Louis Grima recalls RFA Fort Duquesne

RFA Fort Duquesne
By Louis Grima

I signed on RFA Fort Duquesne in Malta on 25th May 1955.  It was my first RFA ship.  Unfortunately I do not remember many of the places we visited.  When I signed on, we went to Alexandria in Egypt.  Other places were Limassol, Catania and Gibraltar.  But although my memory is failing, I do recall quite clearly the following two events.


RFA Fort Duquesne whaler team

We had a Chief Officer who liked very much whaler racing.  He wanted some of RFA Fort Duquesne’s crew to participate in the race and win.  He knew that our Deck Store-Keeper was also a dilettante and told him to prepare a team.  I was asked by one of the crew and accepted although I never rowed in my life.

RFA Fort Duquesne’s whaler team comprised of six persons.  Domi?ellu (a Maltese nickname) was the coxswain.  Toni x-Xila, il-Lozzy and Toni ta’ Palma (all Maltese nicknames) rowed on the left while Harry Bugeja and I rowed on the other side of the whaler.

Toni x-Xila, who was asked by our Chief Officer, chose the whaler from the boathouse of the Navy and training began immediately.  We trained daily in Marsamxett Harbour.  The training consisted the following: first, we rowed approximately 1.5 miles, then around Manoel Island and the its small bridge, and return to the ship.  Then we would wash the whaler on the ship.  It was always polished with lemon so that it would be sleek and perform better in the water.

The big day arrived.  We were to row a distance of 1 mile in Grand Harbour; the starting line was near the breakwater of the port.  Our team was the only one Maltese – the others were all British.

All of a sudden the gun fired!  Ours was not a good start.  We did 10 fast repeated rows and then the coxswain shouted to change the method of rowing.  So we rowed in a less frequent manner so that we took deep breaths, the oars covered more distance and the velocity increased.  It did work!  The coxswain was always encouraging us, “Come on guys, come on!  We’re catching up!  Come on!”  And one by one we overtook most of the whalers to enter the finish line in second place!

We went back to the ship and the Chief Officer greeted us and sad that he was very satisfied with the position we obtained.  Time passed and the next year the same Chief Officer, again, wanted us to take part.  This time, the race was held at Bir?ebbu?a and was 1.5 miles long.
The gun was fired and, once again, we did not perform well at first.  The same coxswain supported us very much.  “Come on, guys, go for it!  We passed three, two to go, come on!”  This time we placed better; we came first!

Afterwards, we went aboard HMS Surprise to present us the trophy.  The frigate’s team entered second.  Its participants were all in their twenties, while I, of 25, was the youngest in our team; the others had more than 40 years.  One of the Britons of HMS Surprise asked us if we still have stamina after the race.  Lozzy, the eldest one of us, said, “Sure!  Of course!”  Later, we returned on RFA Fort Duquesne.
Our Chief Mate was very glad that we won the whaler race.  He was so pleased that he gave us four days off!

The winning team


The winning team:

Standing Left to Right: Toni x-Xila, Lozzy and me
Sitting Left to Right: Harry Bugeja, Domi?ellu and Toni ta’ Palma



RFA Fort Duquesne in Suez Canal

In 1956, we had to go in Port Said because of the trouble in the Suez Canal.  We had the anchors down but the stern was tied with mooring ropes on the ground.  We spent more than a fortnight in Port Said.

One evening while in Port Said, we were watching a film on RFA Fort Duquesne.  But suddenly, the ship near to us shouted alarmingly, “Fort Duquesne, Fort Duquesne, frogmen around, frogmen around!”  We rushed outside on the deck and the crew including me looked to the water.  ‘Fort Duquesne’s officers threw some depth-charges overboard.  Fortunately there were no frogmen and we returned to the film.

Later in Suez Canal, an argument was brought up between the Maltese crew on the ship because there were those who wanted to go home and there were those who wanted to stay.  I wanted to go home.

It was decided that those who did not want to remain at Port Said, were to be transported to Malta on HMS Manxman.  In three days’ time we made it to Malta via Famagusta in Cyprus.

I signed off RFA Fort Duquesne on 22nd December 1956.