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Ken Lobb - The Letters (1) - April 1955

Ken's son, Andrew, has very kindly sent some information about his life and some of the 100 or so letters he wrote home to his wife Vera. Andrew wrote that he was an academic really but very warm and loving towards Vera.

"The letters are also written to be read in part to my elder nine year old sister. His Cornish sense of humour shows through. He would have had much in common with his father who was also in the Royal Navy in World War I."

The Bay of Biscay - Saturday Evening

Dear Mummy,

You'll no doubt be very pleased to know that I am not troubled by sea-sickness! We've had quite a rough trip so far, and I didn't sleep very well last night because I was rolling about in my bunk so much. On the down roll my "window" was being washed by the water, so you can get some idea of how we were rolling! I turned out early this morning feeling OK except for a pain in my tum which was cured by eating a good breakfast, after which I felt fine.

A lot of the lads have been draped over the rail or even buckets all day and quite a few officers (including Commander L) have been out of sight in their cabins all day. I've even been unmoved by the sight of all the others spewing so I reckon I shall be OK for the future. I've had a good turnout in my cabin this afternoon (now I've got to live in it) and sorted all my clothes into the right drawers, and done some washing.

I don't know whether you came down to see the ship off, if so I expect you were confused because the the "Jamaica" was in the Sound too, and the two ships look alike. I hope you are coping with the infants OK, and remembered to take your money to the Bank. I'm going to try and write something each day while away, but I don't know whether I'll succeed. When it gets hot I'll be exhausted I expect. I forgot to bring your snaps with me you know, but never mind, I'll remember you. Kiss all the infants for me, and don't forget to write (more than three words a line though).

Cheerio from,

Your loving Ken. xxxxxxxx

[It is worth saying here that my Father was writing to My Mother and my two older sisters who were aged five and nine. The letters were read aloud so they are dumbed down. There must have been a lot of talk about being seasick. I was only two, going on three years old. I remember he told me that one sailor went missing on this rough crossing across the Bay of Biscay presumed drowned. He was later found exhausted and very ill in the toilets. He said that he was put ashore in Gibraltar to return to a land job. During the storm Father also spent a lot of the time in the forecastle in a small locker room repairing an electrical fault helped by a succession of ill midshipmen whilst the ship pitched and tossed during the storm.]

Off Portugal - Sunday Evening

Hello My Love,

What a sunburned husband you've got! Today has been lovely, there's still plenty of motion on the boat, but it's much warmer down here, with cloudless blue sky, warm sun and blue sky. I don't want to make you discontented but I've spent all the afternoon on the quarter deck in my deckchair, with my sun glasses on, and my poor face is burning. Most people are recovered today, the Padre who has been the most ill appeared this morning for Church, the first time we've seen him since Friday teatime. We've all got our tables and chairs lashed down with ropes, and there's great difficulty with food sliding about, but it's good fun.

Today has been a good day because there's no work, and there's too much movement on the ship for Divisions, so it's been just like a holiday cruise. I can understand now why they all want to get to sea, it's a completely different life, and for a newcomer, very enjoyable. Although I've no doubt I'm going to curse it many times before this commission is over.

We had a pleasant dinner last night, and by tradition, the first Saturday night at sea, "sweethearts and wives" were toasted, and I drank to you with Bristol Cream! We lose and hours sleep tonight, clocks have to be put on because we've come East, and we go into white cap covers tomorrow. I'm thinking of altering my oldest cap, take all the stuffing etc. out, to make it lighter. I'm beginning to dislike the feel of a cap on my head already! The sooner we go into shorts the better. We arrive at Gibraltar tomorrow teatime, and we're going to stay there two days after all, so perhaps I shall see the apes. It would have completed my enjoyment today if you'd been here (without the children of course) but love to you all as ever.

Ken xxxxx

[Division were training exercises but I don't know what form they took from day to day. Just to note all the letters are thin airmail letters with no paragraphs to maximise space. I have added them as appropriate.]

HMS Gambia - Gibraltar - Monday, April 4

Hello my Love,

I'm beginning to feel like a much travelled tourist already! I've just had a couple of hours walking around Gibraltar, in beautiful sunshine, and a very quaint place it is too. The rock is enormous with a sheer cliff face going up for hundreds of feet with just a fringe of buildings around the base. It looks so beautifully clean everywhere, I suppose that's because it's so bright everywhere. It's just like summer at home, with thick green grass, flowers all over the place, and flowering trees, bougainvillea they say it is. The streets are narrow and thronged with dark skinned Spanish speaking people, and full of shops selling Spanish shawls and mantillas, lighters, cameras and "junk."

Prices are not much cheaper than in England though. We're not allowed to take any English money ashore, but had to change it for Government of Gibraltar notes, and very colourful they are too. Needless to say I'm still saving up for a new car so I came back with my £2.00 intact.

I walked the length of the Main Street (there's only one) with Schoolie Wright and the Padre, and then went on to the Spanish border which we can't cross without a passport, and looked through the fence. Tomorrow evening, after the day's exercises, I'm going on a conducted tour through the caves and onto the top of the rock, with the chap who looks like Humphrey Lestocq and a party of the boys. I expect that will make me sweat! I want to see the apes though.

We've had a good day today, the swell died down during the night, and I had the soundest sleep since we started (and it seems ages ago now) because I was in no danger of falling off my bunk. My servant had quite a job to wake me up this morning. We've fired two full broadsides today of 9 six inch guns, very impressive, I was at the radar set and was tickled to see (on the screen) the shells travelling away from us, and then see the splashes when they landed. We've been exercising our AA guns with aircraft too. Life is very full just now and the days seem endless, I've so much to do and see. We're going to have another day exercising tomorrow, and then on Wednesday morning leave for Malta.

There are two big American battleships and an enormous carrier full of jets here, and of course the streets are full of "gobs.". We had "The Million Pound Note" film last night so I went to see it again, to see how well the lads operated it really. Most people still look pale on board but I'm a rich muddy brown colour and my hair has gone fairer, they think it's quite amusing, but it's no effort on my part, it's just the sun and salt breeze. I certainly feel as though I've had a long holiday by the sea.

The mail was waiting when we arrived and I was quite thrilled to see three large packages in the rack, but it was a book catalogue, a prospectus for some club and my radio journal, so that was a dead loss! I didn't expect a letter from you because It's only a couple of days since I saw you, and even by air mail letters take about four days. I hope the infants are not trying your patience too much, I'll write to Penny tomorrow and tell her about the Rock if my trips a success. I must write to Grandad too, they wanted to know all about the trip.

It's much cooler this evening and I'm glad to say, and it's very pleasant in my cabin with the scuttle (window) open, and there's no danger of the sea coming in. I hope your Insurance policies have arrived with no trouble (and no extra charge) and the other birth certificate too. I'm going to do some washing in a minute, and get my laundry ready for the morning. I have to finish this to catch the nine-thirty collection.

Well my love, I love you and wish you were sharing my cabin tonight, especially as it's a single bunk, I expect we could manage. How is Susan's temper this week? I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Cheerio my love, kiss the brats for me,

Your own loving,

Daddy xxxxxxxxxxxx

[My Father struck up a firm friendship with and officer called Wright. On the commission he is listed as Inst. Lt. Cdr. Wright. My Father always refers to him as Schoolie Wright. What he was instructor of, I don't know. Humphrey Lestocq was a film actor. My mother was a keen film goer during the war. I imagine my sister was in the "terrible twos" stage. The Million Pound Note was a British comedy starring Gregory Peck. A "gob" was a slang name for an American sailor.]

