Ken Lobb: Introduction | April 1955 | May 1955 | June 1955 | July 1955 | August 1955 | September 1955 | October 1955 | November 1955 | December 1955 | January 1956 | February 1956

Ken Lobb - The Letters (11) - February 1956

At Sea in the Indian Ocean - Sunday, February 5

Hello My Lover,

I feel super fit this evening, I’m burning all over from lying in the sun this afternoon, and my face looks quite comical with two lighter patches around my eyes where my sunglasses have been. We’re having quite an uneventful passage really, it’s been dull and rainy for the first 4 days, although it brightened up yesterday afternoon and this afternoon. I’ve lain out on deck in my camp bed both afternoons, very pleasant, just like it was in the middle of last year before we got into those hectic flag-showing trips. There’s been a heavy swell all the time, my cabin scuttle has been shut tight since Tuesday, and there’s such a roll on the ship all the time that my view is frequently through the sea! I like it like this, better than a flat calm, although one or two have been suffering. I expect we shall get a severe go in the Bay of Biscay in three weeks’ time!

There are plenty of flying fish about still, and we have a parrot up the mast that has escaped from one of the sailor’s cages. We passed the "Narvik" the other evening, the special ship that’s taking men and material for a new atom bomb test in Australia. It was in the middle of the night, but I didn’t get up to see. I’ve been having a busy time really, writing reports most of the working day, and two hours instruction for the lads each evening, but luckily we’re making time this trip, we’ve already put the clocks back 2 ½ hours, we’re only 2 hours different from you now. Aden on Tuesday morning, for a couple of days only, the last look round the bazaars of the mysterious east! Ha-ha, it’s going to be quite a change to do my shopping in Woolworth’s again. Remind me to take you out to lunch there one day!

Of course our formal state visit to Abyssinia will be quite an event, we get there next Saturday morning, and in the evening there’s a reception for the Officers in the palace at Massawa, then on Saturday and Sunday there are functions at Asmara, about 75 miles inland, 6 or 7,000 ft up in the mountains in wonderful country apparently. I’m going up to Asmara on the Sunday, staying the night there and coming back to the ship on the Monday (lucky again!) I’m quite looking forward to it, it’s most unusual to go into Abyssinia.

Then we leave on the Tuesday, up the Red Sea, much cooler now than when we came out, we hope, the Suez, and eventually Malta for two days. And then nonstop home arriving in the Sound at half past seven on Wednesday evening the 29th of this month. There will be no leave that night, the Customs will be clearing us, to come up harbour into the Dockyard the following morning. Then there’ll be a scramble! I’ll write the final plans from Malta of course although I expect our return will be in all the papers, and on the radio and TV (ha-ha!) the crack cruiser coming home from a triumphant commission! I hope you don’t get trampled on by all the autograph hunters I’m expecting.

I see from the news bulletins that you’ve been having some cold weather, it’s funny when we’re in the 90’s to think that in a few weeks’ time we’ll probably be in the 30’s. You’ll have to keep me warm.

I think Aden will definitely be my last shopping expedition, I’m prepared to spend up to £10 there I think, if I see anything interesting, though I don’t want to pay customs duty on arrival home. Cheerio now my love, I love you, kiss the infants for me,

You ever-loving Ken xxxxxxxx

At Sea - Thursday, February 9

Hello My Lover,

The last few days have seemed absolute turmoil! I’d been so looking forward to getting to Aden, to see the "shops", and yet everything seemed to go wrong there. In the first place although we got there at seven on Tuesday morning, we first of all went to a fuelling berth and then had to shift to our proper birth after tea, so I was tied to the ship all day, and didn’t get ashore until the evening. Then I thought it was too late to go shopping, it was dark anyway, and went and sat in the Officers Club, by the beach where we swam last year. Very pleasant; you may remember I said at the time that the shark net around the beach wasn’t complete. Well it is now! A Squadron Leader’s wife was taken by a shark there a few months ago and killed. I did hear about it when we were up the Gulf and may have told you then. Of course, they’re very wary at Aden now. We left Aden on Wednesday after tea, but even then I only managed to get ashore from 10-12 that day (in the morning), Schoolie and I booked a car that had been put at the officers disposal (free!) and drove out to Crater, a smaller village up over the escarpment, where there is quite an active bazaar. But that left us little time really, and I came back to the ship with a feeling of frustration. Well that’s the last Eastern Bazaar I shall be visiting anyway. One good thing about Aden, I had two letters from you, you are having a cold time. What am I going to do in March! Snuggle closer I suppose.

