'Britannia to Beira and Beyond' by Mike Critchley


War Hero
Book Reviewer
“Splendaciously mendacious rolled the Brassbound man ashore” (Kipling)

As a youngster Mike Critchley, both of whose grandfathers had served in the Royal Navy, only ever wanted to go to sea. He entered Dartmouth in January 1963 and served, as a seaman officer, to 1974. He is familiar to many as a writer and broadcaster and is the founder of his successful publishing firm, Maritime Books.

He has finally been persuaded to share some reminiscences of his naval career. The volume under review (150pp, A5 paperback) covers the first five years of his naval career in a variety of ships from Ark Royal (the old real one) down to a converted LCT, a coastal minesweeper and (briefly) an inshore.

Critchley has brought out absolutely brilliantly, in a series of very amusingly told anecdotes of various character-forming incidents, the level of farce which bubbles away just below the surface of Service life. Many of his tales will touch a chord and remind other ex-sailors of similar happenings, although I certainly cannot match his tale of a midshipman throwing his Captain over the side. Those of you who thought the lunacy in John Winton’s novels was pure invention, prepare to be corrected.

The otherwise hilarious narrative is broken in the middle with the harrowing tale of the loss of one of Ark Royal’s Sea Vixen and its observer, played out live on one of the carrier’s bridge loudspeakers.

Critchley took his first lessons in seamanship via his daily trip to school on the Gosport Ferry. This did not prepare him for being plagued by severe seasickness, for which the only sure-fire cure is to sit under a tree, but nevertheless when his five years were up he signed on for more. My only regret is that he has not shared those years with us as well. The nice thing about the Navy is that however awful life gets there is always something or someone to laugh at. It was fun to be reminded of that.

The narrative is complemented by some good photographs.

Four anchors.


'Britannia to Beira and Beyond' by Mike Critchley (Maritime Books, £6.99)
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