Amusing Navy Anecdotes Page 1

 

LSUW Natty Brooker and the Order Of The Palm

 

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This incident took place in HMAS DERWENT on her far East Deployment in 1978. It has three main characters. Leading Seaman Underwater Weapons Nathan "Natty" Brooker, Chief Petty Officer David Morse and Lieutenant Commander "Wally On The Piss" Burroughs (the XO). Now some would call Natty a bit of a 'tea leaf' (thief), however Natty just reckoned he was a scrounger and souvenir hunter and one of his many 'pickups' during the deployment was a potted palm, of fairly great proportions I may add.

 

This rather large palm, Natty kept in 3 Papa aft crews mess. It took up alot of what little space there is in a destroyer messdeck and, according to the Messdeck's Chief, Dave, posed hazards to the crew in such a confined space, also it was not the done thing to turn your messdeck into a nursery. Shit! What if every sailor brought a bloody great plant aboard! Meanwhile, whilst on route to Japan from Hong Kong, the XO did his nightly rounds of the ships messdecks and of course couldn't help noticing this humongous potted palm. Upon the XO's enquiry Natty stepped forward and handed the XO a line about how the palm came to be (honestly) in his possession. The XO believed Natty's story because he needed to and then in a flash of brilliance reckoned this sole palm tree would be just the thing to adorn the Quarterdeck with at the Officers forthcoming cocktail parties. Natty was suitably chuffed. And agreed instantly.

 

Dave by now, not knowing about the XOs plans for the decoration of the quarterdeck, had become quite annoyed with Natty and after many polite requests to ditch it over the side, which Natty ignored, he gave up being nice and gave Natty a direct order to give it a buoyancy test. An indignant Natty, scorched the tiles on the deck of the main passage getting to the XO's cabin. There, he lamented, that Chief Morse was being vicious and spiteful and had no good reason to ditch his beloved tree. The XO, (with cocktail parties uppermost in his mind), agreed. So it was that Wally On The Piss, overruled the Chief in favour of the infamous Leading Seaman Natty Brooker. Dave was not in the least impressed by having his authority as a Senior Chief usurped by that 'cockroach' Natty! He plotted revenge! After numerous cocktail parties in ports all around Japan where Natty dutifully and smuggishly delivered his palm to the quarterdeck on each occasion (under the proud and watchful gaze of Wally On The Piss), whilst Dave seethed inside, we finally went alongside in Sasebo.

 

Sasebo had still, a small USN contingent which boasted a Chief Petty Officer's Club albeit a small one. Dave who had recently completed a very successful two year exchange with the USN slotted right in and was made one of the family. Then one auspicious evening, after a marathon drinking session the topic of redecorating the USN Chief's Club arose. Dave, in a flash of drunken brilliance, and eager to repay the Yank's over generous hospitality, reckoned some interior foliage was just the ticket! The Shore Patrol Lock Up Wagon was summoned and Dave along with a number of USN Chiefs as unknowing accomplices, drove to the ship, went aboard and removed the offending palm from the after seamen's mess; returned and set it up with much pomp and ceremony with pride of place in the USN Chiefs Club. Natty being ashore stealing something else at this time.

 

As wakey, wakey was piped the next morning and the hungover Ship's Company stirred, Natty with bucket of water in hand sought out his pride and joy. The stolen palm had been stolen! There was much to do and Natty wasted no time in informing the XO, who then, ordered an investigation. It was soon apparent what had occurred as Dave was piped to the XO's Cabin. Hungover and thoroughly pissed off Dave was ordered to go straight to the USN Chiefs Club and recover the missing vegetable matter. A severe embarrassment and loss of face. And of course an apology to Natty, who stole the damned thing in the first place.

 

So it was that the palm remained aboard for the deployment and was the veteran of many cocktail parties. Natty had his victory over the Chief and Wally On The Piss continued to decorate his Quarterdeck. Alas, it came time to return to Australia and in keeping with the country's strict quarantine laws the palm that had caused all the problems was unceremoniously thrown overboard. I doubt Dave ever forgave Natty.

