HMAS DERWENT 1976
by Alan ‘Frapper’ Lehman, RAN
Destroyer Escort, HMAS Derwent, Royal Australian Navy, visited Maizuru, Japan in 1976 for a goodwill visit. It was a cold winter’s night in Maizuru and Bummer Briggs and Frapper Lehman, both Petty Officer CTs, had been drinking together in a local bar. We were now heading back on board after the bar shut for the night. We come across a Beer machine with the obligatory plastic milk crates scattered around. The plastic crates make good seats.
We sat down and proceeded to empty the beer machine. A little while later some guys (Gunnery Jacks or Gunners Mates) come along pushing a wheel Barrow with a fire going inside the tub. They stopped awhile and we all got warm, it was bloody freezing. The Gunnery Jacks eventually went their own way.
After a few hours at the Beer Machine we headed back on board. A little way up the road Bummer and I come across a Plastic Policeman (full life size) at an intersection. It was designed to reinforce to drivers that you must slow down at intersections and take care. The Policeman was mounted on a pedestal, but could be lifted off by drunk sailors with the right mindset. It took two of us, but we got the Policeman and proceeded to carry him back on board as a Rabbit. Rabbit’s are like souvenirs or mementos of your visit. Navy ships’ Messes are full of them from street signs to Plastic Policemen and Baby Ducks from Olongapo.
We approached the Gangway of the ship and the duty Gangway staff (Boatswain’s Mates) were looking and shaking their heads. Gangway staff know not to interfere with drunk sailors returning back on board. We got the Policeman down to our mess and then hit the sack.
Next morning we were sailing from Maizuru and heading to another Japanese Port. Come the morning we were lined up around the perimeter of the ship in Procedure Alfa which entailed all the crew being dressed in number Ones, ceremonial Blue uniform. This was our way of farewelling the port and thanking the people for their hospitality. Down on the wharf were the Mayor and town council and invited guests. As we were standing in line around the ship, the Captain made a pipe over the main broadcast. “Would the sailor or sailors who stole the Policeman last night please return him to the Maizuru Town Council members on the wharf”.
The jig was up and I looked at Bummer and told him with my eyes that we had to return the Policeman. We both went down to our mess and brought the Copper up on deck and carried him down to the waiting Council Members. After much bowing and saying “Gomen”, (sorry in Japanese) we returned on board and departed Maizuru. We received a stern talking to from the Coxswain (Master At Arms), but otherwise got off rather lightly.