- Sheather, Tony, RN
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The author, Tony Sheather (RN), is formerly of the RAN Hydrographic School
OFFICIALLY THIS STORY starts in 1907. I think the ‘07’ at the end of the serial number (on the blade) indicates the year of manufacture. Actually I didn’t come by it till 1966, so I really am ‘cutting a long story short’.
1965 was the real start of my swordsmanship. There I am on fine sunny day on Whale Island Parade Ground – well not exactly on the parade ground, I’m doubling round its perimeter. I knew the route as I had enjoyed several circuits with a rifle. I would be sweating in an orderly fashion and converting a hitherto crisp starched collar to a limp rag (the tenth this week). Ten minutes previously, I had been in an extremely uncomfortable undignified position. My right arm was fully extended, I was bent from the waist, and parallel with the deck and standing as best I could on tiptoe in service-issue boots. Fifty yards to my right, the Instructor was bellowing his displeasure, that I should dare to attend his course and have the audacity to venture onto his parade ground. With the contrived anger of a typical GI and the rehearsed enunciation of a Shakespearean actor, he explained that perhaps the cutlass was too long or that my arms were too short. He thought that I was ‘an ‘orrible little uncoordinated officer-candidate’.
Had he quietly explained his reservations to me I might have agreed with him. I was not given the opportunity to ask for advice; I had in fact fitted the frog and scabbard too far aft on my left hip. As it was, he gave out his announcements to holiday-makers on Portsdown Hill, passengers on the IOW Ferry and a few couples on Southsea Common. Yes, I am slightly vertically challenged but my arms and legs are reasonably proportional with the rest of my body. Oh, but I was at the end of the queue when they issued necks. I was promoted A/SLT with a seniority of January 1966; much to my dismay, my first appointment was to relieve another SD officer, a gunnery specialist, who smartly performed the required duties as guard officer. Whilst it wasn’t essential that I had my own sword, the ‘Gieves Rep’ had kindly tracked down an old one, badly in need of refurbishment, but going cheap. A leather worker in my home-town was delighted to take on the job and lovingly restored it for just a few quid. The beautiful curved blade had only stabbed a few wedding cakes; I cleaned up the knot with an old toothbrush and some soapy water, the sharkskin grip got the same scrub. I flew out to join the ship by commercial airline and could only take a limited amount of kit. They didn’t expect me to have a sword, so it seemed prudent not to explain I had one. However, within days of joining, I was loaned another sword, a huge pair of boots (about size 14 – I usually take size 7 or 40 metric) and a pair of gaiters which severely hampered the full natural articulation of my little hairy knees.
The ceremonial entry into harbour went remarkably well; it would have been impossible for me to forget the sequence with the Gunnery Officer, the Gunner AND the GI (yes, that one from Whaley) all relaying the orders I should give. I duly ‘presented arms’- almost piercing the bilge of the sea-boat and with a final flourish worthy of any musketeer, nearly hacked through the falls. We strutted off like tin soldiers, the Guard were all perfectly in step, except for the officer, who tripped on a ringbolt and had to break step to get over the threshold of the screen door.
I was given other duties and happily returned the sword, boots and gaiters. As standing OOD in harbour, I got to wear my belt and traces for longer than I wanted to. Now! as I hadn’t a full watch-keeping ticket, I could keep standing watches when we were miles out to sea. The Ops Room would inform me if any continents came within 200 miles. I kept a neat log and passed down the weather forecasts to the Captain. One particularly rough evening, I insisted the PO of the watch secure the foc’sle properly. He suggested the Leading Hand did the work, but I pointed out that he would be the better person to see the job was done correctly. He returned some 45 minutes later, very wet, cold and bedraggled; he could now recognize me by the light of chart table lamp. I chose this informal opportunity to thank him for all his patience and advice with my Cutlass Drill.