ABOVE, MY WIFE JUDY AT THE BASE OF EDINBURGH CASTLE, SCOTLAND
Where can I start, yes how about 22nd April 1947. So, what does that make me, old I guess?
I was born in England and in a very big city, Coventry. Coventry was bombed and virtually obliterated during WWII and although I was born after the end of the war, I remember my early years there were bombed out buildings everywhere and craters where the bombs had dropped.
My parents made the decision to move to the seaside when I was 11, in 1958 and although young I was pleased to be in a totally different environment. I soon became disillusioned with school plus things were not good at home. My Father was suffering with PTSD although that was not recognised back in those days. Well at 15 I ran away from home and joined the Royal Navy, one of the best decisions of my life and the start of an incredible journey around the world.
Skipping my year of training I found myself onboard the UK’s largest Aircraft Carrier, Her Majesties Ship Eagle. Fully loaded she had a crew of about 2,500 men. Not big by US standards but still quite a big ship back in the 60’s. This is where I cut my teeth, so to speak.
It was a very exciting time and my very first foreign visit was a short trip to Brest in France. The ship had been in refit for about 5 years and this trip was just to make sure that everything onboard was working as a warship should. There were no aircraft aboard at that time. At 16 ½ years old here I was exploring a foreign port. Lying in the Port of Brest were some huge, retired French Battleships.
Maybe I cannot correctly recall but I seem to think that some of the guns on these old warriors reached up to 18 inches. (Bore diameter) They certainly seemed big for a young boy like me. I remember going to a funfair where you could play on various games and win wine or beer as prizes. Naughty at 16 but quite a thrill.
The next trip took us to Gibraltar and still no aircraft and we were there for a few weeks. Located at the end of the Mediterranean and a lot warmer than England I was excited and overawed by this incredible rock jutting high into the sky and a British territory. I was still only 17 years old. A place that I visited over 20 times in the coming years and later taking my family there as children and later as adults. I still love Gibraltar to this day.
Next came the Mediterranean with visits to Malta, Naples, Italy Cyprus and Lebanon. Now we had aircraft on board and to this day I remember the excitement of watching the jets landing and taking off and sometimes DLP’s Deck Landing Practices where they came in and touched the flight deck and immediately took off again. In the 3 years I was on the ship I never bored of watching these activities.
Traversing the Suez Canal was an amazing spectacle with the ship making its way through the 100 plus miles of the canal. During the slow journey great numbers of young athletic Arabs swarmed all over the ships side. Labour was cheap, and they were paid to wash the ships side and do any painting and touching up that was necessary and they this while the ship was moving slowly through the canal. Normally these activities were carried out by the ships company, so it was a joy to watch others do our work.
The canal at that time it was run jointly between the British and the French. It took 10 years to build (1859 – 1869) and links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. As well as the Arab workers there were other groups of Arabs, some of them older They were cheap traders referred to as Gully Gully Men. They carried pockets and baskets full of very cheap items that they wanted to sell, and 2500 sailors was a big market for them.
They would scale the side of the ship past those who were cleaning and used the nets and ropes to rush up and get their sales. They were not allowed to come over the guard rails and onto the ship itself and had to do their trading from the outside of the rails hanging on precariously and trying to sell as much of their wares as possible. For a young sailor like me I found this exciting and almost unbelievable. I had entered a different world and it was only just beginning.
Our next visit was Aden, Yemen and a very popular stop for British ships as up until the mid 60’s was a British colony. The shopping at the time was the cheapest in the world and a great place to buy our Rabbits. A sailor’s term for gifts. Watches and cameras particularly were incredibly cheap and so we all had Seiko, Omega or Rolex watches and Canon or Yashika cameras.
Our next stop was the Kenyan port town of Mombasa, another British colony that had recently gained its independence although still very friendly to the British and all the currency was British East African with pictures of King George the fifth and sixth on the coins and notes.
Kilindini Road Mombasa was a hive of activity with shops, bars, restaurants etc. Mombasa was a place where you could buy large carved animals, Lions, elephants were the favourites but there were also dozens of different wood carvings and costing about an English pound or less each. Family at home thought we had spend a fortune on gifts for them while we were away.
There were also beautiful beaches of silver sands and there was a special beach called Silver Sands Resort which was exclusive to the British Servicemen who spent about a week R and R there. Rum, Brandy, Whisky and many more hard liquor drinks were just 5 pence a shot, unbelievably cheap, not much Coke was drunk as that was 10 pence for a splash. So, everybody drank their shots neat.
Two pals and I wanted to do more, and we took a flight from Mombasa up to the capital of Nairobi. Mount Kilimanjaro was on the flight path and the aircraft was a very old converted Fokker Wolf run by East African Airways. No compressed cabins on the aircraft and so we flew low over the Tsavo Game Park on our way there. So low in fact that we could see herds of Giraffe scurrying away from the noisy plane as we passed over. There were also many other wild animals to view as we went.
We spent 3 nights in Nairobi at a nice hotel and managed to get a good look around the town and the markets and then back to Mombasa.
We sailed from Mombasa heading for Singapore. I was going to the Far East and just turned 18. I was becoming a veteran of foreign travel it was 1965. Every place I visited became my favourite place and it was so much fun and so exciting to be visiting so many different countries. Singapore, Hong Kong, The Philippines, The Maldives, the list is endless, and I loved every one of them.
