- Francis, Richard
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
RETURNING FROM A SUCCESSFUL DEPLOYMENT to the western sea-board of continental USA to support a major British Trade Exhibition in San Francisco, the helicopter cruiser HMS Blake paid a routine visit to Bermuda. A cruiser had not been there for many years. The RN presence there was a mere shadow of its former self and HMS Malabar (the shore establishment) found itself stretched to accommodate the requirements of a large major warship.
After a brief arrival berth in downtown Front Street, Hamilton, to host the official cocktail party, the ship was required to shift berth to the old RN dockyard area at Ireland Island, which was a considerable distance out of town. Our experience in California had encouraged libertymen to go ashore in uniform, where the likelihood of gaining shore hospitality was considerably increased. Bermuda was considered by the ship’s company to be merely an extension of the USA, although still happily a proud British Colony.
One morning I was sent for by the Commander shortly after breakfast to investigate the behaviour of several of my Division ashore the previous night, which had resulted in them being arrested by the Bermuda Police and transferred to the RN Shore Patrol. Apparently my Captain had been alerted to this incident and had decided to attend the local magistrate’s court that morning in full ‘sword and medals’ to show support for his sailors. My investigation revealed the following story.
A group of sailors from my Division had proceeded ashore in the rig of the day (long whites) for a quiet evening. After visiting a few bars they had become hungry and dropped into a smart restaurant (which was fairly quiet as it was a Monday night) and began to study the menu (which was obviously pricey, being the tourist season). The manager came up to them and drew their attention to a sign above the door and asked whether they could read it. They had not previously noticed this so one of them, my 3 badge AB, strolled across to read it. It stated: ‘Servicemen in uniform will not be served’ (and obviously referred to any visiting American servicemen). ‘Well?!!’ demanded the manager.
‘Is that all that’s worrying you?’ answered the merry matelots, and promptly started to strip off their (still respectable) uniform jumper and bell-bottoms until they stood meekly in their underwear. ‘I think I’d like a steak . . .’ began Stripey.
All hell broke loose and the police were called, and protesting furiously they were all bundled off, unclad, into a police wagon and locked up in cells for the night, to appear in court the next morning.
My Captain had been well briefed and demanded in Court under what authority commercial premises could discriminate against British sailors, in uniform, in a British Colony in such a disgraceful way. The Magistrate, abashed, leniently agreed and promptly dismissed the charge and apologised for the lack of Bermudan courtesy and hospitality, whereupon the dishevelled run-ashore oppos were driven back to the ship by our grim-faced Captain. I found it an amusing tragi-comedy of errors but decided to check on my sailors’ disciplinary records in the Master at Arms office. They were all ‘skates’ with long documented service records of minor crime and behaviour, who became short-term heroes on the messdecks as a result, boosting the Captain’s prestige enormously in the circumstances.