I was about 10-15 years too late for the Malaya commie crisis and then the Indonesian State of Emergency. So I am pretty small fry in the South East Asia league, I was sent on the HMS Fearless, 2nd commission to join in Singapore, as an apprentice, July 1969 which was the last China Fleet big ship sent out from the UK.
But to be honest if we had been at war it couldn’t have seemed much different, to me anyway. When I joined it seemed the Fearless was largely manned or crewed by apprentices. It was one operation or exercise after another.
No sooner had I joined in Singapore, in my new Chinese No. 8 denims, when the biggest Bombay runner I ever saw, landed on my foot and proceeded to nibble my toe.
Within a month I had an iron man six pack, like everybody else. The Fearless was built for the North Atlantic so it was good on keeping warm, but not good on keeping cool. Lunch was a tot, a paladrin and half a pound a cubed cheddar cheese. That was before we loaded 500 sacks of spuds, to feed the amphibious forces.
A third of the crew was Chinese and I think they all played Ma Jung, in the mess above my bunk all night. I had a top bunk and their card table was on the deck above my head. There was a constant tapping and a fit of high excitement chattering every two or three minutes.
I remember we had to set the dinning hall up for the evening movie. The screen was in the middle, so we had to set trestle seats up both sides, first row with the legs folded under, then with the legs down, then the next tier was sat on the edge of the table, then there would be trestle seats on the table with a final row stood up at the back. We used to get the best seats! For the first ten minutes anyway.
Then the 37 varieties of army guys would muscle us back, out of the way, then the Booties, then the Gurkha’s and then the SAS. I would end up stood at the back with my head jammed between fluorescent lights, watching the movie back to front. Anyway they were happy days.
I had the Boffer gun and the seacat missile launcher Port forward and the crew was asked not to shoot anymore drones down, because the Navy was running out. It was a good proving ground on all the different sections, navigation, communications, weapons, boats and batteries, generation and switchgear. Etc. at all levels.
We did the first hovercraft trials. What normally happened was, it ferried the Officers ashore before the evening rain, then the Chuffs (CPO) and Puffs(PO), when it was our turn, it was usually to late to wait, so we would get issued with a tinny and some paddles to row ashore in the rain.
The HMS Fearless handed over to the Aussie and Kiwi Navies in Singapore on the way back, but in the two year commission she sailed 65,000 n.miles and in the 12 months I was there, it was based in Singapore and Hong Kong. (Sembewang and Tamar). I remember the ANZAC forces terminating the career of the Grand Piano in the Brit Club, when it did nose dive off the balcony.
I was lifeguard for 19 ships off Paulau Tiomen for Janex. Although how you could see anybody drowning in a sea full off hundreds of bobbing heads was impossible. Although my lifesaving skills were required, in a hotel swimming pool in Bangkok, when a Japanese Merchant seaman did his last swim.
We had various competitions with the Anzacs, Gurkhas and Various other Regiments in Victoria Barracks, and Tamar, Brit Club, or China Fleet Club when we called regularly on the northern or southern patrol legs. It was the start of the Cold War and there was a lot going on. We were regularly overrun by Vulcan’s and lightnings and B25s from Vietnam.
I remember one morning as the dawn cleared, we had Kangaroos and Kiwi stenciled all around the ship. The following morning, the Anzac Frigates had; “Made in the UK”, around theirs. Ha, Ha.
One of the guys I joined up with was the nephew of the Sultan of Johor Baru. Another had a father who was a director with the Top Rank film company. This led to a few of us looking for locations for potential Kung Fu movies, or the return of the one armed swordsman (2). Another had trained as a Chef so it made our ‘off time’ interesting.
My initiation to Australia was when we docked in Perth, we hosted a local orphanage kids on a pirate daddy day. I was stood next this guy, when one of the kids said ‘If you jump from ship to ship, jump down there then”!
To everyone’s astonishment he did. He jumped from the guardrail to the jetty it was about ten metres down and ten metres out. He did a parchute roll and stood up waving his wooden sword. Marvellous what the tot can do!
I remember a large Italian Guy shouting; “you pommie bastard’, I was sure he meant somebody else, surely it was somebody else.
When I ignored him, he bought me a beer and said with doleful eyes. “Look you pommie bastard, I am a f---Ding-a-ling”. We jumped on his yacht and won the cup in the regatta. (after a few jugs, of the local cooking beer). It was the Royal Perth Flying Club.
We carried thousands of troops of the commonwealth to Borneo, Japan, KL, Port Swetnam and the west coast Palau's (Tiomen and Langkawi), India, Thailand, Borneo, Penang; we went all over like a rash, New Territories HK for the illegal immigrants.
The Fearless Anchored off Seria and the Royal Machines got some practice with the beach master building roads and bulldozing some trees down. We had a run-ashore in Seria (not the town) somewhere in the bush adjacent to the pipeline. The Royal Green jackets were not really amused, as we drunk their beer and they sat there ‘on standby’ with their LPMG’s by the chairs. I think there were about seven pyramids of cans to the ceiling.
One guy (I can identify him) organized a Yorkshire and disappeared with the proceeds. We found him at the beach, up a palm tree with a slab of tiger throwing empty tins down. Apparently it was quiet in the bush, for awhile after the trip, maybe the terrorists thought it was some new strategy?
I got some good ANZAC mates, Ned Kelly, Dino Dozen, Russell Hobbs, Jumper Woolly. They were all dags?
We went from one exercise to another, with the SAS and we carried the Ghurkhas and Marines, Royal corp. of Transport, REME, Royal Signals. We had 800 extras (Gurkhas and Marines) living in camp beds on the tank deck one time. Some Boot-neck Sergeant ‘turned in’ on the skippers bunk. The Australian RAAF wives beat us at Darts in Penang, which was a bit embarrassing. (Phooweee!)
It was a life changing experience. I was drafted to nuclear submarines as soon as I got back. I completed 25 years in the Navy, with 20 years in submarines in the Cold War Submarines, Polaris and Fast Attack boats up the ice. I finished up WO nuclear, head of department of 62 technicians (That’s another story)
I have been out here now for 16 - 17 years, New Zealand and Australia. I now live in Perth, after Mount Isa and Auckland with my Kiwi partner; we travelled around the mines together as a reliability contracting engineer. I am giving her electrocution lessons.
I wouldn't have missed that period for gold clock. I would prefer visiting there, to parts of Europe. Although this last 2 years, we have been to Rarotonga, San Diego for the USSVI Sub Vets and part of the US International Submariners Association USA-ISA. In addition to Auckland NZ, for Cherie’s family and then of course Sabah.
We went snorkeling at Manukan and Sapi Islands, and then off to the Orangutan and Proboscis money sanctuary on the Scaramouche River Sanctuary which is just inside Kalimantan on the east coast. We would love to go Sandakan and Tawau, possibly even the spice Islands.
I am a contributor to the Australian Defense Society, having submitted papers about the AFD’s amphibious floating docks (Like the Fearless), submarine aspects and recruitment/ retention with qualifications. I was involved with that in the Navy for FOSM (Subelant). I then commissioned Sizewell B Nuclear Power station before heading over here for sunnier climes. I have also submitted for energy future of Australia.
Best regards, Chris
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