HMS Gambia - Gibraltar - Tuesday Evening

Hello My Love,

A big treat today because I had your letter! I'm glad you came down to see the ship off, I'm sorry you only had a pennyworth of telescope though, I hope you didn't need that penny afterwards for anything else (ha ha). I'm glad you've got a lightweight pushchair, you should be able to get rid of the pram soon too. Fancy Penny not going to Troon for Easter, still it will be a treat for Susan, and a change for you, I hope she goes.

I had a letter today from Troon too, they hope I'm not seasick. Fancy Penny getting a prize, I think it's really good because she found it really uphill work there to start with, she must have come on well since the beginning of the year. Of course, she has clever parents!

We've been to sea for exercises today, but got in by four o'clock. And at twenty past we went ashore (by boat, very choppy too) for this tour I was telling you about. Four Army lorries were provided (big ones) to seat 10 in each, and we thought it was silly, when they could easily seat 30. That was until we saw the hills we had to go up!

I'd never attempt any of them in our old car. Anyway, we climbed up steep narrow roads through the town and then up the rock itself, through palm trees, flowering trees, and cactus plants, with a sheer drop on one side with a beautiful view over the sea, with shipping , and across to the Spanish mountains, and the town of La Linea over the border. Once again it was blue seas and sky and warm sunshine. We saw the apes near the top of the rock (that's why I've sent postcards to Penny and Susan) and then went on up to the top to St Michael's Caves, where a guide took us around. They are great natural caves (said to be over 2 million years old) with stalactites and stalagmites, and they are floodlit in colour just as they were when the Queen visited them last year. Very wet inside at this time of year, dripping on you from overhead. Opening out of these is Leonora's Cave, a sort of pothole, which is supposed to connect with a tunnel under the sea through which the apes are supposed to have come from North Africa.

From there we came down the south side of the Rock to Europa Point which is the most southernmost point of Europe, and around Calaban Bay, a quaint Spanish style village and then back through a long tunnel right through the Rock, and back to the town past the airport.

So I've now seen right round the Rock. Afterwards the other officer and I saw the lads back and then went to the Royal Yacht Club (of which all naval officers are honorary members whilst in Gib.) where the elite go, I was surprised too, because I was disinclined to go in case it was too expensive. Well, we spent a pleasant hour and a half there, sitting quietly and having supper (soup, fish, steak and chips, banana and coffee) in cosmopolitan surroundings by the water, all for 4s/6p! It rounded off a very pleasant evening, (especially when I got back and found your letter), and we resolved to organise many such tours during the Commission especially in Ceylon and Mauritius, where of course there is so much more natural wild life. All I've seen today in the animal line is apes and lizards. Now I'm going to bed, tired, pleased but lonely. This will be the last letter from Gib, we sail at 8.30 in the morning.

Goodnight my love,

Your Own, Ken xxxxxx

[I suspect my Mother with three children to look after, felt Father was enjoying himself too much. Also, money was a big factor with three children to feed. Penny and Susan were my two older sisters. Susan went to Troon to stay with our grandparents.]

HMS Gambia at Sea - Wednesday Evening

Hello My Love,

The days seem awfully long, I suppose it's because there's so much activity from the first thing until turning in. We left Gib. this morning, followed by hundreds of screaming seagulls, in sunshine again, but it's not been so warm today, summery compared with England of course, but a few clouds in the sky. We've had another day of exercises, with lots of electrical gadgets going wrong, and of course much late work this evening to try and put them right. Apart from seeing the Spanish mountains in the distance to start with, it's just been another long day's steaming with nothing but water around us. I'm surprised really, I expected to see lots of liners and cargo vessels steaming up and down, but although we are on the trade routes we very rarely see another ship; there must be an awful lot of sea not in use!

The only new thing I've seen today, during my half an hour on the quarter-deck to get some sunshine, was a school of dolphins alongside the ship, all jumping out of the water, like a crowd of race horses going over fences, they look very sleek. One thing I meant to tell you in my last letter, was about the local fishermen I saw off Gib. last night, with long thin canoes with lights strung along them to attract the fish which they were catching with nets. From tomorrow we shall be steaming parallel with the North African coast, about ten miles out, so I hope to see some more countryside. I'm quite content to watch the water going by really though.

Of course one day at sea is very much like another, so when the novelty has worn off I shan't have so much to tell you, except when we come to a fresh port. I was disgusted with my plastic cap covers which Gieves sent me, when I tried one on it was much too small, so at Gib. I went to their local shop, and after some argument they changed them for me, and said they would write to Plymouth to complain about it, so that's another problem solved. They are about 9s/6p a time so I wasn't prepared to throw them away. Well, I've got a thriller to read tonight, so I expect I shall read until very late. Look after yourself and the infants,

From, Your ever loving Ken xxxxxxxxxxx

[My Father had to buy all his naval uniform from Gieves and it was very expensive. It's interesting that there was a branch in Gibraltar.]

HMS Gambia at sea - Thursday, April 7

Hello my Love,

I forgot to tell you before but I'm putting a number on the bottom left hand corner of the envelope so that you'll know which order to read the letters in, because I expect you'll get a bunch at a time. It's been another pleasant day, with the sea much calmer, and we're making such good time that we stopped for a couple of hours this afternoon and just lay quietly on the water.

We can see the coast in the distance, they might just as well have gone closer in and let us laze about on the beach. I'm going to have my Easter Egg tomorrow, I expect we shall have the day off, so maybe I'll be able to get my deckchair out again in the afternoon. I'm smoking some different cigarettes now, Benson and Hedges, very pleasant they are too. It's blowing up this evening, and a gale is forecast for the night, it's overcast and raining, quite a change!

Goodnight my Love.

Friday

Happy Easter, I've just got around to my egg, it's five o'clock and I'm exhausted. We had a shocking night, wind and rain, pitch dark with enormous lightning flashes over the African coast. The motion was quite different too, not long slow rolls like we had in the Bay, but quick jerky ones that shake the insides up. We had to have all the tables tied down again, and there wasn't the normal attendance at breakfast (I was there of course). I couldn't go to sleep for a long time, it was very hot and I was rolling about on my bunk, and it wasn't until I strapped myself in that I dropped off, and then slept well until my attendant brought the tea in.

It's got smoother during the day though, and since lunch it's been sunny and warm, we're quite close to the coast, great rolling sand dunes with no sign of life, we must be off Bizerta. It has been a "day off" today, but I'm afraid I didn't benefit at all, we have so many defects, and hands trying to cure them that I didn't feel justified in sitting in the sun while they slaved away. So I lent my deckchair to someone else (stupid clot) and stayed in my hot uniform helping the workers. My egg is jolly good, a bit soft though, could have done with another couple of minutes (ha ha!)

We get to Malta in the morning, I can't say I'm feeling very thrilled about it at the moment, that's probably because I'm tired though. I've got a few Maltese pound notes, they paid all the hands their fortnights' pay in Maltese money yesterday. Well, I've been away a week now, time enough to be thinking about coming home! I hope I have a letter from you tomorrow. By the way, what is your photo going to look like? It might fetch me home earlier, absent without leave! It would be a long swim. I've just got a good library book out by John Ross Macdonald, so I expect I shall read in bed for an hour tonight, although I've put my name down for an early supper because I want to make up for the sleep I lost last night.

