- Francis, Richard
- None noted
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In 1977 the cruiser HMS Tiger visited Sydney for a period of rest and recreation which embraced the Christmas festive season. The ship was flagship of an RN worldwide deployment squadron, participating in bilateral or combined exercises in every region – not for nothing was this activity cynically referred to as a “Round the World Work Up”. It was some relief to the ship when the Admiral and his entire staff flew home to UK for Christmas, except that on departing it was announced that the ship herself would carry out her Sea Inspection immediately on sailing from Sydney, when the Admiral returned. This pronouncement filled the ship with gloom, and a start was made to paint ship in preparation.
On exchange in HMAS Penguin I found myself appointed as the ship’s liaison officer and proceeded to arrange a full programme of sport, recreation and social events, utilising all the goodwill of Christmas. There were, however, a few setbacks. The Commander (XO) was a former nuclear submariner somewhat unfamiliar with showing the flag routine. Mindful of the upcoming sea inspection, he promulgated a rigid policy to prepare for this. I subsequently found out his nickname amongst officers and crew alike was “Beano”. This came from his frequent directions to all and sundry: “There will be no cocktail parties”, “There will be no officers’ overnight leave”. “There will be no boat banyans”. “There will be no Make and Mends”, and so on.
My ambitious programme of events began to look decidedly threadbare as event after event was cancelled by Beano, to the deepening chagrin of the ships’ company. I had served previously in her sister ship HMS Blake and had tried hard to generate harmony and improve morale in Tiger but even my enthusiasm began to wane when I found the ship’s NAAFI canteen selling T-shirts inscribed with the slogan “Scrap the Blake – more spare parts for Tiger”!
The ship herself had maintenance problems of her own, which compounded the efforts to clean and paint ship. Several FFO tanks had split and the oil was oozing out around her berth and later throughout Sydney Harbour (but that is another story). Boiler tubes were wearing out and there was a constant threat of dreaded condenseritis, and all that it entailed. Thus the crew was forced to work long hours unrewarded and not much joy to look forward to.
The ban on using ship’s resources such as boats (she had a useful outfit embarked) and the early sabotaging of the ship’s Land Rover (by a disgruntled sailor putting sugar in the diesel tank) meant that it was only with the provision of RAN transport (lean too in that era) that any sports teams and social parties could leave the ship, thus avoiding Beano’s baleful eye. Penguin successfully hosted a social cricket match (rained out at half time – retired to the bar) and a lively Wardroom buffet lunch (where some of the terse Tiger officers began to let down their hair). I believe that this cheering event led to the following amusing incident.
I was just leaving the Wardroom of HMAS Kuttabul at about 1600 a couple of days before Christmas and glanced down at the Australian Fleet Flagship (HMAS Melbourne) at her usual berth at Fitting Out Wharf. Something looked odd to me but I could not immediately identify it. Alarm bells began to ring. The Duty Area Staff Officer also stepped out into the hot glare outside Fleet Headquarters. I asked him if he could see anything unusual in the Flagship’s appearance. No, he could not. Then it dawned on me. Fluttering gently in the breeze from the ensign staff was the RN White Ensign! I groaned at realising the probable ramifications, and probable fury of Melbourne’s Captain. Duty Staff rang the gangway, who were oblivious of anything untoward. The correct RAN ensign was quietly replaced and nothing more was said (the Commodore was apparently on leave).
My surmise (correct in the event) was that Tiger must have had some involvement. Not wishing to create any undue upset onboard, but fearful of likely retaliation in due course, I began investigating discreetly amongst my old shipmates. Apparently most of Melbourne’s officers were being entertained to a lunchtime RPC in Tiger’s wardroom that day. Tiger’s midshipmen devised a rapid plan to raid the Australian flagship. Just after “Turn to” that afternoon the RN midshipmen stepped aboard Melbourne and made their way to the after end of the flight deck. They were mildly challenged by the flight deck sentry “Wot’s goin’ on, then?”