Memories, Pathos, Romance etc


written by John Barnes


John Williams had paid off and I had been promoted to 2nd Elect ’Off’, grandeous heights!


The run to Aussie. – Geraldton WA.


I have lived in Australia since 1973 and the changes in the past years have been phenomenal, but in 1967 things were so different.


A big country town, nothing like UK but so friendly (even though we were “Pommie Bastards”).


Reliant had been “down under” just before, to Bunbury, which I believe was a “Beaut Trip”.





John Williams had paid off and I had been promoted to 2nd Elect’Off’, grandeous heights!


The run to Aussie. – Geraldton WA.


I have lived in Australia since 1973 and the changes in the past years have been phenomenal, but in 1967 things were so different.


A big country town, nothing like UK but so friendly (even though we were “Pommie Bastards”).


Reliant had been “down under” just before, to Bunbury, which I believe was a “Beaut Trip”.



Bunbury years after RFA Reliant’s visit


Several things are relevant; Phil Cray the doctor” AKA Phil the Pill”, met a nurse from Bunbury during the trip. The love of his life, which he eventually married and moved to WA to live with.

Years later when I worked for the USN in Exmouth WA, [a very remote part of WA which housed a VLF/HF communications base manned mainly by US Navy and to a lesser extent RAN personnel], his name cropped up, my wife is a nurse; another nurse who was married to an ex MN 3rd Eng spoke of “Phil The Pill”. It turned out that his marriage did not work out and he finished up turning to “Grog”, drugs etc eventually committing suicide by injection.


He had been working in a mining town called Parrabadoo, not the sort of place for Phil! I have wondered since; had we have met up again might things have been different? There we go again “What if”.


Commodore “G.O.W Evans” a Welshman (obviously) whose face looked as though it had been in many a “Rugby Union Scrum”, was a true Master Mariner. His whole life being spent at sea, did not require a “Pilot” to bring the ship into Sembewang dockyard. Played his golf driving exercises on “The Monkey Island” when the rest of us had to move away.




Occasionally gave the advice “You don’t have to spend all your salary in the bar boy ho”. One day, as is the time for us all. He was “paid off”, in Stores Basin, Singapore. The ship was “Dressed”, the Quarterdeck was lined with all officers and crew, it was time to go. He and Mrs Evans were “Piped” ashore. If you can imagine the thoughts that were in the mans mind at that time. The power, responsibility and love of the sea ended, perhaps not the latter; when his feet touched the dockside at the bottom of the brow. There was a tear, or maybe just sweat from the tropical atmosphere rolling down his cheek.

“They don’t make them like they used to”


I can’t recall his replacement!


On a brighter note, we carried supernumerary passengers from Singapore to Australia in the persons of the Admiral’s wife and daughter. RN ships did not and I presume still do not carry “Passengers”. On the way south we exercised with Allied ships and generally had a good passage.




Geraldton Harbour 


I remember a signal being sent to Geraldton, requesting the presence of a fairly large number of young unattached females, at the Official Reception to be held aboard ship on the evening of the day of arrival. The reply seemed to be a rather curt and corrective one, to the effect that Geraldton were the hosts and would decide who was to attend. The town holds an annual event called” The Sunshine Festival” in September. We had just missed the Festival but not the contestants for the Sunshine Queen!  We should not have been worried at all, buses full of young ladies arrived that evening, the foredeck had been covered in awnings and “It went off, all night”. The bar filled to its maximum after the official reception ended and most members of the mess had pewter tankards hanging from hooks over the bar. The next day not one was left, souvenir hunters had been at work.


The presence of a British ship in port was a fairly rare occasion, so we were feted by all and sundry, having a great time and being invited to emigrate to WA with sponsorship being offered by the town. Try to imagine, the way society was back then; women could only drink in “The Ladies Lounge” in hotels, ” Black Fellows” had only just been acknowledged as Citizens, the White Australia rule was still in force so no Chinese or Indian restaurants, blokes wore trilbies and raised them to ladies! The good Old Days!  We had an 8 day stay in Geraldton and eventually left, I can understand why sailors jump ship!


We all know what a ship is like after time ashore, watches are taken up and a sense of quiet settles, well that was what happened aboard Reliant. I was always on day work, so the bar would be very quiet just before dinner. One evening I went into the bar to find one of our “Passengers” sitting quietly with a drink; Tamara asked if I would like something, now is the Pope a Catholic?


We shared a couple of drinks and went down to the saloon for dinner, after that shall we say is history. Something just clicked; we had not really talked on the way south or during the time in Geraldton. Tamara was busy fending off “Jack the Lads” [with Mother watching in the background].

She was on holiday from university due to return in the New Year. I had never felt so at ease with a beautiful girl before [and she was] and it seemed to be mutual. On the way back to Singapore we spent as much time together as possible but “Mom” was always about.  Back in port we had a great time, going to “HMS Terror” swimming and relaxing by the pool, but hey “The Rodney’s” hated us RFAs, so a Merchant Seaman going out with The Admiral’s Daughter was just not on. Tough Titty blokes that were the way it was!


It felt so natural, almost as though we had known one another for years, anyway Tamara was to fly back to UK and so was I when Reliant went into refit.  We made arrangements to make contact once in England, exchanging phone numbers etc. She left and I could not wait to follow; sometimes Murphy’s Law intervenes and things don’t work out.


I had learned the expression “Nomenclature” long ago, oh how I wish a Chinese Carpenter had done so as well. Goose necks on deck [maybe they are not on more modern ships?] however the foc’s’le head on Reliant had heaps of them.One marked “Forepeak Store” one marked “Forepeak Tank”, the Chippy was filling the forepeak tank with fresh water via a canvas fire hose shoved up the gooseneck. Trouble was he shoved it up the “ForepeakStore” by mistake, not a problem but for the “Degaussing Junction Box” located in the store. Cut a long story short, every seaman should know the importance of the degaussing system and the J/B filled with water which permeated down the cables, all in all a right “Balls Up”

Resulting in Your’s truly having to stand by and rig up heating lamps to dry out the mess.This made me a month late going back to UK.


If you read my first episode I left UK in a three piece woollen suit, we never learn do we and I went back in SILK AND MOHAIR two piece beauty from Toofy Wong which was just as inappropriate. Anyway on arrival back home I phoned Tamara, time and time again.To no avail [this was in the days before mobiles/emails etc], having accrued seventy five days leave I lost count of my attempts and finally gave up. Just a shipboard romance I consoled myself with,but there was a hole I could not fill.




My next appointment came in the post, RFA OLNA what a beauty, almost brand new and back out to Singapore. She seemed to be a training ship for new “Lecky’s” three juniors, me and the senior Ted Edmonds [A Westho]. It didn’t take long before I caught up with people I had known whilst aboard Reliant.


Several times I was consoled with comments like “So sorry about Tamara”, I was confused thinking the romance had failed but why should so many people be so concerned.

Eventually I fronted one of the blokes and asked “What’s going on”? You don’t know do you he asked? , for God’s sake what do you mean I demanded! Tamara had been killed in the “Hither Green” rail crash in London.  No wonder I didn’t get an answer when I called.


What might have been was not to be, but I often sit quietly and think of that wonderful person, maybe one day we will meet again!


Next episode Olna a short trip but another Aussie trip!