Andy Richards – HMS Devonshire

HMS Devonshire (Photo Courtesy NMRN)

It was a long time ago but a few dits stick in my mind as much today as they did when I first heard or witnessed them.

I can remember in or around 1976, I was a young AB setting up the dining hall for movie night. I can remember thinking how cool it must be to be the ship’s projectionist. I remember the movie reels came large carry cases, with the movies themselves inside silver disc shaped holders. The ship’s company had been waiting in for the latest delivery of movie reels in great anticipation. I say anticipation: we had received the advanced list of films that had been published to the messdecks and at the top of the list was JAWS.

Everybody had heard so much about the film which had caused a stir around the globe. That evening and for many nights afterwards, the dining hall was packed as we watched this huge white shark terrorise, attack and kill innocent beach goers and unsuspecting boaters. We can’t, course, forget the climax, where the shark finds itself on the back of a fishing boat with Richard Dreyfus and Rod Steiger, who are trying to kill it with an exploding oxygen bottle! What a cracking film!

The following day and with impeccable timing, the skipper ordered a hands to bathe, we were in the med. It was glorious and if memory serves me right, HMS Devonshire was heading to Malta for a 24 hour rabbit run before going home. I can remember wandering up onto the flight deck to watch the lads dive in and swim around. From the corner of my eye, a scruffy looking MEM appeared in his blue ovvies and tatty steaming bats, clutching a four o’clocker’s brew of tea and a slice of toast. Briefly, he peered over the side and looked down on the scene in the water, he suddenly threw his head back and with a piecing shrill shouted “SHARK!”

For a split second, you could have heard a pin drop! One of the lads in the water looked toward the ship, paused and then absolute chaos ensued, as they raced for their lives to get up the scrambling net! I could see people being swam over, walked on, as they all tried to climb up the ship’s side all at the same time, the scrambling net swaying from side to side.

The goofers on the upper-deck were in fits of laughter and when everything calmed down and all the lads were clear of the water, everyone was looking around to see who had shouted the warning, but knowing what awaited him and damage done, the MEM had wisely disappeared below decks.

Needless to say, hands to bathe was never the same again and for the rest of my career, this amusing incident was a stark reminder of what might lay beneath!

Andy Richards

Photograph of HMS Devonshire is courtesy of the National Museum of the Royal Navy