Each Summer the entire fleet would depart from Malta in different directions, for the usua l round of 's.t.f' visits, but would later assemble at some suitable natural harbour for the Fleet Regatta. In July 1948 the chosen site was Argostoli, a very large and sparsely uninhabited bay on the west coast of Greece. All the larger ships arrived at the same time with every ship having Garden Bands and much formal ceremonial saluting of the various ships according to the seniority of the various admirals and captains. Despite not comparing in size with its pre-war counterparts, the then assembled Med. fleet looked quite impressive anchored together. Liverpool, Newcastle, Triumph, Forth and last and definitely least, Euryalus. Then there were 14 destroyers and frigates and 6 submarines - mostly 'T' class.
Soon after arrival a large parties of seamen detailed from each ship went ashore to set up a fleet canteen. We were a few miles from the small town of Argostoli, so a canteen had to be provided for the crews. And each ship's band had to take a turn at providing 'musical entertainment' each evening for the customers! A Tank Landing Craft arrived from Malta bringing everything needed for the canteen including some very large tents, plus tables, chairs etc., and definitely not forgetting thousands of bottles of beer and glasses (these latter were cut-down beer bottles!) Our band had the first gig starting at 1800 and it was not a pleasant job. The sun was still quite high and it was very hot and dusty. The canteen had been rigged up on a football pitch - sand and gravel. We were set up in the open air to one side of the tables and chairs and having played through our repertoire of music once, we went through it again. By the second time round most of the sailors (and marines) wouldn't have known the difference between Annie Get Your Gun and God Save the King. What is it that compels seamen (by that I mean anyone who goes to sea) to get themselves drunk as quickly and thoroughly as possible the moment the means are available? Half-way through the performance I was happily(?) engrossed in my band part when a large glass of beer was emptied into the bell of my euphonium. Not very amusing, but the sailors thought it great fun. I immediately emptied it out but the stink lasted the rest of the evening. To cap off a not very pleasant evening, when we packed up no boat arrived for an hour! By then there were a whole heap of sailors (yes, and marines) under arrest for extreme drunkenness (see comment above). Next day was 'the' day and the 'RM's' race was on mid-morning. Euryalus band crew rowed away from Euryalus feeling fit and confident - but only managed to stagger in fifth. However, all that blood on the thwarts wasn't shed for nothing. Ours was the first Band whaler home which was some small consolation! Liverpool won the 'Cock of the Fleet' and Euryalus ended up 4th out of five! We consoled ourselves by telling each other that as the smallest 'big ship' we didn't have the complement that the other and larger ships had to pick their crews from - and the depleted remnants of our original band definitely did not!
The final race was an 'all comers'. Euryalus rigged out one of the whalers crammed with a crew of 30, each wielding a Carley float paddle. Unfortunately our 30 paddle-power whaler came in third last out of about 20 boats, but it was all good (wet) fun and a good time was had by all. We heard later that the fleet canteen very nearly ran 'dry' that night and that there were even more under arrest than before. Fortunately we were not duty band!!!
Not long after that we learned that the band on Euryalus was to be withdrawn and sent home, but I was enjoying Malta and didn't feel that I had been out there nearly long enough. The cellist on HMS Forth, was happy to return 'home', so a transfer was arranged. My photographic shop partner had his wife living ashore in Malta so he also transferred.
HMS Forth was a submarine depot ship, now doubling as flagship for the Flag Officer, Destroyers. It was the butt of many jokes about being aground on its discarded tin cans. The Band Mess seemed palatial after Euryalus and there was no RM contingent and thus no brainless Capt. RM.
Also, the band was larger and contained those instruments that are necessary to add colour to good music, in particular for orchestral work, such as French Horn, Oboe and Bassoon plus a specialist percussionist. Another advantage was the number of areas suitable for musical practice and the ship's ample well-deck made an excellent bandstand for concerts - and was an ideal venue for cinema shows. Also and from a selfish money-grubbing point of view, Forth was a far larger market for our photographic 'firm'. Fortunately Forth didn't carry an official RN photographer, so we quickly again made ourselves indispensable to the Captain!
The traditional daily 'Tot of Rum' (now long since gone) was a constant cause of trouble. (It was also a source of great comfort to some!). The practice of giving someone else any of your rum was prohibited, but the prohibition was virtually unenforceable, 'Sippers' and 'Gulpers' being a useful currency for favours given or expected. Birthdays always required that the birthday boy received 'sippers' from everyone in the mess. RN rum was strong, heady stuff even when watered down, as it had to be for all but senior ranks and ratings. The consequences of these birthday celebrations could be anything from hilarious to fatal, with every possible variation in between. One day our tenor saxophonist had consumed his birthday 'sippers' and not long after midday Forth was due to leave harbour for a cruise. Without a RM guard, the position for the band when leaving harbour was not on the quarter-deck but on a more elevated boat deck, stationed on either the port or starboard side depending upon which side faced the 'Flag' to be saluted. To reach that deck from the band mess was something of a route march. Up one ladder, along another deck, up another two ladders, across a flat or two and finally, just outside the Admiral's quarters, up a final ladder to the boat deck. On this day, we had been assembled and playing the usual pieces and salutes for a while when someone noticed that the ' tenor sax' was not with us. This was strange, because he had left the band mess with the rest of us and had been seen still with us when en route. As soon as we fell out a search began but he was nowhere to be found. Eventually someone had the bright idea of looking in the Admiral's day cabin - where our missing saxophonist was found, flat on his face on the carpet, slumbering peacefully, amidst a sizable pool of vomit! Fortunately, the F.O.D was not due to join the ship until later in the cruise, so his quarters were then unoccupied. A rapid clean-up exercise left only a temporary damp patch as evidence of the Demon Rum.
My photography partner Jock Dyer caused us all a lot of amusement one day when he arrived back from his overnight 'up-homers' with a brand new watch of which he was very proud. It was anti-shock-proof and he told us that the watchmaker who had sold it to him had demonstrated this feature by throwing it onto the floor. Jock proceeded to do the same, onto the deck, whereupon his pride and joy promptly disintegrated. The expression on his face was a joy to behold. For some reason or other the rest of us collapsed laughing. An interesting interlude occurred at the beginning of 1950 when we were temporarily detached to the destroyer HMS Cheviot which was going on a 's.t.f.' visit to Aqaba at the head of the gulf of the same name. Our purpose was to impress the current ruler of what was then known as Transjordan. Cheviot was in company with Chevron and its Jimmy One was at that time a certain Lt. Phillip Mountbatten known later as Mr.Queen. There was also a 'T' class submarine. I'd been as far as Port Said previously but this was my first trip through the Suez Canal, where it is possible to observe a classical visual example of the curvature of the earth. Being so straight, you can clearly see the canal curve down over the horizon.