SERVING THE ROCK – Commander E.L. Davies R.N. (Retd.)

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words | Mike Brufal

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Eddie Davies, 73, was born in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales and educated in Monmouth School, followed by Nottingham High School, a day school where he took O and A levels. At an early age he had decided that he would join the Royal Navy and at fifteen, successfully undertook the Naval Scholarship Scheme, which meant that the Royal Navy paid the rest of his school fees. Eddie came to his decision without any pressure from either his parents or headmaster; in fact, both advised him not to join the Royal Navy. He decided to study languages at A-level.

In September 1961 Eddie joined the Exmouth Division at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, as a Cadet of the Supply and Secretariat specialisation on the General List for training which would take four years. This entry included Michael Boyce, the future Admiral and Chief of Defence Staff and Christopher Lewis who was later appointed Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford. The first year of training was based at BRNC Dartmouth but included one term at sea in HMS WIZARD, cruising the Baltic and the North Atlantic. The second year was spent at sea as a Midshipman and in August 1962, he joined HMS CAVENDISH, an Emergency Class destroyer, then undergoing maintenance in the Gibraltar Naval Base. Little did he realise that the Rock was to play such an important role in his life. In the course of the next twelve months, the ship returned to the UK before deploying to the Far East station via Malta.

The third year of training at Dartmouth was mainly academic, but included plenty of time for sailing and many other sports, including rugby, basketball and rowing in which he was appointed Captain of Boats for the College. Subsequently, as a young officer, whenever he was in Gibraltar, he would row for either the Calpe or the Mediterranean depending on which club needed a proficient oarsman.

The final year of training was initially based on HMS EXCELLENT, the Gunnery School at Portsmouth, attending a variety of professional courses ranging from communications to navigation to fire-fighting, before moving finally to HMS PEMBROKE at Chatham for six months professional training as a Supply Officer.

His first appointment after training was to HMS ARK ROYAL as Assistant Supply Officer (Stores), which took him back to the Far East and also to the coast of East Africa for the Beira Patrol, preventing Ian Smith in Rhodesia from importing oil through the port of Beira. HMS ARK ROYAL was joined by HMS EAGLE with the two carriers being the largest ships in the Royal Navy. The deployment was extended to cover the British withdrawal from Aden.

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Sub Lieutenant Davies in 1964

After returning to England in 1966, he was sent to Singapore as a Sub-Lieutenant based in the naval base, HMS TERROR, where he was the Assistant Secretary to the Captain responsible for all Royal Naval facilities in Singapore and Malaysia. He was there at the time of the
confrontation with Indonesia and boats would be sent out on regular patrols to stop the gun runners. When not occupied with the running of the secretariat, he acted as Business Manager for the Officers’ Club, managing a Chinese staff, and also acted as the ceremonial Guard Officer for the Commander in Chief.

On his return to Portsmouth, he attended a three month course in the Royal Naval College, Greenwich followed by an appointment to HMS PEMBROKE (Naval Supply School) as a Divisional Officer. He was responsible for the professional training and personal development of up to 180 Writers (clerks) and Stores Accountants. Courses started every two weeks with each one lasting between six and eight weeks. During the two years he was responsible for the training and development of many young Supply Branch sailors. This appointment also provided an opportunity to extend his sporting interests, including canoeing (taught by the Royal Marines at the Special Boat Service base in Poole) and mountain walking in Snowdonia.

In 1971, he attended the Supply Charge course which lasted six months and sharpened up his professional “pussering” skills. Its objective was to train junior officers to take Supply Charge of frigates or destroyers, covering all the Supply Branch disciplines such as hotel services
(accommodation and catering), pay and cash, naval and air stores and ship administration. The course also provided training in Naval Law, including both summary investigation and punishment and courts martial.

In 1972, he was appointed as Supply Officer (and Flight Deck Officer) to HMS LOWESTOFT which sailed into Gibraltar on several occasions, including a “garage refit” which lasted for three months. It was decided that most of the ship’s company would transfer to another ship, but Eddie was fortunate in remaining on board HMS LOWESTOFT throughout the refit in Gibraltar. Only three days before his ship was due to sail, he met Christine Andlaw whilst having dinner at La Bayuca restaurant. This chance meeting led eventually to the couple getting married four years later in 1977.

