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Home » Books - Royal Navy



13+ years of bliss is an account of the navy years of Signalman John A Wilkinson, who left school at 15 with one idea in mind: "I can't spend the rest of my life in Newcastle", the title of his first chapter. His story begins on his 15th birthday, 22 October 1961. "At last I am old enough to join up", he writes, adding "There isn't really much choice when you are fifteen with no qualifications. It's the forces, the pit or the shipyards". He soon found himself on a training ship, HMS GANGES, where on arrival he was issued with a knife, fork and spoon and a tin mug. The food was awful and " the tea wasn't how my Mam made it". There was a lot of pain, especially at the dentist "I'm sure his equipment had been here since the First World War, the drill was powered by a foot peddle". There was a lot for a young lad to take in "For the next few weeks the order of the day was very simple - up early, shower, breakfast, inspection, learning to march, learning to salute, also learning to wear your uniform correctly, learning to wash your clothes, learning to iron your clothes... It is many years since my time in GANGES and I remember most of it with fondness that is probably due the time lapse," Wilkinson writes. From there, however, he was off to the Far East and Australia, where he says of Perth: "Most bars were men-only bars and the remainder, as far as I can remember... only allowed women accompanied with a partner. Still it didn't bother me much, here I was John Wilkinson from Newcastle, just where I wanted to be, on the other side of the world". There followed a voyage through the Baltic Sea to the Soviet Union, Poland and Germany, where he attended a Bier Fest and scored 2 goals in a soccer match. The next few years took him to Aden, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand amongst others and to the Admiralty Signal Station in swinging sixties London where he partied with fellow servicemen and WRENS, among them his future wife. Wilkinson's racy style and the colourful passages about his travels make my life IN THE NAVY a pleasurable and entertaining read. All of us have an autobiography inside us; few can recreate a story with such aptitude. Jenny Jobbins.

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