Later when on a different ship I again visited most of the places mentioned above but then we added Thailand and Australia to the list. Compared to Asia, Australia was more European. Adelaide a big modern city which I felt was a little bit like London with its large impressive modern buildings, skyscrapers, offices etc.
Then onto a small country town of Albany. Not much more than a village and quiet and almost undisturbed at that time. Remember this was late 69. I had landed in Australia and the Americans had landed on the moon.
I was 22 and already a seasoned world traveller. Although it was several years later before I made it to the US. On various ships I travelled around the world and was still enjoying every minute.
In 1974 I joined a Guided Missile Destroyer called HMS Hampshire and after many more visits around the UK and the Mediterranean we were on our way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States of America. Was I excited, Oh yes. I had read all about the States and was very keen to be going there.
1975, Our first stop was in Charleston, SC, although for the first few days I did not get to see much of it. I was a diver and we had a problem with some of the equipment on the bottom of the ship and I spent most of that time under the ship in the blackest, oiliest water I have ever dived in. Just to add to the fear factor we were informed that there were alligators in the area, whether that was true of not I still do not know to this day.
Before ever setting foot ashore the Captain decided that it would be a great gesture to open the ship up for visitors and we invited any and all US service personnel and their families on board for a tour of the ship. Little did I know that much late on in life that visit to Charleston would ultimately change my life and explains why I am here in the US today.
We went on from Charleston to visit Norfolk VA, then many of the Caribbean and West Indian Islands and finally down to South America and Brazil.
Skipping forward a few years, I left the Royal Navy in 1979 after completing more than 17 years’ service. For several years I became self employed and was in the hospitality business running hotels and restaurants until finally giving it up and joining a Travel Retail company at Gatwick Airport, London.
This was just the beginning of a new life and another great adventure. I started off as a Wine consultant and over the next couple of years climbed the management chain very quickly, Duty Manager, to Product Manager (buyer) Deputy General Manager, Special Projects Manager, General Manager and finally Regional Manager for the whole of Asia.
These were exciting times, and I was busy but having a great deal of fun and travelling the world again. This was a time of change and I visited most of the major airports in the UK before travelling to Scandinavia, (Denmark, Norway Sweden
Later I worked in Thailand, Hong Kong and Macaw for a while and then back to the UK. With virtually no warning the company downsized, and I found myself, along with 33 other senior managers made redundant. A bitter blow. It did not take too long before I landed myself another post as a General Manager for a local wine company in my home town. Nice new company car, my own office and just 2 miles from home. What could be better.
Roll the clocks forward 3 years, my old boss from where I had been made redundant contacted me and asked me if I would like a new position as the General Manager of the Airport Shops Group in Colombo Airport in Sri Lanka. It was an offer I could not refuse and soon my Wife and I moved there. A great change in culture, weather, food and just about everything else but we soon settled in and to this day I still have many friends from there.
Nearly 4 years later we returned to England for a well-earned break and to reassess where and what we were going to do next. Sadly, after being home for only 6 weeks my Wife, without any warning died tragically from a brain haemorrhage, no sickness, no pains, nothing. She was just 54. As you can imagine my life was in tatters, we had been married for 36 years. My old boss came to England immediately to see me and convinced me to return to Asia.
A couple of months later I found myself on a plane headed for New Delhi in India as a newly appointed Regional Manager and a huge workload. After arriving in New Delhi, I was quickly into my new job and over the next 9 days was on 14 planes preparing business plans at 14 different airports around India. The boss kept me busy and in doing so made me think of other things than the loss of my Wife.
For the next few years, I spent my life living in Sri Lanka but travelling all over Asia for my work. I loved it but finally decided to retire back to England and a little cottage in Cornwall. It was comfortable, in a great setting overlooking a creek and tidal river, However after all the exciting and sometimes sad things that my life had been full of, I was not at all satisfied and I started thinking about finding another niche with new opportunities for me to find. I was not ready to retire.
A lady with whom I had become acquainted with whilst in the Royal Navy on our visit to Charleston some 35 years preciously somehow found me on FB and got in touch. This then led to many more fun opportunities and I spent the next few years traveling backwards and forwards to the USA. This wonderful lady, Judy, who is now a retired Baptist Minister and I had so much fun over the next few years, She came to England 5 times and I took her on a tour of England, Wales and Scotland. So many things to show her including a memorable visit to Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.
I also took her on a surprise visit to Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean where we had an amazing week exploring the island, (I had previously been there on various ships during my Navy time.) Another 2 memorable trips were to come and that was to Sri Lanka, where I had worked for many years. On one of those trips we were joined by 3 of my cousins and 2 of our friends. I was delighted to spend a month escorted by 6 ladies. I felt like a filmstar.
I eventually came to the USA and Judy and I married in 2014. Somewhere in the midst of retiring and now I started to write, poems first and then into Novels and a couple of children’s books. I had never had the inspiration when I was younger to put pen to paper but I have enjoyed every minute since.
We relocated to Wilson NC in 2019 and I spend a lot of time with home improvements, gardening, cooking, I love cooking) and writing although not as much writing as I would like. Life seems so full of many other things.
Well there you have it, a precis of my life to date.