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

sunset

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

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

    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.