Our Joe Walsh was a ladies’ man. Yep, a real Romeo. Errol Flynn had nothing on Joe. Women, it seemed, were putty in his hands. The crew aboard my old ship, HMS Anonymous, were well aware of that. So when Joe started to court the First Lieutenant’s daughter he made a bitter enemy; no Royal Naval officer was going to have his daughter running around with a lower-deck sailor. It just wasn’t done. Matter of class, you see.
As it was, the romance between Joe Walsh and the First Lieutenant’s daughter didn’t last long. A few weeks. Despite this, her father, our First Lieutenant, wouldn’t let up on giving Joe a hard time. He had a mean streak, you see. Yes, this martinet officer got to Joe in every conceivable way. He punished Joe whenever he could. He made sure Joe got all the worst jobs aboard ship- even stopped his leave and pay on a couple of occasions. Most of all he liked to humiliate Joe. Yes, he made that poor sailor’s life an utter misery. An officer on a small navy ship can do that, you see.
Joe Walsh soon found another romance – he was that kind of man. His latest girl – some scrawny bird from London’s West End – was apparently very wealthy. Joe, now thirty-five, just knew he would be happy with such a woman. Maybe this was time to settle down, after all? He’d been in the Navy a long while and he wasn’t getting any younger.
Joe asked the girl to marry him and she accepted. There was only one tiny problem:- our hero still had three years to serve in the Royal Navy, and HMS Anonymous was sailing to the West Indies – Jamaica – in five days time.
This little hurdle was easily overcome. Joe deserted. He and his new bride eloped to Brazil, South America, and The First Lieutenant received a telegram which read something like this:
Decided not to stay in England for the Winter Season. Wish you could be here – Joe Walsh, ROYAL NAVY (Retired)
It had been sent from Rio de Janeiro.
The day after we put to sea that telegram came over the ship’s wireless. The First Lieutenant was livid, almost rabid; he hated to be laughed at, and the whole ship’s company knew about the message. HMS Anonymous wasn’t a big ship.
The First Lieutenant was not a man who forgave lightly, and Joe’s former messmates were secretly glad that this ‘Captain Bligh’ would never again have a chance to get his hands on their hero, Joe.
But fate intervened, and destiny would have it that their paths were to cross once more:
We reached the West Indies, exercised with the Yanks and then, unexpectedly, sailed for Georgetown, British Guiana. There had been some sort of political disturbance down that way and Admiralty wanted us to ‘show the flag.’ When we arrived the revolution, revolt, or whatever it was, had been suppressed and there was no need for our presence. Revolutions were common place down in South America in those days.
Anyway, the British Admiralty, in their detached way, reconsidered our program. They decidedly not to bring us home immediately. Instead, they ordered us to sail to South Africa- Cape Town. This meant a long voyage along the north of Brazil before crossing the South Atlantic.
It was about a week later that Joe Walsh rejoined us: We were a hundred miles off the most north-eastern point of South America -Cape de Roque, I think they call it -when Sparks Webster, one our radio operators, picked up a distress call. SOS. Some luxury cruiser out of Sao Salvadore had run onto a reef about two hundred miles away. We flashed up all boilers and raced to her assistance.
Yes, truth is stranger than fiction all right: Joe Walsh was on that boat. His bride and he were still on their honeymoon. It had been a long one- nearly three months. They were doing a spot of marlin fishing; had flown up from Rio about a week before.
The party is over for Joe; he rests uneasily in the Colchester Military Detention Centre pending court martial. Mind you, his missus has employed Queens Council in his defence. Those fellers can run rings round military prosecutors.
The First Lieutenant is still chortling. He thinks he won. But what he doesn’t know yet is that Joe’s bride is Admiral Winchcombe-Brown’s favourite niece. The Admiral’s in charge of “Officer Transfers and Postings.” Yep. The way I heard it, the good Admiral is sending our First Lieutenant south – well south. Resident Naval Officer, Falkland Islands, term of office – indefinite. I think I’d rather be in Joe’s shoes.