We’re having a quiet passage to Massawa, warm sunshine, and a following wind and sea, we don’t seem to be moving, and there have been little rocky islands around us this morning, and the mountainous coast of N. Africa is looming up in the haze, very pleasant. I expect I’ll have a lot to tell you after the Massawa visit, mixing with emperors, princes, princesses and things, a fitting end to the whole commission really.

No, not really – the best fitting end will come in Plymouth. I’ve enclosed a hastily made Valentine, I couldn’t get one in Aden, I hope you take it to heart. Love to the kids, I know one little girl that’s going to be thrilled, Cheerio dear,

I love you, your ever-yearning Ken xxxxxx

Massawa - Saturday Evening

Hello My Lover,

What an exciting life! We came in here yesterday morning, and we seem to have been here ages already. What a ceremonial morning it was, visits from the Ambassador, The Prince, the Princesses, and various other dignitaries, and much firing off gun salutes, all very impressive, and hot too. Thank goodness this is their cold season, it must be unbearable here in the summer, the temperature goes up to 125 degrees!

In the afternoon Schoolie and I and the doctor went for a sightseeing stroll, but it’s quite small, and there’s not a lot to see’ It’s a peculiar place. It’s Eritrea here really, which was an Italian colony before the war, and there is a strong Italian influence still here. There are only two Englishmen living in Massawa, and just a handful of German, Dutch and Norwegians who run some of the commercial firms and instruct in the Ethiopian Naval School just starting up here. All the natives speak Italian and very few speak English. I took the others by surprise by rattling off at them in Italian, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, because everything is written up in Italian, the names of the streets, notices and things in the shops. I had some idea that there might be some Italian areas from what I was told in Trinco so I had some Italian ready, having practised beforehand on the voyage. I mustn’t give all my trade secrets away though; there’s no doubt that all the time I’ve spent on language study in the past, and during this last year, gives me a great advantage and pleasure. They all think I’m very clever.

Yesterday evening was the great event, the reception at the Imperial Palace given by His Excellency the Governor of Eritrea) and Her Royal Highness Princess Haile Selassie (the Emperor’s daughter, and our Midshipman Desta’s mother). It was all very magnificent and formal, and many of the white people had come down from Asmara (70) miles away for the big event. After the formal reception there was a magnificent supper served on the flat roof of the Palace, followed by dancing to an Italian band. It was a mixed gathering, Italians, Norwegians, English, along with crinkly haired Abyssinians, and even Yugoslav Naval Officers (who run the Royal Yacht which was a present from Marshall Tito). The Norwegians are very charming people nice, fair, upright men and women who stand out among the crowd. The party broke up about half past twelve, and it really was one of the best we’ve attended. Today at lunchtime Schoolie and I had invited three of the Norwegians and their wives on board for a drink and a walk around the upper deck to see the ship, and they were quite thrilled to see it (it’s funny how much more attractive the ship seems to me now too, now that we’re getting very close to the end of our cruise).

After lunch we (Schoolie and I) relived some of our experiences of the past year by having a short film show of the movies he’s taken in Africa, up the Gulf and elsewhere, and it worries me the amount I’ve nearly forgotten! The films are wonderful, all in glorious technicolour, and it’s funny how it brings it all back, because I forget the marvellous colours of everything, I only seem to remember in black and white. There’ one wonderful sequence with me walking along a beautiful palm fringed beach in Zanzibar into the rich red setting sun, and the animal shots taken in the African wilds brought it all back with a rush. I wish we had plenty of money so that I could have made more colour films. It’s cost him about £100, and if the Customs catch up with him, he’ll have another £80 or so to pay when we get home. It’s a very expensive game.

This evening we went into the Arab bazaar here for an hour or so, quite another world, we might have been back up the Persian Gulf (no guns here though, they’re very peaceable), and now I’ve just packed my bag for the trip to Asmara tomorrow. We start at seven, it’s a four hour rail journey, and is 8,000 ft up in the mountains, and we’re promised a wonderful view all the way, and it will be cold up there, fires and four blankets at night, frost in the mornings. We stay the night there and come back on Monday. It should be good fun.

