Yer On Draft Son!

 

You've Been Posted!!!

 

hmasderwent2.jpg
HMAS DERWENT at sea

 

Posting to a new ship could be a traumatic experience for a sailor. It is well known that in civilian life moving house is right up the top of the list of the 10 most stressfull events in a person's life ranking just below death and divorce - leaving a good ship and posting to a new ship could and did produce the same effect upon some sailors, here is one personal example.

 

HMAS Stuart, a very happy and well loved ship at the time, returned from her 1974 Far East Deployment just prior to Christmas that year and since she had been continually deployed to the Far East (among other areas) for the past 3 years, the tired old girl was now headed for Williamstown Dockyard, Melbourne, early in the new year for a much needed refit. We had broken down in nearly every port we visited this year and so we stopped in Sydney to de-ammunition and de-store and also to send personnel on leave.

 

Having accrued enormous amounts of sea leave I proceeded on leave to Melbourne on arrival in Sydney. I was home for about 10 days when on Christmas Eve, shortly after midnight,I watched the news flash on TV stating that Darwin had been flattened by Cyclone Tracey. The solemn news announcer stated that all members of HMAS Stuart's Ship's Company, plus sailors of other Australian warships, were to report back to their respective ships immediately - it was a national emergency.

 

Legging it to Tullamarine airport at 100 mph, there I met some Oppos also returning to their ships, we were given priority status as many disgruntled civvies were shunted off their flights to make way for the sailors (for the record we paid our own fares).

 

It was still early by the time we arrived in Sydney and having got the ping for a beer or two on the flight, Taffy Jordan and I then stopped at the 'early openers' in Wooloomooloo for a few more Chrissy drinks. Who knows when we were likely to get another and after all it was Christmas Day. A little worse for wear Taffy and I stepped aboard around 0900.

 

True to form Stuart broke down and couldn't sail with the fleet that afternoon and finally managed to get underway on boxing day. Once at sea we caught up with the remainder of the fleet and prepared for our job at hand - to help the population of a flattened Darwin. A few days out of Sydney I was called to the Ship's Office and informed that my exchange posting had been approved and although Derwent wanted me now she would have to wait, I would post to HMAS Derwent at the first available opportunity. I was completely dumbstruck! You didn't just get a swap posting you had to request one. At this stage not yet knowing what was in store for me I wasn't whinging for Derwent spent the next 3 out of 4 years deployed to the far east.

 

Asking around I found that after I had proceeded on leave to Melbourme, a Leading Seaman Fire Control, from HMAS Derwent, named "Shorty" Allen, who was married, had come aboard STUART and asked if any LSFC's wanted to go up top early in the new year and to exchange postings with him. An oppo of mine at the time, 'Gus' Ridley said,

 

"Sure mate, Stones will!"

 

DE's were only complemented with two LSFC's and the other bloke didn't want a bar of the idea.

 

I was a good 500 miles away when Gus Ridley filled out and forged my signature on the request form and submitted it.

 

We returned to Sydney on the morning of Tuesday 28th January 1975 after a very difficult 6 weeks or so in Darwin. The Ship's Company then proceeded on 7 days Arduous Service Leave as soon as we got alongside whilst I packed up my Pussers Kit Bag, Shit Bag, Burberry and Spike and headed over to Kuttabul Steps to catch the last boat out to Derwent, who was flashed up and hanging by her slip rope on No. 3 Bouy in Sydney Harbour - waiting for me. I was close on being 2 months late.

 

With all my gear I leapt off the dockyard workboat ascended the jumping ladder and plonked my kit down upon the Ikara Deck. Derwent was sailing for her 4th week of workups and her Training Battle Problem and the whole ship was in pandemonium. The QM (LSWM Jock Thomas) was just about to shut down his QMs position and move his 'routine' to the bridge, steam was roaring from the stack and sailors were running about everywhere looking quite stressed.

 

Before I could make it to the QM's Desk to be signed aboard a nasty and also angry little POQMG by the name of Lenny Ellis jumped out from behind the Ikara Launcher and bailed me up.

 

"Right!", he said "Get down to the Aft Steering Position right now and read the orders for changing over to after steering!", pointing to the Tiller Flat Hatch.

 

"What's going on?" I asked, "I have to report to the QM first and get logged in!"

 

Nastily and sarcastically he spat, "It's alright, we know who you are, just do what you are told"

 

'Jesus'. I thought, has this bloke got a problem. From now on things just got steadily worse. I once again asked him to lighten up a bit and let me follow the proper post in routine by reporting to the QM.

 

Screaming at me, he now threatened to 'run me in' , then looked me in the eye screeched a direct order for me to get down there. Leaving my kit on the Ikara Deck I climbed down the hatch, made my way to the Aft Steering Compartment, and wondering what the hell I had got myself into, and who this nasty little prick was, I lit up a smoke and bided my time. I was not interested in reading the orders for I had served aboard Derwent before and had also been in Stuart, Derwent's exact sister ship, for 31/2 years and knew the routine for changing to aft steering like I knew my official number. Giving myself a reasonable amount of time, seething with rage, I then climbed back up the ladder to the Ikara Deck - where he was still waiting for me, behaving quite agitatedly and with a look as cold as a mother in laws kiss.

 

I asked him what the hell was going on and was told to shut up and to get my kit bag down to the Gunnery Mess, not to unpack anything, and then to get straight up to the wheelhouse for I was to be the Quartermaster of the Forenoon Watch, it was already 9:50 am so did this mean I was adrift?. I made my way forward to the Gunnery Mess (3E) hatch, through my kitbag down and went below. The mess was empty so I secured my gear with some spun yarn to the back of the ladder then made my way up to the wheel house.

