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Thommo's Last Ship

Thommo's Last Ship

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Thommo's Last Ship

266 pagine
4 ore
Aug 4, 2015


The story starts in Devonport dockyard as a new ship's company join a helicopter aircraft carrier currently being refitted in the dockyard. Thommo is a senior Petty officer, almost at the end of his time in the Royal Navy, hence the title. He becomes a mentor to three young mechanics sent to work with him during their two year commission on board the ship known affectionately to the crew as the Rusty B. Together, they travel and have adventures half way round the world and visit such places as Aden, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. I have relied heavily on my own experiences on board aircraft carriers for background information but Thommo's last ship is a work of fiction. There is romance, heartbreak, action and camadre. Some of these bring out the best and the worst amongst the crew members during their two years together. If you want to know more, then I suggest that you read the book!

Aug 4, 2015

Informazioni sull'autore

DR. JACK NEWMAN is a Toronto pediatrician who has practised medicine since 1970. In 1984 he established the first hospital-based breastfeeding clinic in Canada, at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, and today runs a breastfeeding clinic

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Thommo's Last Ship - Jack Newman

Thommo’s Last Ship

Jack Newman

Thommo’s Last Ship

Copyright © 2015 Jack Newman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Smashwords Edition

The information, views, opinions and visuals expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the publisher. The publisher disclaims any liabilities or responsibilities whatsoever for any damages, libel or liabilities arising directly or indirectly from the contents of this publication.

A copy of this publication can be found in the National Library of Australia.

ISBN: 978-1-742845-49-4 (pbk.)

Published by Book Pal



A bad start

Ship’s company

In dockyard hands

A quiet pint

Thommo’s surprise

The crane arrives


Paddy’s smile

The AEO’s surprise

Moving on

We are sailing

Welcome aboard

The Middle East

The exercise

Day dreaming

A day at sea

A bargain



Nobody told us!

Peter’s pet

Heading east

West meets east

Heading north

Thommo’s run ashore


A new broom


Bad days

Learning something new

Helping out

Enough is enough

Everyone knows

The making of a legend

Heading south

Bringing something back

Peter’s problem

Heading West

Lt Ebineer’s farewell

Finishing off

Going home?


Glossary of terms used



In the mid sixties, during an intensive refit, before sailing for the Far East, a small Royal Naval aircraft carrier lies inert resting and rusting on wooden blocks in a dry dock. It has been many months since she last felt the kiss of salt water waves parting at her bow or heard the scream of jet powered aircraft operating from her steel flight deck. The refit is in its final stages however, and soon the dock will be flooded and she will float out to commence sea trials. If they are successful, the ship will be recommissioned, becoming once more a member of Her Majesties’ navy. She will then provide accommodation for a company of marine commandoes and a squadron of twenty four helicopters.

But these are considered by the regular crew as merely visitors, staying on board only as long as the ship is at sea. Once she is tied up alongside they will reside ashore in barracks and air stations. Sailors jokingly refer to the aviators as ‘airy fairies’. Whilst they in turn are called ‘fish heads’ by the naval airmen. In my opinion, a ship only comes alive when she throws off the last remaining bonds with the shore and enters her natural element, the sea. The people who serve on board then, made up of all trades, become part of her soul, stamping their personalities into her very being; sailing together with her through good times and bad.

This story starts with the arrival of the new crew. Many are young inexperienced men joining their first ship. They will have to learn the vagaries of the sea whilst practicing the trades that they have been taught. To guide, counsel and pass on this required knowledge and experience, there are a small number of older senior rates, chief and petty officers.

One such is Petty officer Thomlinson. Thommo, a kind patient man is almost at the end of his time in the service and after twenty two years this will be his last ship. Brought up in Scotland in an orphanage, he has no known family. Service life is all that Thommo has experienced and he is not looking forward to becoming a civilian at the end of the commission. However, there is a surprise in store for him. One day he will receive some startling news that will change his life forever.

Read on and travel around the world with Thommo and the young men under his command. It will not all be easy sailing. There will be many difficulties to overcome and adventures to enjoy before their two year commission comes to an end.

There is a glossary of terms at the conclusion of the story for those people who do not have a service background


The Malay woman is young and very beautiful. A red and gold sari hangs from one shoulder leaving the other bare. As she dances, the firelight reflects off the gold bangles encircling her wrists. A drummer, eyes closed in concentration, taps out a slow rhythmic beat on a goatskin drum. The woman comes closer. Bungy Williams inhales the scent from her body. The smell of rose petals envelop his senses and raises his awareness.

