Ian Bourne – HMS Antrim

Ian Bourne, HMS Antrim

I joined HMS Antrim in 1976. I remember doing workups, exercises and Seaslug missile firings during the year, with various visits along the way; that year and during the following year I was on board. My memories of time on board start when we were in Liverpool. We were tied up alongside the Liver Building around where the ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ sailed from. There was a quite significant event that took place at the time. A nuclear submarine, HMS Warspite, had a fire on board. We sent fire parties across the Mersey, to where she was berthed, to help and it was all dealt with in a timely manner, without life loss, with several hundred visitors being rescued (the sub was ‘open to visitors’ at the time). Our personnel were used as sentries over there for several days afterwards. Several bravery awards were given.

After that, there was the Seaslug missile firing. The missile is fired from the huge bedstead type launcher from the stern of the ship. The missiles are fed around the heart of the ship, just fore ward of that, along a network of rails, feeding it from the allocated magazine out onto the launcher. Our mess deck was in the same vicinity of the ship as that launcher. When the missile went the noise and vibration was overwhelming. The firing was deemed a success, just leaving the task of completely repainting the launcher as the missile burnt all the paint off it! In the summer of ’76, we went to Stockholm and had Lord Louis Mountbatten come on board while we were there. He was there as the queen’s representative for the King of Sweden’s wedding and we were there as his escort. For some reason he boarded the ship, which was alongside, from a boat. As he was climbing aboard he caught his ‘Order of The Garter’ Decoration, a big fancy silver badge, and it went spinning off into the water below. The ship then went to diving stations and sent divers down to try and retrieve it. They succeeded and Lord Mountbatten was able to wear his now entire set of decorations to the wedding.

After all the fun and games of Stockholm, we sailed up to Lulea, Northern Sweden, right in the north end of the Baltic Sea. While we were there a large portion of the ship’s company was invited to a midsummer celebration party. The venue was quite a bus journey North, again, and this was the first time I had ever seen the proper ‘Midnight Sun’. Even in Lulea, in the following days, the sun was still shining at midnight, although there was an ‘almost’ sunset and then the sun came up again to start another day.

While we were out and about during ’76, I was in the Greenies (Electricians) Mess, although I was a ‘Pinkie’ (Electronics). One of my tasks, self assumed, was that of mess barber. I had some scissors and a comb, took on the task and did my best. I only used to do it because the going rate for a haircut was a couple of cans of beer. My downfall was when, one night, I was hairdressing and drinking the beer as I was doing it. My judgement was a little impaired and I managed to cut a very small piece off the top of this bloke’s ear. I’ve never seen such a little cut emit such copious amounts of blood. We managed to stem the flow quite quickly, but, needless to say, nobody ever asked me to cut their hair again!

During late ’76 I was promoted from a lowly Radio Mechanician 4th Class (Leading Hand) to a Radio Mechanician 3rd Class (Petty Officer). This meant coming out of square rig into a senior rates ‘suit’. As we were away, there was no provision for me to be issued with an ordinary Pussers Suit so I had to get a suit knocked up by the ‘Chokey Sew Sew’ (Chinese Tailor). It fit like a glove, tapered and flared in the right places, and was worn for many years until later in my career (Leadership Course at Royal Arthur). We were told we weren’t allowed to wear anything like it – too well tailored, flared or tapered etc. Around the time of my being made up to a Petty Officer Mechanician, moves were afoot to combine Mechanicians and Artificers. The Apprenticeships for each are exactly the same, except the upper age limit for Mechs was higher than Tiffs so you could join up for the course at an older age. There has always been great ‘rivalry’ between Mechs and Tiffs and the result of combining the two, in my opinion, should have been retitled as ‘Technicians’. However the MOD in their wisdom called us all Artificers. On top of all this we were not allowed to wear our Mechs badges on our uniforms. There was a great bitterness in all of this from the Mechanician ranks but nothing ever happened about it, we just had to bite the bullet and take on the Tiff title graciously.

1977 – For some of this year we were the Royal Yacht’s Guard Ship, while it, with the Queen and Prince Phillip on board, toured the Caribbean. Prior to assuming this role the whole ships company spent several weeks getting kit to a tip top condition and cleaning and painting the ship to within an inch of it’s life. During the time as guard ship, there was a flypast by Concorde as a salute to the queen, as it was her Silver Jubilee year. We did a sailpast, as well, but I think that was maybe when we handed duties over to somebody else. We were all lined up on the upper deck in full white uniform and gave the traditional cheer, three cheers actually. You have to have your cap in your hand, arm outstretched and on the signal of: ‘Three Cheers for Her Majesty The Queen’, rotate your arm in a clockwise direction whil shouting ‘Hurrah’, three times! Her Majesty & The Prince returned the favour with a simple wave from each of them.

During that period in the Caribbean, we were on a visit to Nassau and were allowed ashore as long as we were in rig (uniform). My run ashore coincided with the Queen & Prince leaving the Royal Yacht for a visit to some dignitary or other, somewhere ashore. My Oppo (friend) and I had just left the ship and were standing on the corner where the road exited the Docks. We saw the Queen’s car coming, stood smartly to attention and chopped one off for them (saluted). We were the only people around that area at the time and the Queen gave us a wave while the Prince saluted us back. The one and only time I have had a personal wave and salute off the queen and her consort.

