Search This Blog

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Reminiscences - A lifetime on Zulu

A lifetime ago, it seems now. And, reviewing the distance travelled, the places visited, and the experiences gained over that draft of two and a half years, it seems like it was a lifetime onboard.

I joined HMS Zulu, my first seagoing RN ship, in April 1967 while she was undergoing refit in Rosyth. This was in the days when the Royal Navy was much larger than at present and their ships travelled the world, calling in at many ports. Different, nowadays, I know…
We sailed for Portsmouth on 29 April, 1967. We then went to Portland for a week’s trials, visited Amsterdam, my first foreign port call, though I had been abroad with a school trip on MS Dunera, visiting Vigo, Lisbon and Jersey. Then we went to Greenock, Glasgow, Douglas in the Isle of Man, Liverpool, Llandudno, Swansea, and back to Portsmouth on 10 June. Yes, we got about in those days. It wasn’t just plain sailing, of course; between destinations we’d be undergoing training, Action Stations and all manner of drills. [Action Stations, drills, Work Up all deserve separate blogs, believe me.] And of course we worked weekends and the weather wasn’t always docile as we crossed oceans and seas.

The ship had a ship’s magazine, roughly 8 sheets of foolscap, printed from Gestetner skins with contributions from the crew. The magazine was called Warrior and I inherited it from my predecessor, though I wasn’t the editor, (the Captain’s secretary, a sub Lieutenant was the editor); I was just the sub-editor and typist then…
This was the masthead I designed; published every Saturday at sea. [Perhaps some snippets will crop up in this blog in later months…] There was recreation time, naturally, Sundays if not on duty. And there were film nights – Zulu was on permanent loan to the ship and we viewed it often. [You can read about this film here]

A whole day at Portsmouth and then we went to Rotterdam for four days, Portsmouth, Bangor in Northern Ireland – we became the ‘ship at the bottom of the street’.
'Ship at the bottom of the street', Bangor, NI - from the Spectator newspaper
Thence to Hartlepool, Rosyth, Portsmouth, Portland in February 1968 until 3 April – Work Up, during which time we were worked hard. There followed Rosyth, Bootle, Cardiff, Portland, Penzance, Greenock, Campbeltown, Greenock, Fairlie, and Rosyth.

The advantage with being on a ship was that wherever you travelled, all your gear, everything travelled with you – unlike the mobile units of the Army or Air Force.

Sailing from Rosyth, we arrived in Gibraltar on 8 July 1968; my first visit, though not my last, here. Approaching the Rock from the sea is captivating, a beautiful even romantic sight.

Two days later we arrived in Malta. Little did I know how much this famous island would figure in my later life! That was just for a day’s sojourn, however. Then we were off to Izmir, Turkey and stayed for two days. While we were in the Mediterranean, monitoring the Soviet warships, among other things, Malta became our base of operations, so we kept popping in and out, staying for the one day, mostly. Naturally, as we had onboard duties, there was no question of going ashore on every occasion. These stays were scheduled for stores, new personnel and fuelling, among other things.
We visited Elba, one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s homes-in-exile; a beautiful island, then Kavalla, Greece, with its gorgeous unspoiled beach, and after a final stopover at Malta, on to Gibraltar, arriving 5 September. As this was a slightly longer stay, I joined some shipmates on an MFV across to Tangier, taking in the sights, including the suk and camel-riding! We sailed from Gibraltar four days’ later, arriving in Portland for a couple of days, then on to Den Helder for an official visit, and back up to Rosyth for three weeks, to allow personnel to get some leave in.
Then it was back to Portland on 21 October, Gibraltar for a day, Malta for four days; here, I toured the island using the local bus system. Then on to Naples; sadly, Vesuvius was clouded over but Pompeii was so memorable, even to this day, and of course since then more excavation has occurred.
Pompeii - Vesuvius in background...

There followed a brief official 4-day visit to Nice, where I attended a church service (that was all I was permitted ashore since I was growing a beard and it wasn’t quite presentable).
We docked in Portsmouth 4 December for a day, then went to Rosyth for a lay-off and seasonal leave break (ship maintenance), though of course personnel had to be there on duty over the period.

A new year and new ports of call. Portsmouth for four days or so, then on to St Helena (felt as though we were following Boney – visited his attractive villa, (where the wallpaper purportedly poisoned him), then on to Durban (apartheid still much in evidence, a visit of mixed feelings, beautiful country, and saw Zulus too), then on the Beira Patrol blockading Ian Smith’s regime, stopping off at Mombasa for seven days in March, then we sailed for Mahé in the Seychelles, an idyllic island, though only there for two days, followed by a three week stay at Bahrain where we met up with the RAF personnel stationed there, enjoying their bar facilities and swimming pool (I almost got roped in to go for the Guinness Book of Records for typing).  After this, it was Muscat, Bahrain, and across the ocean to Karachi.
The ship stayed in Karachi for five days and for the long weekend I and a handful of other chosen few were selected to fly up to Islamabad as guests of the diplomatic corps serving there. We ended up being driven along the Khyber Pass to the border with Afghanistan – a fair portion of that is narrated in Under the Queen’s Colours - see here

After Karachi, back to Bahrain, Dubai, Doha, Colombo, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka] (another beautiful island). We left Colombo on 21 August and four days later we arrived at Singapore, where we stayed at the dockyard for almost a month while the ship underwent maintenance and local leave was taken. Exotic smells, food and weather – clockwork rain, no less!

Thence on to Yokohama for a week and to Hong Kong for two weeks, then Singapore. I flew back to UK from Singapore (my draft completed, already scheduled to join HMS Dolphin (Flag Officer Submarines) in Gosport; I was tasked with taking the masters of our ship’s commission book to the Portsmouth printers, having been a sub-editor on this project. (The ship went on to Durban, then Portsmouth and arrived in Rosyth 21 December.)

A memorable and in many ways remarkable two-and-a-half years.



Harry Flowers said...

Indeed, that was a fine commission . .

I posted a number of my photos on the Forces Reunited site and are free for all to take copies . .

Denys (Bamber) Gascoyne

Ian Napier said...

I was on the Med and Far East Deployments. My first ship. Best ever

Ian Napier (Naps)

JRO at the time...

Nik Morton said...

Thanks for the comments and memories, Harry and Ian. Ah, those were the days!