Articles

A Sunset Banyan

In the previous NOC Newsletter there was a picture of the Stores Basin in the Naval Dockyard in Sembawang, Singapore, in the heyday of naval operations in the Far East – crowded with destroyers and frigates.
I was MEO of HMAS Duchess in 1972 and we were secured alongside in the Stores Basin in Singapore when it was similarly busy. We decided to hold an Engineering Departmental banyan on Seletar Island that Saturday afternoon. Seletar Island was an uninhabited island in Johore Strait a few kilometres east of the Naval Base, near RAF Seletar Base – a strip of sand with a few palm trees and a couple of basic structures.
We successfully ferried all the troops, victuals and BBQ using the ship’s tinny to the island. It was a pleasant afternoon and as evening approached we started ferrying people and goods back. On the second last trip the Chief Tiff took charge saying he would return for us in a few minutes. There were about four of us who could not fit into the previous trip.
We waited, and waited and waited!
Finally, we hailed a passing canoe – one of those with a powerful engine on one end of a long boom balanced by the propeller on the other. We sped off towards the Naval Base and soon, silhouetted by the setting sun we spied our tinny. Ahead of it was a small blob in the water. As we drew closer we were able to discern the head of our Chief Tiff, swimming towards shore with the boat’s painter in his mouth. We pulled alongside, all piled in and found out that the outboard had jumped off the transom. It was too heavy for him to recover. We pulled up the floor boards and started paddling for home.
As we entered the Stores Basin “Sunset” was piped! It seemed as if the eyes of every ship’s OOD and Bosun’s Mate were fixed on us (they probably were) and we had nowhere to hide. So ended the Banyan.
Tom de Voil
Nicholson VIC