 

 

Refit Recollections - The Loaded Cabbage

 

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Christmas 1971. HMAS Stuart, a 2,700 ton Type 12 A/S Frigate, (later to be reclassified as a River Class Destroyer Escort), lay in dry-dock completing the last stages of her Intermediate Docking at Williamstown (Dog Town), Victoria.

 

New post-ins are arriving almost everyday and a sense of urgency starts to permeate the ship as if she too knows it is time to depart.

 

The dock is flooded, the caisson removed and we are unceremoniously 'cold moved' port side to, alongside Nelson Pier. Thank God the heads and showers are reconnected and we can have a dhobey and a crap on board again! Going to the heads and Showers whilst in dry dock necessitates leaving your messdeck and making the track through the ship, up on deck, down the gangway and a stroll through the dockyard clad only in a towel and perhaps foul weather jacket in the winter, with dhobey bag swinging at your side and a smoke in your mouth. It was at least a one smoke trip! And some dockyards were worse than others. Dockyard dunnies were never noted for their lavish appointments; a lavish appointment in this instance may well be that of hot running water!

 

After suffering an operatively hot Melbourne summer in Dry Dock, the ship at last cools down now, having water around her hull and the reconditioned ventilation and A/C units are brought on line. During refit a ship out of the water with no ventilation units running is like a big steel oven in summer and a place to hang meat in the winter. Not to mention the messdecks smelling like a fishmongers gumboot!

 

By now the Stokers and Greenies are chasing small parts and components to get their equipment on line. The Writers in the Ship's Office are furiously processing the many records of personnel movements, as this is one of the times in a ship's life when many of her crew change around according to their sea/shore roster.

 

Of course there is always storing ship - one of the most hated of all evolutions, apart from ammunitioning ship, which is similar! There have never been more excuses in the navy for not attending a 'Clear lower Deck - In Stores!" than for just about any other order.

 

With the ship's Watch and Station Bills finally updated and all Pre Workup Training (PWT) requirements concluded, a now insane Chief FC (Regulator) prepares to don his gunnery hat and put together another Gunnery team. The standing and running rigging being thoroughly checked by the 'Buffer', he too, like all the other Chiefs of all the departments must see that the promising new additions to the crew are trained properly and brought swiftly to a position where they are competent and trustworthy members of the small 250 man team.

 

The offending patches of undercoat showing on the upperdeck are quickly covered by a quick slap of 'ship's side grey'. The tools, ropes and forever, endless, snaking welding cables are at last retrieved by their 'Docky' owners and put ashore. It is amazing how quickly a ship readies herself for sea. If you could live on a warship and watch what happens to one in a full refit you would wonder if they could ever get her back together again. I know, I certainly have.

 

Soon the heart of the ship begins to beat again as the main engines are flashed up, every sailor aboard now knows that it won't be long. The troops are piped to 'clear lower deck' for an address by the C.O. The new Skipper perches himself upon a mushroom vent on the fo'c'sle, invites the ship's company to gather around and tells us that we are now COMAUSDESRON 3 (Commander Australian Destroyer Squadron Three). Our new skipper is a 'four ringer'- full Captain - and we get the black band painted around the top of our funnel designating us as the leader of the push for the squadron. The other destroyers are only commanded by 3 ring Commanders. So Captain Ian (RIMPAC) Richards, Veteran of Korea, assumes command and tells us what he expects of us and what our programme is for the forthcoming year. The married blokes heave a sigh of resignation as RIMPAC informs us of a busy year to come - 9 months away . And the single blokes are muttering, "You bloody beauty, missed another freezing winter in Australia playing wargames off Jervis Bay!"

