Blood, Sweat and Beers


Blood in Exchange For Beer


HMAS DERWENT Alongside Inner North Arm HMS Tamar Hong Kong


Sailors would go to just about any lengths to get a beer, especially when it was free, served and consumed during working hours.  This was matelot Nirvana!


During our Far East Deployments it was customary whilst visiting in many countries for the International Red Cross to come aboard with their Mobile Blood Donor Unit and tap into a ready supply of healthy, young, fit, Aussie Sailors blood. (Because I was 'O' positive they always took a bit extra from me).  Good reason to double up on the free beer!


In Hong Kong it was almost mandatory to give blood.  it was an 'Institution' almost.   We saw it as an Ambassadorial Duty and one that the HK Red Cross were extremely grateful for.


On 12 July 1950, the Hong Kong Red Cross was established as a branch of the British Red Cross Society, in the same year, the first group of lady volunteers was formed. It started to provide blood collection service in 1952, established its first hospital school in 1954 and formed its first cadet unit at St Francis Canossian School in 1956.




As an incentive and reward for donating blood they would also truck in copious quantities of San Miguel Beer.  They had long experience with Australian Sailors and knew how to get results.


So here is the scenario. Most of the troops have been ashore at the local bars until the very late hours of 04:00 - 05:00 AM. They are liberally dosed with the local brew and by the time the Red Cross arrive on the ship early in the forenoon a certain number of 'Hard Runner's' are hovering bleary eyed, unsteadily on their feet, outside the Ship's Company Cafe with their sleeves rolled up, arm outstretched, pleading for someone to shove a needle up their arm and give 'em a beer. On completion of the transfer of bodily liquid the sailors would not go and lie down as instructed by the local medical staff but would hover around the fridge conning more beers from the obliging nurses. Thus, generally, making a social event out of the whole exercise, whilst continually transferring the Red Cross' liquid back into themselves.


By the Mid 70s the HK Red Cross boasted that they had all but wiped out VD in the Colony.  All blood was examined and screened before use.  Sometimes, by the time screening was completed the ship had already left.  And on a rare occasion or two a sailor arrived back iun Australia to find a letter waiting for him from the HKRC.


I recall in Manila in 1974 whilst serving in Stuart my 'stepping oppo' at the time, Leading Seaman Gunner David Knox spending two days (Thursday and Friday) in the cafe giving two pints of blood whilst he drank San Mig constantly then raging ashore during the evenings and again keeping it up for the entire weekend. At 6' 3" and 220 lbs the man was virtually indestructible.