 

Sliding the wheelhouse door open I was confronted by a number of people including Chief Coxswain Barry McPherson who was at the wheel. He looked me up and down with utter disdain and contempt for Special Sea Durtymen had already been piped to close up.

 


A Typical Wheelhouse Layout, where I was to spend alot of my time over the next 2 years

 

"And who the bloody hell are you?", he barked.
 

"Leading Seaman Graystone, 'Swain, just posted in from HMAS Stuart", I replied
 

"Call yourself a bloody Leading Seaman do you? You're not a Leading Seaman's arsehole! What is the first thing you do when you post into a new ship?"

 

Before I could answer he answered for me.

 

"Report to the Coxswain's Office, don't you!" he shrieked.

 

I wanted to tell him the story about my unfortunate experience with Ellis on the Ikara deck but I thought better of it for he was in quite a stressed state and obviously wasn't going to really listen to what I had to say anyway. So,  discretion being the better part of valor I kept my mouth shut and wore the abuse.

 

I looked at the Leading Coxswain manning the telegraphs, Pete Brassel, who just gave me that "Boy are you in the shit" look.

 

The Swain continued his vicious and degrading verbal attack upon me as we got underway and sailed towards Sydney Heads.

 

Soon the pipe was made to fall out from Specials and without asking the Bridge for permission he simply left the wheel and walked towards the door, leaving me to quickly jump on the wheel and commence steering. Via the voice pipe I reported to the bridge that as Quartermaster of the forenoon watch, I was closed up on the wheel. The coxswain departed and before doing so had a final word, ordering me to report to him as soon as I was relieved at noon and leaving me in no doubt that I was indeed on his 'Shit List'. As a matter of a fact as I was to find out, I was on everybody's shit list before I even arrived onboard. The Swain was just one of many very stressed out and angry men in what seemed to be a pretty unhappy ship. He wasn't to be the only one who stuck it up me for the next two years either.

 

Things were not going well for me at this stage and they continued getting worse by the very minute.

 

Some background here - Some antagonsim is felt by members of a crew when another posts in without, as they see it, having done the hard work, putting up with a refit etc, Especially when they have been operating a man short for well over a month and even more so for the first 3 weeks of the workups. Everybody was filthy on me and I knew not why. It wasn't my fault that I had just spent a bastard of the last two months in bloody Darwin cleaning up peoples demolished homes in the oppressive 'wet season' heat and humidity. Believe me the Cyclone Tracey Disaster relief effort was not fun!

 

I reflected on Ridley's wisdom of submitting that forged request form as I steered Derwent out of the heads and south towards Jervis Bay. The Watch On Deck was mustered and before long a young Able Seaman entered the wheelhouse and prepared to take the wheel from me. I asked the Officer Of The Watch's permission for him to take the wheel and it was granted.

 

Unfortunately right about now, Derwent was having problems with its gyro compass and because of this we were steering the ship by the magnetic compass (AGMC), so consequently the brilliance on the Gyro Strip Repeat was turned off rendering it quite unreadable.

 


A typical Gyro Strip Repeat - Illuminated. When turned off the red strip is black.

 

Taking the wheel the watch on deck Helmsman rattled off his spiel up the voice pipe to the OOW on the Bridge..

 

"Bridge, Wheelhouse, Able Seaman Dixon closed up on the wheel Sir, course 165, both engineroom telegraphs showing half ahead, revolutions 140, steering by Alpha Gyro Repeat!"

 

Well bugger me if all hell didn't break loose on the bridge - Although the gyro repeat couldn't be read and we were in fact steering by AGMC, the AB had rattled off his spiel through force of habit. However the bridge flew into extreme panic, especially since the notorious Fleet Training Group were present observing events. They started yelling down the voice pipe to check course and steering method. I leapt up from the chair in front of the engine telegraphs and reported the verbal error to the bridge confirming that we were indeed steering by AGMC and NOT REPEAT NOT by Alpha Gyro.

 

I was then abused by a myriad of voices coming down the voicepipe -

 

"Take Charge Quartermaster!", "Pay attention Quartermaster!" etc etc etc. "Who is the Quartermaster on Watch?" they screamed. I yelled my name and rank back and I guess they were all scratching their heads for no one up there had any idea who I was.

 

I resumed my seat and pondered my dilemma - nothing was going right, I looked at the Helmsman with a resigned 'thanks alot mate look', he looked away embarrassed.

 

I jumped back startled as the sliding door to the wheelhouse was slammed open, right next to me. Standing there was a man dressed in standard sailors No 8's Action Working Dress, bearing no rank, rate or name insignia. He gave me a piercing look and then snapped,

 

"Have you got any masking tape in here?"

 

Having just about as much as I could handle for one morning I retorted,

"NO, I f*****g haven't! What do you f*****g think this place is, f*****g naval stores!"

 

He looked me up and down, and I have since wondered many times what thoughts must have been going through his mind, and then he replied,

 

"Well get some and tape over that Gyro Strip Repeat so it can't be read!"

 

Very, very sarcastically I replied,

 

"If you have a f*****g look, you f*****g dickhead, you will see that the f*****g illumination is turned off and you cant f******g see it!!" With that I told him to f**k off out of MY F*****G wheelhouse and slammed the door in his face.

 

I had had quite enough for one morning and I wasn't taking that from some bloody OD.

 

Livid with rage I sat back down and then decided to get one last look at this bloke, I wanted to remember him for future reference. I opened the wheelhouse door but he was gone, back up the ladder to the Bridge. I turned to the helmsman and enquired,

 

"Who was that bastard?", "What was his name?"

 

The AB at the helm was looking very shaken and very perturbed as he nervously told me that it just happened to be Lieutenant Thomas RAN, the Ship's Navigator, my Divisional Officer and new boss. What a fine introduction to the man who fills out your personnel reports (PP1's).