The drumbeat slows even more and the dancer undulates sensuously from side to side keeping perfect rhythm. Bungy holds his breath as she stops close before him gently swaying, eyes closed, her perfect body following the pulsating drum.

Then the beautiful woman opens her large almond shaped brown eyes and looks deeply into his. The drumbeat slows even more. As if suddenly coming to a decision, she shrugs the sari from her shoulder allowing the garment to fall to her hips. Her ample breasts now swing gently to the slowing rhythm as she bends forward closer, closer, an enticing smile on her face. Bungy reaches up to touch her when she vanishes suddenly and the drumbeat ceases.


Baying porters take up the cry along the empty platform, flinging open carriage doors with a crash. Bungy shivers at the influx of cold air and struggles to his feet. Still half asleep, he joins a steadily growing throng of tired sailors making their weary way out of the station. Outside, at five am, it is still dark and raining heavily as he joins a long undulating taxi queue. Memories of the beautiful Malay girl in his dream fade quickly in the reality of the cold damp West Country weather.

The taxi driver, old and wrinkled, with a greasy cap pulled over his forehead, drives quickly through the almost empty streets, one hand on the steering wheel and the other resting on the gear stick. The cab smells of damp clothes and stale cigarette smoke; pale street lighting reflects off the many pools of water that have accumulated on the black tarmac.

At the dockyard gates an oilskin clad policeman looks into the cab and examines the sailor’s identity card briefly before waving them on and hurrying back to the warmth of his tiny office.

Wide awake now, Bungy uses the sleeve of his coat to clear a small patch on the foggy window glass and looks out with interest. Tall, ancient, dirty brick buildings with small barred windows flank a cobbled wet road on either side giving the place a gloomy Victorian appearance. As the driver engages gear, the back wheels skid on the cobblestones before gaining traction and the cab moves off slowly into the dockyard. A destroyer and two frigates are tied up side by side on the edge of a large basin. Further along, an old battered tug with DAFFODIL picked out in worn faded gold letters on her stern shows some lights in the bridge structure. As the taxi passes by, a sailor wearing a grubby white apron comes out of a hatch with a bucket and ditches its contents with a splash into the oily water.

Tall cranes resting on steel rails running along the edge of the basin reach up towards the dark rain soaked clouds and power cables criss-cross the cobbles. Bumping slowly over these, the taxi passes an empty dry dock before coming to a halt by the brow of an old cruiser tied up alongside the sea wall. Seeing Bungy’s look of surprise the driver explains that this is the carrier crews’ accommodation whilst their ship remains in dry dock. A rather battered iron boiler on the key side supplying hot water to the ship ejects a wisp of steam from its safety valve. Some wag has painted PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK in rough white letters on its side. The steam cloud quickly disperses in the wind blowing straight down the estuary smelling of salt, seaweed and machine oil. The cruiser’s upper works are cocooned in a thick plastic sheeting that has been sprayed on to protect the ironwork from the weather.

Bungy wearily carries his bag and suitcase up the brow and looks curiously about the unfamiliar steel deck. There is no one else about. A single electric light bulb hanging from a short cable over the doorway of a small wooden shack bolted securely to the deck swings madly back and forth in the wind casting weird shadows over the ship’s upper works. The young man walks over to the hut and knocks on the door before opening it and stepping inside. The wind snaps the door to behind him with a bang. A sailor, enveloped in a long dark blue watch keeper’s coat, sits with his feet up on a small wooden trestle table reading a comic book. He frowns and carefully turns over the corner of the page that he has been looking at before looking up enquiringly.

‘I’m just joining.’ Bungy indicates, handing over his damp draft papers.

The sailor grunts and takes his feet off the table top before putting the comic book down. Using a stub of a pencil he adds Bungy’s personal details to a list of other names on his clipboard

‘Where do I go now?’ Bungy asks tiredly as the watch keeper picks up his book.

The man shrugs. ‘Dunno mate. I should try the Reg. Office; they should be open by now. It’s through the passageway opposite the brow.’

A watery sun is trying to break through the low sullen black clouds passing overhead as Bungy steps out of the wooden shack. The old ship’s deck moves slightly under his feet from the wash of a passing tug hurrying down the estuary. The misty rain sheds fine droplets that join with many others to run in rivulets down the sloping deck to fall into the rising tide.

