I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
I am in the middle of organising a reunion on board the Yacht which is moored here in Scotland at Leith docks. The idea came to me one night as I was sitting here reading a few of the posts on the Yottie Web Site, a site which was set up recently by the ARY1 to replace the quarterly magazine which was put out by one member of the ARY. This member, along with a small committee, had spent the last few years running the magazine and trying his best to keep all the members in touch with each other, as the membership are located all over the world. This was fast becoming a full time job for him as the membership was, in fact, increasing; so much so that the web site was set up to cope. Obviously the numbers of those who were eligible to join had stopped when the Yacht was decommissioned, but more and more men were finding out about the ARY and joining.
Anyway, as I sat there reading all the news about the latest dinner and dance, which had been held in Portsmouth which was the usual location, it brought the whole idea of a reunion into my head. Over the past few years every function being held was always somewhere down on the south coast, making it almost impossible for any of us north of the border to attend. Even if we could afford the cost of the journey along with all the other costs, including the time off for work, the total cost in the end would be equal to a weeks holiday in Spain! My thought was, if the Yacht is here in Scotland, why don't all of us up here in the northern part of the UK have our own do on board! So I logged onto the Yottie site and posted my idea just to see if anyone would, in fact, be interested. I also contacted the last crew member, who is currently assigned to the Yacht by the Royal Navy, and asked his opinion of my idea.
The response I got was astounding to say the least! I received phone calls and emails from all over the UK and even some from overseas - all saying that they would definitely attend, if it could be arranged. All I had to do then was compile a list of those attending and liaise with the chap on board as to all the details. The whole thing just snowballed, and, even now with three weeks to go, I am still receiving phone calls from folk wanting to add their names to the list. A few of them asked if wives and family could attend and when they found out that they could, this increased the numbers even further.
Some of you will recall that I had a reunion with an old ship mate on board the yacht last year, as I wrote a Snippet about it. We met on the internet, quite by chance, and agreed to meet up the following week. I can still remember that feeling when I first saw the ship; a shiver went down my spine to see it in full glory. It brought back many memories to us both. We almost walked passed each other on the bridge - the place we allocated for the meeting. It was sad in some ways, but emotional in others. Age had taken its toll on both of us and we almost walked by each other. After all, it had been thirty two years since we last met and none of us, including the ship, looked our best. We had the normal tour along the public routes, but were taken to all other parts of the ship once it became known that we were, in fact, ex crew members. All in all it was good day, full of emotion and memories.
With just a few weeks to go before this big reunion, I am already preparing everything I will need for the group picture, amongst other things. I have to make sure that I get everyones' name to match their positions in the group photo, as a copy of it will be given to all who are in it, as well as a copy being sent to the Navy News along with a short story. I wonder how it will be for them? I mean, after all, some of them served for many years on board and have not seen the ship or their mates for many years.
Going by the feelings that I had on that day last year, and that was just meeting up with one person, I think it is going to be a special day for all who share it.
You see, serving on board that ship was totally different to life in the rest of the Navy. There was a feeling of belonging, a spirit all of its own on there. Yes, the work was hard while on Royal duties and the hours were long, but no one ever complained. In fact, before the last refit, life on board was like a time warp. It was like going back forty years in time. We slept in hammocks and we lived and ate in the mess. There was no tanoi system, for example, you just read the daily orders in the morning along with any other changes that could come out, if changed, and you knew where and when you had to be at a certain time.
Discipline was there but managed, for the best part, by ourselves. You were part of a team and, if you did let the team down, you were told so, but in their way!
Being boat crew was probably the most demanding job as it meant working round the clock at times either escorting the Royal barge to and from the ship or running guests back and fore to the official funtions. In fact, sometimes we were too shattered to climb up onto the boom to get back on board, so we just grabbed a couple of hours sleep on the boats. On occasion it was necessary to come alongside and chap on one of the scuttles2 and have food and beer or even a change of uniform handed out to us.
I remember being told that I was, in fact, the youngest member of crew they ever had and to find myself working the Royal decks so soon. This was due to crew shortage as a lot of the older crew left just before and after the refit which was most unusual indeed.
So now I look forward to that day as for many of us who live north of the border it will be the very first function that we will be able to attend. I may even cover the event, as it were, and let you all know how it went.