by Alan ‘Frapper’ Lehman
HMAS SWAN 1974
During my time in the Navy I had a posting to HMAS Swan, a Destroyer Escort. I had the reputation of being a bit of a rebel. It’s not that I disobeyed orders or anything like that, but more along the lines of getting drunk quite often and other passive transgressions. I was particularly fond of long hair and I was forever getting into strife because of it. We were at sea this particular day and Petty Officer Tab Hunter (Communications) came up to me and said it would be a good idea if I got a haircut in Singapore, our next port of call.
I had every intention of getting a haircut, but being shift workers, we got early leave (Liberty) and bars were open in Sembawang (Where Aussie and British ships used to tie up) and of course we started drinking early. So, first day, NO Haircut, Second day, NO Haircut, Third day Petty Officer Hunter said to me, “Get a Haircut”. Fourth day, NO Haircut. (I have attached a photo of me and my long hair in a bar in Subic Bay, I am the guy on the front left with riding boots on and a beautiful Olongapo Bargirl.
Technically, you could say I disobeyed a Direct Order but, I was just a Rebel and Rebels were loved by the masses. The Eureka Stockade is a case in point. We sailed from Singapore the next day with Bangkok our next Port of call. It was going to take a week to get there because we had Naval Exercises with other Navies in the area. The first day at sea I got charged with disobeying a direct order by Tab Hunter and fronted the Executive Officer (2 IC) of the HMAS Swan. Charges were proved due to the fact I still had long hair and I received 14 days stoppage of leave (confined to the ship) as my punishment. 7 days of that stoppage were served at sea and did not adversely affect me, but once we arrived in Bangkok it was a different story.
The girls in Bangkok are very beautiful and so obliging and you do not want to be confined to the ship in Bangkok. First night in port most of the crew were in town enjoying their leave and here was me, stuck on board. At 1900 I had to muster at the gangway and the Officer of The Day inspected me and confirmed I was indeed on board. As I went down below an idea started to blossom in my mind. I had to report to the Gangway again at 0600 in the morning and apart from that, I had no other obligations. Whilst alongside in Bangkok all upper deck screen doors and hatches had to be locked because pirates or robbers or thieves used to silently board your ship and steal whatever they could. The GDP (Gun Direction Platform) had a hatch that was roped off on the inside and with the help of a friend I exited the hatch in my civilian clothes at 1930 and my friend secured the rope again on the inside. I had his assurance that he would undo the rope early next morning so I could sneak back on board in time for my 0600 muster.
As luck would have it, we were tied up outboard of a British ship and so I simply stepped across from my ship onto theirs and walked down to their gangway and after making sure the coast was clear, I walked off their ship and headed into town.
I headed to The World Hotel, it is a well-known drinking spot in Bangkok, especially during the Vietnam War era. When I got there, I noticed a good number of the ships communications crew all in the Hotel Pool with Bargirls by their side and drinks in hand. There was something wrong with this scene though. Everybody was naked. I couldn’t believe it and they couldn’t believe that I was actually off the ship and drinking with them. Early next morning I headed back on board and sure enough, my mate had untied the rope and I got back into my ship with no problems. I Had my 0600 muster and all was good.
Each morning all the Communications Crew had to Muster in the Communications Centre for Job allocation for the day. Everybody was talking about the previous night and the drinking and the girls and one of the guys said to me, “That girl you had last night was beautiful Frapper”. Just as he said those fateful words, Tab Hunter walked in through the door, he heard the comment. Later as we were up on deck working during the day, Tab Hunter walks up to me and says, “So, you went ashore last night”. I had to agree with him because I don’t lie. He said to me, Don’t go ashore again tonight will you. I said NO Tab.
We were in port Bangkok for another 6 days and I snuck off the ship every night. I don’t know if he knew or not, but I had a great time in Bangkok.