Today my Dad remembers Grand Harbour in Malta and the moving Sunset ceremony.


These few visits described and the couple of sporting events were the only relief from the time spent at sea in nearly a year that I served in HMS Ocean. It was a hard working ship but typical of all the ships of the fleet.

We did on three or four occasions put into Marsasclox and go through the exercise of getting the squadron ashore for a couple of days before re-embarking but even those two days were flying days and we were kept just as busy ashore as we were aboard.

On three or four other occasions we also put into Grand Harbour in Valetta. Grand Harbour is huge and a most impressive sight from a ship moored in harbour with battlements and fortifications all around on a large scale. There were invariably other ships in, notably cruisers and as the Admiral of Fleet’s office was in Fort St Angelo overlooking he harbour, spit and polish was the order of the day.

Ocean always tied to the same buoy right beneath St Angelo and as we came between the two outer arms of the harbour the entire outer edge of the flight was lined with sailors shoulder to shoulder, at attention, wearing the smart dress of the day. The ship was saluted by all the other cruisers tied to buoys round the harbour with their crews also manning ship like us.

Men off watch were allowed ashore and those that chose to go were taken off by motor boat (the Liberty boat) and brought back the same way later.

The pinnacle of the day was at 6pm. This was when the pomp and circumstance, the pride, the bullshit of the Royal Navy, call it what you like shows us at our best. 6pm was Sunset. Wherever the portion of the sun was Sunset was the time when spit and polish eased, when the day’s work changed to evening.

The entire fleet fell silent as one long note o the bugle from the flagship HMS Liverpool in this case sounded to alert all the other ships. Crews of all the ships were going about their normal duties but on the sound of the alert every man and every officer on deck snapped to attention, turned towards where his ship’s flag was being lowered and saluted.

Whilst the flag of every ship was being lowered three Royal Marine buglers stood on top of the forward gun turret of the Liverpool and sounded Sunset. Every note was in perfect unison and reverberated around Grand Harbour in the otherwise complete silence.

It was a most moving moment and I, like I think most men, felt proud to be part of it. The whole ceremony took less than five minutes when every man at attention sprang back to life. This ritual, albeit in a less spectacular form would be taking part in every shore establishment and every moored ship in the Royal Navy wherever they may be at 6pm.

  • HMS Dragon in Grand Harbour

    Reaching for the light is important as this poem shows.


    I planted some seeds

    I did not have high hopes

    But I planted them all the same

    I went away

    Green shoots on my return

    They outgrew their small pots

    I gave them water and put them by the window

    They love the light.

    They reach out for it.

    They know it is good for them.

    And so they grow.

    Soon they will flower

    I can see their power.

    And I will learn from them

    Because I need to

    I have suddenly realised I wrote this immediately after hearing of the death of Robin Williams which seems strangely apt as my favourite film is the Dead Poet’s Society.

    Rest peacefully.

    Today my Dad remembers a visit to Rhodes, Greek hospitality and some strange drinks.


    Another occasion after a period of flying found us in Rhodes.

    As usual the famous three went ashore – Sam, Daisy and Ken. Whenever we went ashore in any of these Mediterranean ports we determined if possible to get into the hinterland behind the port and away from the crowds of sailors who wanted to haunt the nearest bar. We were always curious to see the local people as they really were but on the other hand we always found a little bar somewhere devoid of other sailors.

    This time in Rhodes we found ourselves walking in the hills behind the town. As ever it was hot and by mid-afternoon thoughts turned to something to eat and drink. No bar, no shop but we saw a Greek man outside his house and asked him where we could eat. He invited us into his home and introduced us to his wife and children. He had not English, we had no Greek but he had us sit down and brought us some Greek coffee and a plate filled with pieces of what at first looked like pink meat but what turned out to be lovely, cool and juicy. This food turned out to be melon but none of us had ever encountered it before. When that was eaten he then (or rather his wife did as she did all the serving) gave us some delicious cheese. All this was served on a stone step between what appeared to be the only two rooms in the house. They had no table or chairs, just a couple of low divans covered in cloth.