Well Honey, I hope it’s warmer for you now, by the time you get this I shall be in the Med (only 2 ½ d stamps required on your airmail letters now) and the end really will be in sight. Give my love to the kids, keep some for yourself, I love you,

As ever, Your Own Ken xxxxx

Massawa - Monday, February 13

Hello My Lover,

A letter from you today, I hope Penny’s foot is nothing serious, probably a bad sprain, I wonder what she was dreaming about when she fell out of bed. It’s a good thing the cold weather is over. Will Susan be back by the time I get home?

Well, what a crowded two days I’ve had. We set off yesterday morning at seven in a diesel rail car (littorinos they call them here) and the journey was supposed to take four hours. It’s a single track railway all the way except at stations where the track is looped to let up and down trains pass each other. The stations incidentally are just shacks at the side of the rails, and there are no roads in this wilderness, except the one to Asmara, the others are just dirt tracks. Well, about ¾ of the way up another littorino had come off the track and nothing could pass, and consequently we were stuck and didn’t get to Asmara until 3 o’clock. We were quite hot, cross and hungry by then, and had nothing since breakfast at 6.30.

We wouldn’t have got up so quickly then if they hadn’t sent cars down by road from Asmara to the nearest station, and we did the rest of the journey by road, jolly good, I went up in the Consul General’s car! The journey otherwise was interesting though, very rough country, Zig zag up the mountains, a marvellous engineering feat both road and railway, there are 1,500 hair pin bends in the road where it zig zags all the way. I saw gazelles, weaver birds, guinea fowl, camels, goats by the thousand, plenty of cacti, wonderful really.

In my last letter I said I thought the people looked peace like (no guns), but apparently I’m wrong, they do have bandits (or Shifta) here who ambush the cars on the road by putting boulders across the road and then with guns and knives, strip everything from the people in the cars. This happens frequently, the last time week before last, when four were caught and hanged straight away. They’ve had army patrols out to clear the place up for us, but nevertheless some of our sailors who went up by lorry had armed guards, and they had them in the littorino. We were very vulnerable actually at the place where the thing came off the line, because we were sitting there for two hours on the side of a mountain. Still they haven’t worried us, though I was at dinner last night with a chap who’s been ambushed in his car, and robbed. Most interesting. Asmara is a nice clean town with wide roads and modern type shops. All is Italian, built by the Italians between the wars, and most people speak Italian. I had a good time acting as interpreter, very good practice too, now they all come to me to deal with the natives.

I had a conducted tour of the town, especially the native quarter, and in the evening there was a party at the British Club, after which I went to dinner with a party of locals from the Consulate, one of them an Indian woman and we had Italian food at a hotel at two o’clock. Up at six this morning for the return trip which was just as good, we started well above the clouds, with the peaks sticking up through them, and then came down through two quite separate layers of clouds, until we came into light rain underneath. Brilliant sunshine up above us. I wasn’t going to be caught hungry today, in case of a breakdown, so at one of the early halts, I got out and bargained with the natives for 10 hard boiled eggs and a bunch of bananas. So about ten o’clock Schoolie and I had a snack, but of course we didn’t break down, and got back to Massawa at midday. Schoolie and I didn’t go back to the ship, I got the driver to stop the railcar at the nearest point to the outskirts so that we could go to the house of some Norwegians who’d asked us to lunch.

It was a very good meal too, we had meat and cauliflower cooked Norwegian style, and it was very pleasant. They haven’t been out here very long (from Oslo) and haven’t been speaking English very much, and she’s now trying to learn Italian for the first time. Instead of having a record player, they have got a tape-recorder, and record from the radio anything they like, and then play it back when they feel like it, and each tape runs for two hours. Very interesting, the things we see on our travels. This evening we give our farewell party here, and tomorrow morning early we leave. It’s been a very interesting trip here, and a fitting end to the Commission. I’m putting in some stamps for Penny, these will be the last now. It’s only 16 days now, I really can’t believe it, but I expect I shan’t be in a dream when it does come. Cheerio dear, I love you.