I'm going to have a big overhead fan put in my cabin, otherwise I'm going to feel very hot soon. It will be a good thing when we get out of these thick suits though. I expect I shall look funny in my shorts. I've discovered that my white shirts are so long that they'll hang out of my trouser legs, so I'm going to have a few evenings sewing next week, taking six inches off them. Of course I didn't notice it before when I tried them because my shorts were down below my knees. Well my love I'm going to post this, then it will catch the first boat ashore and the plane in the morning.

Love to you all,

Your own Daddy xxxxxxxxxxxxx

[Bizerta is a town in Tunisia. John Ross Macdonald was a crime fiction writer. As a side note I don't think the casual superiority of an officer sat easily on Father's shoulders. He felt guilty watching others work, as the letter indicates. He was an only child, with few friends and very academic. He won an open scholarship to Eltam College where he excelled but was out of his social league. In the navy he had to learn how to command. His father was a stoker in the Royal Navy and then a Railway Policeman from the depths of Cornwall with a very aspiring wife. My mother was a working-class lass from Leicester. Consequently, I don't think command came easily at first. Saying that he didn't suffer fools easily. Interestingly enough he always did his own sewing alterations and was very good at it.]

HMS Gambia - In Grand Harbour, Malta - Sunday afternoon

Hello My Love,

I was glad to have two letters from you when we arrived here yesterday morning. I got one from Grandad too. I'd better deal with your letters first before I tell you what a riotous time I've been having here. I'm glad you've had your photos taken, I hope you're not looking too bedraggled in them as a result of being caught in the rain. I can see if Susan wants one of me, I'll have to do something about it. Maybe I can have one taken riding a camel. I expect they will prefer the Methodist Sunday School, Fancy Andrew falling down the stairs, I'm glad he didn't hurt himself, I expect it was more of a shock to you than him. I hope you'll have no more trouble with the water heater, and I hope Grandad has made a good job of the sideboard door. It will be a change for Susan at Troon so long as she doesn't come back too spoilt. In their letter they said she had her bag packed all ready to go. I should let Penny play with the other girls, and go to the kids' movies, she will be far less trouble to you if she has her own circle to mix with.

Well, I can't believe we're in Malta, it's a funny place really, very Eastern in appearance, built in yellow sandstone blocks, all the buildings come right down to the water's edge in Grand Harbour here, with iron railing balconies, flat roofs, and domed churches, all of which have two clocks, one a dummy one, telling the wrong time, so that the Devil won't know when there's a service on. It's very hilly here, and very quaint; very narrow streets, with balconies over them, with the washing hanging out, and shutters for all the windows to keep out the hot sun in the Summer.

They speak a sort of degenerate Italian here, and the notices in the shops can just about be understood (if you know Italian). Of course there are flowers everywhere, and palm trees, and lizards basking in the sun.

Curiously enough although it's brilliantly warm and sunny now, (and I'm in my deckchair in tropical shirt and flannels on the upper deck writing this) it poured with rain when we came in yesterday with flags flying and guns firing a 15 gun salute to the local Admiral. Of course, it didn't worry me, I was down below at the mighty organ in the Main Switch Board. After lunch I and two other 2 1/2's took the Padre ashore for the week to buy flowers for his Chapel. It's just too easy going ashore here. We're lying at a buoy in the harbour about 100 yards from the harbour wall, just behind a large Greek liner called the Olympic which has called here on the way to New York.

We don't bother to go ashore in our own boats because the harbour is full of Dghaisas' (pronounced Dy-za's) which look something like Venetian gondolas, like my drawing above, they're painted red and green, and have a bare-footed native pirate at the oars (he rows standing up) and they take you ashore for 6p. We had quite a long ride in one yesterday from end of the harbour to the other.

Ashore they have funny old fashioned horse carts just the same as the ones at Gib., where they're called a gharry, here they are called Karrozzins. They look like this, all open with a little roof on four poles, and the seats inside covered with white linen or lace covers, very quaint. We had some fun with one last night as I'll tell you later on. I bought some postcards to send to the kids, but now Penny wants the stamps, I'll wait until next weekend and post them ashore. If I post them on board they use British stamps. The water is very bad here and the milk is mostly goats, which gives you stomach trouble (in fact the goats which give the milk are funny things, they call them shoats, a cross between sheep and goats.

So for tea we went to the best hotel in Valetta (which is the name of this place, Malta being the name of the island) the Phoenicia, where we had tea and toast and cream cakes, in great style, for 2/-s per head! Very cheap. We came back on board for supper, and six of us, all 21/2s decided to have a quiet evenings outing, because we have a strenuous week ahead of us, with exercises until 9.30 in the evening, and night actions as well. We started at the Phoenicia hotel and had a couple of drinks, then we took a taxi to Sliema to a sort of night club dive to see the natives enjoying themselves and eventually came back to Valetta by 12 o'clock and had hot bacon and egg sandwiches in a joint on the waterfront, followed by a "prairie oyster" a speciality of the place. It consisted of the yolk of a raw egg (and we stood and watched the chap mix it) with tomato sauce, salt, chilli pepper, Lea and Perrins sauce and sherry! It looked peculiar but it tasted OK, swallowed in one gulp, and it makes you feel fighting fit, which was a good thing because we'd all had an exhausting day and had done a lot of walking.

And so back to the ship by Dghaisa at 12.30. We're all saving up so we reckoned we'd had a cheap outing, and seen the sights and had two long taxi trips, and a feed, all for 10/-s a head. We reckon we've finished expensive trips in Malta now, it's hiking and sports from now on! We are leaving in the morning for a weeks' exercising anyway and will be anchoring as convenient in bays the other side of the Island. We've had Divisions this morning in the hot sun on the upper deck (one of my chaps passed out through standing in it too long) but on the whole it went well, and the Captain said how pleased he is with the way everyone is working and obviously having a good time as well. I can't make up my mind now whether to take the "green" off my red suit or go to the cinema tonight.

Well dear, I seem to have written a lot, I hope it's interesting. I'm trying to tell you a lot to make up for your not being here really.

Look after yourself, all my love

From Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx

[Father was naturally gifted in languages and was able to speak quite a few different languages. The voyage gave him the opportunity to speak to lots of people in different countries which was a huge advantage. This is evident in his interest in all the names of things. The letters are full of drawings of things Father saw. A two and a half refers to Lt. Commanders and is to do with the number and size of the gold stripes on the sleeves]

Lieutenant Commander (Lt. Cdr.) sleeve. Image: Sodacan. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Dghaisa in Vittoriosa, Malta in 2013. Photo: Mboesch. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 A karrozzin in Valletta, Malta, 2013. Photo: Frank Vincentz. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 A karrozzin in Valletta, Malta, 2013. Photo: Frank Vincentz. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

HMS Gambia at Marsaxlokk - Monday evening

Hello My love,

We're anchored in a bay around the South East side of Malta, lying well offshore in quite a rough sea. Don't worry about putting Air Mail on your letters, it's quite OK if you do, but for Gib. and Malta it isn't necessary, although once we leave here you'll have to use Air Mail envelopes, and it will cost you 6d! Still, that's in two weeks' time, I'll warn you in good time. I remembered after I'd finished my letter yesterday that I didn't tell you what was funny about the horse cart after all. When we were coming back to the ship on Saturday night we decided to walk along the waterfront to the nearest point to the ship and get a boat from there.

