Contribution by Ray Rout, Whitianga.
Ray Rout and his wife, Raewyn, live in Whitianga. They have done so for the last two years. Ray met Raewyn when, for eight years, he served on HMY Britannia, and he was aboard when the Queen came to New Zealand for the bicentenary of Captain Cook’s visit to Mercury Bay. This was in March 1970, not 1969, as was stated in The Informer and in Wikipedia. HYMY Britannia did not actually come in the year of the bicentenary but a few months after. Ray is sure of this as he still has his sailor’s log book of service on the Britannia. This is Ray’s account of some of his memories of that ‘Royal Life at Sea.’
“We were anchored out in the bay and the Royal barge was beside the Britannia and we had her Majesty’s Rolls Royce aboard as well. The Queen, with Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, came ashore and went over to Cooks Beach and then went on to Shakespeare Cliff and met the local dignitaries, local residents and the school children. She presented the Returned Services Association with a plaque that still stands in their library at the Mercury Bay Club. It is the same as the plaque I received when I left the Britannia.
I joined the British navy in May 1963. I was 16 years and nine months old. When I had served two years, in 1965, I was selected for service on the HMY Britannia. I had served on two ships before that. One just gets picked randomly I guess, but I found out after I was selected, that two officers had travelled down to see Mum and Dad to get all the history on the family. I loved the eight years aboard the Britannia. After the Queen’s visit to Mercury Bay, the Britannia travelled to Auckland. The very next day, at a dance, I met Raewyn. We corresponded for four years and then I decided to leave the navy and emigrate so I could marry Raewyn.
I was destined to be part of the royals in a way. When I was seven, I lived in a small village called
Burnham Market. I was crossing the road to play cricket, when I was run over by a car and my leg was broken. The driver happened to be the Queen’s Lady In Waiting, Lady Sylvia. She picked me up and came to the hospital. After that, she would come to the house and take me for picnics on the lawn at Sandringham House. When I left school at 15, I went to work at the stately home, Holkham Hall, the house of Lord and Lady Leicester. The Queen would visit them when she came to Sandringham. Then I decided to join the Royal Navy.
On the Britannia, we always had an escort. In New Zealand waters, it would be a Royal New Zealand Navy Frigate. If we went to Australia, one of the Australian warships would accompany the Britannia. No matter where we went in the world, we had a Commonwealth ship to protect us. There were 250 sailors aboard HMY Britannia and when the Queen came on board, there would be an extra forty of the Queen’s staff as well as the Royal Marine Band.
I remember there were some big storms in 1974. When we took the Queen down to Christchurch for the opening of the Commonwealth Games, we hit some very bad weather leaving there. She was quite sick actually and said afterwards, “I didn’t like that journey one little bit.”
In the normal navy, you were allowed two cans of beer a day while at sea. On the Britannia, we had our own bar – we could drink as much as we liked. Louis Mountbatten of Burma (Lord Mountbatten) used to come up and have a drink with the boys. One night, Prince Philip came up and was drinking with us and then suddenly, he said, “Bugger! I’m supposed to have dinner with the Queen in ten minutes.” Off he went to change for dinner and then he came back about an hour later to have some more drinks with the boys.
The Queen Mother always came around and thanked the crew after every single trip on board the ship. I travelled with the Queen on all her visits throughout the Commonwealth in those eight years. We were trained well, hand picked and we didn’t need to be told what to do. Sometimes we had to serve the Queen and serve her special guests and state dignitaries. We just slipped into it because of our training.
I was just a little country boy living on a farm. Basically, I had never been out of Norfolk, until I joined the navy. I had a feeling for the forces. My Dad was in the army. He was a prisoner of war at Changhi. He had his 21st birthday in Changi prison camp. My parents were very proud of me when I joined the navy, when I won a medal and when I was selected to sail on HMY Britannia.”