It is getting lighter as he pushes open the steel door marked Regulating Office with his case.

‘Shut that bloody door!’ The order comes from a ruddy-faced petty officer sitting behind a small desk covered with papers. The petty officer’s uniform has a badge in the shape of a red crown stitched onto his right sleeve - one of the ship’s police known to sailors as a ‘crusher.’

The compartment feels warm. A slight breeze of conditioned air issues out of the overhead ducting along with a quiet rumble of far off machinery. Pipes, some insulated, all colour coded, run overhead and down the walls of the compartment.

‘Papers!’ the petty officer demands, reaching out his right hand.

Bungy passes over the damp draft instructions in their yellow Manila envelope.

Outside in the passageway, the tannoy, (loud speaker) crackles into life.


‘Turn your collar down.’ The petty officer does not look up from examining the papers as he issues the order. ‘Here, fill these in.’

The man hands over two forms. The buff coloured one is headed THIS IS NOT A WILL. It asks for personal details including next of kin. The other larger white form is a joining card.

‘Got a pen?’ The petty officer asks, looking up at him for the first time.

Bungy nods and looks for somewhere on the crowded table to rest the papers. Finding none he uses the back of the door. After repeating most of the required details on both forms he hands the completed papers back to the petty officer who reads through them with a frown. ‘Right,’ he exclaims, handing back the joining form and a small red card. ‘Here is your part of ship. You will be in mess 3F2. Down the passage way, up the first set of steps and it’s on your left.’ He points to the joining card. ‘When you have been round all the departments mentioned on here and they have stamped it return the completed form to this office. Understand?

Bungy nods wearily.

‘And get your hair cut before you report back here.’ The petty officer adds, before returning to the paper work on his desk.

Bungy makes his way through the ship, reading the painted coded numbers and letters on the bulkheads until he comes to 3F2 mess. The passageways are filling now with sailors as the ship’s company rise and make their way to breakfast. The air here smells stale, of unwashed bodies and tobacco smoke. Bungy takes off his overcoat and looks round the mess. In the centre stand two wooden tables partly covered with discarded bits of uniforms, books and papers. The bunks, welded to the bulkheads, are stacked three high. Against their ends, grey steel lockers hold the men’s belongings. Bungy stands in the doorway, uncertain what to do next. He feels tired, lost and completely out of his depth.

A tall well built man with an untidy shock of brown hair, still buttoning up the front of his blue number eight working shirt, looks closely at the badge on Bungy’s right sleeve and his face lights up in a smile. ‘Ah! Thank god another Airy Fairy. I thought that I was going to be all alone here amongst these bloody Fish Heads.’

He holds out his right hand. ‘Knocker White, welcome aboard let’s find you a bunk and a locker.’

A bad start

The Naval Air Station at Culdrose is situated near the pretty little town of Helston in Cornwall, just over an hour’s drive from Land’s End. Not far from the sea, it is an ideal spot for helicopter squadrons sharing their time between a land base and their parent ships.

Brian Jones enjoyed the feeble warmth from the low early morning summer sun streaming through the rather grubby windows of the blue navy bus taking him and other mechanics to the squadron hangars on the far side of the airfield. He is feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Excitement at the thought of the new challenges rapidly approaching and apprehension because of his lack of experience in the work awaiting him there.

Brian, newly rated up from petty officer to chief, is in his mid-twenties; short and a little bit overweight for his age. He is a single man, quiet and somewhat reserved. This will be his first experience of a helicopter squadron and also his first posting to a ship as he has spent most of his previous working life in repair workshops and on the maintenance of fixed wing fighter aircraft ashore on Naval Air Stations. Like all other senior rates in the squadron he has been given courses on both the Wessex helicopter airframe and its two Gnome engines. However, he has never worked on the helicopters in the squadron; his knowledge is all theoretical because he has spent the last three months recovering in hospital from an operation following a bad car accident. He has been flat on his back whilst the squadron has been ‘working up.

‘Ah Jones!’ the squadron Air Engineering Officer, a short thin Lieutenant aged in his early thirties with a reddish beard, stood up from behind a battered wooden desk covered in aircraft logbooks. ‘Glad you could join us at last. Feeling better?’

Brian nods. He feels a little bit like a new boy on his first day at school. As he walked through the hangar he had noticed with envy that the other mechanics hurried about their allotted tasks with a confidence that he had yet to attain.

