Sunday, 4 September 2016

Everybody Needs A Friend - Wishbone Ash

A tribute to
1945 - 2016
(Friend, Shipmate, Confidant and Genuine Great All Rounder)
It was of the latter that I ever got to know about his passing at all, when seeing flashing before me on FaceBook "today is Michael Hutleys 71st birthday". In all innocence my reply was simply "Happy Birthday Shipmate, see you at Tot Time", the time honoured tradition of sharing your rum ration in the Royal Navy on such an occasion! The next message to appear went along similar lines but ended with "we will all miss you dearly" and after some investigation found that he departed this mortal coil on 4th August 2016. It has never been my way to shed a tear over those I LOVE, when their time has come, but those of joy that fell from me on that day to celebrate those quirks-of-fate that brought Mick and me together.
The first of these was at the approach to my 14th birthday when due to family difficulties we moved from Nottingham to Nottington in Weymouth, Dorset. There I got a weekend job and with the money Mum would allow me my time was spent sat on Westham Bridge in the town with a toffee apple and watching the antics of the 'thousands' of sailors who would often visit the Port of Portland. There were many, strutting their stuff, with a lady on their arm, the occasionally individual with one on 'each' arm, those happy to roll around on the ground knocking hell out of each other and most in one state of inebriation or another. Witnessing this time after time, there was only one recurring thought whizzing around in may head and that was, "I could do that"!
I met Michael (soon to be re-christened Huck) at about noon on Monday 4th September 1961, on the platform of Fareham Railway Station, in Hampshire and along with the other dozen or so 15 year old boys, who were to make up 437 New Entries Recruitment to the Royal Navy, with us all being 'herded into the waiting RN lorry just like so many cattle. We didn't know it then, but cattle was to be the best we would get during the next 12 months and as we were driven through the
there was more than a nominal amount of jeering at the smartly uniformed
Sailors guarding the establishment.
Lined up outside of the foreboding looking Victorian accommodation blocks
(centre above)
we were introduce to the man who was to be our mentor and instructor
for our first 6 weeks in the Royal Navy
Chief Petty Officer Gunnery Instructor 'Black Mac' McAllister
before being 'marched' to our new home the small block right of the larger ones. That month and a half was, and still remains, the hardest ever with kit being issued, learning a strict cleaning and presentation regime, periods of sport and parade drills and an obligation to be able to swim. Those who were unable were roused from their slumbers a full 30 minutes before the rest of us, but with the same delicate thundering of a pick-axe handle against a dustbin lid so no matter, we were all awake. They were then marched off to the pool for further training which went under the official title of Backward Swimmers which always caused me a little mirth because none of them could even swim forwards yet!! All of this was served up with frequent disturbances in the night, by those we had ridiculed at the gate when first entering, on the pretext that they had heard 'skylarking' which was very much frowned upon save in the right place at the right time. Couple all of that with serious bouts of 'home-sickness' (no one was excused) it was a tough old time but we all survived and later moved on to
where we would each learn the skills of being a Seaman such as
(me 5th from right, Huck a further 4 along)
(me nearest centre, Huck directly opposite)
By this time most of us had received our 'new names' with few being spared
and woe-betide he who ever referred to his mess-mate by his 'given name'.
Most of these were traditional nick-names, some maybe dating back to Henry VIII, such as Tansy Lee, Peddler Palmer, Rattler Morgan and Jumper Collins with origins fading with the passage of time. Others, such as Tug Wilson were of a more recent times as Captain Wilson was once the Senior Pilot on the River Mersey and always arrived at the leviathan by, yes you got it, TUG! Those given to Huck and myself on 'day one' seemed a little more complex, but there are theories for both. My own, being a Baker, is that this tradesman would regularly be seen carrying bags of flour which could have been construed as Bagsy Baker. As for Huck, my own thoughts were of the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which was set in the US deep south and written by Mark Twain who also took that pseudonym from the marine environment. Each fathom on the Hand Lead and Line (used for depth sounding) is referred to as a Mark and in Ye Olde English the second of these would be the Twain. On his frequent trips aboard various Mississippi Queens, novelist Samuel Langhorne Clements would regularly hear the 'linesman' shout to the bridge "by the mark twain", and the rest is history. In addition to gaining a firm grasp of the rudiments of Seamanship there was also a completely new, and somewhat alien, language to learn which had its bedrock in naval slang and Jolly Jack's warped and merciless sense of humour, no one was spared.
Rick Jolly was the Surgeon Commander who was
Mentioned in Dispatches during the Falklands conflict.
After undoubtedly the toughest year of our lives we had all
Made the Grade 
and marked with a
Final Passing Out Parade
to which all families were welcomed.
At the dinner that followed my Mum said to me,
"you looked so smart son we were so proud particularly as, during the marching,
as you were the only one in step".
It was shortly before this that we were given the opportunity to decide which of the more technical skills we would like to follow, Gunnery, TAS (Torpedo's and Anti Submarine) or Radar, so without a single clue as to
what any of it was about we both chose TAS (probably because it was the easiest one to spell). At HMS Vernon, the TAS Training Establishment we were given yet another choice, this time whether we wanted to work on the weapons themselves or on ASDICS (Sonar as it is now called) so now having become firm friends we both opted for the latter. We both struggled to complete this far more technical part of the training
but even though we were given a 'choice' the Royal Navy always had the last say! After scraping through the 4 week course by no more than a whisker after sewing our brand new 'cross torpedo' badge on our blue uniforms we were all set to make our first contribution to the Mightiest and Most Capable Fleet in the World. This we both found was more complicated than the course we had just conquered as those sweeping brooms were just not man enough to cope with all the Leaves and other Gash floating around the roads and pavements of HMS Vernon. At least we were now able to go ashore to enjoy the excellent 'night-life' Portsmouth had to offer, and quickly found that no self respecting Landlord thereabout was about to refuse any sailor in uniform a drink, even us 16 year olds. To get into the swing of things we started by only drinking HEAVILY and worked our way quickly up from there. The third and final choice we were to make was known as a Drafting Preference Form, allowing the holder 3 choices as to which area of the world he would most like to serve in. Now, as we were both carrying each others handbags at any given time (Naval Humour), we made the identical choices of 1 = SA and SA short for South America/South Africa, 2 = Far East and 3 = Australia 2 weeks later we both joined 
the Second Senior Ship of the Second Frigate Squadron
(there were only two) based at and running from
We were to be part of the Flag Officer Sea Training Team
undertaking 'Workups' (readying other warships, fresh out of refit,
for full seagoing duties with the Fleet).
This was not what we had joined the RN for although we did get a trip to
 which was the first time either of us had ventured outside of England,
taking First World War Veterans back to a place of conflict,
followed by undertaking the duties of Escort for the
Royal Yacht Britannia
during a visit by our 'gaffer'
Her Majesty the Queen
on her 1963 visit to the Channel Islands.
There was little, or nothing, else to look forward to except our continued
Day Running out of Portland but that was when the
Fickle Finger of Fate once again Pointed in Another Direction.
It is said that it is an Ill Wind that blows no luck and this was literally what was to be our saviour. Our sister ship HMS Russell had also drawn something of a 'nap-hand' while engaged in Icelandic Water on what was referred to then as the Cod War. On that particular night, in the eye of an almighty storm, Russell had 'shipped a goffer' of such proportions that the wave had carried away both her port and starboard sea-boats while forcing the Bridge back a full 6 inches. We were to relieve her of duties making best speed for
and make preparations as required.
(Cleaning the Ships Side, Huck on the long-handled scrubbing brush,
me trying to help him into the harbour).
The rest of our sea-time on that ship was spent either circumnavigating
Iceland and/or plying between there and Norway but our first trip north
was memorable for witnessing a New Island emerge from the sea and
even made the Press.

