Monday 15 April 2019

Far From the Cruel Sea: British Destroyer HMS Fife Visits the Nigerian Navy in April 1970

Rear Admiral Joseph Wey in conversation with Captain William David Scott in Wey’s office at Naval Headquarters in Lagos.

There has always been two sides to the depiction of the careers of sailors. The press-ganged, scurvy-enduring man-on-deck who braved the elements and partook in merciless warfare on the high-seas is as imprinted in the popular imagination as is that of the adventure-seeking, hard-drinking sailor who had a girl in every port.

One side of the coin is the gritty realism of war as portrayed in Nicholas Monsarrat’s 1951 novel The Cruel Sea, which was made into a memorable film a few years later. During war there are endless drills, hours of enforced silence in darkness and the constant fear of death within a floating coffin.

But the other side, that of the peacetime navy, is one which can be a very attractive one for both officers and men. The “Run ashores” and “Rum Tots” bear testament to the arcane rites that are part of naval life as well as the rich lexicon of expression.

For Captain William David Scott, the command of HMS Fife, a 6,000-ton county-class destroyer equipped with guided missiles and Wessex helicopter, there were many responsibilities and challenges in a peacetime navy which operated as an integral part of NATO during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The vessel was designed to operate in areas of nuclear fall-out. Its three main roles were to serve as an escort, to provide task unit support and to carry out peace time police duties.

But the compensations in observing these duties and remaining in a state of preparedness spoke for themselves. Among the destinations visited by Captain Scott and his 500-man crew during a round-the-world tour between 1970 and 1971 were Hawaii, Singapore, Nigeria, Japan and Hong Kong.

HMS Fife visited Lagos, Nigeria for four days in April, 1970. Nigeria, a former colony of Britain, had been independent for a decade, but had endured a two and a half year civil war that had only ended three months earlier.

Among the visitors to the ship was Rear Admiral Joseph Wey, the Chief of Nigerian Naval Staff who had presided over the Nigerian Navy’s role in enforcing a littoral blockade of the secessionist state of Biafra. Scott gave him a tour of the ship and Wey later entertained him on shore at the naval base. Some of Fife’s crew partook in a football friendly with Nigerian naval personnel.

Fife holds the distinction of being the last Royal Navy ship to issue the rum tot. Photographs of the funeral of the rum tot barrel and others covering Scott’s naval career can be viewed at Maritime Quest dot com. [Click HERE]


HMS Fife was decommissioned in 1987 after 21 years service and sold to the Chilean Navy in which it operated under the name Blanco Encalada. Captain Scott, who was later knighted, retired as a rear admiral. Rear Admiral Wey, who also served as the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters in Nigeria’s military government was compulsorily retired after a military coup in July 1975, having attained the rank of vice admiral.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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