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A NAVAL CAREER IN THE EYES OF COLIN ROSS – Pt. 8

1970 started off slowly, it was back to work and the ship (Taranaki) was dry docked in January prior to deployment.  Looking ahead was exciting with my first deployment to the Far East.  This however may have been exciting for me but my fiancée was of course not quite as pleased.

After the docking we had a short time of trials before deploying at the beginning of February.  As we steamed north we passed the Bay of Islands and had thoughts for the naval vessels that were in at Waitangi for Waitangi Day.  We were going directly to the Far East from NZ which was a little unusual as normally ships would spend time in Sydney working up or go the other way to Hawaii an then across to Singapore or Hong Kong.

We first stopped in Brisbane on the way north for fuel and weekend leave.  Unfortunately this stop off was tinged with sadness when Fish Walsh one of the AB’s died after being unwell and falling from the jetty onto a cat between the ship and jetty.  We of course were late leaving Brisbane, as there were a lot of legal requirements to be met over this unfortunate accident.

As if that wasn’t enough, as we were leaving the jetty the tug attached to the Q/D failed to stop in time and collided rather heavily with the ship in the tiller flat region.  This did considerable damage and further delayed our departure.  After assessment it was decided we were safe to sail but would require docking in Singapore to carry out repairs.

The trip north got progressively warmer, and for this I was extremely glad to be serving on a ship with air conditioning.  We stopped off in Darwin for fuel and each watch got four hours ashore.  Amazing how much mayhem can occur in four hours.  It was good to depart and get people that needed it to bed to recover from a strenuous run ashore!!

We had the obligatory Crossing the Line ceremony and continued on straight up to Singapore.   On arrival there was a Clear Lower Deck for an address by an RN Master at Arms.  He proceeded to inform us where we weren’t allowed to go and warned of the consequences if caught in these areas.  Of course if we weren’t allowed to be there it must be something worth looking at so you could see the old hands noting down these obviously exquisite places to visit.  Made the whole lecture a feed of proverbial chutney.

We off course embarked Pinky the boot maker, Chang Kee the tailor and the laundry staff which was my first dealings with No1 whom I would deal with many time over the next fifteen years and more in different capacities.  I really did respect the laundry staff; it was a tough job in those conditions to turn out day after day clean uniforms for us to run ashore in.  We were still going ashore in uniform in most foreign ports in those days.

I was one of the designated drivers alongside in Singapore, my first experience of driving overseas.  Whilst I had no idea of where we were going or how to get back there were not a lot of options in those days as most roads seemed to end up either in Sambewang or at the Causeway so very quickly learnt my way around.  The biggest hazard in driving was the lack of give way and the constant sound of horns.  However it was pleasing to note that after seven months away I still had not dinged the firm’s vehicle.

We were docked again early on to carry out repairs to the shell plating and frames in the tiller flat.  The Ship’s Co were all billeted in HMS TERROR, which was the RN Base.  Time in TERROR was good with regular bus services down to the Dockyard and we were working tropical routine, which meant we finished work at 1400.  Only the Duty Watch was billeted on-board.

The ship was in one of the Floating Docks for these repairs, it was extremely hot on-board during this period.  It was a bit of a hike from the jetty, over pontoons onto the dry-dock floor then up flights of stairs to the ship’s upper deck and of course then more ladders to mess decks.  It was a real drag as duty driver to have to regularly transit this route during the duty and being duty 24 about the undocking couldn’t come fast enough.

One of the benefits of time in Singapore was that almost every night there would be sport on the main field in front of the Junior Rates Club.  There were some very good competitive games wether it be rugby, soccer, hockey or whatever.  Some of the Internship RN soccer games were of a high class and it really was winner takes all.

We came out of dock and were part of the 11th Escort Squadron.  This was made up of RN, Australian and RNZN ships.  We pretty much transited everywhere as a fleet.  The big advantage of being the only RNZN vessel was we almost always got a priority berth, in some places three ships would be alongside representing the countries whilst the rest of the fleet anchored out.

During the deployment we visited Manila, Bangkok prior to our first visit to Hong Kong.  Manila was an interesting visit.  Standing out in memory was an arranged cricket game between the ship and a group of ex-pats.  It was closely fought but I think we won the drinking competition at the end.  There was a great meal laid on and it was a slightly confused team that arrived back at the ship later that night.

We also visited Bangkok, I well remember going up the river and being berthed two piles in the river.  To get ashore you had to negotiate a very tricky passage in one of the local sampan like boats.  These were very narrow almost canoes; however they had this huge V engine mounted on the stern attached to a long shaft with propeller on the end, this served as both propulsion and steering.  It was frightening when you were sober, climbing into one of these and roaring off up the river into town so to speak.  Most of us cured on apprehension of the return journey by imbibing in a few beers.

We were walking along a jetty to catch one of these overpowered fright machines when a Patrol Card roared up alongside us and asked for our ID.  We were then told to go directly back to our ships, as there was concern there would be a riot.  Apparently an RN sailor had killed a local bar girl and the authorities were concerned that the locals would take out their feelings on any sailors they found.  That was pretty sobering and we were glad to reach safety of our ship.

Our first trip to Hong Kong was notable in the transit from Singapore up to Hong Kong took us up past the coast of Viet Nam.  This was the time of the Viet Nam war raging ashore there.  You could see the vapour trails of the American bombers out of Guam coming over.  There was also a lot of surface activity in the area so of course as the ship transitioned north there was a very active watch kept on our surroundings.  Prior to this if my memory id correct we had been into the floating dock again, we had run over a whale and there was concern of damage to the sonar dome.  This meant we had been into dock three times in three months, not a perfect start to any deployment however we were becoming experts in docking if nothing else.

To be continued

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