the six-ft.-high black pendant number on HMS Sirius’s side, was barely
discernable in brilliant sunlight the day I saw her for the first time
at sea off Lisbon, Portugal. The
sea-reflected sun gave Sirius’s light-grey hull an attractive sheen
and she looked clean and powerful.
was a 29-year-old junior petty officer 2nd class (bo’s’n)
in HMCS Annapolis, (right) flagship of the Standing Naval Force - Atlantic and,
as I looked at Sirius and the other five ships of SNFL on a sunny
seascape in April 1974 off Cape St. Vincent, Portugal,
I had no idea I would be spending the next six weeks as a
“guest” of the Royal Navy.
I knew Sirius was a Leander-class frigate, out of Plymouth,
England, but had no idea what life would be like for a young Canadian,
from Ottawa, Ontario, in the Eastern Atlantic and North Sea with the RN.
Annapolis, out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, had just relieved HMCS Yukon as
SNFL flagship in Lisbon harbor and the April 23 - 24, 1974, weekend was
marked by a revolution in the streets of the historic capital.
As we unberthed from Yukon and turned down the River Tagus,
part-ship hands were immediately ordered below but the helmeted bridge
watchkeepers told us later they heard gunfire from the streets.
sea again, southbound toward a large NATO exercise,
I had put my name on a list, posted by the cox’n’s office, to
be “cross-pollinated” to another SNFL warship, thinking
“officialdom” might get around to entertaining my request weeks or
Patrol,” a NATO/NAVOCFORMED exercise including 34 ships, four
submarines and aircraft from Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Portugal,
the US and France, was about to begin.
And much to my astonishment, my request to “cross-poll” had
been approved the same day -- I was to be assigned to HMS Sirius
The cox’n, CPO Guy Joudrey, told me to get packed and on the
quarterdeck in 10 minutes.
“You’re going to spend a few days with the Brits,” he said.
But events would translate that few days into a few weeks.
we would not be making any ports of call in the next few days, I packed
the usual essentials (but forgot my shaving kit and my then-unshaven upper
lip became adorned with a mustache I would wear for the next 27 years), a
couple of changes of the Canadian Forces’
then dark-green workdress, and reported to the quarterdeck where
hands were preparing to receive a sturdy, little motor workboat
that was shouldering the grey-green swells between us and the Sirius,
about a half-mile away.
ahoy!” called the quarterdeck PO.
“HMS Sirius!” came the reply, as heaving lines were tossed and
manilla bow and stern lines turned up on the bollards.
Soon, the head of a British petty officer, the “oppo” I would
replace, popped up and he was pulled aboard and escorted below for
looked at the jumping ladder and the surging RN motor workboat below,
looked around, said a couple of goodbyes and eased my way down the narrow,
chain-and-step ladder to become a temporary member of Sirius.
My attache case was thrown into the gurgling, gyrating workboat
after me and we were soon cast off and away, through four-ft. swells,
toward the frigate and an adventure I would never forget.
aboard, mite,” said the young, red-haired “killick” coxswain, as I
looked over the stern at the slowly-diminishing hull of HMCS Annapolis.
Ahead lay Sirius with her squarish, bluff focsle, a squat, dual
4.5-in. gun and funnel emblazoned with a baby-blue NATO badge.
Aft lay the flight deck with Wasp embarked, the mortar well and an
ever- immaculate White Ensign snapping smartly in the breeze over the
few minutes later the workboat came alongside Sirius’s quarterdeck with
a squishy-fendered thump and I had to negotiate another jumping ladder to
reach the quarterdeck.
A small knot of seamen watched as I climbed inboard and greeted me
with a smile and nod as I recognized a time-honoured smell of fresh marine
enamel paint, fuel oil and deep fryers from the main galley.
Officer “Sharkey” Ward, of Plymouth,
introduced himself and said he would be my “tour guide” for the
He took me down to 2-D mess, assigned me a bunk and informed it
soon would be
I thought he was joking but realized the RN (then) had 1500 - 1515
set aside as “stand easy” (the Canadian navy’s afternoon break was
1430 - 1440).
Members of 2-D mess trickled in from their workplaces, cups were
passed around and I was given my first delicious cup of pussers’ tea
with condensed milk.
After a few minutes of chat, Sharkey informed me the ship would be
going to action stations very soon as Exercise Dawn Patrol shifted into
high gear and that I was to accompany him to the gunar room.
Sure enough, “bong, bong, bong; Action Stations, Action
Stations . . . ,” sounded as Sirius sprang into a warlike state.
It was a rare treat to see crewmen dashing down the flats in
antiflash gear, gas masks and lifejackets as Sharkey and I made our way
into the heart of the ship where members of the ship’s company would
direct the 4.5-in. mount to repel aircraft.
It was exciting to sit and watch the little, glowing-green screen
that Sharkey told me was tracking aircraft as they came in to attack.
