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A NAVAL CAREER IN THE EYES OF COLIN ROSS – Pt. 20

So our trip to the West Coast of the USA came to a close and we returned to Hawaii and set our sails for home. However there were still some trip requirements to achieve on the way home.
Prior to our deployment the Navy had decided to phase out khaki uniforms. The Friday before we deployed a truck arrived on the jetty and all Senior Rates were issued No8’s and one set of white shorts with two trop shirts. Of course we only had the weekend to try and adjust these mannequin marvel uniforms fit our normal bodies. There were some very unreceptive wives when we arrived home that night and requested they make the uniform fit their loved ones. So when we left Hawaii we were sailing south to stop off in Tuvalu for their independence celebrations. We were to provide accommodation for Princess Margaret whom would be representing the Queen. We were advised the rig of the day would be No10’s. This created an issue for the Senior Rates as we had only been issued one set of shorts. The Captain then decreed that we would all be issued another set of shorts from Naval Stores. So we all picked up our designated shorts to find they had probably been in storage since the Second World War. They were long legged and a yellowish colour. We were not happy with this forward planning and as there was to be divisions on the first Sunday out of Hawaii we decided to have a bit of a rebellion to express our displeasure. We all agreed we would not wash them only iron them and turn up on divisions with these yellow long legged shorts. So we fell in on the Quarter Deck and in due course were inspected by the Captain. He obviously noted the statement we were trying to make however had the last laugh as he was heard to say as he marched away “ What a fine body of men, any RN Captain would be proud of them”.
On this Sunday we also had a RAS with a USN ship that carried a Padre. So he was transferred to our fine vessel and we were all fallen in on the Quarter Deck for prayers. He was a Southern Baptist minister and so straight away started out the prayer session with “ Hallelujah Brothers we are gathered here and I have never seen so many sailors come to church.”’ Obviously he was unaware the whole ship’s company were all required to muster for church. He had also brought a Senior Chief across with him and after the service of course we invited him to our mess. After a few beers and a compulsory tot we sent him back in time for the RAS to be returned to his ship. Of course he was not in the best shape but they managed to get him safely across by jackstay but we often wondered how he was received back by his own Captain.
While we transited down to Tuvalu someone suggested the mess take a few beers onto the focsle and enjoy the cool calm weather. So we took a few beers up, then someone brought a bottle of rum up and a few glasses. It was a very pleasant evening and at the end of it we all traipsed off to bed. Luckily one of the mess members went back up just on sunrise and discovered we had left all the glasses and empty cans in front of the turret, hastily they got rid of the evidence.
We finally arrived in Tuvalu and went to anchor inside the reef along with a couple of other ships. Princess Margaret duly arrived with her entourage. Princess M was of course accommodated in the CO’s Cabin. The Ladies in Waiting were accommodated in the lower cabin flat under the wardroom. The first night of course the first big issue occurred. The Ladies were going for a shower in the Officers Bathroom and the Ship’s Co that lived fwd were transiting through the Wardroom Flat going to dinner. To alleviate this issue it was decided that the Wardroom Flat would be closed from 1730-1830 whilst they used the bathroom. We were not too impressed as you can imagine our trip to the dining hall required us all to go up the ladder to the focsle, climb the ladder to the bridge wing and then down another ladder to the waist and finally another ladder to the dining hall. Interesting when now women make up a huge part of all ships companies and it all seems to work okay. However that was then and we just had to put up with it.
The first night Princess Margaret was on-board the fwd. PO’s Mess decided to have a few beers and a bit of music. About 2300 some bright spark decided to ring the CO’s Cabin and invite the Princess down. The invite was politely declined but as you can imagine the phone to the CO’s Cabin was hastily disconnected.
So the rest of the four days were pretty uneventful and the celebrations went off according to plan. From my memory it was when we went to leave that a vibration was noted in the port main circulating pump and it was decided to investigate the issue. We were due to sail again the following morning at 0900. So the engineers set to and lifted the half cover off the circ pump. This is not an easy operation and especially in tropical conditions but finally the problem was uncovered, one of the impellor blades had become loose. The blade was re-secured and the cover replaced. This was an all-night job and we were twenty minutes late sailing. The Captain was not happy at being late sailing. His displeasure was made known to the engineers and we were incensed with the lack of acknowledgement of the effort it had taken over night to correct the issue. We were tired and really peeved off. We went to Pago Pago to fuel so when we arrived alongside all those off watch decided we were going to the first pub off the jetty and have a session to drown our sorrows. Well that didn’t work too well as we were all really knackered so after about two beers we struggled to stay awake and ended up back on-board and in the bunk by about 2000 so had a good all night in.
The other issue with this trip was we then went to Fiji and from there we started a two-week exercise with a raft of other vessels including other RNZN ships. We of course just really wanted to go home from here. It was made even worse when after four days we were just at the back of Great Barrier Island. I guess you could say we were homesick. We had been away for five months and were in sight of home yet we were expected to perform for another ten days.
Morale was pretty low I must admit. There were other things going on which made us uncomfortable as well. One of the exercises they were practicing was harassment of naval vessels. This encompassed steaming alongside them, we would then increase speed pull ahead of them and turn across their bows and come to a stop. Of course the other vessel had to be on their toes and take evasive action. I happened to be on the bridge one night when this happened and the Aussie ship narrowly missed our Quarter Deck. I expressed my concerns to the Engineer, I had no wish to end up like VOYAGER. Luckily they ceased this exercise shortly afterwards. I don’t doubt they were doing it for good reasons but it was, and still seems to me, an extremely hazardous exercise and to me the risk involved didn’t justify the reasons.
So finally we arrived back in Auckland. The final insult of course was that whilst the rest of the fleet went alongside we had to go to anchor and clear customs so it was still some time before we could be welcomed home. A bit of welcome leave was forthcoming before we rounded out the rest of the year starting on fish patrols, which I will cover, in the next instalment.

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