I receive an Old Ipswichian magazine every Christmas and the 2017 issue invited those of us who had been in National Service to send in details for the school archives. I forwarded a photo album of my two years’ service (1951–1953) and they were astounded that I had been to the Monte Bello Islands located off Western Australia where the first British atomic bomb was exploded in October 1952. They printed several copies of the enclosed and I thought you might be interested to hear details of my experience:
I joined up in April 1951 at Bordam, Hampshire, and was placed in the Royal Engineers where I did sixteen weeks of training which really sorted me out! I was 19 and my mother had done everything for me and suddenly I was on my own. I had to grow up very quickly! It did me the world of good. I tried to join the Navy, but they did not take any National Servicemen. As it turned out I spent eleven months of my time on H.M.S Zeebrugge or H.M.S Narvik living with the Navy. These were two tank landing craft of approximately 2000 tons. They sailed together in convoy.
Anyhow having completed sixteen weeks of training, two of my intake including me were sent to Cwrt y Gollen in South Wales as part of the Field regiment which was being formed prior to joining HMS Zeebrugge at Portsmouth in February 2952 when we left the UK.
Most of the men were tradesmen – carpenters, brickies, operators of heaving machines i.e. JCB’s and Caterpillar tractors. I think I was chosen as I could use a theodolite and dumpy level. In fact, most of my time was of a clerical nature. I learned to type and was pay clerk on Zeebrugge on the outward journey to the Monte Bellos and pay clerk on Narvik on return to the UK.
Looking back, it was the posting of a lifetime since we berthed at Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Aden, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Cocos Islands (mid-Indian Ocean), Perth (Western Australia), and the Monte Bellos. We had several days off at each of these places, so we were able to go ashore sightseeing. The ships stopped in the Med. to allow us to jump into the sea, swim, and climb back on board via ropes. Having arrived at Perth where we had a week off we went up to the Monte Bello Islands and were under canvas for a few weeks during which time preparations were taking place for the bomb, i.e. instruments being set up, blast walls being constructed, and tracks between instruments being built. We made a swimming pool protected by steel mesh to keep us safe from sharks!
Towards the end of September, we left the islands and anchored about fifteen miles away and were told the bomb would go off on October 3rd. Those who wished were fell in on deck facing away from the bomb. We were told we could view the site after the first bang which was quite loud as were the shock waves. After a few days, we returned to the islands collecting data, etc., and then we commenced the journey back to the UK where we arrived in January 1953. En route on Christmas Eve 1952 we were anchored in Port Said Harbour having a Christmas service on deck when an Egyptian Gunboat encircled us keeping its gun trained on us but (The Suez Crisis was due to happen later) it failed to stop the carol singing!
Having arrived at Portsmouth in January we had six weeks' leave and I returned to an army barracks at Chatham for the last four weeks of my National Service when I was demobbed at the end of March 1953.
Looking back, except for the first 16 weeks of square bashing it was like a holiday! I learned a lot about the Navy traditions and made friends in the Army, Navy, and Marines.
I was born in Ipswich and won a scholarship to Ipswich School in 1943. Having completed my national service in 1953 I decided to become a civil engineer and eventually qualified as a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers also a M.I.MunE, C.Eng, I did 3 years of training with East Suffolk County Council then moving to the County Borough of Ipswich, the Essex CC, Norfolk CC eventually being appointed Divisional Surveyor to Dorset County Council from whom I returned in 1989 so I have been retired 31 years. During my retirement, I was appointed volunteer with the Dorset Cancer Care Hospice, and I stayed with them for just over 28 years. My second wife and I have been married for over 50 years and I have 2 sons and a daughter plus a stepdaughter and stepson, seven grandchildren and to date seven Great Grandchildren!
David Ling (OI 1943–49)
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