Fair Winds And a Following Sea
This time on Nostalgia Album we are enjoying a new posting to a place where the White Ensign no longer flies. If in last week’s unread comments below the unread article, Puffins guessed at Singers, Honkers, Trincomalee, Aden or West Indies Station, they’d have been very cold, colder, cold, wrong and wronger. Previously in Gibraltar, enjoying a day trip to Seville, now fair winds and following seas have carried Nostalgia Album and my father’s Aunt Lil, Uncle Rob and Cousin Anne to a respectable lower-middle-class address in tightly packed terrace streets similar to those of their native Carlisle.
Puffins with an encyclopedic knowledge of Google Street View will point out that this is Rochester in Kent. Matelots and Jack Tars will know that’s only a couple of nautical miles as the albatross flies from the naval base at Chatham. Along the River Medway from Rochester, the white duster was lowered from Chatham Dockyard for the final time in 1984.
I have an address for the family in 1963. The reason for this will become clear and is not because of any photographic evidence placed in our old album.
In the early 1960s, Chatham Dockyard was busy building O Class submarines. Oberon herself (S09) had been laid down in November 1957 and launched in July 1959. Ocelot (S17) was laid down in Nov 1960, launched in May 1962, Onslaught (S14), April ’59, Sept ’60. Having completed a batch for the Royal Navy, Ojibwa, Okanagan and Onondaga (S72, S74 and S73) were laid down and launched between September ’62 and June ’67 for Her Majesty’s Canadian Navy.
As well as shipbuilding, Chatham was occupied with all of the other work that naval dockyards are accustomed to. Previously stationed in Gibraltar and before that in Malta during and after the war, Rob will have been familiar with many of the famous names which, according to an old 1963 edition of Navy News, were about the Medway town’s docks.
- HMS Berry Head (escort maintenance) at Chatham for trials
- HMS Blackpool (A/S Frigate) Chatham LRP compliment
- HMS Cavalier (Destroyer) increase from C&M party to LRP compliment
- HMS Chichester (A/D Frigate) for trials general service commission Med. 27th Escort Sqn
- HMS Defender (destroyer) movement at Chatham for trials (to reserve on completion of long refit)
- HMS Vidal (surveying ship) for general service commission West Indies
- HMS Whirlwind (A/S Frigate) for general service commission West Indies home / 8th frigate fleet
As well as West Indies Station, elsewhere in that edition there are heads-ups for the likes of Singapore, Bahrain and Aden. HMS Vidal had spent the winter mapping the north coast of South America, lingering around the mouths of the Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice. Not a bad life. Although a landlubber unfamiliar with the Grey Funnel Line’s acronyms, I suspect A/S will stand for anti-submarine, A/D for air defence and LRP (possibly) for long-range patrol. If forced to guess, I’d stab at construction and machinery for C&M. I’m probably wrong.
Interestingly, HMS Cavalier is still there as is HMS Ocelot. Having returned after being decommissioned, they are exhibits at what is now the Historic Dockyard Museum, Chatham. Cavalier was built by J. Samuel White and Company of Cowes and commissioned in November 1944. Yes, there used to be an Isle of White shipbuilding industry. The last surviving World War Two destroyer, Cavalier served mainly in the Far East and was part of Operation Grapple, the British nuclear bomb tests on the Pacific islands of Malden and Kiritimati.
After being built at Chatham, Ocelot was allocated to the 7th Submarine Sqn up there in Faslane from where she engaged in a Cold War game of derring-do with Ivan Ruskie.
Also within the pages of Navy News is an advert for the Hillman Imp. That’s a Routes Hillman Imp with an 875cc engine which will set you back £508. According to the advert the Imp carried four with ‘room to spare’. Those of us of a certain age will recall that it didn’t.
RE Regimental HQ, Chatham
Although the Royal Navy are long gone, the Royal Engineers Regimental Headquarters and Royal School of Military Engineering are still located there. My father was a Royal Engineer when a national serviceman. Although his photographs are of Aldershot and the War Office in London, we shall assume he was occasionally at HQ and took the opportunity to call upon his aunt, uncle and cousin. Not a fan of the army, my father didn’t have many stories to tell. Somebody stole his boots. Someone else borrowed 10/- and never gave it back. The Cockneys couldn’t believe that back home in Worth-Saying country my father could turn a full 360 degrees without seeing another living soul. The highlights of his service were watching Sergeant Bilko in the NAAFI and going to see Harry Secombe in London Laughs.
As we’re short of Nostalgia Album photos this time, we’ll pad out this unread instalment with some from an old wallet of my father’s self-developed prints. We shall assume they were shown to an interested young cousin in the front room of a respectable Kent terrace by a smart young Sapper a long way from home and pleased to see a familiar face after a hard day at Regimental Headquarters.
