I recently had a visit from my family and grandchildren, they requested I tell them a salty story of my Navy Days! The popular one requested was the Jeep and the Duke. This took place in 1956 in Melbourne Australia during the Olympic games. I was a jeep driver for my ship HMS Cockade.
In due course a navy-blue Willy’s jeep pulled up alongside the gangway. Painted in white on each side were the letters RN.
The other drivers and I listened intently as the driver explained the idiosyncrasies of this unique little vehicle. It was left hand drive. Australians, like the English, drive on the right. The jeep was simple to drive and actually a lot of fun too. This was definitely the best duty experienced so far in my short naval career.
Over the next few days, I was called upon to drive the Skipper to the city to meet officials or attend receptions. I also drove many of the ship’s officers to a variety of destinations. I had the distinct feeling we were more like a taxi service than a military service. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the job and indeed I considered myself to be quite important.
On the morning of the opening of the Olympic Games, things were quite hectic. As duty driver I’d already completed several runs in the jeep. Then around tot time a group of about eight or ten shipmates rolled off the gangway and made a beeline for the jeep. Without asking, they piled in and demanded to be chauffeured into town.
Being a young and very junior sailor, I was easily intimidated by the older shipmates, and I knew it would be difficult, maybe even impossible, to get them out of the jeep, so I decided that the best course of action would be to drive them to the nearest pub.
I started the jeep and headed for the city centre. This wasn’t as simple as it might sound. Two of my passengers were sitting on the bonnet, impeding my vision and speed. Finally, I reached the main thoroughfare leading to Flinders Street, and I have to ask myself, why you can’t ever find a pub when you so desperately needed one.
I eased the jeep into the left side lane that took me onto the main street, and too late, I realised that it was a big mistake. Directly in front of me was a police barrier. It was much too close to avoid, so my only option was to stop.
But as I slowed down, I was surprised to see a policeman step forward and wave me through. Of course, I obeyed, and to my horror I immediately I found myself in the middle of a street that was lined with thousands of flag waving people.
In the split second it took to pass through the barrier I realised what had happened. The policeman had assumed that we were part of the official party sent to line the street.
The second realisation, however, caused me to break out in a cold sweat. Oh my God! I was trapped in the very same street that the Duke was going to travel along on his way to the official opening of the Games. I immediately envisioned a court martial, resulting in me being hanged from the nearest yardarm at dawn.
The only way out was to drive to the end of the street and get off at the next junction. But what if I met the Royal Entourage coming the other way? I couldn’t just drive past them! I would have to back up. I would surely cause an international incident and end my brief naval career.
In the meantime, my unconcerned passengers were having a ball, waving enthusiastically at the spectators as we sped past. The crowd waved back and cheered loudly. Of course, this prompted my rum-sodden shipmates to react and respond with greater enthusiasm.
Not one of them gave me a thought, or even considered my predicament. I was having difficulty gripping the steering wheel with my sweaty palms as I drove as fast as I dared down the crowded and narrow street.
Fortunately, I reached the end of the street without any major incident and we turned sharply into an alleyway.
I’d had enough by then. With a thumping heart and a bright red face, I jumped up and yelled at my passengers.
“Get the F–K out of my jeep!”
I was so angry they didn’t hesitate. They were gone in seconds. Phew!!I had survived and still had my driver permit!!!
God Bless and keep reading