Early in 1975, he was sent to the NATO Headquarters in Northwood and he worked as the NATO Assistant Secretary to Admiral Sir Terence Lewin and Admiral Sir John Treacher, both of whom went on to become First Sea Lord. It was in Northwood that he first met Jamie Miller, now an active member of the Friends of Gibraltar Heritage Society as he was Sir John Treacher’s Flag Lieutenant.

From Northwood Eddie moved to central London to work in the Admiralty Arch at the top of the Mall. This appointment was to the Second Sea Lord’s department working on the “sailors’ desk” in the Directorate of Naval Service Conditions. It was his first exposure to life “in the Ministry” and provided invaluable experience and contacts for his later service.

His next appointment was to HMS BLAKE as Deputy Supply Officer. She was an old-fashioned gun cruiser of 12,000 tons which had been converted into a helicopter carrier with the addition of a rather ugly hangar and flight deck which allowed the operation of two Sea King helicopters. When she sailed into Gibraltar for a long maintenance period, the Captain decided to resurrect the Royal Naval tradition of throwing a party to get to know the locals. Friends onshore were asked to provide suitable names and supplied so many that some would have had to be deleted. However, to avoid embarrassment, it was decided to invite them all. The party was a huge success and relations between the Royal Navy and the town were rekindled in a big way. The Captain at the time was Captain John Mackenzie who later returned to Gibraltar as Flag Officer Gibraltar. After only a few months deployment in the Mediterranean HMS BLAKE was ordered back to Rosyth in Scotland to be placed into reserve and Eddie took over as Supply Officer to wind the ship down and place her in mothballs.

In 1980, he was again working in London, this time for Rear Admiral Derek Reffell who was then Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy), responsible for briefing the Admiralty Board on the naval plans and warfare. The team was also responsible for capital expenditure, including the upgrading of the Polaris missile system before the switch to Trident. Eddie was promoted Commander in December 1981, but remained in this appointment until August 1982, including the Falklands War, when everything focussed on the South Atlantic. Admiral Sir Derek Reffell was later to return to Gibraltar as the Governor.
In 1982, Eddie was posted to Naples for two years. This was at the NATO Headquarters for Southern Europe where he was secretary to the senior British Naval officer, Vice Admiral Sir John Caddell. During this period, life in Naples was far from pleasant because of the frequency of earthquakes which forced the authorities to evacuate over 48,000 people
into tented camps to the North of the city.

1985 saw him posted to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton as Secretary to the Flag Officer Naval Command, Rear Admiral Lyn Middleton, who was responsible for Fleet Air Arm training and for the running of the five UK naval air stations. This period covered the introduction of the Harrier jump jet to Yeovilton and the concentration of all the Navy’s troop-carrying Sea King helicopters, making the air station one of the busiest airfields in Europe. Normally, a Flag Officer would have the use of an Admiral’s barge for moving between ships, but as this was a Fleet Air Arm command, the Admiral had his own aircraft instead!

His next job in 1987 was in Australia on an exchange with the Royal Australian Navy based in HMAS NIRIMBA in the Western suburbs of Sydney. NIRIMBA (which means Pelican in Aborigine) was the technical school for the whole Australian Navy, providing specialist training for all different technical trades from medical and dental to mechanical

Cdr Davies explaining problems with snakes in the store rooms at HMAS NIRIMBA training base, Sydney 1988
Cdr Davies explaining problems with snakes in the store rooms at HMAS NIRIMBA training base, Sydney 1988

and electrical engineering. Eddie was the Support Manager and was responsible for all hotel services (including five separate kitchens), all material support for the various training schools and the pay and administration for all personnel, including the trainees from Papua New Guinea. He found the job absolutely fascinating and very rewarding and he and Christine found Australia to be a fantastic country. It was a great privilege to serve there, especially during the Bi-Centenary Celebrations of 1988.