Your Own Ken xxxxxx

In the Suez Canal - Friday, February 16

Hello My Lover,

Brilliant sun, sand and scrub out through my scuttle now. We reach Port Said tonight, which means we’ll soon be home. The Captain has approved for me to have at least a week’s leave when we get to Plymouth, probably starting the Monday after we get in, so the ship will sail up to Rosyth without me and I’ll join her later by train. I’m glad really because if I don’t have a few days then it may be a long time before I get any.

My last evening in Massawa was quite pleasant, after our reception on board, I went ashore with some of the locals to an Italian restaurant and had some more Italian food, quite pleasant. The sailors had a drunken fighting time there though, the worst of anywhere during the last year. Over 70 were in trouble as a result, and one of them was so beaten up ashore that I couldn’t recognise him! I think it’s a bad place for the lads though, there’s no amusement (except the brothels at two dollars each) and only a lot of waterfront taverns and hardly any English is spoken there.

It’s much cooler now, in fact it’s back into blue uniforms today, except for me, I’m in bed! I developed a terrible sore throat, and lost my voice on Wednesday evening, and yesterday morning It was really raw, and I had a splitting headache, and thee shivers, and my legs were shaky, but I held out until eleven o’clock when I saw the doctor, and he took my temperature, which was enormous, and made me go straight to bed. You know I slept then for practically 2 ½ hours, they woke me up at seven last night to take my temperature and feed me, and I slept again then till breakfast this morning, and I even went to sleep after that! I feel much better now, and will get up in the morning. He said it was some throat infection.

Well my love I haven’t much else to tell you, I’m writing now because I expect it will be sent off at Port Said tonight; it won’t be long now. Cheerio now dear, give my love to the kids, as ever, your Own ever-loving,

Ken xxxxxx

At Sea, In the Med. - Saturday, February 18

Hello My Lover,

The mail at Port Said last night brought me your Valentine and a letter brought to my cabin by the doctor too, you see how he looks after his patients! Thank you for the Valentine, the same girl on the front as last year too, very clever. Well I’ve been up all day today, feeling very shaky on my legs though and not at all my usual self, it must have been something very virulent that hit me. I’ve felt like getting into bed again this afternoon, it’s dull and cold here, but I’ve fought against it and turned all my clothes out, throwing away a lot of junk I’ll never wear again, and getting out my winter clothes and packing away my tropical kit, and doing some washing. I wonder when I shall need all this tropical kit again, not for years I expect. It all seem a dream now too, and the next ten days or so seem endless, I wish we were back In Plymouth, these last few days will seem the longest, it’s so cold and miserable on board too. Still two days at Malta will be a break, although we don’t get there until Thursday evening. We’re ahead of time as usual, instead of dashing on and getting there on Monday, we stopped for two hours this morning, and now we’re just rolling along killing time.

I hope all your cold weather is over by the time I get back, otherwise you’re going to have a job keeping me warm at nights. Fancy selling all your baby clothes, oh well I don’t suppose we’ll need them again. I shall have to wrap all your letters up with a heavy weight and consign them to the bottom of the sea soon. I can’t have them being washed up all around the Med. I’ve written to G&G the last chapters of my thrilling adventures, I can see I’ll have to have a long session with you all, showing you my photos, and explaining all about it. Never mind it will be a good way of passing the long cold winter nights. Is Penny old enough to babysit yet. I’m hoping to be able to sneak off alone soon!

Sunday Evening

Hello My Lover,

I’m feeling much better today, not myself yet, too much snuffling and coughing, but I’m on the mend, I shall be fit to go ashore in Malta anyway. The clocks have just gone back another hour, only one hour different from you now, it won’t be long. Time is hanging heavily today, I can’t seem to settle down to do anything somehow, I don’t feel a bit like work, and I don’t feel like reading or anything. I tried sitting on deck this afternoon in my windcheater, but gave up, the wind was too cold, everyone else gave up too!

I think we are all beginning to miss the advantages of the tropics too, no pineapples, bananas or other fancy fruits, I reckon ship life is bad enough abroad but shocking in home waters. They’re all talking about the big pay rise that’s going to be announced on Tuesday, I see they’re having to put up bread and milk to do it though. It will be nice to drink fresh milk again! Well we’ve passed Cyprus without being diverted, so maybe we’ll be OK after all.