Two of us though who'd been on Watch the previous night said they were too tired and so get into a karrozzin and while the other four of us walked they rode to and fro in this thing, with the bell ringing, overtaking us and coming back and passing, turning round and passing us again, and so on, looking very superior. The cabby thought it was very funny. We got tired of this, and once as they passed us we hung on to the back, although the cabby whipped his horse into a gallop, and managed to bring it nearly into a standstill, and then we let go suddenly hoping the horse wold fall in a heap. It didn't do so, but of course as soon as we let go it shot off at an awful gallop and threw the other two chaps inside all of a heap. The cabby thought it was great fun and laughed like a drain. No doubt thought we were a mad lot of Englishmen.

Apparently, one of our sailors came back last night, and just as he was, with his cap on, walked into the water and swam to the ship. He must have been very drunk because the harbour is filthy, full of oil and with a sewage efflux right opposite the ship. The Captain was saying yesterday how dangerous it is and that the last sailor to die doing it came from the Gambia last year.

Well I did wonders last night not only did I go to the film "Master of Ballantrae" with Errol Flynn, but afterwards I finished taking the green off my working suit and cleaned it up and pressed it. It was 12.30 when I finished.

For the next three days we sail at eight o'clock in the morning, exercise guns and things all day, have night dummy battles and anchor at half-past ten each night, so we're going to be exhausted by the end of the week. It looks as though the following two weeks will be the same too. I've booked to go on a bus tour of the island next Sunday afternoon and I'm hoping to do the same for the following Sunday with a bus load of the lads, I may as well see it while I'm here. I've ordered some photos of the ship taken as we came into Grand Harbour, showing something of Valetta in the background. I'm not in them. I'm afraid I was down in the bowels at the time.

I'm going to bed early tonight, my feet are aching. I'm going to wash my pants and socks first, and then I'll probably read for a bit. I weighed myself ashore on Saturday, on the Airport scales, I can't remember If I told you, and I was down to 131/2 stone, so maybe I'll come back to you as a shadow of my former self. Having just had lamb and roast potatoes I feel fat again though. I'm glad I've done all my uniforms, I don't think I could face lacing any more sleeves. Just the shirt tails to do now. I hope you are well and coping dear. I sent Susan a postcard yesterday. Give the others my love.

Cheerio dear, from Your Own Ken xxxxxxx

[Marsaxlokk is a small fishing village in Malta. With rationing still playing a part in post-war Britain I think my Mother felt that he was enjoying himself too much, especially the splendid food he had on board. Rationing in England had only just finished in 1954.]

HMS Gambia off Malta - Tuesday night

Hello My Handsome,

Well we've had a long day today, on the go from half past seven this morning until half past ten tonight, with short dinner, tea and supper breaks. We've fired guns at ships and aircraft, tracked submarines and dropped depth charges, had a helicopter drop an officer on board, transferred stores from us to another ship across a rope, and back again, directed lots of aircraft and finished up with an encounter with the "Sheffield" after dark. I've been on the go all day, good clean fun for children though, even if lots of things don't work because the electrics or radar go wrong.

We've the rest of the week at this and then two more weeks, so I expect to be super fit or exhausted by the time we finish. We shall get some mail in the morning so I'm hoping to hear from you. I've just had a bath, it's quarter to twelve, and I must get up at 6.30 so I can't write very much I'm afraid. I love you and miss you when the day's work is over and bedtime draws near. I'll write you some more tomorrow.

Goodnight Honey xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wednesday Evening

Hello Sweetheart, another hard day behind us! My poor feet are burning. Luckily the weather has been bad today and we have been unable to carry out the after dark exercise, so we've packed up early (five to nine). Once again we've fired guns at aircraft towing targets and generally played around, very interesting really, if you like playing at war. I forgot to tell you before but we've got the Emperor of Ethiopia's grandson on board, he's a midshipman, and the story goes that when he's finished his training he will become the Admiral of Ethiopian Navy (four motor boats). They pull his leg a lot because he's so earnest; he's a pleasant lad though.

We might just as well have been in the English Channel today, grey skies, high wind, and heavy showers. I'm glad I'm not paying £200 for a luxury Mediterranean cruise in this weather. A certain amount of motion of course, but we're all used to that. We've anchored offshore, but it's too rough to lower any boats so there'll be no mail tonight, perhaps we'll be able to get some in the morning.

Incidentally I haven't the faintest notion of what is going on in the world, we have no papers of course, and we don't seem to get time to listen to the radio, it's nice to get away from the world. I was quite surprised to hear that Anthony Eden was Prime Minister. I'm going to bed early tonight for a change; I hope you're not sitting up all night dropping off by the fire all alone. I expect you're beginning to feel as though you're married to a convict. Don't tell anyone I'm away for twelve months, a year sounds so much better, Goodnight now dear, I must retire, I hope to have more interesting things to tell you about at the weekend. Love to the infants.

As ever, Your Own Ken. Xxxxxxxxxxxxx

P.S. I've ordered some photos of the ship entering Grand Harbour

["My handsome" is a Cornish greeting along with "Lover" which he uses later. Many years later my Father was very upset to read about the death of Haile Salassie's grandson in a political coup. In today's modern forces a posting away which lasts a year with no home leave is very rare. During the Falklands war my Mother who was in the Samaritans visited sailors wives on Portland to reassure them.]

Tranferring stores and personnel between ships using a jackstay has been done for cnturies. This is a ship of the Indian Navy practicising it on November 19, 2015. Photo: Indian Navy. Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5 IN HMS Sheffield during WWII. Imperial War Museums Fl1938 HMS Sheffield after repairs at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts in 1945. U.S. National Archives 7321567 HMS Sheffield anchored in the Canale di San Marco, Venice at the time of the International Film Festival in September 1955. The tower on the right of the ship is the Campanile of St Mark's, and on the left the domed Church of Salute Point (Church of La Lute) can be seen. Imperial War Museums A 33343

HMS Gambia at Marsaxlokk - Thursday, April 14

Hello My Love,

I've had two lovely letters from you today. I should have had one yesterday really, but the sea was too rough last night to send a boat in for the mail, it's a rugged life this sea-going!

Fancy you both doing so well at the fair! You had a bad day with the line breaking, (I wonder who'll pay for it? You stick out for old Timmin's to pay, after all the rent is pretty high). Poor old Andrew has had a rough time, all over his nice new push chair too. I don't think I could cope with sick children, seasickness is different altogether. I'm glad you're organised with the birth certificates now and the insurance policies, every little helps towards a new car. I'm glad Penny is organised with her picture shows. I think if she leads a more active outside the home she'll be easier to handle in it.

The "20" on my letters under the stamp is my mess number. You see, officers are looked after very well, and instead of having to lick their own stamps and stick them on, all we do is drop our letters in the wardroom letterbox, and the marine postman sticks the stamps on, and it is charged on our mess bills.

