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.

 

RFA Fort Duquesne
By Louis Grima

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.

 

RFA Fort Duquesne whaler team

We had a Chief Officer who liked very much whaler racing.  He wanted some of RFA Fort Duquesne’s crew to participate in the race and win.  He knew that our Deck Store-Keeper was also a dilettante and told him to prepare a team.  I was asked by one of the crew and accepted although I never rowed in my life.

RFA Fort Duquesne’s whaler team comprised of six persons.  Domi?ellu (a Maltese nickname) was the coxswain.  Toni x-Xila, il-Lozzy and Toni ta’ Palma (all Maltese nicknames) rowed on the left while Harry Bugeja and I rowed on the other side of the whaler.

Toni x-Xila, who was asked by our Chief Officer, chose the whaler from the boathouse of the Navy and training began immediately.  We trained daily in Marsamxett Harbour.  The training consisted the following: first, we rowed approximately 1.5 miles, then around Manoel Island and the its small bridge, and return to the ship.  Then we would wash the whaler on the ship.  It was always polished with lemon so that it would be sleek and perform better in the water.

The big day arrived.  We were to row a distance of 1 mile in Grand Harbour; the starting line was near the breakwater of the port.  Our team was the only one Maltese – the others were all British.

All of a sudden the gun fired!  Ours was not a good start.  We did 10 fast repeated rows and then the coxswain shouted to change the method of rowing.  So we rowed in a less frequent manner so that we took deep breaths, the oars covered more distance and the velocity increased.  It did work!  The coxswain was always encouraging us, “Come on guys, come on!  We’re catching up!  Come on!”  And one by one we overtook most of the whalers to enter the finish line in second place!

We went back to the ship and the Chief Officer greeted us and sad that he was very satisfied with the position we obtained.  Time passed and the next year the same Chief Officer, again, wanted us to take part.  This time, the race was held at Bir?ebbu?a and was 1.5 miles long.
The gun was fired and, once again, we did not perform well at first.  The same coxswain supported us very much.  “Come on, guys, go for it!  We passed three, two to go, come on!”  This time we placed better; we came first!

Afterwards, we went aboard HMS Surprise to present us the trophy.  The frigate’s team entered second.  Its participants were all in their twenties, while I, of 25, was the youngest in our team; the others had more than 40 years.  One of the Britons of HMS Surprise asked us if we still have stamina after the race.  Lozzy, the eldest one of us, said, “Sure!  Of course!”  Later, we returned on RFA Fort Duquesne.
Our Chief Mate was very glad that we won the whaler race.  He was so pleased that he gave us four days off!
 

The winning team

 

The winning team:

Standing Left to Right: Toni x-Xila, Lozzy and me
Sitting Left to Right: Harry Bugeja, Domi?ellu and Toni ta’ Palma

 

 

RFA Fort Duquesne in Suez Canal

In 1956, we had to go in Port Said because of the trouble in the Suez Canal.  We had the anchors down but the stern was tied with mooring ropes on the ground.  We spent more than a fortnight in Port Said.

One evening while in Port Said, we were watching a film on RFA Fort Duquesne.  But suddenly, the ship near to us shouted alarmingly, “Fort Duquesne, Fort Duquesne, frogmen around, frogmen around!”  We rushed outside on the deck and the crew including me looked to the water.  ‘Fort Duquesne’s officers threw some depth-charges overboard.  Fortunately there were no frogmen and we returned to the film.

Later in Suez Canal, an argument was brought up between the Maltese crew on the ship because there were those who wanted to go home and there were those who wanted to stay.  I wanted to go home.

It was decided that those who did not want to remain at Port Said, were to be transported to Malta on HMS Manxman.  In three days’ time we made it to Malta via Famagusta in Cyprus.

I signed off RFA Fort Duquesne on 22nd December 1956.

 

I signed on this ship on 5th November 1968 in Malta.  I knew we were heading for a long trip.

 

We left Grand Harbour and steered to the straits of Gibraltar to enter the Atlantic Ocean making our way to the small island of St Helena. We stayed at anchor for only a few days.  Then, we continued to the Mozambique Channel where we passed round the Cape of Good Hope without calling at any ports.   We stayed there anchored at sea for forty whole days because we were told that there was trouble in the proximities – we were on standby.  One could see trees in the horizon but I do not know if it was Mozambique or Madagascar.  Once, the captain announced that in two days’ time, letters to relatives back home are going to be sent.  So the crew, including myself, wrote a letter to Malta.  A Royal Navy destroyer came alongside us and gathered the RFA Tidereach letters; then the helicopter took them from the destroyer.

