In 1968 I joined Hermes in the April as an Engine Room Artificer Apprentice and was in 5E starboard mess.
In the July we were working up off Scotland and on a Saturday morning we replenished at sea (RAS) solids, part of which was 2000 crates of beer. The Master at Arms (MAA) chose the Royal Marine band to move it from the side lift to the NAAFI store in 7E, the route was down through the main hatch. During the RAS, 20 crates of beer went “missing”.
That afternoon the Regulating Petty Officers (RPO) were on the rampage looking for the missing beer. I and about 8 others were playing cards when in walks an RPO and takes us all (total 13) to the regulators office to charge us with gambling.
On the Quarter deck, 13 of us were all lined up for Commanders table. I was in fore & aft rig, the others were in square rig. As I stood out I was called first. The Commander asks me if I was playing cards?. Yes Sir came the reply. What were you playing?. Cribbage Sir, I said. And how do you play it?. So I told him all of it, including 1 for his nob. As the RPO took no evidence the Commander said case dismissed, the MAA blew his top but had to say case dismissed, on cap, right turn, quick march, so I did. They then brought the rest in two lots to say case dismissed.
Back in the mess I had a lot of sippers, later in the week we had a party in the RM band mess and drunk most of those 20 cases.
Iain left the Navy as a CPO MEA (P) but was proud to have been on board HMS Hermes again in 2017 in Mumbai for the decommissioning of INS Viraat.
I was onboard Hermes in 76/77. We were in semi refit in Devonport (Guz), 1976, just prior to sailing for the Mediterranean.
Our task was to paint the flight deck side of the island so to get high up we used the Coles Crane with a rickety old chair strapped to the jib. Volunteers were few as it didn't look very safe, so I was detailed as the first one to give it a go. I was given a safety harness, a pot of shipside grey paint and a long handled brush.
We were to start at the rear of the island, with me sat on the chair I attached my harness and signalled to the driver I was ready. So up I went, looking down to the jetty I started to get very scared as it was a hell of a way down, then the driver extended the jib, it was then I felt the tug around my waist. To my horror I realised I'd attached the harness to the stationery part of the crane. I started to scream.
The lads down below began to laugh as I felt the life draining out of me. I was just about to jump off the seat when the driver realised I was in trouble and stopped the extend. I returned to the deck very shaken. I thank the driver Dave Farnworth for realising my plight. Health and safety, what was that in those days?.
Tiger Meet Cambrai 1979
Following on from a successful run ashore in the South of France in Villfranche Sur Mer and the surrounding towns, 2 Seaking helicopters from 814 NAS were tasked to join in that years Tiger Meet.
Now for those less informed, the Tiger Meet is an annual meeting attended by many NATO squadrons who’s emblem happens to be a tiger or part thereof. As 814 NAS has a tigers head on its insignia, and also the name the Flying Tigers (we also happened to be in the area), we had the envious task of flying from Hermes up to Cambrai.
The day came and 2 Seakings left the flight deck of HMS Hermes and headed north, both cabs were loaded with a variety of equipment, spares and obligatory ground crew. Some of the ground crew were fortunate enough to have headsets which enabled them to listen into the pilot and co-pilot whilst we were on route, sadly I was not amongst them.
We had been flying for a while when all of a sudden both cabs turned sharply and descended rapidly, needless to say a certain part of my anatomy tightened. When we levelled out someone had obviously noticed the concerned look on my face, they then took time to explain what had happened. Apparently in certain areas, mountainous areas, there is what is known as restricted air space. Somehow, we had managed to stray into said restricted airspace and were warned to vacate which obviously we agreed to do. A while later we landed in Lyon to re-fuel before continuing on to Cambrai.
After several failed attempts our pilot managed to locate the airfield which would be our home for the next week, we landed and I was volunteered to marshal the cab into the spot. Mainly because I was a junior rate and a bombhead who had little to do on this trip apart from drink copious amounts of alcohol and load emergency signalling flares before take off.
