On the 8 January 1974 HMS Scylla led the 7th Frigate Squadron, eight ships in total, out of Portsmouth harbour for what was to be a nine month deployment to the Far East. It was a very emotional departure for most of the sailors as hundreds of families were lined up on the jetty’s and quaysides waving them off to the dulcet sounds of the Royal Marines band. Having already bid my elderly foster parents ‘bye at New Year I didn’t have that lump in my throat like many of the others but I was still amazed at how many people had come to see us off; from standing to attention on the upper deck all I could see was a human caterpillar stretching miles along the Hampshire coast.
Before long we were out at sea, out of vision and so changed into workwear to assume our normal sea going duties. I knew the (English) Channel and the Bay (of Biscay) had reputations of rough weather but after two months surviving the Gale Force storms of Iceland I wasn’t too concerned. Having said that the seas were rough and there were times I felt really sick but stayed focused thinking it wasn’t going to be for long.
As a Stores Accountant most of my time at sea was spent ‘down below’ either in the stores office or in one of our storerooms and so I had to keep nipping up onto the upper deck to see where we were; I didn’t want to miss our approach to Gibraltar. Many of the lads onboard had been in the Navy far longer than me and had visited all of the usual ports on many occasions, including Gibraltar. Their conversations seemed to revolve around the fact that Gibraltar had 365 pubs, one for every day of the year, and that their sole aim during our brief visit was to get ‘mortal’, ‘marinated’ or ‘steaming’ depending on what part of the U.K. they were from. Whether Gibraltar does have or ever has had 365 pubs I don’t know but visiting any of them wasn’t on my itinerary. I was only18 and not a particularly big drinker at that time; on top of that I was more interested in seeing real apes than men mimicking them drunk. I’d seen enough of that with my foster dad rolling home (see Memoirs of a Child in Care).
Years later, when living in Gibraltar with my family, I recall whenever ships were in port we didn’t go anywhere that sailors may happen to be, in fact we positively avoided those places but then that’s another story and a tale for Chapter 2.
I don’t remember the exact date we arrived at the Rock other than it was in January but there’s a guy who owns a shop in Gibraltar (opposite John Mackintosh Hall) selling photos of Royal Navy warships would probably know for sure. What I do know is the minute that someone spotted the Rock from several (nautical) miles away my eyes were glued to it; and the nearer we got the less I blinked not wanting to miss a moment of our arrival (or end the awe I was feeling).
As we berthed alongside I looked up at this massive Mediterranean lump of Britain in the sun and knew then Gibraltar would become very special to me.