    It was time for us to move on and we offered some Greek money but the man would take nothing for the simple meal and we could only thank him and indicate we were grateful for the experience.

    We made our way back towards the town looking for a bar once again avoiding the madding crowds of sailors. We found a small bar with four or five locals in and sat down. Another little quirk that we three had was when we went ashore and found a bar like this, one of us would have been nominated (we took it in turns) to decide what drink we would have that night. Every bar had loads of bottles of spirits not all of them identifiable to the English eye so one just chose at random like “We’ll have some of that blue stuff in the bottle” and then we would stick to that same spirit all night. We drank some queer stuff that way but always made our merry way back to the ship.

    • Cyprus – a visit to Larnaca

      Today, my Dad remembers a visit to Tripoli in Libya.


      When I first joined Ocean we set sail and had about 10 days continuous flying and then the ship’s tannoy announced that we were to visit Tripoli in Libya.  So that the ship remained manned we were allowed ashore in two watches.  Our watch would go on the first day and the other on the second day.

      Libyan currency would be exchanged for sterling before we reached port.  Libyan currency was actually British Military currency as Libya was under British Military rule.

      As we approached the African coast to enter the long channel that led up to the harbour it was amazing to see and to negotiate between the scores of sunken German and Italian ships sunk on each side of the channel relics of the North African desert war.

      Tripoli was nothing to write home about.  The people were poor.  There were lots of beggars on the streets.  Buildings had been bombed and fought over and were derelict.

      The only things that seemed to be for sale were handmade camel leather purses.

      Muslim country – no alcohol.

      We had been warned before we left that ship not to wander into the native quarter and to keep a keen eye out for pick-pockets.  Sailors wore a belt that had a small pouch to hold your money.

      Before ever we had reached Tripoli we had been vaccinated for smallpox on board ship as Tripoli was rife with it.

      Ashore we were inundated with flies as big as bluebottles and pestered by the locals to buy leather goods, dates, fruit etc.

      Even now I can remember the ordinary Libyans who approached us for money/cigarettes, dressed in rags with clusters of flies crawling around eyes, ears, mose and mouths.  I thought no wonder there is smallpox and what other unhygienic diseases must there be?  It was good to get back to the ship.

      Tripoli was my first port to be visited after Malta.  Fortunately future visits to other ports were a pleasanter experience.

      The ship sailed and the daily flying routine continued.

      Today, my Dad remembers how Jewish families were keen to make their way from European countries to the “Promised Land” of Israel.


      After the war there were huge numbers of Jewish families who were displaced persons or who were settled in countries that were now unwilling to accept them.  Russia was a prime example as they had for years victimised their Jewish populous.  In other European countries too their Jewish residents were unsettled now following the Holocaust and were anxious to migrate to what they felt was shortly to become the Jewish state of Israel.

      As a consequence the European coastal areas of the Mediterranean from Spain right round to the Balkans had Jewish families amassing hoping to find ships to take them to the Promised Land.  This was like but on a far larger scale the north coast of France is today with immigrants wanting to reach England.  Consequently there were people prepared to provide ships at a price to secretly convey Jews to the Palestine coast and land them there.

      The British Administration did not was a sudden influence of a Jewish population as they were trying to placate the Arab people and to persuade them to come to an agreement about the creation of a Jewish state of Israel.  It was down to the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean to identify these ships, stop them and prevent them completing this journey.  When a ship was located a Navy destroyer fitted with a platform on the bows to intercept and board the offending ship.  The boarding party would force the ship’s Captain to change the course of the ship which would be escorted to a Cyprus port and the ship would be impounded and the families on board would be confined in fenced camps ashore in Cyprus.  Although they would be confined they were well treated during their time there until the state of Israel was created in 1948 when they would be conveyed to Israel.

      In a number of cases when an illegal ship was stopped and boarded it was found that the skipper and his officers was often Americans.  Whilst American had been our allies during the war many Americans were supportive of the Jews and were attempting to get them to Palestine and did all they could to get them there.