Grandma seems to be working the trick keeping Susan dry for a couple of nights, I expect she gives her a shake at half past ten and another at two in the morning. She'll be spoiled I expect down there, with full attention all day long. I think you've all had "Malvern stomach" you know. Home certainly does seem remote, we were all saying tonight in the mess what a different world we seem to be living in, and how long we seem to have been away, whereas in fact it's only a fortnight tomorrow, and a fortnight ago I was with you. I'm looking forward to getting these photographs, if I can't buy some frames I can get the chippy to make them on board I expect. The Mail Officer (the Lieutenant Royal Marines) says that you can get about 8 sheets of this thin paper in an envelope, all for 2 1/2d, so I shouldn't worry about getting your letters weighed.

We've had an easier day today, it has been too rough for our exercises and so after a certain amount of mucking about, including transferring stores and a midshipman from the "Sheffield" (another cruiser) to us and back again across a rope over mountainous seas with the two ships steaming side by side, we came in early this evening, and anchored at half past six. Jolly good really because it's washed out our night exercise for tonight. I've had a hectic day nevertheless because I had to defend one of my lads who got mixed up in a fight ashore with a Yank when we were at Gib. Although some of the charges against him were dismissed, some stuck and he will be going to Detention ashore for some time. So I'm one short now.

Tomorrow we go to sea for gunnery exercises, returning to Grand Harbour on completion for the weekend. Life is very pleasant really, although the days are long and arduous. I've taken quite well to this sea-going life, and I'm in a position to enjoy it much more now than if I'd come as a Subby or a Junior Lieutenant, I'll have to write a sheet for Penny and explain to her about the stamps. I meant to be in bed early but it's twenty past ten now, I don't seem to get much beauty sleep.

I'm going to a tour of Malta on Sunday afternoon. I believe I told you didn't I. Otherwise I'm going to have a quiet weekend. I've a lot of writing, I must for work of course. I've worn my new boots this evening for the first time, my marine spends so much time polishing them, and they're like mirrors, that I thought I ought to show them off, they're a beautiful fit "you know". Now my love I must leave you, and retire to my lonely bed, with love to the infants,

Your own "Daddy" xxxxxxx

[A Subby was a Sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy slang. We were renting a house at the time which was expensive, possibly to be nearer grandparents. At other times we were in married quarters. When my father was transferred to Portland he was offered the Captain's House with quite a few staff. My Mother was horrified at the thought and they bought a house on Portland, only the second they had ever owned as they had always been in naval accommodation. By the seventies everyone wanted to own their own house if they could. Illnesses were always a concern as Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever were still killers. Penicillin and early anti-biotics were still relatively new.]

HMS Gambia in Grand Harbour - Saturday night

Hello My Love,

It's twenty to eleven, but I must write to you to catch the early morning delivery. I've spent the last two and a half hours on the bridge working on a radar set, stupid really, I intended to go to bed early after a tiring day. We spent yesterday at sea of course, very pleasant, firing guns again, very dangerous, we were all wearing steel helmets in case the bits fell on us. At the end of the day we came back to Grand Harbour, and in the evening a small party of us went ashore to watch the locals.

It's funny, after a certain time the main street "Kingsway" is closed to cars, (it's only as wide as Peverell Terrace anyway) and gharris, and it's absolutely full of people just aimlessly walking up and down talking. I'm beginning to feel quite cosmopolitan shouldering my way along through a crowd all jabbering away in a lingo I don't understand. We went to the Union Club, an officers' club of which we are honorary members while we are in harbour.

Later on we walked along the "Gut" a very famous alley full of dives and honky tonks, but it was very quiet, no brawls or knife fighting, we were quite disappointed. Of course, footsore and hungry, we finished our evening with hot bacon and egg sandwiches on the waterfront. No prairie oysters though, once for experiment is quite enough.

It, been a busy day today, Captain's rounds followed by a visit from the local admiral, Flag Officer Second in Command Mediterranean. This afternoon I had a quick visit to the shops with the Padre, I only wanted to get some stamps for Penny (I'll enclose them in this letter) after which we went to Corradino, the other side of the harbour, to watch the ship's hockey team playing against the local Marine Commandos (we lost 3-0). It was very pleasant sitting in the warm sunshine watching others sweating. I did intend to go to bed early but they had some radar trouble so I joined in.

Tomorrow should be a restful day, there are no Divisions, and in the evening I'm going to visit the "Duchess" one of the new Daring class ships which is in harbour. I'll have to finish this, I'll put in a special card I got for you this afternoon. Goodnight Darling, I love you, as ever,

Your Own Ken xxxxx

[The card is of a lady in a swimming suit sunbathing on a dghaisa.]

HMS Duchess, a Daring class destroyer in November 1952. She was launched in 1951, transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1964, and broken up in 1980. Imperial War Museum A 32378 HMS Duchess, a Daring class destroyer in November 1952. She was launched in 1951, transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1964, and broken up in 1980. Imperial War Museum A 32379 HMS Duchess, a Daring class destroyer on January 19, 1953. She was launched in 1951, transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1964, and broken up in 1980. Imperial War Museum HU 129813

HMS Gambia at sea - Monday Midday

Hello My love,

This will have to be a quick letter to catch today's post. I haven't heard from you for a few days now, I hope nothing is wrong, maybe I shall get a couple of letters tonight when we anchor. I went on this tour yesterday, and intended to write you on return, but the bus broke down and I was late back, only having enough time to get ready for my trip to the "Duchess." So of course I then intended writing when I got back on board, but they didn't start their film until half past nine, and they only had one projector, so then there were delays between reels, and I didn't get back on board until twenty to one this morning, so of course, as I had to get up at 06.30 I had to postpone writing again. Nevertheless, I'll write you some more tonight. I'm enclosing a photo that was taken on Xmas day when the youngest boy was dressed in the Commander's Uniform (second from the left). The Commander produced it yesterday, I thought it had been lost, it's a poor photo anyway. Also there's a hanky made by the Nuns in the ancient city of Medina in Malta, the edging is Maltese lace. I saw where they make this yesterday, but I'll have to tell you more about it in my next letter. I hope everything is going well for you. I love you. Give my love to the infants, I hope they are all behaving. Cheerio for the time being.

Your Own Lover xxxxx

HMS Gambia at Marsaxlokk - Monday Evening, April 18

Hello My Love,

Well yesterday was a full day. I spent the morning working on a radar set, and finally got it going, when all looked black. In the afternoon two busloads of us set off at half past one, and went first to St. Anton Gardens near Rabat, where the Governor's Summer Palace is, where the Queen stayed when she was out here. The gardens were very pleasant, one of the few places out here where you can see trees, and there were groves there of lemon, orange and fig trees all with fruit on, turning yellow. The orange trees have quite a strong smell. Of course, there was brilliant warm sunshine and all the people were out in their best.

From there we went on to Medina, the ancient city of Malta which dates back thousands of years and where St. Paul came in his travels. We went around the cathedral there, which is very old, and has a painting in it done by Luke. The whole thing was very magnificent, very old. We walked around the old walls where the Phoenicians fought in several hundred BC, it's one of the highest points in Malta and you can see right across the island, a beautiful view. From there we went on to Mosta, which is only a small village but in the centre is an enormous cathedral which has a huge unsupported dome, second only to St. Pauls' Cathedral. It was very outlandish, RC of course, with bells ringing all the time, and priests chanting a never ending dirge (proper monastery music) and men and women coming and going all the time, praying all over the enormous circular floor . The women all wore enormous black frames over their heads draped in veils, which date back to about 1700 when they went into mourning because the French invaded the island. Some of them looked old and brown and wrinkled enough to have been there at the time. Having bribed a small boy he took us up winding dark steps past the bell ropes until we were on the roof (several hundred feet up) and we climbed up the outside until we were on a little platform (only half a dozen of us did, not both bus loads) right at the top, just like climbing up the Dome of St. Pauls in London until you get to the top. Some of them were terrified, and one took a photo of me coming down with the view behind me over the edge of the dome. I hope it comes out well.

