Tales of St Helena
SIR: Matthew Engel’s visit to St Helena (April issue) reminds me of my time on National Service in the Royal Navy when I was posted to the naval base Simonstown in South Africa in the early 1950s. Every few months a frigate from our South Atlantic squadron would pay a visit. It was no secret, though not, of course, written down anywhere, that one aim was to reduce inbreeding among the small St Helena population, a duty the matelots could be relied on to carry out with vigour and enthusiasm. When one departed on this venture, she received a signal from the Flagship Captain: ‘Give St Helena a real treat.’
Rodney Bennett, Richmond, Surrey.
SIR: Matthew Engel’s piece awakened memories. In 1962 I was working on the purser’s staff of RMS Pretoria Castle, and on this ‘occasional’ visit to St Helena we were carrying the Governor Elect of St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension, Sir John and Lady Field.
Anchoring off Jamestown in a steep Atlantic swell, the Governor’s launch (in reality a small outboard motor boat with peeling paintwork and rather tired bunting) arrived alongside the ship’s ladder. Immaculately attired and wearing a solar topee, Sir John negotiated the ladder, followed by Lady Field, dressed for a garden party in hat, gloves, handbag and high heels. She was carrying a Siamese cat in a basket. Times may have changed, but in those days you went ashore by swinging, Tarzan-like, on a rope across slippery rocks. The Governor made it, but sadly his wife missed and sank, elegantly, into the South Atlantic, holding on to the cat basket. She and the cat were hastily fished out by sturdy islanders and no damage was done.
Shirley Lane, Castle Cary, Somerset.