I have just finished reading “A Very Strange Way To Go To War” by Andrew Vine (published 2012 Aurum Press Ltd). It deals with the requisitioning and subsequent service of the Canberra in 1982 in the Falklands War. In fact it is one of at least four different books I have read on the Falklands conflict this year. However, what makes this book very special is that I have been fortunate enough to have sailed on the ship in 1992.
By then the Falklands were a mere memory, and yet reading this book brought back so many memories of this magnificent vessel that I thought I would have to pen a few words. The first time I was aware of her calling in South Africa was 1986, and the next would be 1990, when she made an unexpected call to our waters. I went down to Durban to see her, and hopefully get on board, but that never happened. My one abiding memory of her though was her arrival, it was a cold and foggy morning when she sailed into view. A white ship in a field of white fog. Beautiful.
The whole day was one of lousy weather that ensured that any images we did get were not great. And, not getting on board was even worse, especially since we had travelled over 570 kilometers to be here. Reading the book I suspect there must have been moments in the South Atlantic when she looked like this. A white ship in a white fog.
Winding forward to our trip in 1992, I suspect I was curious to see what there was to see from her trip down South and surprisingly there was not too much that was obvious to the likes of me. I do know she had a plaque above her bridge windows which was the most noticeable thing.
And, in the one stair tower there was a glorious photograph of her returning to Southampton; rust stained, grubby, and getting the biggest welcome that was accorded a ship in many years. I tried to photograph that pic on that star tower and the closest I got was the image below.
Seeing that image on board that ship was a very special moment, she was as famous as the Queens, and she served in wartime just as well as those two mighty Cunarders did. It was easy to place myself in the areas they discussed in the book, but I could never recreate that atmosphere or that epic voyage that lasted just over 90 days. I am sure there are a number of Falklands Veterans who remember her with fondness too.
Canberra has sailed into history, while her old rival QE2 still “lives” on, possibly one of the last remaining Falklands vessels. In the week when QE2 was in Durban she was there with another Falklands Veteran, the former RMS St Helena. The QE2 however was a very high risk target and did not see the prolonged service that Canberra undertook. In fact it was said “Canberra cruises where QE2 refuses”. The book does hot heap glory on the QE2, but then I have never read a book about her Falklands jaunt either.
While I was in Southampton I often wondered where did Canberra berth? and she invariably berthed up at Mayflower where Oriana berths most of the time.
How I wish I had been able to see Canberra at Mayflower, or better yet, to have been there when the Great White Wale nosed her way through the hordes of small boats that followed her down Southampton Water. Such is the stuff of legends, and if ever there was a ship of legends Canberra is it.
© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 17/04/2016