A bit cobbled together from old newspaper cuttings,
you may need to 'click' on the image for a larger view.
 We were seeing some action at last and that wasn't to be the last!
 On our final trip to Iceland we visited the northern town of
but on that particular visit we were not alone. No, we had in tow the
French Fishing Vessel Alex Plavon
which on her 'maiden vorage' had hit a 'growler', a large chunk of ice broken off from an iceberg, and was quickly sinking by the bow. Temporary repairs were made and we safely delivered her back to harbour. This was a Salvage Operation which, when all agreements were completed between the 2 Captains, (the signing of a Lloyds of London Open Salvage Contract, which states No Cure, No Payment) she was effectively the property and charge of the British Government. In such a situation the value of the vessel and all her contents are shared among all personnel who took part in saving her, and by coincidence her holds were full of fish and she was making for her home port when the incident happened. According to my Service Documents, as a Junior Seaman Second Class (Dung Beetle as there was no Third Class) a payment of £2 00s 09d was made to both of us. A paltry sum we hear you say but at the time just marginally more than 2 weeks wages -
Oh for a Life on the Rolling Sea!
 Another trip to Belgium saw us dock in Antwerp giving ample opportunity to visit
(The Atomium) as well.
3 port were visited in Norway
where the beer was prohibitively expensive,
where we were entertained by the Norwegian Army to skiing trips,
and Harstad where my spare time was fishing from the end of the pier
with none of the Cod being under 10 pounds in weight.
In all we did 4 x 1 month trips to these inhospitable seaways and while
Jolly Jack is never happy unless he is moaning, every sea-mile was mostly
enjoyed by all. Unfortunately, this too was to be the end of the Huck / Bagsy relationship
(or so we thought)
as he was drafted to HMS Excellent (the Gunnery Training Establishment in Pompey)
while you may well be able to guess where I was bound?
Yes, HMS OSPREY, the shore establishment at PORTLAND!!!!
It was only at the time of going to press that the penny dropped and realisation that this day, Sunday 4th September 2016, is exactly 55 years since Huck and I first met!

United Kingdom
United States


  1. Bagsy - thank you so much! This is an absolutely fantastic and a wonderful insight into dads early Royal Navy endeavours. He also wrote a book for us kids, which we only recently found and talks to his early years prior to having us. This is mainly covering his 12 years in the navy and talks to this first trip on HMS Keppel, where he also noted the booze was very expensive and the Danish were much friendlier than the Icelandic! Hearing these first hand experiences from his best friend at the time is an absolute pleasure and I look forward to any other stories you have! Thank you again Bagsy, you've made my day! Tom Hutley

  2. Tom, when talking of such a Man we both know 'first hand' what we are on about, a DIAMOND. We only had one disagreement in all that time, and I made the stupid mistake of clenching my fist. His reaction to that was to pucker his lips, get to within one inch of my cheek and simple said, "put that down Paul before you go and hurt yourself"! Game Over. That was the only time he used my 'given' name. Many Thanks Tom and Part II tomorrow.

    1. That sounds like dad, not an aggressive bone in his body but always stood his ground and stood up to what he believed in. If only there were more men like dad and the world would be a happier, more peaceful planet.