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Cruising around the West Indies


My worst night in the Navy
John Julius Norwich Writer
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The voyage itself was lovely; it took about 15 or 16 days. We were about 30 ships, the whole of the Home Fleet, and the idea was that we were all going to go to the West Indies and then, of course, we were going to split up and we'd all visit different islands. So, every island gets a visit from somebody. And once it got warm enough, every afternoon at half-past-four, the whole Home Fleet stopped in mid-Atlantic for swimming. So, that was absolutely wonderful. I mean, diving into water five miles deep, you know, is a most wonderful feeling. And I looked forward to that all day long, I remember. It was a wonderful half hour, diving into this really, really deep and totally clean, clear water. It was wonderful.

And so then we arrived in Trinidad at sort of 8 o'clock, I suppose, one morning. It was looking marvellously exotic, you know, and then the whole of the next time, the next whatever it was, two, three weeks in the West Indies, really was an absolute joy to me. I mean, we moved every couple of days to a different little island, you know, and the only really bad time that I remember, and it was a nightmare, was the first night, because everybody had gone ashore and we had about 60 boy seaman on board who were 16, 17 and had never been abroad before and had never really drunk anything much before; they weren't allowed into pubs in England.

And then, of course, the moment you get, rum is tuppence a shot or probably rather less, and the girls are roughly the same price, and it was a sort of... that first night was an absolute orgy, and you know, rum was being poured, well, you never even had to pay the tuppence, rum was being poured down your throat all the time by everybody, and there was this awful moment around 11 o'clock at night where one was faced with perhaps a hundred completely senseless bodies, drenched in sick, which you had to search for their... to find their pay books, they all had to carry them, to find out what their name was and what ship they were on and then somehow, there were all these liberty boats going back to the various ships, somehow get them on the right one. And it went on until about 3 o'clock in the morning, it was an absolute nightmare. You know, I mean, the smell and the, oh God, it was awful. Anyway, that was my worst night in the Navy. I never had anything like as bad as that again to deal with. Everybody, I think, had learned a little bit of a lesson after that night.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: West Indies, Trinidad

Duration: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018