Monday Evening

Hello My Lover,

We’re all discussing the new pay rises now, some are jolly good, of course I’m in-between and don’t get as much as some, but on paper I should get £18 a month rise, although I expect at least half of that will go in increased income tax; still it sounds good, another £220 a year, or 4 guineas a week. I expect it will all go, though it usually manages to. It’s been a nice fresh (duffle coats on the bridge!) sunny day, with a gentle rolling motion, I’m looking forward to getting to Malta in the morning though, and seeing some civilisation. I’m much better today, still a bit hoarse though. There are an awful lot of people on board with colds, can’t expect anything other I suppose.

We had a meeting on our programme for the month of March this morning, it’s just possible that the officers (some at any rate) may be allowed ashore for a while on the Wednesday evening, I hope so, then I’ll be able to surprise you. They’re having the last ounce of blood from the lads though, they’ve got to wash the ship’s side by floodlight that night so that we look smart to come in on Thursday!

Now my handsome I must leave you, so that this goes out first thing in the morning, yearning as ever,

Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx

PS Love to the Kids

HMS Gambia at Malta - Wednesday, February 22

Hello My Lover,

This will be the last letter I’m writing glad to say! The nearer we’re getting the more excited I’m becoming, it’s quite overwhelming. We seem to be mismanaging things a bit, we’re intended to come alongside in the Dockyard at quarter past eight in the morning, which I think is far too early, especially for the children, Now look, if it’s snowing, raining, or otherwise unpleasant and too early’, please don’t come down to the Dockside, because it will be a shocking trial for you and an awful strain for the tribe. If you do come I suggest you arrange a taxi the day before to pick you up and take you down (*insist that it takes you right onto the jetty, and sit and wait in it) it would be far easier , and now we’re going to get a rise we can probably afford a taxi (ha ha!).

I shall be free for the rest of that day so we’ll all be able to go home together afterwards. If you’re not there I shall understand, and of course come to you post-haste at the first opportunity. So that’s settled. Incidentally, our pensions have been increased too, very substantially, and our gratuity of £1000 on retiring has gone up to £1,875 for LtCdr’s and £2,400 (I think) for Commanders, so it looks as though we’re going to have a comfortable old age.

Well last night Schoolie and I had our last run ashore in a foreign port, it was jolly cold too, the temperature dropped to 40 degrees, so I think I shall be used to the cold by the time we get back. Valetta looks shocking when it’s cold and the sun isn’t shining, we were only saying last night, that it’s so different from last year, when everything seemed novel to us, now we’re so experienced (ha ha) in tropical parts that this place seems terribly dull and ordinary.

We looked around Valetta and then went over to Sliema, which was equally dull, and went to the cinema to see an Italian film (also very dull), and then had some supper in a restaurant where we met up with some more of our officers, and eventually came back to the ship by gharri, a sort of horse-drawn cart, very chilly. So there we are, we’re shaking the dust of the foreign places from our shoes now, and the sooner we get to Plymouth the better.

I had a letter from you yesterday written on the 15th, there’s been no mail today so I expect if you’ve written since then I shall get it at Devonport, very silly really, but I expect the bad weather has delayed the mail. I had a surprise yesterday, Captain Tyndale Biscoe came on board, and made a point of asking for me. He’s out here now with his family, and said he had a party the other day attended by 10 people from Anthorn, a whole lot came out here. Funny isn’t it. I’m glad I didn’t come here, I’ve had a much more interesting year. We met some officers last night who were here when we passed through last year, and they asked us what we’ve been doing, and were absolutely green with envy when they heard of all the places we’ve been to. So there we are, I’ve nothing more to say, except you should us the gangway nearest the blunt end of the ship, although I expect to be there to look after you, and will watch out. Cheerio my love until next week, I’m eaten up with impatience, love to the kids, and most of all love to you,

Your Ever-loving Ken xxxxxxxxx

Ken Lobb: Introduction | April 1955 | May 1955 | June 1955 | July 1955 | August 1955 | September 1955 | October 1955 | November 1955 | December 1955 | January 1956 | February 1956