HMS Indefatigable
Spring Cruise 1953
By Robert Reed, R.N.V.R.

When I learned that as a National Service Upper Yardsman I would be joining HMS Indefatigable for its 1953 Spring Cruise, I had visions of sailing around the Mediterranean. But it was not to be. Those of you who were also onboard then will remember that it was the time of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation and we were to take part in the Spithead Naval Revue: I didn't even leave home waters. However my short time in Indefat was one of the most rewarding three months of my life.

I was called up for National Service in April '53 and after three weeks at Lee on 39 Course as a Naval Airman Second Class, I embarked in the Indefat at Weymouth as an Upper Yardsman. That May, the Training Squadron consisting of HMS Implacable (Flag Ship) and HMS Indefatigable were anchored in Portland harbour preparing to sail to Spithead for the Coronation Review that was scheduled for June 15th.

My first impression as we approached the ships was their colossal size – nothing could have prepared me for this. But soon after dumping my kit bag and hammock onto the mess-deck in the upper hanger I realized that this was a 'big friendly' ship and the meaning of 'ship mates' and 'comradeship' soon became apparent.

We were on a very concentrated course with only three months to turn us out as seamen, so it was flat out from dawn – I seem to recall we were up at 05.40 - to dusk: lights out at 2200. The day was split in two, one half practical training, which was always popular and the other half in the classroom, not so popular. Some nights we would also do a four hour watch which really did take it out of you. I recall coming off watch early one morning and having to go straight away to scrub the Captain's ladder. I pleaded with our PO instructor for a 'little rest'. “A little rest?” he queried. “When we were on the Russian convoys, in minus temperatures, gale force winds and being shot at 24 hours day and night, we didn't 'have a little rest' for days and days. Now laddie, do you think you could just manage to do a little scrubbing for the Old Man or shall I tell him you are too tired.” “No sir, I mean yes sir, sorry, I mean aye aye sir!” Over the last 50 or so years , whenever I am too tired to carry on with a job, I think of that PO and all the other sailors who saw combat and never complained.

After a short stay in Portland we sailed for an anchorage off Bournemouth and my course was set concentrated exercises in coastal navigation using MFVs. On one trip into Poole harbour I ran our boat aground only to be told by the instructing officer,”Don' worry Reed, you'll never be trusted with a real ship.” He gave me a low pass in coastal navigation.

On the eighth of June we sailed to Spithead as one of the first ships to take our place for the review. The next four days we watched over 160 warships negotiating into line for the biggest naval review ever held. By the twelfth 156 Royal Navy warships, plus 16 from foreign navies and 50 other ships were anchored at Spithead. What a sight!

HMS Indefatigable was fifth in Line F between HMS Implacable and HMS Illustrious roughly halfway between Southsea Castle and Ryde Pier. Shore-side to us was HMS Sheffield and towards the Isle of Wight were the foreign warships. One of the most spectacular sights during this build up was seeing the Italian three masted Sail Training Ship, the Americo Vespucci coming up the Solent under sail with the cadets manning the yardarms. Very memorable. The other foreign warship that attracted a lot of attention was the USSR Cruiser Sverdlov, not only by the naval personnel who were at Spithead, but all the press and the military. She had only been launched in 1952 and was so secret that there was not even a photo of her for the official Spithead Review programme.

The night before the review the Fleet was illuminated and I had the lucky duty of Captain's Boat crew with the task of sailing around the entire display to report any light not working correctly. That was the best duty of the entire spring cruise for me.

The other event of great interest to all in the Indfat was the Fleet Air Arm fly past that followed the Royal Review. There were 38 squadrons totalling 300 aircraft flying past at 45 second intervals. A sight - and sound, that made us all very proud of the Fleet Air Arm.

I stayed in HMS Indefatigable for the next month sailing to Arran for the Squadron regatta in Lamlash Bay, on to Scapa Flow for night exercises and finally leaving the ship at Rosyth, not quite a qualified seaman - but a lot wiser.

It was that week at Spithead that will always have the most vivid memories for me. Memories of never having worked so hard, mentally and physically in my whole life and getting such satisfaction from my efforts: memories of comradeship from my shipmates and that wonderful spectacle that has never been repeated in size and versatility, the Coronation Revue at Spithead in June 1953.
(Originally published in the HMS Indefatigable Association Newsletter 2008)
© 2008 Robert Reed all rights reserved

Page published Dec. 22, 2010