Leith Nautical College
"I graduated from Leith Nautical College
in 1951 and straight away marched down to Leith Pool to see if there
were any jobs available.
I was told that I had no choice, and
that I was to report as Cabin Boy on board the 'RFA Wave Premier',
lying in the Imperial Dry Dock, in Leith."
"Well, at least I didn't have to travel
far, as I lived in Leith. I met a fellow college mate at the
pool, who had just paid off his first ship and I convinced him to
sail with me on the 'Wave Premier'. I doubt that he thanked me
for it in hindsight!
On board, my first impression, was of
the sickening stench of diesel fuel. We were in port for a
week before we sailed, and my father came down to the ship every day
before we left.
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary was so secretive,
that we didnít find out where we were going, nor the sailing date, until
the actual day of departure."
"Disappointingly, our first port was
just a short way up stream from Leith - Rosyth.
Eventually though, we were soon at sea and
headed for Invergordon, where we spent a few days before heading back to
Rosyth, to meet up with the rest of the Fleet.
Once at sea, the Chief Steward began to issue
cold weather gear - boots, duffle coats, long fishermenís
socks, Long John underwear and thick, polo necked fishermenís sweaters. I
wondered where the hell we could be going.
As far as information went, every thing was
very 'hush hush', and on a 'need to know' basis, in typical RN style. It
was fairly obvious that we were headed North, as the weather was becoming
colder and colder."
"Eventually we were informed that we were now
on 'Exercise Mainbrace' which we also learned were War Games, to be held
at least 300 miles north of Iceland in the Arctic. It was November,
and already bitterly cold.
The Fleet consisted of the battleship
'Vanguard', aircraft carrier 'Eagle', cruiser 'Swiftsure', two Diamond
class destroyers and some subs.
The Weather was horrific, bitter cold, and
with ice about two inches thick forming on the ship's cables, and outer
decks. What a baptism in seasickness that was!"
"I was unable to eat anything but dry
cornflakes and water biscuits for days, and I was convinced I was going to
die. In fact, I would have welcomed it!
The Arctic was depressing, with dusk 24 hours
a day. No sun shine or proper daylight. We would refuel three ships
at a time, one starboard, one to port and one aft. The wake of the
two ships alongside made the narrow sea channel as rough as any sea we had
faced, and we bounced, rolled and pitched crazily throughout the fuelling
"The cold was all enveloping, and in an effort
to try and maintain somewhere near normal body temperature in our crew,
large thermos flasks of hot soup were made available in all alleyways of
the ship, 24 hours a day.
The galley was down aft and food had to be
transported midships via the flying bridge. It was a
nightmare, trying to time the motion of the ship without benefit of the
use of your hands for balance.
I was caught by a wave once, and the tray of
fried eggs went over the side. I was fortunate to manage to hang on.
I was soaked with all my heavy arctic clobber on, and I had to retire to
my cabin to dry out for an hour."
"One day our Bosun was involved in a serous
accident. The crew of a Navy ship had fired a one-metre length of steel
rod from a .303 rifle.
The rod was connected to a thin line, which in
turn was connected to a thicker line, etc. By this method the shipís
fuel lines were brought aboard our ship for the refueling process to
The rod hit an air vent on our ship and
ricocheted off, straight into the Bosunís calf, sea boot and all! He had
to be taken aboard the Navy ship, 'Swiftsure' to have an operation on his
leg, and the only method of transfer was via Bosunís chair, over very
"I had joined the Merchant Navy to see the
world and to bask in tropical climes, I was pretty much ready to jack it
all in then and there.
Fortunately I stuck with it and enjoyed the
rest of my service, though I made sure that I stayed away from the Royal
Fleet Auxiliary from that time forward!"
Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh: April 12, 2008