 

Stuart was now to complete her Sea Acceptance Trials in Port Phillip Bay. Then, sail to Sydney for 6 weeks shakedown and workup commencing, virtually on arrival. There will be no rest now for the next two months at least. After that, maybe a short, 2 week, self maintenance period alongside in GI (Garden Island Dockyard - Sydney) and then deploying to Sth East & Far East Asia, Pacific Islands and South Pacific Islands including Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand - 9 months in all. Arriving back in Australia just before Christmas.

 

Even the thought of the dreaded 'workups' won't stop us in our desire to wave goodbye to Dogtown.

 

We start by daily running, sailing at 0730 and returning late afternoon or evening. We test our organisation and equipment in preparation for release from the dockyard's clutches. Gun Functioning Trials, compass swings, full power trials and numerous other tests are all carried out under the watchful gaze of the trials and testing tiffys and boffins.

 

After a week of Daily Running we venture into the bay for some extended periods, anchoring in the bay overnight to speed up the trials process and save time by getting underway easier early in the mornings. It was at one of these overnight anchorages in Port Phillip Bay that my 'dit' really begins.

 

It was decided that after a busy day at sea testing machinery and equipment we should, on completion of anchoring for the night, have a 'Beer and Banger' night for the ship's company. The Chef's brought all the gear up to the quarterdeck and we had an upperdeck Bar B Que and a few beers. This is a crew bonding exercise and helps us all get to know one another in a relaxed informal manner. Like a traditional Aussie Bar B Que you could say. By around 2200 the event winds down and the crew retire to their individual messes. I am laying quite contented on my bunk in 3 Foxtrot Gunnery Mess when I am rudely shaken by Lieutenant Mick Biddle RAN. The Ship's Gunnery Officer, (my boss and Divisional Officer). I am the duty Gunners Yeoman and I hold all the keys to the Magazines, Shellrooms and Gunnery Compartments. They are on a ring made of brass rod hanging on the end of my bunk. It is a huge key ring weighing about 3 pounds. Lieutenant Biddle wants the key to the Pyrotechnic Locker. I am unable to hand the key over to him outright so I escort him to the Pyro Locker and open it for him. He cracks open an ammo box and grabs a few 'Thunder Flashes', not the N5s but the larger more powerful N7s. By now I am becoming somewhat intrigued - Mick is in rather high spirits! We sign the register and I lock the compartment and hastily follow him to the galley. It must be explained now that a thunder flash is a very powerful firework - or bunger! Used for signalling to divers under the water or simulate explosions in battle exercises. It must not be detonated within 18 metres of a person or 6 metres of a diver under water. It must be exploded in an open container never in a closed one.

 

By now Mick has obtained a large cabbage from the night chef and is hollowing out the core with a carving knife. My imagination is going wild, what is this man up to. Finished hollowing out the cabbage he makes a plug for the hole he has just dug and fits it with exaggerated precision. He then calmly walks from the galley, aft, down the main passage and stops outside the Chief Petty Officer's Mess. He unhurriedly cranks off an N7 Thunderflash, pops it inside the cabbage, fits his plug, opens the Chiefs Mess door quickly and rolls the cabbage across the deck towards the seated, unsuspecting Chiefs. He then slams the door shut and bolts.

 

The sound of the N7 going off in the middle of the night was incredible. I stood and watched as the door to the Chief's Mess was flung open and Chiefs staggered blindly through the smoke out into the main passage somewhat shell shocked. They were black faced and covered in coleslaw. When the smoke finally cleared there were upended tables and chairs, smashed crockery, looking literally like a bomb had gone off and worst of all the Mess looked as though someone had taken a high pressure water cannon and sprayed coleslaw into every nook and cranny of the Chiefs Mess. Hi! I'm Lieutenant Mick Biddle. Your new Gunnery Officer! I knew then that this bloke was going to be a great boss! Mick had a passion for thunderflashes and he was to get into some fairly hot water later in the deployment for using them in inappropriate places.

