WHEN Graham Dibley caught sight of a shipmate he hadn’t seen in 50 years he cried out in disbelief: ‘I thought you were dead!’
But thankfully his old friend Alf Stacey was just as alive as when the two first sailed from Portsmouth for the far east on HMS Albion in 1962.
Graham isn’t sure who told him the rumour that his pal had ended up dying in prison, but he was very glad it wasn’t true.
Walking into the bar of the Royal Beach Hotel, in St Helen’s Parade, Southsea, on Saturday night he caught sight of Alf, but assumed it must be someone else.
‘Then someone introduced us,’ he said.
‘And I just stood there pointing at him. “You’re dead” I said, much to my wife’s embarrassment. “Tactful as ever” she told me.
‘I just couldn’t believe it after all this time. It was amazing.’
The two men were both 16 when they trained together, along with around 30 other boys, before heading out to Borneo with HMS Albion’s ship’s company to play a key role in the Indonesian Confrontation.
Now aged 67 they hadn’t seen each other since and so immediately started making up for lost time and reminiscing about the past.
‘We signed up at the same time and ended up spending the next 18 months together,’ said Graham.
‘To be honest we didn’t know what we were getting into. It was my first major trip abroad.’
Alf added: ‘We have been going back through our memories of what happened and it’s amazing how it all comes back to you.’
Along with around 100 other former sailors they met up 50 years to the day they first set out on the newly refitted commando carrier that would later be dubbed: ‘The old grey ghost of the Borneo coast’.
Keith Ridley has organised the last 12 reunions and said what made the ship special was its tight-knit community.
‘It was a fantastic get-together,’ he said.
‘We heard from the captain’s son-in-law who showed us the photo albums he kept from his time on board. Everyone enjoyed it.’