 

Afterwards, we sailed on the route to the Naval Base at Singapore – where we became stationed.  RFA Tidereach took part in various exercises in the seas around Singapore.  Also, we called at numerous islands but I do not remember their names.  When in the base, normally my Maltese friends and I used to go watch football matches between different Royal Navy crews.

 

HMAS Melbourne and USS Frank E. Evans collision.

 

As I said, we participated in many navy exercises but the following is the one which I recall most.

The exercise included the navies of the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and if I am correct that of Japan.  It had to last days while steaming to Japan.  One night, it was said that the USS Frank E. Evans collided with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.  Unfortunately, the bow part sank within five minutes carrying down with it 75 persons, two being brothers and the stern remained afloat.  The exercise was stopped immediately and every ship including RFA Tidereach stayed in its position.

 

Every ship had the order that nothing had to be thrown overboard.  That morning, I had to splice some ropes which the bosun gave me.  When I was ready I had some pieces that were left over and as usual threw into the sea.  Oh no, I did forget not to throw them.  Coincidentally, the Chief Officer saw me and I was scolded a bit for my carelessness.  I excused myself.

 

That evening the ship sailed to Japan.  Two days later, in the morning we were having breakfast.  The Second Mate was on watch in the bridge.  All of a sudden, the sound of the ship’s engines became a bit louder and strangely the ship stopped!  The other officers in the mess room rushed up to the bridge because they were thinking that we went aground.  With the help of the sextant and other instruments, they found that everything was all right and its place.  Later they found that it was an earthquake that affected the ship.  In Japan, we entered the port of Tokyo staying alongside for about two days.

 

When in an exercise, probably the above-mentioned one, we went to an island or a port in mainland where it was a US military base.  We stayed at anchor.  There were many big ships and aircraft carriers flying their planes.  Till today I remember the scene without knowing the name of this place.

Other places we visited were Australia and New Zealand.

 

RFA Tidereach entered the port of Sydney three times – staying for eleven days, two days and another eleven days.  Many of the crew visited their relatives in Australia; I visited my brother and my cousins.  The ship was berthed the three times nearest to the bridge.  Also, apart from Sydney, the ship went to Tasmania some time but I do not remember if it was Hobart or not.

 

RFA Tidereach Sydney 1969

 

On the way to Sydney, we oiled an Australian frigate.  When the RAS was coming to an end with the ships still moving parallel, I shouted, “I see you Sydney!”  Then I heard another guy answering from the frigate, “I see you Hill!”  Was there a place called Hill?

If my memory does not fail me, we refuelled HMS Hermes and also HMS Argonaut, a fraction of the number of ships we worked with.

RAS with HMS Argonaut

 

I am the second one from your right.

 

 

Since there were the Captain Cook Celebrations in New Zealand, we had to go there.  On our way we met the Royal Yacht HMY Britannia and refueled from us.  Then we entered after HMY Britannia at Auckland.  The port was full of people waving to the ships.  We had a very good welcome!  Although some of the Maltese crew onboard attended to the celebrations, nowadays I say unfortunately I did not go.  Some of them bought the commemorative coin.

 

Another place we visited was the Fiji Islands.  We berthed at Suva.  A souvenir sword made of wood reminds me of this place.  The person I recall most was a man that was attacked by a shark.  He had his both hands cut off and with his mouth, he showed us the certificate from his pocket.  Poor man.

 

Day by day, the voyage was coming to an end and we had to get back to the UK.  So we left the base and began the journey home.  Like before, we passed round the Cape of Good Hope.  This time we stopped at Durban and Cape Town, South Africa.

 

One day in Durban, when we were having tea in the afternoon, a tall man came aboard RFA Tidereach.  He wanted to see the interior of the ship.  So I offered to show him around.  We went to the crew accommodation, the mess rooms, the fo’c’sle head and the working deck explaining to him the procedure during a “Replenishment at Sea”.  He was satisfied with the visit.  The next day, at the same time, the Dutch man came again with his shiny old Rolls-Royce.  When he was coming up the gangway he shouted, “Where is that man?  Where is that man?”  I knew he was referring to me and a friend of mine from my village told me, “Look who is coming!”  I went and gave me a fine stick to show his appreciation which I now use today.  He sure thought of my future!

 

Later we called at Cape Town.  The Table Mountain fascinated me and I bought a postcard.

 

This was the last time for me to visit such places since I left the RFA and joined shipping in the Mediterranean Sea.  After Cape Town we sailed straight to Britain where I paid off the ship on 21st March 1970 in Liverpool.

 

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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