‘We are glad to have you here at last,’ the Lieutenant continues. ‘Normally I would put you with one of the senior chief petty officers for a while to gain experience but the squadron is a bit short of senior ratings at the moment with the flue making its rounds so I’m throwing you in at the deep end. I want you to give a hand with this evening’s night flying. We are getting airborne at 1800 hours. You can have the rest of the day off to settle in, OK?’

The sun has already dipped below the horizon as Brian arrives at work that evening. Earlier arrivals have opened the hangar doors fully and light from inside spills out onto the tarmac. A tractor emerges from the hangar pulling a helicopter as Brian walks over to the senior ratings’ crew room where the chief aircraft artificer is waiting to run through the evening’s duty roster. Brian finds himself responsible for the supervision of two helicopters, R Roger and Y Yankee. Each helicopter has its own crew of mechanics to carry out a pre flight inspection and top it up with fuel. It is Brian’s job to supervise this inspection and finally certify with his signature that the aircraft is in all respects ready for flight.

Brian pulls on his overalls and sets off looking for his helicopters. He finds Y Yankee parked just outside the hangar. It is one of the first aircraft to be pulled out by the tractor. Its rotor blades are already spread and a mechanic is shutting an engine inspection panel as the chief petty officer approaches.

‘Everything OK?’ Brian asks.

‘Yeah, no problems chief,’ the man replies. ‘The electricians have finished their inspection and signed up and there’s a full load of fuel on board. You can check the pins now if you like.’

The pins that the mechanic is referring to are the wrist pins attaching the main rotor blades to the rotor head. Each blade has two pins fitted vertically through lugs in both the blade root and the rotor head. Normally one pin is removed from each blade after flight so that the other pin can be used as a hinge. The rotor blade is then folded back and supported in a pocket on the tail boom of the aircraft. With all the blades folded back in this fashion the helicopter takes up much less room when stowed in the hangar both ashore and on board ship. It is part of the supervisor’s job to check that these pins have been properly installed before flight.

Brian Jones stands on top of a metal ladder and carefully checks each pin in turn. All are installed correctly and locked in place. The mechanic is standing at the foot of the ladder with the logbook as he climbs down. ‘The Before Flight Inspection is complete chief, all trades have signed up and she’s ready to go.’

Brian takes the book and the mechanic shines his torch so that the chief petty officer can check each section and put his signature in the correct places. As he hands the completed logbook back to the mechanic Brian asks, ‘Do you know where R Roger is?’

‘Dunno chief,’ the man shrugs. ‘It was still in the hangar when we came out.’

Brian sets off to walk quickly along the line of parked helicopters. It gets darker as he moves away from the hangar and he finds his other helicopter at the end of the line. The mechanics servicing her are working by torchlight. The last rotor blade is being spread. The fitter has just finished refuelling, using a long hose from a bowser that has backed up close and the lights are on in the cockpit where an electrician sits writing something in the helicopter’s logbook.

Brian looks up as the last main rotor blade is put in place. The mechanic working on it looks down at him and yells ‘won’t be long chief, everything else is done. I’ve just got to sign up after I’ve finished this.’

The electrician finishes his signing up and climbs down out of the cockpit. ‘All OK chief’, he remarks as he hands over the logbook.

A cold gust of fine rain sweeps across the hard standing as the mechanic who has been working on the blade climbs down the ladder.

‘Lend us your inspection torch,’ Brian demands.

‘Sorry chief,’ the mechanic says handing over the torch. ‘It’s nearly had it, the battery’s flat’.

Down the line of helicopters a high-pitched whine erupts as one of the machines starts its engines.

‘Chop, Chop!’ The line chief comes hurrying by. ‘We are airborne in five minutes.’

Brian climbs wearily up the ladder. The torch gives out only a feeble glow. Hurriedly he inspects the wrist pins. All appear to be correctly installed and locked in place. By the time he reaches the forth rotor blade attachments the torch batteries are flat. Brian curses and uses his fingers to inspect the last pin. As he climbs down the ladder the aircrew arrive.

‘Everything alright?’ the pilot inquires.

‘Yes sir, just got to do the paperwork,’ Brian reaches for his pen.

The other entries and the fuel state appear to be filled in correctly so Brian certifies the aircraft ready for flight and signs for the rotor blade inspection. Further down the line other helicopter engines whine into life.

A man carrying illuminated wands similar to those filmed in Star Wars signals all clear for lift off to each helicopter in

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