Stories about life in the RFA

 

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It was 1964; I was earning 12 guineas a week and paying out seven for my digs in London. Not a sustainable situation. Then I saw the ad for Radio Officers in the RFA Service.

 

I signed on RFA Fort Duquesne in Malta on 25th May 1955.  It was my first RFA ship.  Unfortunately I do not remember many of the places we visited.  When I signed on, we went to Alexandria in Egypt.  Other places were Limassol, Catania and Gibraltar.  But although my memory is failing, I do recall quite clearly the following two events.

 

During my time onboard RFA Prosperous back in 1948 she was under the control of the Boom Defence Officer, Gosport.

 

God bless him, he got us out of a nasty scrape when, off St Catherine's Point I.O.W., the fuel oil burners stopped working, i.e. the fire went out, the combustion chamber was flooded with fuel oil and all attempts to relight the burners failed.  We were drifting and not under control.

 

I joined the RFA as an Engineer Cadet in September 1961 and spent two years at Kingston upon Thames College of Further Education with 12 other cadets (2 RFA, 4 Shaw Saville, 2 BP, 4 Esso) studying for an OND in Marine Engineering – quite strange really as most of the other college classes were studying aeronautical things with Hawker Aviation being a major employer in the town.

 

The following is taken from the Diary of Douglas Mee a Merchant Navy seaman who sailed on RFA Orangeleaf during 1943/44.  Doug was born on the 15th December 1920 and joined the Merchant Navy at the age of sixteen as a Cabin Boy; he was 21 years old when he wrote this diary, he left the sea in 1957 to marry a local girl in his home town of Wigan, Lancashire.

 

I say life, because going to sea really is a way of life and not just a job or career.  It was truly a traumatic experience to move from the rather prestigious position in the Upper Sixth form at Fairfield in June 61, - to become the lowest form of life at sea – a Deck cadet aboard a Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker with peculiar rigs for carrying out replenishment at sea with warships.  This was and remains today, the major role for the service, and I was to spend the best part of my working career within this organisation.

 

I started my sea going career in October 1962 when I enrolled at The National Sea Training School at Sharpness, known amongst old seafarers as T.S. Vindicatrix. My first ship was a Channel Island ferry, the Caesarea which I joined in January 1963 having passing out from my training as a Junior Catering Rating.

About as far from the sea as you can be in the UK, Dudley, West Midlands.  I spent four years in T.S. Centaur, first in a disused flourmill and after a while a new unit was built on the remains of a canal basin, rowing whalers up and down that short stretch of water, getting “bollocked” for not saluting “the Quarterdeck”, what’s that when it’s at home?

I joined the Bayleaf in Immingham on the 1st October 1963, this being my first ship in the RFA. I had previously served my apprenticeship with Furness Whithy and then obtained my Second Mates certificate, Foreign Going, in the summer of 1963 before joining the RFA.

 

 

Living on the Dingledale for 10 months was and did have its funny and interesting moments. We left the UK at Xmas time, which as you know can be a bit chilly, our cabin quarters were quite small, in fact of the many ships I had sailed on these were the smallest but nice and cosy in the colder weather, BUT when we got into the Caribbean our cabins became sweat boxes. Conditions got even worse when we arrived at our Manus Island base, some of us did manage to get some hammocks from our navy friends, so from then on we tied up said items on the after boat deck, and we also slept fully dressed when at sea, just in case we had to abandon ship.

 

(This story was originally written for a non RFA/RN audience)

After the "shake-down" it is fairly usual to nip into Devonport or Portsmouth for a few days to do whatever needs doing.


On arrival at Portland, more often than not, an RFA is stuck on a buoy. Most RN ships are given an alongside berth. Well, I suppose it is "their" harbour! I think I mentioned some time ago that the RN define the seasons strictly by date and totally ignore what the weather is actually doing. A good example of this pottiness is the mooring to a buoy. If you are going to a buoy before the 20th of May then you have to have 2 anchor cables attached to the buoy...even if the weather is sub-tropical.

Chris Puxley first went to sea with the RFA in 1964, after completing two years on the training ship “Conway”, he joined his first ship, the old RFA Wave Knight, as an Apprentice or Cadet and he left the service in 1979 as a Chief Officer (X).

This is the story of a life at sea through the recollections of one man and illustrates the work, people and ships of the RFA, from the early 1960’s to the late 1970’s.  These memoirs provide a unique insight into another era in the Fleet’s rich and varied history.

We hope that you enjoy reading these recollections, which we will be serialising over the next few months, and we would like to take this opportunity to express our grateful thanks to Chris for sharing his story with us.

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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