A Sailor’s Lament
I remember standing on the foc’sle on a Morning watch weighing anchor with the smell of the North Wind whipping in from ahead and the taste of salt spray on my lips.
The feel of the ship beneath me, a living thing as her engines drive her through the sea.
The sounds of the Royal Navy, the piercing trill of the boatswain’s call, the clang of the ships bell, the harsh squawk of the main broadcast Tannoy and the strong language and laughter of sailors at work.
The warships, sleek destroyers, fussing frigates, plodding fleet auxiliaries, menacing submarines, purposeful mine hunters and steady solid carriers.
The proud names of the Royal Navy’s capitol ships, ARK ROYAL, EAGLE, LION and TIGER. The descriptive names of destroyers, DARING, BIRMINGHAM, BATTLEAXE, CAVALIER, and frigates, ACTIVE, UNDAUNTED, VIGILANT to name just a few.
The military beat of the Royal Marine Band blaring on the upper deck as we entered harbour in Procedure Alpha.
The pipe “Liberty men fall in” and the spicy scent and sights of a foreign port.
Going ashore in No 1 uniform to meet the ladies and visit the watering holes of these foreign ports.
My mates, men from all parts of the land, from city and country alike and all walks of life, I depended on them as they depended on me for professional competence, comradeship, trust, and courage, in a word we were shipmates, a band of brothers.
A loud game of Uckers in the evening with my messmates.
My shipmate slinging my Mick (hammock) (or unzipping my pit) for me coming aboard after a run ashore, knowing that I would do the same for him.
The surge of adventure in my heart when the calls of “Special Sea Dutymen close up” or “Away seaboats crew” were piped.
The absolute joy of hearing the call “Up Spirits” in anticipation of your daily tot of rum.
The sudden adrenalin rush when the “Action Stations” alarm blared, followed by the clamour of running feet on ladders and the resounding thump of watertight doors and hatches being shut as the ship transformed herself from a peaceful home to a deadly weapon of war ready for anything.
The atmosphere of the ship in the darkness of night, the dim red glow of the nightlights and the navigation lights. Standing on the quarterdeck as “Lifebuoy Ghost” (sentry) watching the sparkling phosphorescence from the screws as they constantly pushed tons of water astern of the ship, carrying us to our next destination.
The “Watch on Deck” on a balmy tropical night in the South China sea watching the glorious sunset and flying fish gliding for amazing distances across the surface of the sea, with some landing inboard.
Drifting off to sleep in a hammock (or bunk), lulled by the myriad of noises large and small that told me that my ship is alive and well and that my shipmates were on watch and keeping me safe.
The aroma from the galley during the Morning Watch. Cheesy, Hammy, Eggy, Train Smash, Sh*t on a Raft and Figgy Duff.
The wholesome taste of kai (very thick cocoa) during the middle watch on a cold, dark winters night.
The sound of the bow slicing through the mirror calm of the sea and the frolicking of dolphins as they darted in and out of the bow wave.
Watching the ships wake disappearing back towards the horizon knowing that it will be gone in a short time and being aware of the fact that we were not the first or will not be the last to leave our mark on the water.
The state of the art equipment and the orange glow of radar screens manned by young men in anti-flash gear using sound powered phones that their grandfathers would still recognize.
The infectious feeling of excitement as we returned home again, the hugs and kisses of welcome from sweethearts, family, and friends.
The work was hard and dangerous, the going rough at times, the parting from loved ones painful but the robust Royal Navy comradeship, the all for one and one for all philosophy of the sea was ever present.
The traditions of the Royal Navy and the men who made them and the heroism of the men who sailed in the ships of yesteryear.
Now that I am home I still remember with fondness and respect the sea in all its moods from the shimmering mirror calm of the tropics to the storm-tossed waters of the North Atlantic, the bright colours of the White Ensign snapping at the yardarm, the sound of hearty laughter.
I am ashore for good now and grow wistful about my Royal Navy days when I was young and a new adventure was ever over the horizon.
Stamped on my brain is my Official Number and an anchor where my heart is.
Numbers will never be the same again:
Uniforms: Number 1s 2s 3s 8s 10s 10As
Punishments: Number 9s, 14s
Even as times change and young matelots take over from old seadogs, some things will never change.
The old days were always harder.
The recruits always looked younger.
Official Numbers were always smaller.
The waves were always bigger.
The girls were as good looking in Pompey (Portsmouth) as they were in Guzz (Devonport).
Your last ship was always the best.
If I haven’t been there, it doesn’t exist – or we blew it off the map.
Only a sailor knows, I was a sailor once and I know.
I look back and realize it was not just a job, it was a way of life. A life where shipmates were a family never to be forgotten.
I was part of the Royal Navy and the Royal Navy will always be part of me.