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U3A Writing: High Hopes For The Cape Of Good Hope

Bob Boyd continues the story of his service in the Royal Navy as a telegraphist. To read earlier episodes of his story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Bob+Boyd

I left H.M.S. Woodbridge Haven after 18 months and returned to Chatham barracks to await my next assignment. It was the time of the Korean war when the Far East Fleet was being augmented with several extra warships. H.M.S. Glory, an aircraft carrier, was one of the ships assigned and my name was on the draft list.

I was looking forward to life on an aircraft carrier, with possible visits to Singapore, Hong Kong and maybe Japan. Although we would be in a war zone I hoped we would be supporting our troops and doing our best to help win the war.

After several days of waiting a notice went up to say the draft to H.M.S. Glory had been cancelled and everyone was to be re-drafted. A rumour was circulating that someone had sabotaged the ship and put the engines out of action. How true this was I was never to discover, but it caused a serious delay and a disappointment to many of us.

A short time later I was allocated H.M.S. Afrikander, the shore communications headquarters near Simonstown, South Africa. I could not have chosen better myself, except perhaps our station in Bermuda, which was number one on our favourites list.

As a 20 year old I had never been abroad and the thoughts of sunny South Africa filled me with high hopes. In those days the Royal Navy had communication shore bases in several countries around the world, and there was always a chance of being stationed on one instead of a warship.

With another telegraphist, Paddy Thompson, we made our way to Southampton to join the Union-Castle line ship ‘Stirling Castle’. We were allowed to wear civilian clothes and were accepted on board as tourists among the other travellers. A cabin to ourselves seemed the height of luxury and we quickly got acquainted with the other passengers - especially the girls! As soon as it was discovered we were sailors we never went short of company, or a drink. We had very little money ourselves and felt rather out of place among the holidaying tourists. Some of the girls we met were going out to join their husbands serving on the naval ships, so we had to be careful not to get too well acquainted.

Barbara Durlacher (Johannesburg U3A) has written a lovely story about the Union-Castle ships on this web site. It is entitled ‘The Lavender Ladies’ and reminded me very much of my own journey to the Cape.

Our first stop was at the Island of Madeira, which Barbara Durlacher mentions The local natives came along side in their ‘bum-boats’ hoisting up their wares for sale. Some of the passengers threw money into the water to see the natives dive down and come up with it in their mouth. We ourselves joined the other passengers going ashore for a visit.

We were greeted by the islanders offering us fruit and a tour of Funchal. In those days the only visits were made by the Union-Castle Mail boats. There was no airport, although a flying boat would sometime bring in passengers. The short time we spent there made me determined to return one day and see the whole of the island. (I did return there with my wife in 1980).

Soon we were on our way again. The two weeks it took to arrive at Capetown gave us plenty of time to enjoy the voyage, crossing the line ceremony, deck games and evening dances. All too soon Table Mountain hove into view, and what a magnificent sight it was. On landing we were told to proceed by train to the village of Fish Hoek where we would be picked up and driven to ‘Slangkop’ the Navel Communications base near the village of Kommetjie.

To be continued.

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