Then we went around the coast (one bus broke down and delayed us for half an hour) and we got back to the ship at six 'clock. A very good tour for 2/-s a head, although of course tips to guides and small boys came to a little more. I reckon I've seen as much of Malta as I want to now. In the evening I went to the "Duchess" at the invitation of her Electrical Officer who used to be at Ariel in 1945. It's one of the new "Darling" Class ships, and of course is very modern compared with the Gambia. The film was "The Sea shall not have them," which wasn't very good, especially shown with breaks between the reels, what with the talking and waiting for a motor boat to come back it was twenty to one before I got back to my cabin. It was a pleasant evening though, it made a change.

Today we've been firing guns again, and this evening steamed alongside "Sheffield" while we rigged a hose across and pumped some fuel oil across to her for exercise. Very exciting. Up early again in the morning with a night exercise tomorrow. We're all fed up because there was there was no mail for the ship when we anchored tonight. Now my love I'm going to bed, so I'll kiss you goodnight.

Your Own Daddy xxxxx

[I think Father meant that there was a painting inspired by Luke's legend of having painted the Virgin Mary. HMS Ariel was a Royal Naval Aircraft Training Establishment.]

HMS Gambia outside Grand Harbour

Dear Mummy,

A bumper post today, the first mail we've had for a few days. Four letters for me, two from you, one from Penny and one from Troon. What a nice long letter Penny wrote, I've sent her a postcard for the time, and I'll write her a long letter at the weekend. I'm looking forward to getting your photos, we shall be here all next week, so maybe I'll get them before we leave. You've had some fun with the mice haven't you, I hope you catch them alright. Poor old Susan will be upset if hers is missing when she comes home. Incidentally, she drew lots of kisses on the back of Grandad's letter for me. I should think her blankets would stupefy anything.

Well, we've had a couple of full days (stayed at sea all last night shadowing the "Sheffield") and are now anchored outside the breakwater at Grand Harbour. Yesterday morning we were firing guns all the morning at aircraft towing sleeves and gliders, good fun, though tin helmets and the noise are a nuisance. In the afternoon "Sheffield" fired three torpedoes at us, set to run below us though, one of which was a "hit". After that we steamed side by side whilst we passed a hose across and pumped fuel oil across to her, first for exercise, and then in the night we did a dummy torpedo run on her and fired star shells to light her up. I was working until after 10 last night on the torpedo control panel which had to be stripped down and put together again. I'd just as soon spend the night at sea, it saves all the bother of anchoring and getting it up again the next morning, which means a lie in until 7 o'clock!

This morning we were attacked by several waves of aircraft from Hal Far. But had some fighters of our own to help us, and generally had a glorious muddle of friendly and enemy aircraft on the radar and of course practice for the guns! At the same time we pretended to be bombed, with imaginary flooding of certain sections of the ship, and rigging pumps and emergency supplies when the electric power failed. Another glorious confusion! This afternoon it was our turn to attack the "Sheffield" and fire a torpedo, after which we pretended to break down and she towed us for an hour. All good clean fun and games.

Tomorrow we fire our big guns at a target towed by a tug, and in the afternoon exercise with a crowd of aircraft from Hal Far. Of course I have a lot to do, but I'm learning new things all the time, and I really feel I belong to the Navy at last.

The Budget news (what little I've heard of it) seems favourable to us, maybe we'll have a new car one day. I'm fixing another bus tour for the lads for the weekend but I think I'll give it a miss, I've seen most of what there is to see now. I'm ready to move on! It's time to go to bed now, I'm always ready to get in, although I generally wake up at six o'clock. Goodnight then dear, I hope I dream of you. With love from Your Own,

Ken xxxxxx

PS I've got "Mother Kelly's Doorstep" on my brain tonight.

[RAF Hal Far airfield was the first permanent airfield to be built on Malta. My Father always kept a written break down of every budget up until his death.]

HMS Gambia in Grand Harbour Friday, April 22

Hello My Love,

Your last letter was very welcome. I'm glad you managed to go to church, it makes a pleasant change; if you get Penny well trained by the time I come home we'll be able to start a riotous night life at the old "Palais." I don't know about having our tribe christened, I shan't know the drill. You'll want us to get married next!

I hope you plucked up enough courage and bought your machine, if I were there I'd say yes. The Stores Trust that keeps cropping up in your statement is the payment on your radio, they won't stop until after January next year. As far as I remember it's about a guinea. A corporal marine puts the stamps on the letters, and if he's put them on x-wise it's his own idea, I haven't told him to.

Well, we had a rough day yesterday, so rough that the tug which was to have towed a new target for us to fire our big guns at couldn't come out, and we did some spasmodic firing at gliders towed by aircraft from the Hal Far. We did have one bright spot when a squadron of Seahawks from the "Centaur" came over and put on a session of formation acrobatics just for our benefit. It brought a breath of the new world to this old ship. Much as I enjoy sea-going there's no doubt it's not nearly as interesting and exciting as the air world. I expect after my year's cruise I shall be ready for another air appointment.

I think summer must be on the way to you, because the swallows have started flying back from N. Africa to Europe. We've had a lot resting on board, and yesterday evening we had six sleeping over a light in the wardroom. They seem very tame, and must have flown a long way because one passed out in the night. They've left us today.

The Captain has given a chap a week's leave when we get to Trincomalee to marry his maiden. He's very bucked about it. I hope they'll be happy together. The Captain's request men were very funny this morning, there were three of our Somalis up to ask if they could stay in the ship for the East African cruise. They can't speak English and the Chief Tindal (their bossman) was acting as interpreter. The Captain was speaking to him in pidgin English, and said "You tell him I decide in one month" and the Chief Tindal gabbled away, and this went on for some time, and eventually the Chief Tindal spoke rather sharply, there was no back answer, and he said "He understand Sir." Something similar followed for the other two, it was very funny.

When we were recovering our torpedo the other day, they'd just got it alongside with the whaler, when a shower of hot soapy water poured out through a hole over the boat, from the laundry. The Commander shouted to the Chief Tindal, "You tell laundry not pour hot water over side," and off he rushed to stop them. This pidgin English, with these black Somalis tickle me. I suppose I shall see a lot more of it in Aden, India and Africa.

I had the electrical officer of the "Duchess" over to lunch today for a change, in return for my visit to him last Sunday. We're having our Sports tomorrow and had the heats this afternoon. We went by boat and bus to Manoel Island, about 150 of us, and I was the judge for throwing events, discus, javelin and shot. It was fine although windy, and quite pleasant. It will pass tomorrow afternoon very pleasantly in the open air. We shall be leaving Malta a week tomorrow so I should start using envelopes with "AIR MAIL" on them now, and put 6p stamp on, otherwise I shan't get them. Same address of course. Incidentally, an officer got a letter this afternoon posted in Plymouth at 11.30 yesterday morning. That's jolly good going. Now my love I'll leave you. You are very clever and I wish I could be with you to show how clever you are. I love you.

