My departure from Frobisher in July 1966 was on a NordAir DC4 with snow falling and the temperature was just below freezing. After a month’s leave with my family it was off, I believe on a Sunday, to Bermuda on, I think, a Trans Canada Airways (TCA) Vickers V952 Vanguard. When we landed I can still remember the pilot giving the weather, sunny and air temperature 94ºF, humidity 94% and sea temperature 94ºF. Although the weather at home was good this was just a slight difference than when I left Frobisher.
Getting to the base was a little difficult because the taxi driver did not know were it was! He first took me to the U.S. Navy Base (NOB) and luckily the guard at the gate knew where to go. Of course the only information I was given was report in on a certain date, no address or instructions on how to get there. So that day two of us learned that the station was at Daniel’s Head - the opposite end of the island to the airport.
The taxi dropped me at the combined All Ranks Mess and Cafeteria where I was welcomed at the bar. One of the other lads took me to the Single Quarter’s Barracks and stuck me in a room. Then it was back to the mess for a cold one.
The next day, being Monday, I did my official check-in with the cox’n CPO1 Charles Tupper who happened to have been my Divisional Officer during my trade group 1 course at HMCS Gloucester and also the cox’n during my time in Frobisher. After checking me in and putting me down for “Manual Party” which, as the name implies, was manual working around the station. This was a routine that all new junior ranks went through for about a month before going on shift. He then got in touch with another lad on manual party and instructed him to; “take Neelin to Triminghams and get him a uniform.” Triminghams turned out to be an up-market clothing store where I purchased two pairs of Bermuda shorts, one navy blue, the other black, a couple of pairs of knee high black socks. It was then off to NOB to get a pair of Corefam (patent leather) never need to shine shoes. That was our uniform; manual party-our dungaree work shirt, civilian-Bermuda shorts, knee socks and Corefam shoes. Once on shift it was our Navy gun shirt and the civilian shorts/socks and shoes.
At that time there were only 35 of us on the station. I think it was twelve single men, including both cooks and a P1 supply type who lived “on board”. The remainder were married men who lived “ashore” in rental accommodation. The only person with an allocated house was the only officer, our Commanding Officer (Lt J. A. McDonald) at that time. In 1967 the base began to increase in size and I believe there was a second officer posted in.
For shift workers a shift consisted of three persons on shift, manual party usually had 3 or 4 and there were a few ‘day men’ including our technical and clerical, supply staff.
Because there were so few of us single men our rations were very tight. To compensate for that the cooks would not prepare a meal for us if they knew that we had worked the midnight shift so would probably be sleeping. We would also inform the duty cook if we would not “be home” for a meal. With that and supplying fresh caught fish to the mess we did manage to eat very well.
One thing myself and a couple of other fellows did was on our long days off, we would rent a room at the Mariner’s Club (Sailor’s Home) for £1 a night. It saved us the long ride back after a night in Hamilton.
The station was relatively remote so personal transportation was a must. Most of the other single men were driving Lambretta or Vespa scooters. I on the other hand opted for a motorcycle. Within a week or two I was at the Honda shop and put in an order for a Honda 90cc motorcycle. It was then practicing on a borrowed scooter, arranging for a driving test, passing, picking up the cycle and I was away to the races. My Honda 90 did me in good stead but I wanted something a little more powerful for carrying a passenger up the many hills so the next year it was a Honda CB125 one of the most powerful civilian motorcycles.
In 1967 with the amalgamation of the three Canadian forces into one unit NRS Bermuda ceased to exist and became Canadian Forces Station Bermuda. 1967 was also the year the new operations building had been completed and moved into. The shifts now increased to 6 or 7 per shift resulting an influx of personnel, up to 75. Up until this time headquarters and operations were housed in the same building. One minor glitch during the construction of the ops - during one storm the rear wall of the building was blown over. Prior to my time there the operations building consisted of a simple ‘shack’ on the beach. Also our transmitter site was moved to Royal Naval Dockyards, which was almost completely derelict. A group of us on manual party were assigned to clean up the area around the building that we would be using. I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones that then did a month or so on shift in that building. Believe me it is a good thing that I did not believe in ghosts. I was all alone on shift and it could be a bit scary after driving past Casemates Prison into the completely dark and deserted Dockyards.