 

During a ships workup off the East Australian Coast you would frequently enter Jervis Bay and spend time at anchor. One of these nights at anchor was always reserved for a Wardroom Mess Dinner. It was during this Wardroom Mess Dinner that Chief ERA Binns - 'Shit' Binns to his friends decided to get his own back. With the Mess Dinner in full swing he opened the door to the Wardroom and rolled an 'unloaded' cabbage across the deck of the wardroom. This caused nearly as much damage as if the cabbage had contained a thunderflash. Tables and chairs flew everywhere upended platters of food and glasses of wine crashed to the deck as the officers dived for protection and cover. After a while, gingerly peering out from behind the upended furniture, it was decided by the officers that the device was not armed. The Officers and Chiefs decided then to call a truce.

 

 

A Seaman's Day At the Cricket

 

Cricket batsman

 

It was February, the summer of 1977 and HMAS Derwent was refitting in 'Dogtown' (Williamstown Dockyard, Victoria). A boring place at the best of times! Relieving it for one young seaman, 'Maggot' Hines, was a day at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground to see the Australians play in the International One Day Finals.

 

Maggot was having a great day out when at last, full of larakin juice, he decided to do what had become an International pastime. That is to 'streak' (naked) across the oval whilst the game was in full progress. Having removed all of his attire he leapt the fence and raced, somewhat unsteadily, across the pitch. He was quickly apprehended by the local constabulary, escorted from the ground, arrested and thrown in the slammer for the evening. Upon release early Sunday morning he made his way back to the ship, hungover and tired but relieved that since he wasn't required for duty no-one would be the wiser about his escapade. The cricket match was not televised live in Melbourne so he felt reasonably secure.

 

Meanwhile the Captain of Derwent, Warren Hamlyn was reclining in his armchair at his home in Canberra. The burden of command lifted from him briefly as he spent the weekend interstate with his family. Relaxing in front of his television he decided to catch some of the cricket (which was televised in Canberra). Just then a streaker ran across the pitch, which the camera soon picked up on, for play had been stopped by this time until the offender was caught. As Maggot was being escorted from the ground by two burly coppers Channel Nine did the right thing and zoomed in for a close up head shot of the transgressor. Maggot was immediately recognised by his skipper! (the burden of command indeed omnipresent). Needless to say Maggot faced some pretty severe charges when the Captain returned from his 'quiet' weekend at home.

 

 

"Some Mothers Do Have Them!"

 

It was aboard Yarra (pictured below), back in the late seventies if my memory serves me well. Another RIMPAC Exercise, another run to Hawaii (there's another story). When you enter Pearl Harbour the generosity and hospitality of the Yanks is or was quite overwhelming and one of their traits was to assign each foreign warship a host ship.

 

For Yarra, it was of all ships USS Harold E Holt named after our once famous Prime Minister (all the way with LBJ, you remember) well that was fine except that H E Holt had been the recipient of many USN awards for one thing or another. Our American cousins are famous for handing out infinite quantities of those. Trouble was it appeared it had gone to the heads of the crew of H E Holt and to put it mildly they were slightly full of themselves.

 

After a week or so alongside in Pearl it was time to put to sea on exercise. A few days later both vessels carried out RAS approaches upon each other. Two greyhounds speeding up alongside each other in turn, to practice passing lines for replenishment, and station keeping etc. at a distance of about 80-100 feet apart. The final approach of the afternoon was carried by Holt on Yarra and after a little time of station keeping practice Holt initiated the final breakaway. The ship breaking away would always try to do it with a little flair, up revs, hard turn to Starboard, spray whipping over the fo'c'sle, heeling over, band playing, colours (or RAS Flag) Flying, ship's song blaring out from upperdeck loud speakers, and all that good impressive stuff. On this occasion, the sailors on Holt, unfurled a large square of canvas and written upon it were the words "Next time you write home to your mothers; tell her that you saw some REAL sailors!" Profanities streamed forth from the insulted crew of Yarra and a vow of revenge was silently uttered by every matelot on the upperdeck.