Your Own Ken xxxxxxxxx

[Clearly Mother and Father had a radio on "hire purchase" which was relatively new then and frowned upon by some. I think my Mother was about to the same on a sewing machine. Father writes Tyndall but in the commission list there is only one with the Somalis called Tindal. My Father had a linguistic interest in Pidgin English which he had not heard used before.]

Sea Hawk fighter aircraft of 810 Squadron from HMS Bulwark flying past HMS Cheviot. Singapore, June 9, 1948. Imperial War Museum A A34043 Sea Hawk from 806 Squadron from HMS Eagle with hook down ready for landing. English Channel, February 1, 1954. This was the first time a squadron of Sea Hawks was afloat operationally. Imperial War Museum A 32828 HMS Centaur with HMS Albion astern on December 10, 1954 near Malta. These ships used the latest developments at the time such as angled flight decks and the mirror sight deck landing aid. Imperial War Museum A 33086 A jackstay transferring First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick McGrigor from HMS Centaur to HMS Daring in the Mediterrnean in March 1955. Imperial War Museum A 33134 HMS Centaur flagship of Rear Admiral A R Pedder, Flag Officer Aircraft Carriers, leaves Grand Harbour, Malta to take part in flying exercises in the Mediterranean. The ship's company are fallen in on the flight deck and Sea Hawk aircraft of Nos 806 and 803 Squadrons are aligned down the centre of the angled deck. May 1955. Imperial War Museum A 33181 Sea Hawk aircraft of Nos 803 and 806 Squadron simultaneously firing their starting cartridges on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Centaur during flying operations in the Mediterranean near Malta. May 1955. Imperial War Museum A 33182 A view of HMS Centaur from a landing Sea Hawk fighter. The plane was piloted by Lt. M. D. Bristow in January 1957. Imperial War Museum A 33681 HMS Centaur approaches Gibraltar in June 1961. She was commissioned on September 1, 1953 and decommissioned on August 11, !972. Imperial War Museum A 34458

HMS Gambia Grand Harbour - Sunday, April 24

Hello My Love,

I thought about you today when three other officers (including the Captain) said that their wives are going to have babies towards the end of the year, I think you are very clever not to! I'm a pig, I've just eaten three oranges. You see there is always fresh fruit on the table at breakfast, and I generally take an apple or an orange to eat later in the day. Well apples are easy to eat at any time but oranges are more difficult and I usually put them off until tonight I found I had three in my desk drawer, so I thought I'd eat them before they went soft. We had our own sports yesterday afternoon, and a good time was had by all. I was hoping my lads would win the Championship, but although we were in the lead most of the afternoon we were later pipped at the post by the Marines, so we didn't bring it off. Nevertheless, we gave them a good run for their money, and the Captain said how well they'd done. Incidentally, the Captain won the veteran's race, and when he was presenting the prizes, to his surprise he was presented with his by the youngest boy present, it was a good joke. The Commander has a good turn of speed too, he was third, and also sprawled full length on his face, ruining his flannels and removing lot of skin from his legs and elbows. I had a strenuous afternoon, I was judge of the field events, which kept me going throughout the afternoon. Incidentally it was a very rough day, and we had a very exciting trip around to the sports ground in a boat which did everything but turn over. All good fun.

It was a big day altogether, because the Governor's daughter married his A.D.C., a Naval Lieutenant, and it was also the feast of St. Publius, all the streets were decorated, and there were bonfires and fireworks after dark, and much bell-ringing of course. I went to bed early for a change, but started to read a thriller which I eventually had to finish, so I didn't benefit very much from my early night.

This morning we had Divisions, and the Captain said my tribe were the best turned out of the lot, after which there was a minor celebration in the wardroom for a Lieutenant whose promotion to a 21/2 came through today.

This afternoon four of us decided to have a quiet trip ashore to see the catacombs. We went by the local bus to Rabat, packed with the natives, and it was quite quaint. All the buses are single decker's, and very old, and have little shrines inside the front with a picture of a saint, with decorations around it, and a light burning under it. Bus rides are cheap, petrol is only 2/6p a gallon here. The catacombs are very old, and are large networks of caves carved out of the stone underground where the Phoenicians lived in 3000BC. The guide gives everyone a candle but I was smart and took a torch. The Phoenicians must have been very clever to have carved out a city underground, and the "houses" were quite interesting. The "beds" were holes about two feet deep, shaped rather like graves, complete with carved pillows with depressions to put their heads on, and there were several not only with head-holes for father and mother, but also extra bits chipped out, obviously as an addition, with smaller headrests for the baby. Very interesting, but I wouldn't like to stay down there for very long. Apparently they kept P.O.W.'s down there during the war, and there are recent carvings of faces on the walls which they did.

We came back to Valetta and had tea at the Phoenicia Hotel, and apparently and airliner had just arrived with officer's families and there were lots of excited wives and children there. And so quietly back to the ship by dghaisa.

Now I'm going to bath, and change and have supper and go to our cinema to see Bob Hope in "Casanova's Big Night" which should be screams of fun. I've come to the conclusion that after a hard week's work the answer is to have a relaxed weekend and enjoy whatever entertainment is available. It's surprising how much brighter I feel as soon as step ashore, and how much fresher after a good sightseeing walk. I suppose it's because we have to spend so much time below decks in a stuffy atmosphere. Now my love I'll leave you, I love you, kiss the infants for me and keep writing, it's nice to see the letters in my rack. Cheerio dear,

Your Own Ken xxxxxx

[St. Publius is a Maltese Saint]

Ta' Bista Catacombs and Roman baths at Triq Francesco Napuljun Tagliaferro in Mosta, Malta. August 30, 2014. Photo: Frank Vincentz. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Chapel of St Gregory, Zejtun, Malta. August 22, 2013. Photo: Reuv1. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

HMS "Gambia" at Marsaxlokk - Monday, April 25

Hello My Love,

I should get some envelopes like this if I were you, and don't forget a 6d stamp, and c/o G.P.O. London. Or you can send a Forces Letter thing with a 21/2d stamp, but of course you can't get so much writing on those. We've had good day today, in the morning was spent steaming along the "Fort Duquesne," a fleet auxiliary store ship, with ropes strung between us, transferring a lot of stores on board. It was done for exercise purposes, although we needed the stores anyway. It was very rough too, so it was quite an achievement.

I forgot to tell you, but three of the officers on board wear monocles, one of them because he's got a bad eye, but the other two because they're stupid and think it's clever. Well everyone has got sick of this, and one night about ten others made themselves monocles with torch glasses, and not only did they all wear them in the mess for dinner, but they wore them ashore afterwards, much to everyone's amusement. We also have a Sub Lieut. who wears one, and carries a snuff box, and wears a flowered waistcoat, has a Japanese girlfriend, and is himself a Buddhist! Curse this paper, there are bits in it which catch my pen!

Incidentally, one of the monocled goons even wore it while he was running in the sports. The period of Ramadan starts today, and all our black hands don't eat for a month between sunrise and sunset. In fact they are not allowed to eat or drink, or "enjoy married life." Of course it's OK after sunset, when they have a big feast which has to last 24 hours.

Two of my lads are in trouble, in this morning's storing a case of tins of beans was dropped and broken open, and they were found eating a tin of them for supper tonight. Very natural really, because there was something wrong with the food yesterday and most of the troops have been on the run through last night and today. The wardroom food was OK. Bob Hope was funny last night as Casanova, I had a jolly good laugh (with no-one to restrain me either). I had a photo taken today, by the ship's photographer, leaning idly on the rail watching the sea go bye, so if it's a success I'll send you some.