Captioned ‘May Day Parade, Embankment’, the banner at the front says Labour Party. Taken from an elevated position, at first I thought my father might be on the top deck of a double-decker bus. But looking to the left, there is a double-decker that the photographer is looking down on. Referencing a map shows few structures afford such a view along The Embankment. One place that does is the House of Parliament.
Although tempted to weave a tall tale of derring-do where my father stands on Profumo’s shoulders at a corridor window to take photos of the Commies, the background doesn’t match. The background does match at Hungerford Bridge with the building in the distance being The Savoy. The pedestrian crossing has survived as have the street lights and traffic lights. The trees have not only survived but thrived, no doubt benefiting from all the carbon dioxide in the big city.
Picture 3 is Trafalgar Square and is dated 31st /12th, in the days when the Norwegians sent us a better tree and New Years Eve revelry could be controlled by two coppers in peaked helmets and great coats. No need for barriers around the fountains. To the left is the collonade of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Behind the fountain is South Africa House.
As well as a Communist enemy within, there was one without. While the Warsaw Pact were occupying Eastern Europe and the Navy was chasing after Soviet submarines, the RE were playing cricket with folded-up pullovers for stumps. As the shutter clattered, it looks as though the bat was way above the left-hand side of loose gripping batsman Bill’s shoulder, as if heading for the next field or even a neighbouring parish.
Since my mother is mentioned later, I will include a photo. My parents married in March of the year following the end of my father’s national service. It does look cold in the photo and I suspect this was their honeymoon. Ominously, the caption on the reverse of the print reads ‘St Annes on Sea’ which, although nearby, is not to be confused with the more famous Lytham St Annes. A part of the world where strange things are seen, my mother appears to only have one leg.
Shortly after the wedding and less than a decade after Anne’s exciting schoolgirl trip to Seville (featured last week), her life changed dramatically and suddenly. And not just because the family had been sent back to England. On 22nd November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. This tragic event was sandwiched between family sadnesses for 26-year-old Anne. On 2nd November 1963, her mother Lil died and two days after Kennedy, on 25th November, Robert followed. Lil was 65, Robert was 57. The reason I have their Chatham address is because of a legal registration as spinster Anne was granted probate.
Looking through old local newspapers for late 1963, I can’t find a death notice for Lil or Bob but the archive is incomplete. It is possible to order death certificates but they cost money and take six working weeks to arrive. If my curiosity does overcome me, I’ll keep Puffins informed. What nags at the back of the mind is that Rob’s death might have been work-related. As we’ve seen in the old photos he was painfully thin and a smoker but also worked in a hazardous industry.
The Curse of The Worth-Sayings
Previously I warned Puffins that the Worth-Sayings aren’t long-lived. My grandfather Elihu (Lil’s brother) died two years later, aged 58, and my grandmother Edith the year after that, aged 56. Two and a half decades later there was another reckoning with my father’s cousin Jack dying (a more healthy 71) in July 1992. My mother died the next month, aged 61. When my father phoned Anne to tell her, he was informed that she’d recently died too, aged 52. My father passed a few years later, weeks after his 64th birthday.
This humble reviewer of old photographs is 59. He is typing as quickly as he can – just in case. If this story suddenly stops, I will not have flounced, it will be much, much worse than that!
Therefore, all of the grown-ups pictured on the Gibraltar trip were dead by the early part of the following decade. Also, all of the five cousins (the grandchildren of Elihu Senior and Elizabeth) are now deceased. John died in Algeria during the war, Jack and Anne in 1992, my father in 1997. My father’s brother, Peter, died in infancy.
Having been born in 1962, your author can’t remember his grandfather on that side of the family and can barely remember his grandmother but did know Anne. I can recall her during her occasional visits north and our occasional visits south. As well as being very smartly turned out she was also a posh talker, not surprising given her services upbringing and colonial education. She may even, perhaps, have been one of those people who disguise being from Carlisle in the same way that the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and Dianna Rigg successfully deflect knowledge that they were born in Doncaster. Your humble author is an even bigger snob and if we ever meet, you won’t be able to place my accent.
What became of Anne after her parents’ deaths? There are two things that the Worth-Sayings never do. One is, as you already realise, draw the old age pension. The other is to feel self-pity. According to probate, her parent’s estate was £3,500, a reasonable sum of money in those days. It being 1963 and now in her mid-twenties, herself and England were about to enter a particular period of time known as the Swinging Sixties. Dear God.
Which begs the question, what did Anne do next? It is fairly obvious. There have been plenty of clues. Every Puffin must place their guess in an unread comment before finding out for certain next time on Nostalia Album!
© Always Worth Saying 2022