Navy's Asian last hurrah flags end of empire

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 1997, 12:00am

Old salts shed a tear yesterday as the Royal Navy closed its last base in the Far East.

The White Ensign was lowered at HMS Tamar 100 years to the day after a ship bearing that name first arrived in Hong Kong.

Eight bells - signalling the end of a long watch - rang out as hundreds of white-uniformed sailors stood to attention in the midday sun.

Witnessing the parade were the chief of the Royal Navy and many retired sailors, their chests bristling with medals.

'I had to wipe away a tear,' said the senior naval officer in Hong Kong, Commodore Peter Melson.

'It was an emotional occasion,' admitted Commander Oliver Wright (Retired) who knew Hong Kong in the 1950s when he served on destroyers sent to fight in the Korean War.

'But the Navy has always been a progressive organisation. We can't live in the past.' First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jock Slater officially decommissioned the base and paid tribute to all the civilians and service personnel who had been involved with HMS Tamar.

'Of course, the ceremony is of great emotion, great sadness,' he said.

'But we stand here very proudly.' A ceremonial guard was mounted for the occasion, featuring the band of the Royal Marines.

But some were left untouched by emotion.

Leading Radio Operator Spike Hughes, one of the men who lowered the White Ensign, said: 'Getting Hong Kong back from the Japanese was significant, but this is just a working holiday.' Royal Navy patrol craft will continue to operate from the site of the 'stone frigate' until the handover.