Tuesday, 4 April 2017

HMS Tartar 4th Commision 1970 1

(I have a plan this year to go back to my youth and travel back to one of the defining times in my life, my trip to the far east in HMS Tartar during her fourth commission, I want to try and write it as it unfolded for me, or as near as I can.)

I joined HMS Tartar, a tribal class frigate on 6th January, 1970 as a Junior Radio Operator 3rd Class (JRO3), in Portsmouth harbour straight after Christmas, she was my first ship, I had just turned seventeen. It was late and dark when I arrived at the gangway carrying my kit bag and case with all I owned, I got onboard and went through the hateful routine of getting bedding, paperwork done etc., I would never like this part of the routine, and being late at night no one was particularly helpful. I was shown to the radio operators mess and the only free bunk was a top one, which was fine, me being young, skinny and athletic.

I was welcomed by the radio ops and made friends in particular with 'Plum' Humphries who was about the same age as me, but a tactical operator rather than a radio operator, Plum would become a good friend. I was also taken under the wing of John Doyle, my 'sea daddy' whose job was to show me the ropes and help with my training. I also got friendly with some of the Jack Dusty's (storemen) who were in the mess next to ours, we had eighteen guys in a very small space, with three tiered bunks and one small communal space with a table, on the other side from us was a larger mess which contained the Greenies (electricians), the Jack Dusty's being in between, there were more of them than us and we only ever got to really know the one guy, 'Kathy' Kirby who fixed our radio equipment.

Once aboard I found out that we were heading off to the Far East for about nine months or so in April, but before that we would be spending a month 'working up' to get us ready and shake off the cobwebs. We got some new radio operators at this period and finally had the crew which I would live with for almost the next two and a half years, quite happily as it turned out.

I was actually on the bridge when these photos were taken, despite my brother, who served on her later thinking he was.
The workup was hard work, we went through all sorts of exercises, including landing our marines ashore with naval back up with the army playing rioters and generally obnoxious civilians. My main job was looking after the signals coming in on the teleprinters, not being allowed near anything serious unless accompanied, but there was enough other stuff to keep me interested. For the last few days of the work up the ship was at action stations for about three days or so and that too was pretty rough, four hours on and four hours off.

After this we had a families day and as I was Scottish and my family was obviously not local I was left in the radio room with old chief 'Pusser' Hill while the rest swanned about up top. I was sat on a morse circuit and was terrified, there was some dits and dahs and the chief asked me "was that for us?", no said I with fingers crossed, he lifted up a rather large book and hit me over the head with it, shoved me out of the way and answered the message. A short time later the chief departed the ship and Bart Bartlett a leading radio operator became our boss.

Between the workup and leaving for the FES (Far East Station) we dropped in to Bordeaux, my first time out of the country, if you don't count our first run ashore in Newcastle. I remember visiting a large fair of some kind and getting drunk on Spaten beer in a German exhibit, drinking out of beer mugs bigger than my grandchildren and running along tables, perhaps the last bit was wishful drinking.

Anyway April was approaching and we would be off, I was looking forward to the big adventure, we had been moored alongside the Leander class frigate HMS Hermione in Bordeaux and I had taken the RO2 exam and passed, I was now looked on as a competent radio operator, I was still rubbish at morse though and still sat beside a teleprinter. When on watch I was under the watchful eyes of 'Lofty' Gedling, a tall, gangly character full of beans whom life didn't seem to bother, Lofty always had a cigarette in his mouth or a drink in his hand if it was possible, preferably alcoholic or at times some dubious substitute.


  1. I'm surprised that you weren't tied up alongside the Victory. Did you get to meet Nelson ?

    1. No, but I did sleep in a hammock for a few weeks on the Undaunted, which had been present at D Day.

  2. I hope your compensation claim for PTSD suffered as a result of the violent assault by the CRS has been sent off to the MOD's legal department - should be worth a few hundred thousand? My only experience of a Tribal was a couple of months onboard MOHAWK in the West Indies in the later 70s. Feels like ancient history now.

  3. I actually got some cash for a dubious effect of sunbathing while serving Liz. Madness.
    I wanted to get a Leander but ended up with two Tribals and a mine hunter.