SERVICEMEN and women have always been used to keeping their chins up when the chips are down, but it all got a bit literal for the crew of HMS Liverpool.
“Whenever chips were served, there was bad news that came after it. It was just chance, but that’s how it happened,” says Commander Colin Williams, remembering the time he had to tell his crew their deployment had been extended. Again.
“The ship’s company would think an announcement was coming if their scran involved chips.”
Cdr Williams is the skipper of HMS Liverpool and was in command during her deployment in the Mediterranean last year. The Cammell Laird built ship, which decommissions at the end of the month after more then 30 years in service, played a key role in the United Nation’s Operation Unified Protector, which forced Libyan despot Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from power.
The Type 42 Destroyer patrolled the north African coast and becoming involved in operations as diverse as controlling aircraft and firing a total of 211 high explosive and illumination rounds from the whopping 4.5inch gun mounted on her bow.
She became the first British warship since the Falklands conflict in 1982 to come under fire and return fire. Her 280 strong crew spent a total of 81 hours at action stations – the highest level of alert – clad in thick anti-flash overalls on top of their uniforms while their floating home basked in baking sunshine.
Cdr Williams reveals he got the call to mobilise early during a visit to Merseyside last year.
He says: “The ship was on her visit to Liverpool when I got the call saying our deployment was being brought forward, and we were ordered to Scotland for a test firing exercise.
“When we arrived in the Med, there was no concept it was going to be as dangerous as it became.
“At first we were told we were coming home at the beginning of August, but we didn’t know how things would unfold.
“It got put back again, and eventually we came home in November.
“The crew were magnificent though, it’s been an honour to lead them during the operation.
“Some people even had to cancel their weddings or holidays, but they wanted to see it through, we were seeing history unfolding before us.”
History looms large over the Senior Service. Its glory days of romantic wooden sailing ships helping police the empire on which the sun never set are long gone, but the Royal Navy still plays a vast and varied role, just not a particularly visible one when compared to the role of the army in Afghanistan or Iraq.