On one of my short stints on manual party in 1967, Cecil Whitecross, one of our gardeners and I planted a row of Bermuda Cedar trees on the beach as a Centennial Project.
April 1968 was a time of civil unrest resulting in rioting and looting, mainly in Hamilton but throughout the island. As a result the Bermuda Governor declared a state of emergency, evoked a curfew and called in British Forces. A Royal Navy frigate on Caribbean patrol was dispatched and docked on Front Street, Hamilton. With the authority of open fire on rioters, looters and those disobeying the curfew the location of ship ensured the safety of Front Street.
A British Army unit of Irish Fusiliers were also sent to the Island and bivouacked on ‘our’ main beach. During their deployment the beach was out of bounds to us and our quarters were out of bounds to them. Although an officer made daily alcohol and cigarette purchases at our small commissary on a daily basis. The Army’s main function was to provide protection to the Royal Naval base in the Dockyards area as well as protecting our station. One of the things they did to protect us was to set up a machine gun emplacement inside the operations area perimeter fence behind an oleander bush beside the road. This emplacement was manned 24/7 and it was a bit nerve=wracking to hear the cocking of the gun when making our nightly patrols.
Unlike the later years, during my time the only recreational facility we had was a raft that was situated about half way between the main beach and the reef. An understanding was reached between the base and a deep sea fishing boat the “Coral Sea” captained by Boyd Gibbons and his brother the mate, Teddy Gibbons. A arrangement was made where the boat was booked for every Monday during the summer. The boat was paid a set fee by the recreational fund whether the boat went out or not and individuals who did go out paid a nominal amount in addition. I did take advantage of this every chance I had.
July of 1968 saw me leave this wonderful island for a posting to CFS Gander, arriving in August and in September up to CFS Alert.
I missed the closing ceremony of the station because I was working for External Affairs/Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and was post to London, England. I had not heard of the closing until Wendy and I returned from a trip to New Zealand so more leave and the extra cost of attending was out of the question.
For many years I have wanted to make a nostalgic trip back but the cost seemed to be prohibitive. I never gave up searching for a cruise, which is less expensive than flying and then accommodation, and lo and behold I found one that would give use two full days and a long morning in Bermuda. A deal I could not pass up.
There have been quite a few changes since I was posted there. Dockyards is now a well maintained vibrant port complete with numerous tourist shops and bars. The Mariner’s Club is still there but has been subdivided and the original dining room has been extended into an upmarket restaurant that is rented from the club. Sadly the club was not open when we stopped by and rather than wait until it opened and deal with the traffic out of Hamilton we decided to just head back to the ship. Most of the old rehydration hangouts are no longer in existence, The Horse and Buggy is now a shopping arcade, the Mangrove Bay Bar, where “Uncle Ralph (RIP)” served up the best lemonade on the island is now the Country Squire Bar and Restaurant. Unlike when Uncle Ralph was in charge it no longer opens at 8 am but at noon.
The old base while in a dilapidated was not as derelict as I thought it might have been. I had heard that at one time it was inhabited by squatters and littered with garbage. This was not quite the case on my visit. The main beach is now a public beach and some of trees that we had planted have grown. The main area has been fenced off and is generally inaccessible to the public. I did manage to get inside the fence by taking to the beach and then climbing up onto the old antenna pad. All of the tourist huts have been destroyed either by vandals or storms but there is very little litter around the site.
I am happy that I made the effort to make the trip back and at least try and visit some of the old sites. I had forgotten how twisty and hilly the island was. Would I do it again - while the island is expensive - in a heart beat.
SADLY I DID NOT TAKE ENOUGH PHOTOS WHEN I WAS THERE.
That and the fact that I left most of the ones I did take with my parents have been lost.
And the ones that I do have may not be very good. Regardless of year I labeled all of the old photos 1967.
Enjoy the slide show of what is left of the base and the few photos that I have managed to salvage.