It was January 1974 and I was serving aboard HMS Scylla (F71), Flagship of the 7th Frigate Squadron. By then I’d been in the Royal Navy for about two and a half years and had served on Scylla for the previous 13 months.
During 1973, following a major refit, Scylla had been on work-up and trials at Portland which was pretty draining for the crew. It was the Royal Navy’s way of putting a warship through its paces to check its systems, weaponry and crew readiness – ensuring (to put it bluntly) that it was ready for war. Some of the exercises went on for hours and hours and necessitated men having to wear additional heavy clothing, head gear or masks and remain at ‘action stations’ for very long periods of time; needless to say we were all glad when it was over. It wasn’t too long though before we were rewarded with a couple of courtesy visits to Brest (France) and Flensburg (Germany) prior to escorting HM Queen Elizabeth aboard HM Royal Yacht Britannia around Scotland.
Flensburg, Germany 1973
Escorting HM Royal Yacht Brittania. The Queen and Duke in the foreground, Prince Andrew watching.
Significantly that year we had also taken part in (what later would be referred to as) the Icelandic Cod War during which we had been rammed by the Icelandic Gunboat Aegir. The Icelanders only had five gunboats which were small compared to a Leander Class Frigate but were all fitted with ice breakers capable of causing serious ruptures. Although we had sustained damage the affected compartments were shored up and we continued then completed our tour of duty regardless.
Sometime in the autumn of ’73 news of our next deployment came through and all-to-a-man were delighted to hear we were finally off to see some sunshine, particularly after the drain of Portland Trials and the chills and gale force storms of Iceland. Come January ’74 Scylla was to lead a deployment of 6 warships and 2 RFAs (Royal Fleet Auxiliaries) out to the ‘Fez’ (Far East) calling at an amazing selection of places including Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mombasa, the Gulf, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Australia and New Zealand.
Particularly exciting for me was the very first (and very last) stop on this fabulous trip – Gibraltar; that big Rock where the apes lived. I screamed inside with delight, then phoned my cousin Paul.