A few weeks ago I published a photo of HMS Ausonia, which was anchored in Fareham Creek before her final trip to the breakers.
Former Evening News reporter Tim King served in the ship while on National Service, from 1958 until 1960.
He had been serving on destroyers when he was drafted to the Ausonia, then in obscurity anchored in Lazaretto Creek, Malta.
What attracted Tim to the ship was the enormous single funnel, straight stem and huge masts fore and aft.
As she rarely moved it was said her 14,000 tons was aground on gin bottles and galley trays.
Coming off destroyers, Tim told me it was like going from bed and breakfast to sleeping at the Hilton.
RMS Ausonia had been converted to an armed merchant cruiser (AMC) during World War Two and given HMS.
As an AMC she was not to last as in 1942 she was taken into Portsmouth Dockyard, gutted and converted into a heavy repair ship.
She served in a declining Mediterranean Fleet in the late 1950s and early 1960s mainly as a destroyer heavy repair ship and latterly as an accommodation and repair ship to the 5th Submarine Squadron.
Shortly after Tim joined her they were sent to Cyprus during the height of the EOKA terror campaign aimed at ending colonial rule and unifying the island with Greece.
Serving in Ausonia, Tim was promoted to navigating officer’s yeoman – a real privilege for a national serviceman as it involved, among other duties, keeping all the charts up to date from corrections supplied in Notices to Mariners.
Fortunately, all the charts were correct when they eventually put to sea for a ’shake down’ cruise to Sicily and suddenly found themselves heading back to Grand Harbour – much to the fury of the ’navvy’, Lt Cmdr RCE Lloyd Williams.
The gyro compass had failed, not Tim’s chart-work.
In civilian life as a journalist for The Evening News, in 1974 Tim went aboard HMS Victory to interview her new commanding officer and found Lieutenant Commander Whitlock had taken the helm after a massive refit.
As a bosun of the Ausonia, Lieutenant Peter Whitlock had been one of the most popular seamen in the fleet. He knew every rope and bit of rigging better than the Navy’s Manual of Seamanship.
Tim thought he had seen the last of Ausonia in 1960. When his service was coming to an end he had permission to leave the ship in Corsica and hitch hiked home.
When living in Southampton Road, Portchester, Tim woke up one morning to see a familiar sight anchored in the upper reaches of the harbour.
Ausonia had been paid off in August 1964 and had been sent to the ‘doom’ anchorage awaiting disposal, which came on November 13, 1965. She was towed to a Spanish shipbreaker’s at Castellon.