I could feel the deck angle as the ship turned hard to evade the
This was good enough to be real, I thought, and it kept up for
hours. Sharkey was tirelessly cheerful as he spoke almost endlessly into
his headset doing his part to “fight the ship.”
was after 2200 when the ship reverted to a lower degree of readiness and
we headed back to 2-D mess to recap the day’s events.
got one more day of this lot then we’re heading up north,” someone
recalled that our next port visit would be Frederikshavn, Denmark, but
another NATO exercise, Bright Horizon, and other squadron activities en
route to Denmark, awaited.
were released from Dawn Patrol next day, April 26, and the fleet of seven
destroyers and frigates (HMS Sirius, HMCS Annapolis, USS Julius A. Furer,
HNLMS Rotterdam, FGS Augsburg, HNoMS Narvik and NRP Almirante Periera da
en route up the coast of Portugal and into the Bay of Biscay where a bit
of “roughers” made sleep a premium for anyone living up forward.
in 2-D mess was no different than the for’d messes in Annapolis as the
ship plunged and pounded into the North Atlantic seas.
In the morning, I remember having to hang on with one hand and
lather up with the other during my morning shower in the WP just forward
of the mess.
It was becoming a bit bumpier when I went to my first RN breakfast
-- kippers, red lead, beans, French toast and abundant other yummy smells
-- as we passed down the steamline in the chiefs’ and POs’ cafeteria.
I settled easily into the ship’s routine and followed Sharkey and
learned from him and the buffer–everything from supervising cleaning
stations to observing replenishments at sea – while we made our way
northeast to transit
the English Channel into North Sea.
I soon discovered the RN day at sea was not much different from the
hands were called at
the same time (0700); followed by
breakfast, cleaning stations, stand easy, out pipes, departmental
work, secure at 1150; out pipes at 1300, etc., in a one-in-three watch
I enjoyed the Courage Sparkling lager at 1600 in the mess and the
movies in the cafeteria at night were good. HMCS
Annapolis had been given two movies to last six months – The Sound of
Music and Jonathan Livingston Seagull – and, clearly, the
RN’s choice in films were far superior although the titles elude me
meals were alway first rate and I remember the fresh-baked bread and
rolls, excellent fish and chips and a little breakfast delight, known as
“hammy, eggy, cheesey,” the RN’s answer to McDonald’s Egg McMuffin.
turned into weeks as we exercised in the English Channel and North Sea.
I stood on the flight deck one day as HMCS Annapolis sped close up
the starboard side and waved and smiled at my shipmates and CPO Joudrey
who looked at me and wondered whether I was having a good time, he said
developed friends in 2-D mess and have forgotten all but one of their
names. It was great fun to listen to their sea stories in ships with such
fascinating names -- Ark Royal, Bacchante, Blake, Juno, Minerva – and
the runs in ports I had only heard of: Aden, “Singers,” “Honkers”
of the time at sea can be boring, as we all know, but Sirius had a
program, broadcast twice a week from 1900 - 2000, featuring pop and
classical music, quizzes, news and other ribald lightheartedness.
was an instant celebrity in 2-D mess one night when I answered a music
“The next question is . . . ,” intoned the tannoy.
“What is the name of the famous aria of unrequited love from Madama
Who wrote it?
And what is the name of the character who sings it?”
I was, and still am, a great fan of classical music and knew the
answers (Un bel di, by Giacomo Puccini, sung by Cio-Cio-san).
Excited, I told Sharkey the answers and we watched from the
settees, glasses in hand,
as Sharkey rung up the wardroom, which apparently organized this
sort of thing, and were rewarded moments later with the announcement that
“The correct answer . . . goes to 2-D mess.
The next question is . . . . ”
received a standing ovation from the mess and given another pint of
three weeks later, and many hilarious sea stories later, we made
Frederikshavn, Denmark, on a beautiful early May morning.
I had no instruction to leave Sirius and, next day, we were back at
sea for Exercise
“Bright Horizon” in the North Sea involving submarines, aircraft and
fast patrol boats.
We were shadowed astern by the Soviet intelligence-gathering
if memory serves, the flagship ordered the squadron one day to turn
180 degrees and speed past the Zond which was about three miles aft.
I wonder what Zond’s logbook said the day the rusty, little ship
saw seven warships bearing down on it at speed from a couple of miles
and the six other NATO ships swept past Zond but, next day, it was still
there dogging our tracks and watching our every move with its fantastic
Bright Horizon, the ships were ordered to Scapa Flow and word was passed
that I was to return to Annapolis ASAP.
Wearing my first moustache and carrying an attache case full of
memories and souvenirs from the NAAFI canteen and 2-D mess, I made my way
to the quarterdeck with Sharkey.
We shook hands and said we hoped to see each other once again.
I climbed down into the seaboat and watched as Sirius grew slowly
shrank on the cold, grey waters of that bleak northern Scotland anchorage.
Annapolis again, our next port visit was Oslo, Norway, and I was delighted
when Sharkey and a few of his messmates came over to Three Mess, the
chiefs’ and petty officers’ lounge in HMCS Annapolis, and we renewed
many happy times together.
“Moose Milk” was a British favorite although I never cared too much
for it but I was always happy to see the Brits enjoying our Canadian
hospitality and scran.
Sirius was relieved by HMS Minerva June 27, 1974, off Den Helder, and I
the ship or my mates from 2-D mess again.
But I am left with a wealth of happy memories and sea stories that
I will never forget.
1963 -1968; 1969 - 1987