Colombo on the 1st May, the whole Group took to the air in a fly past. As the
local papers put it, “in mass formation”. Going over the town in arrow
formation, they then returned in ‘T’ (for Theseus) formation - a very impressive
Lower decks were cleared, and we entered harbour at 1330 hrs. Almost immediately all non-duty personnel were allowed shore leave. We were at Colombo for four days showing the flag. As 3rd May was the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, there were large crowds of people milling around to see the ship, and listen to our Royal Marine Band who had gone ashore to play. I found Colombo to be another dirty place and many years behind times but, nevertheless, we had a good time sightseeing.
We sailed from Colombo on 5th May and headed back to Trincomalee to start training for the forthcoming Fleet Regatta. A regatta is a sporting event consisting of races for boats of various types and sizes. Each ship in the fleet competing against each other. This was a time when everyone let their hair down and had a good time and inevitably, everybody got a ducking. This was a two-day event, and at the end HMS Glasgow emerged as the winner, with Theseus coming third. The day after the regatta was Sunday, which gave everyone time to sleep off the after effects before setting off on the next stage of our tour.
Monday, 12 May, was H.M the King’s Birthday. The ship was dressed for the occasion early in the morning, a Royal Salute of 21 guns being fired at noon. Lower decks were cleared for leaving harbour at 1700 hrs, and the guard and band gave an Admiral’s salute to the C-in-C who came down to the harbour entrance to see us leave. With HMS Constance in attendance we sailed en route for Singapore calling at the Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands to ‘show the flag’.
An extensive flying programme was carried out on the way, which included a ‘rocket assisted take off’ from the ship by our Air Group Commander, Lt Cdr G.R.Callingham, RN. This was a new innovation in 1947 and the operation was completed very successfully.
We arrived at the Andaman Islands on the morning of 15th May and anchored in the harbour of the capital, Port Blair. Originally designed as a penal settlement, it had a very large prison. However, its sole claim to fame, at that time, was a match factory. There were no convicts present in the prison at that time, and the handful of Europeans residents in the colony was concerned solely with the administration of the match factory. The three days we were at this tropical island were spent sightseeing and swimming in the crystal clear blue sea. We left Port Blair on 17th May and set sail for Nancowry in the Nicobar Islands.
Arriving at Nancowry the following day, we anchored in the harbour before
lunch. Nancowry was an idyllic island, but even more desolate than Port Blair.
There were no Europeans resident there, but around the coast the natives were
quite friendly. However we were warned before going ashore not to stray inland,
as there were a lot of hostile natives who would fire off poison darts and
arrows at any stranger on sight. Needless to say we didn’t wander through the
jungle, but stayed near the beaches.
The next day Her Majesty the Queen
of the Nicobar Islands paid an official visit to the Admiral. Her loyal servants
rowed her out to the ship in a large decorated native canoe. She seemed a
friendly old lady, and was delighted when she was presented with a few sacks of
flour. She in turn presented the Admiral with a live, squealing pig. No doubt
pork was on the menu later for the Admiral’s dinner.
During the day, a working party was sent ashore to break open a paper store that had been left behind by the Japanese. The party returned with loads of cheap office paper, and a large amount of bananas. We left Nancowry on the 20th May, and set sail for Penang It was during that afternoon that I experienced my first funeral service at sea. A stoker Petty Officer had died during the morning from heat stroke. Tropical conditions made it necessary to bury him immediately. I found this burial very disturbing, and I remember at the time thinking that if any of his relatives had been present they would have been sickened. The body was sewn up in canvas, resembling a mummy, and was weighted at the feet. The deck of the ship was at such a height from sea level that when the body was slid over the side, the weight in the feet swung it like a pendulum beyond the vertical to the horizontal position. It hit the water flat; face down, with a sickening thud. It remained flat on the water for a few seconds until the weighted feet swung it vertical and it slowly submerged to the bottom. Not a very nice sight to have to witness.
Arriving at Penang on the 22nd May, we
anchored off Georgetown the capital. It had originally been intended to carry
out a formation flight over Penang with all available aircraft before entering
harbour. However, there was not sufficient wind available, so the programme was
limited to three Fireflies, and three Seafires to be flown off to land at
Butterworth, the RAF Station on the mainland. The intention was that flying
exercises could be carried out every day from Butterworth during our stay at
Penang. Aircrews were to go ashore early in the mornings, and then return to the
ship when flying was completed. The ground crews of the six aircraft
unfortunately had to stay ashore at Butterworth. Apparently, the accommodation
was very primitive, so I was lucky that my aircraft was not one of the chosen
Penang was a very remarkable place, the twelve days we spent there were the most enjoyable of the tour so far. The local residents were particularly kind and extremely hospitable to us. Much fun and games were to be had ashore, and the girls were absolutely gorgeous. Many spoke broken English, and they were westernised in many ways. It was ‘wine, women and song’ all the way. It was there that I had my first experience of ‘taxi dancing’. I had always loved dancing, so obviously the dance hall was my favourite haunt. There was no admission charge, but one had to buy strips of tickets to be able to dance, this was called ‘taxi dancing’ The most beautiful ‘hostesses’ you ever set eyes on were sat in rows, waiting to be chosen. One then ‘paid’ them with a ticket for a dance.
Monday the 26th May was Empire Day and Whit-Monday, so the ship was dressed for the occasion and a 21-gun salute was fired. It was a holiday, so there was no flying from Butterworth. We received an unusual request from the local police whilst we were in Georgetown. The ship was asked to instigate a search for the bodies of some piracy victims who had been shot and thrown overboard by pirates. Two Fireflies were sent up on a search and the pirated junk was found abandoned, and drifting, but no bodies were found. It was a very sad day indeed when the time came to leave Penang. The whole ship’s company had had a whale of a time, and didn’t want to leave. Reluctantly, we set sail on the 3rd June for our next destination, Port Swettenham (now re-named Kelang), on the Malaya mainland. During the journey, the ship worked up for a full power trial and reached a speed of 23.5 knots. This was far from her top speed, which suggested that the ship’s bottom was dirty. She was scheduled to be scraped and scrubbed when we arrived at Singapore.
We arrived at Port Swettenham on the morning of 4th June. The Resident Commissioner and Sultan of Selangor came on board to visit the Admiral, along with many dignitaries. We were to stay there for three days, but after Penang it was a bit of an anti-climax. The highlight of the visit was, perhaps, the organised day trip for the ships company to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaya. Kuala Lumpur lay about 30 miles inland from Port Swettenham. The journey was by the local primitive railway through the jungle. Sitting on hard wooden seats the journey was very uncomfortable, but the scenery was quite interesting. The toilet facility on the train was quite laughable; it was just a hole in the floor with a handrail to hold at either side.
After sightseeing around the Capital, it was time to return. The Governor of the Malay Union gave a Ball in Kuala Lumpur for the ship’s officers who stayed for two days. Apparently, many girls and drinks were provided, and a great time was had by all. We ‘underlings’ of course were not invited. The ship sailed at 1430 hrs for Singapore.