Back in 1989 I sailed with the Royal Navy for the last time. I was very fortunate to be assigned the duty as escort officer to fifty Sea-Army and Air Cadets aboard HMS Ark Royal. The Ark Royal was one of the very latest British Aircraft Carriers armed with a squadron of Harrier Jump jets. We boarded in Halifax for a five day passage to Boston. The cadets had been promised short flights in the Harriers, alas the weather didn’t co-operate. We sailed in dense fog all the way down the Eastern seaboard, no flights were possible. Nevertheless it was a very interesting experience, not only for the cadets but for me too. This was the largest warship I had ever sailed aboard, my previous ships not larger than a destroyer and as small as a submarine. It was quite a contrast to living on a submarine, on the Ark I had my own spacious cabin complete with wash stand etc. My special moment of pride came the day before we were due to arrive in Boston. Ark Royal normally carried a Royal Marine band for such occasions but for some reason they were not aboard for this trip. The Commander sent for me early that morning, and I immediately wonder which one of my charges had done damage?
Fortunately there was no cadet mishaps, the Commander merely wondered if I could form a band from a handful of my fifty cadets. He wanted them to play as we entered Boston harbour. The Royal Marine band equipment was aboard and it was easy to find twenty willing cadets to form a makeshift band. We had a little time to practice in the hanger deck that afternoon and by the end of the day didn’t sound too bad.
The following morning under beautiful clear sunny skies we began the slow passage to our designated berth alongside. The Crew were all formed up along the ships side in dress whites for entering harbour. It was an impressive sight watching the huge ship slowly close to the dockside. A large gathering of people along with local dignitaries lined the jetty to see us arrive. In the hanger deck we formed up the band on the forward elevator platform, we were all dress in our very best uniforms. As we neared the jetty the elevator began to rise to the flight deck with the cadets proudly playing -Heart of Oak- the traditional band music of the Royal Navy. It was simply an amazing if a somewhat brief moment. We left the ship in Boston and travelled back to Canada via motor coach . However, that most special shipboard moment has forever remained with me. What a wonderful way to end a career at sea listening to that oldest and most famous Naval song of all. Heart of Oak.
Bravo Zulu — God Bless and keep reading