 

RIMPAC wore on and the days passed into weeks. Yarra never caught sight of Holt again until the final day of the exercise. And my old mate Petty Officer Quartermaster Gunner Frankie (Sneaky) Leek was waiting for them. The Skipper of Yarra manoeuvred for a close pass. The sailors of both ships stopping and turning to to observe each other as Yarra cut through the crystal blue pacific water at speed. As Yarra came abreast of Holt 'Sneaky' unfurled his banner. It read. "Well, we wrote home to some sailors, and we told them that we had seen some REAL MOTHERS!" The reaction in Holt was one that all the Yarra boys will remember for a long time.

 

The Aussie Samurai

 

 

It was during HMAS Derwent's 1976 Far east Deployment that the month of May saw us touring around various small ports on the main and northern islands of Japan.

 

One such port we visited was called Maizuru in the Kyoto District. A picturesque and quiet village which was also home to a small Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force Base (JMSDF). As it turned out the Admiral in charge of the JMSDF base attended the Japanese Naval College, and was friends with with one of the officers killed in the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in June 1942. Subsequently the bodies and effects of these men were repatriated, via the Red Cross, back to Japan and were given a full military honours service by the Australian Military for their heroism. Strange for that time in history because the Japs weren't exactly the flavour of the month here at home. It necessarily followed that such an act of chivalry during wartime should be repaid. The Japanese Admiral spared nothing to make us feel welcome and we, the Ship's Company of Derwent, lapped up the hospitality.

 

One such event, organised and performed by the Japanese was to be a sports, cultural and gymnastic display held in the base hall and gymnasium. Buses were despatched to fetch our crew. Everyone from the Captain down attended, it was a formal sort of affair in keeping with traditional Japanese culture and style. Numerous displays and events were put on for us, the sailors particulary enjoing the martial arts demonstrations.

 

Kendo - or the traditional Japanese art of sword fighting was also perfomed and on completion a volunteer was called for from the Aussie audience to don all the gear and give it a try. Our favourite son, Seaman 'Maggot' Hines, who was sitting on the deck at the front received a large foot right in the middle of the back and was thrust forward, he was immediately accepted by the smiling Japs as the willing victim. There is usually much pomp and ceremony to be observed in the art of Kendo and after suiting up in the ton of traditional gear you have to wear, Maggot was ready to go. He was outwardly apprehensive, for this is an art requiring years of practice, and he new the the opposing Jap was going to make a meal of him with his long bamboo sword, not to mention making a complete fool of him to boot. The preceding ceremony with its much bowing and recitations got underway whilst the two adversaries faced each other. The opposing Jap, then only half way through the almost religious service, went into his own praying like ritual and that was when Maggot broke with protocol and siezed the initiative. He took off and sprinted the distance to his opponent, sword raised high above his head, whirling it like a stock whip and screaming like a wounded banshee, he took the Jap opponent completely by surprise and commenced to beat the living suitcase out of him. The refs and assistants jumped in and pulled Maggot from him, the Jap clearly disoriented and hurt. Maggot in a complete frenzy. The Japanese were stunned at the irreverance and ferocity of the attack. Maggot was calmed down and the Jap opponent lead away, his pride in tatters. A halt was then called to the Kendo exhibition.

 

The Japs recovered somewhat and commenced to clap not knowing really whether to applaude him for his audacity and aggression, which is held in high esteem in Japanese 'Bushido' culture, or to boo him from the hall for his complete disregard for their strict observance of ceremony and ritual. It was clear though that the Japanese had to begrudgingly respect Maggot for his tenacity even if he was a Gai Jin (barbarian) and his behaviour was ill mannered. The Captain quietly relayed an order to get Maggot back to the ship immediately. Whereupon his return he formally fronted Maggot and severely reprimanded him and forbade him to ever attend another official ship function. As far as the crew was concerned we thought it was a hoot and perhaps a face saving display by maggot, besides a win is a win. After all, remember Pearl Harbour!