 

Eddie and Christine were still in Australia when, very unusually, he was offered another overseas appointment, but this time on the staff of the newly formed Commander British Forces Gibraltar. Eddie was to be the Deputy Chief of Staff (Personnel and Logistics) and the senior management planner responsible to Admiral Geoffrey Biggs through the Army Commander, Brigadier David Lewis. Eddie and Christine arrived in Gibraltar early in 1990 for a rewarding and fulfilling job which was to prove to be his last in the Royal Navy as he retired from the Service in March 1993.

Since the couple wanted to remain in Gibraltar, Eddie then set about looking for a new job locally. Initially, there seemed to be very little available, so the search was widened to include the UK. Incredibly, Eddie was then offered two very different jobs on the same day. The first was that of Bursar of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. The incumbent had been there for 27 years and had created a team to look after all the different aspects of this important job which involved the smooth running of this well-known Cambridge College.

Having been offered the Bursar’s job after the final selection weekend in Cambridge, Eddie returned to his son’s flat in Wandsworth. No sooner had he arrived at the flat when he was called by George Bassadone and offered a job in Gibraltar as the Logistics Manager for Bassadone Project Vehicles. Christine was consulted and the decision taken to accept the Gibraltar job, despite the prestige of the Cambridge position.

Bassadone Project Vehicles imported Toyota 4×4 vehicles by sea from Japan and converted them for use by various United Nations agencies and the emergency aid and charity sector. The conversions varied in complexity, but included an off-road ambulance based on the Landcruiser Hardtop which was later accepted as standard for use by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). Other vehicles were prepared to the specifications laid down by each customer before being shipped off to all corners of the world, but particularly Africa. Customers included many UN agencies including the UN High commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and NGOs such as Oxfam and the British RedCross. It was ironic that, as the business developed, the vehicles would be sent to Gibraltar from Japan stripped and converted and then sometimes sent all the way back to countries like Vietnam, Afghanistan or any of the other “Stans”.

His first role was Logistics Manager which included receiving and storing all the vehicles as well as running the workshops. Eventually, he moved over to look after the after sales side of the company, by then called Toyota Gibraltar Stockholdings. This position included liaison with customers worldwide and responsibility for matters such as insurance and any transit problems during the long and complicated delivery process to some of the most remote and dangerous destinations in the world. In effect, he became the company’s trouble shooter. When he started, four mechanics were employed; by the time he left, there were 45.

Five years ago, aged 68, he retired and since then his main occupation has been to assist the Gibraltar Red Cross. He was recruited by his wife Christine in 2005 and initially acted as Hon Secretary. In 2010, he was elected Chairman. The charity has gone from strength

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Eddie is now Chairman of the Gibraltar Red Cross

to strength and its biggest fund raising was for the Boxing Day Tsunami which caught the imagination of everyone on the Rock and raised over half a million pounds. The Gibraltar Red Cross has been active in almost every emergency worldwide, from the earthquakes in Haiti, Japan and Nepal to a typhoon in the Philippines, raising money to be sent to the disaster area through the international Red Cross organisation. Money is still being sent to Nepal in conjunction with the British Red Cross and the Nepal Red Cross for a re-building project. The Gibraltar Red Cross has sufficient flexibility to respond to any emergency almost immediately. Locally, the Red Cross provides mobility equipment for the elderly, and has over 400 wheelchairs on free loan around the Rock. They also conduct a hospital visiting service and are sometimes involved in family tracing requests. The Branch is run by a committee of twelve people, headed by the wife of HE the Governor, who is the Branch President.
Eddie thinks that Gibraltar has changed considerably over the past two and a half decades, almost all for the better. It is cleaner, greener and he enjoys seeing the growing number of planted open areas such as the Trafalgar roundabout. He thoroughly approves of Commonwealth Park and the play park area between Morrisons and the harbour as well as that at Europa Point. There are incredible numbers of societies and community activities available here which all contribute to the pleasant ambience and quality of life on the Rock. He also enjoys the many special occasions such as the Literary and Music Festivals. Above all, he believes that the Gibraltarians are incredibly open-hearted and generous, making Gibraltar an unbeatable city in which to live.