We push off at 7.15 in the morning, much too early, I think I'll have to have breakfast after we set off. We have a big gun firing session tomorrow afternoon too, and a night exercise, which is why I'm writing now, I don't expect to have time tomorrow. I'm going to sort out some more of my whites now to send to the laundry tomorrow and get them shrunk a bit, because we shall start wearing them next week, it will be very hot through the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea. Maybe I'll see camels and a couple of Sheiks. I hope you are well, and that the infants are OK. I love you, and now I must leave you,

Your Own Ken xxxxxxx

Fort Duquesne, an air stores ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. She was launched on September 8, 1944 and was decommissioned in April 1967. Imperial War Museum FL 13201

HMS Gambia at Sea - Wednesday Night, April 27

Hello My Sweet,

We're spending the night at sea because it's too rough to anchor in our usual spot, which means there'll be no mail tonight. Nevertheless, I had a long letter from you last night. I'm glad Susan has settled down easily, it's funny she asked for me, I suppose you'll have your usual chaos of toys about the place again now. I expect Andrew does look like a boy now his hair has been cut. He'd have looked OK with plaits! You haven't said whether you've got your sewing machine yet, the windfall from the electricity meters would have helped you towards it. It's good really, those meters, it's a form of saving. Incidentally, what arrangements have been made about paying for the new clothes post? I'll be glad to have your photo for my birthday, of course I'd rather have you, you know! Incidentally, I forgot to number my last two letters, very forgetful of me, I hope you didn't get them mixed up.

We've been tearing madly around the ocean these last two days, firing off our guns furiously in all directions. Thy used to make me jump a few weeks ago when they first fired, but I'm impervious to it now. It's quite interesting at night, tearing along in the dark, no lights of any sort on, with the wind whistling past, and then the flash and bang of the guns, with star shells lighting up the sky to illuminate the target. And the cordite smell of course. I have quite a lot to do with the gunnery because it's all electrically controlled, sighted and fired, and it's my particular pigeon, and of course it's more interesting than anything else.

I've started to read "1984" at last, and it's a fascinating book, I'll be glad when I've finished it. Well tomorrow afternoon will see the end of our work-up, we'll be in Grand Harbour all day Friday, storing ship, and on Saturday morning push on for Suez. I'll try and get off a big letter to you on Friday, because it will be several days before we can send the next mail ashore, my letters will be at sporadic intervals once we leave Malta. Goodnight now my love, I lve you and hope the time passes quickly,

Your Own Ken xxxxxxxxx

HMS Gambia - In Grand Harbour - Thursday, April 28

Hello My Love,

This is a brief letter, just to send you the enclosed photos of "me on my ship." It was taken early in the week, on the only fine day we've had this week, and of course the sun is a bit bright for me. I could look a lot smarter too, that' my "working" suit and cap, it was taken by the Shop's photographer with no warning, so I just stood by the rail while he did it. It's taken on the deck above the wardroom looking aft over the quarter deck towards the ensign (flag) on the stern. Note the sailor in the background, stripped to the waist scrubbing the deck on his knees, with his head out through the rails (perhaps he's being sick!)

There's one for you, one for Susan and one for Penny, so you'd better visit Woolworths and get some frames before you give them to 'em or they'll be chewed up. It was rough this morning, and pouring with rain, so we had to give up our exercises and come into harbour early. I've just been ashore to buy some airmail envelopes and a couple of Penguins, and now I'm bathed and about to dress, go to diner, and early to bed. They came along and dragged me out at quarter past one this morning to go and visit some damage done when the engineers had a steam blow out. I was fast asleep too, wondered what on earth was happening. Now my love, I'll have to leave you, and write again tomorrow. Kiss the infants for me, I love you,

Ken xxxxxxxx

HMS Gambia Grand Harbour - Friday, April 29

Hello My Love,

I've been feeling rather important most of the day, especially after reading your letter about poor old Susan. I'm sorry she's missing me, I'll put a page in for her when I've finished this. As you say she's Daddy's girl! Next to you of course. You're Daddy's girl really. It's been hot and sticky today, I've really felt depressed. However, things have bucked up this evening, and now (at a quarter to one in the morning) I'm feeling much better. We've had a cocktail party this evening as we're leaving, and I invited 4 guests on board, two officers from the "Duchess" and Lt. Bryson and his wife from the "Agincourt."

He used to be at Ariel and Culdrose. Afterwards they invited me back to their flat for supper and they really are well organised. They have a 13 month old girl, who was at home with their Maltese maid, and their flat is very nice! There's a lot to be said for having your family out here, life can be quite comfortable abroad. They also have a Morris 8 (new) in which he brought me back to the waterfront afterwards. I must say the evening in "home" surroundings has cheered me up no end. I'm planning ahead now for when we can live in style abroad.

We leave here in about six hours' time (I'll have to go to bed soon), and we steam steadily on arriving at Aden a week on Sunday (where we may get some mail) and at Trincomalee in Ceylon, on the 17th May, quite a long time off. I'm afraid mail will be very spasmodic from now on, but you'll get a lot of letters at once when it does come.

We're looking forward to sunny skies now and expect to go into tropical rig on Tuesday, when we start going through the Suez Canal. I'm sorry Susan doesn't approve of the number of kisses I send you, but of course I'll make up for it when I get back. Goodnight my love,

Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx

HMS Gambia at Sea - Saturday, April 30

Hello My Love,

We're on our way again. It's been a lovely day today. It started with a moment of panic when I woke up in brilliant sunshine and thought that the ship was moving. I thought it had started and that I wasn't at my station, however a quick glance at my watch and I found it was six o'clock and I could lie for another half an hour. The morning soon went, and we've had a glorious afternoon's sunbathing on the quarterdeck. I took my deckchair up to start with, but I felt so sleepy that I came down and took my camp bed and pillow up there, and in shorts, sandals and sunglasses, lay out and rested. Of course you've got a very red-bodied husband, and my poor old tum and chest and arms are burning. I'll have to lie on my front and cook the back tomorrow if it's fine.

You know I'd much rather be going somewhere definite like this than just crawling aimlessly up and down exercising. We've been paid today, I'm glad to say, they gave me 260 rupees; I feel so stupid with this queer money. I shall never know what I've got. I think the answer is to economise and not spend any then I shan't have any trouble deciding what I've got. They also dished out Income Tax forms to fill in, I don't think I'll join that, the subscriptions are too great.

I've just had a bath and I'm sitting in pants only, trying to let my poor torso cool down. I shall have to go up to dinner next and after that I'm going to bed early.

HMS Agincourt was a Battle class fleet destroyer launched on January 29, 1945. In 1959, as seen here, she was refitted and rearmed as radar picket ship. She was decommissioned in 1972. Imperial War Museum FL 263 HMS Agincourt seen here in July 1962, was a Battle class fleet destroyer launched on January 29, 1945. In 1959, she was refitted and rearmed as radar picket ship. She was decommissioned in 1972. Imperial War Museum HU 129667

Ken Lobb: Introduction | April 1955 | May 1955 | June 1955 | July 1955 | August 1955 | September 1955 | October 1955


Sources

Dave Axford's Commision Book for 1955 - 1956