I dutifully jumped down from the now stationary cab and headed for the spot, on arriving I was met by a jolly Frenchman who shook my hand and thrust a nice cold bottle of beer in my hand. Now, I’d done basic marshalling during training, and waved in and out a few cabs at RNAS Culdrose, but do you think I could recall the section of the training manual which taught one handed parking of a cab whilst drinking French beer? I did what I thought was reasonable, after all, I didn’t want to be rude and refuse a welcome from our hosts which could have led to a major international incident, I developed there and then a one handed marshalling technique. It must have been good as the pilot parked smack bang on the spot.
After doing what we had to do with the cabs, we took our belongings to our accommodation had showers and I paid my first visit to a French toilet. Well, what can I say? If you’ve never had the dubious pleasure of seeing one of these, imagine a shower tray, with what appears to be two raised areas where your feet go, and a hole that you hover over. Thankfully all this was done on your own, I dread to imagine what I looked like when sighting the hole, must have been what the crabs were like during the dropping of the bouncing bombs.
Later that evening there was a big event, a hanger was decked out with long tables, each with wine, lager and a huge spread of food, meats, cheeses, bread and seafood, a proper French banquet. The place was full of people from every corner of the globe and women, lots of elegantly dressed women, not the sort you would normally see in Joanna’s if you catch my drift; these were classy.
Anyway, Jack being Jack had only one thing on his mind, the free alcohol. So, us ratings set about consuming as much as we could with gusto, not senior rates and officers obviously. Well, as you know, what goes in must come out so I spotted the heads in the corner of the hanger and made my way over, as normal, I whip out Mr Small and start to do what comes naturally when the door opens. In walks 3 of these elegantly dressed ladies, tall, slender well-dressed ladies. Well, as a young matelot of about 19 years old I froze, women in the mens room? Let me tell you, this was not the time to find out that they had unisex toilets, I have a full bladder, Mr Small is refusing to give it up because just to my left are three stunning women brushing their hair. Finally, at with great relief they left, thus allowing Mr Small to do what he does best; ah the relief.
Back in the hanger we were starting to get bored, the event was for the Minister of the Interior to do a speech, we waited an eternity until some bright spark decided enough is enough; lets go to the bar. On the way to the bar we suddenly became a mob, not just us, but others had joined, I also recall some agony bags appearing, so, in true military style, we drunkenly marched to the bar to some tune or other being strangled. We had a great night before retiring to bed, the sort of night that leaves you all fuzzy inside.
However, the next morning we were all assembled by the CO. He started by telling us that there had been an incident the previous night, and what he was about to tell us could not go back to the ship. One of our detachment had left the hanger during the evening, he had somehow stumbled across an unlocked Citroen 2CV6. Now, this bit is hazy, I’m unsure if the keys were in it or not, either way he took it for a spin. During this sojourn he came across a lamppost that was not as forgiving as the vehicle and he duly wrote it off. The owner of the vehicle, a French Air Force Pilot who was out night flying at the time, returned to no vehicle. Authorities were involved and the bottom line was that the pilot would take it no further so long as Jack paid him for the car. Obviously said Jack had not got the funds, so to his credit, the detachment CO loaned him the money to pay off the pilot.
True to our word this has never gone back to the ship, until now.....
When we visited Narvik (If I recall correctly), a group of Mechanical Engineer junior rates, Stokers and Artificers, had been ashore for a couple of over priced, short measure beers and were waiting on the jetty to catch the liberty boat back to Hermes.
If I remember right they were using a landing craft and coming alongside a pontoon against the harbour wall. It was bl**dy cold and we all wanted to get back to the warmth of the
ship. The boat came alongside and there was a surge to get on board but
a gap opened up between landing craft and pontoon and a stoker fell in
It was like watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon - he went down
into the water and shot straight back out and we grabbed him and pulled
him onboard. We all huddled round to try and keep him warm and the boat
crew went straight back to Hermes. There was no harm done other than a
few pi**ed off matelots who had to wait for the next liberty boat.
If you were that man it's time to confess all.....