour our impressions although we duly visited the
main places of interest. (I have since returned there on a number
of occasions and never tire of its unique charms.)
It was in nearby Nice that I saw my first porn films. Porn films were technically illegal so a 'tout' harvested the British sailors (and others) from the bars and we were all told to assemble at one bar later that evening. We were then instructed to follow the 'tour guide' in twos and threes so as not to look obvious, although it must have looked extremely suspicious to anyone who saw us. When the show began it was quickly obvious that we were being treated to their pre-war stock of films. Being fairly well-oiled by then we all found them hilarious as the men were filmed in their shoes, socks and suspenders and the females mostly in flimsy underwear or nude. They were much funnier than they were erotic and would be considered very tame these days.
There was another organised trip from Villefranche up into the inland Alpes Maritimes and in particular to the perfumery centre of France, Grasse. We were welcomed by practised English Speaking guides who rushed us through the processing factory where the various essences of plants were distilled and blended and then ushered us into the large salesroom. This was furnished in the old style with lovely antique tables on which stood large cut-glass pump dispensers full of the various perfumes. Due to some organisational hitch there were no sales girls there and in no time a sailor picked up one of the dispensers, aimed it at a mate and went phffff, phffff, phffff with a cloud of the priceless perfume it contained. Soon we were all doing it and the atmosphere became dense with an aromatic fog! Then a salesgirl came in, took one look, screamed and went out again to return almost immediately with a posse of marshals to restore order. The few paltry sales they subsequently made from us would have been a mere drop in the ocean against the wasted perfume. The return coach trip was made with all the windows open and it still smelled like the proverbial Turkish whorehouse. It took many weeks of airing before my own blue tunic was odour- free once more.
A little later Euryalus visited the Greek island of Corfu, which in those days was a quiet and peaceful place with very few tourists. It was there that the crew had its laundry 'done' for it. The first night we were anchored off the city of Corfu and after some days at sea, a lot of laundry was left drying hung on lines on the foc'stle. Next morning not a stitch of it remained. Some wily locals had climbed up the anchor chain and stolen the lot! With clothing still in very short supply after the war, the locals must have been the best-dressed pseudo British sailors on the island - but not until after Euryalus had departed!