At the end of June 1977 we had the dubious honour of being present at the Queens Silver Jubilee Fleet Review. Although we were in the Solent there was no leave granted for the three or four days duration. We were all required, again, to clean the ship and get our No 1’s to their best for the Royal Yacht sail past and salute. We were all lined up around the ships upper deck, on the day, and did get to see the Royal Yacht go past, about half a mile away. There were medals presented for that occasion, only three or four per ship! Of course they went to the ‘higher in command’ on board, the ‘Skipper’, the ‘Jimmy’ and whoever were their favourites at the time. The rest of us got nothing but were allowed to buy souvenir mugs from the NAAFI.

During 1977 my wife, at the time, presented me with a bouncing baby boy. He was born in March, a day prior to my sailing for a six months trip away on HMS Antrim. Nine months previously, she had come up to Rosyth, for a visit, to break the news. In fact, I think my mum & dad brought her up to Scotland. This was the period when we were doing exercises in the North Sea. It was a welcome weekend visit, as a break in the hard work and the deliverance of the good news of the impending arrival. In ’77 when I finally did get home, from the six months away, I had great difficulty comprehending what I had missed in my son’s growing up, during that absence. He had changed so much, in the time, I barely recognised him. I did bring him a pair of ‘Little Levis’ from the PX in Norfolk, Virginia. They fitted him then, but not for long. The jeans were passed around family & friends for ages afterwards until we lost track of them. They’re probably still going strong because of the quality, being Levi’s and all.

The irksome part of being at the Spithead review was that we visited Pompey area to do it, but there was no leave, and we sailed off into the sunset after it. Off to the good old USA.

Spring ’76 (I think) we visited several places whilst on the East Coast of the States. Fort Lauderdale was the one that sticks in my mind. While there we had the task of floodlighting ship. It involved mounting floodlights on all the yardarms and funnel, along with lights all around the upper deck hanging out on booms to light up the hull. Our team had the task of rigging the yardarm lights. It was during the afternoon and, as we weren’t in a naval dockyard, there were lots of sightseers up and down the jetty for us to perform to. And, of course, we did. We were up there with a pair of safety harnesses each, to swing around on and generally perform (safely), while waving at all the prospective ‘Grippos’ looking to take a sailor out on the town that night. I didn’t manage to attract any body’s interest to treat me to a run ashore, so went on my own, or tried, but got no further than the gangway. I got sent to change my t-shirt as the ‘Officer of The Day’ took objection to it. It was blue with a picture of a fighter aircraft bristling with weaponry and below was written ‘Fly The Friendly Skies of Vietnam’. I was told it was in bad taste and that I probably wouldn’t last very long ashore if I wore it!

A floodlit HMS Antrim

When I finally got ashore, I got talking to a group of people in a bar and all they wanted me to do was to speak, they were so mesmerised by the English accent, it was scary! Later that night we all went to a party where dubious things were being smoked and a good time was had by all. At one point I was asking for a light and was given a plain Zippo lighter, when I tried to give it back I was told to keep it. That was my prized lighter and I used it for many years. When the party was dwindling, at about five o’clock in the morning, I managed to get a lift back to the ship. Which was just as well as I didn’t have a clue where I was. It was a wonderful ride, in a big red Trans Am Firebird, it’s four or five litre engine burbling along to the full blast music of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’. My introduction to that wonderful album ‘Rumours’.

Another visit I remember was to Norfolk, Virginia. We spent a lot of time in the PX gym & swimming pool. There was a sauna as well. We used to really upset the yanks (Americans) in the sauna, we were doing sit ups, squats and press ups and being really over energetic. The result was the sauna emptying to the tunes of ‘Goddam Limeys’ and ‘What is wrong with you sonsabitches’. We thought we were being clever and showing them who was best. There was also a lot of time spent in the PX bar trying to outdrink the whole of the American Navy. We drank far too many pitchers of beer (Coors – artificial American beer) and copious numbers of ‘Tequila Sunrises’.

While in the US we had a trip laid on to Disney World. It hadn’t come into being until 1971 so we got in there in its early years. We left the ship at stupid o’clock and visited Sea World on the way where we all got wet by the jumping killer whale and floundering sea cows. All the time in America, we wore sunglasses and never ceased to be amazed when we came out of anywhere indoors they used to steam up. It was all to do with the air conditioning. At Disney it was no different and resulted in not being able to wear them much. While in Disney I had my first frozen chocolate banana. Literally a frozen banana with a chocolate & nut coating, we all thought this was the bees’ knees.

We also had a trip to Cape Kennedy (Cape Canaveral that was) and saw everything related to the moon landing: the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building, the largest volumetric building in the world at the time), the moon capsule, androcks bought back from the moon. They had us in the control room and did a simulated launch, with noise and vibration as it would have been on the day (a bit like our Seaslug missile above our heads!). In Norfolk, Virginia, the Stand Easy burger van on the jetty was classic, massive juicy burger with everything on it was the order of the day. That’s one thing I will never forget!

The time scale of some of these memories may be a little distorted, my memory not being what it used to be. There are other thoughts and memories I have, but possibly not attributable to my time on HMS Antrim. If there is anybody that served on her over a similar period it may be possible to compare notes or merely to corroborate what I have presented.

Ian Bourne