- 1.Keeping Active: Part one
- 2.Keeping Active, and still likes to medal: Part two
Tony Crisp is the Commanding Officer of Training Ship (TS) Active. As well as being the CO of the unit, he also teaches the Marching Band and is in high demand, throughout the country, for his bugling skills. He is a long-standing member of the HMS Plymouth Association, Social Secretary for the National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association, a member of the Fort Cumberland Guard. One of his many hobbies is the art of medal mounting.
Tell us something about where you’re from?
I grew up in Kennington, the London borough of Lambeth, right next to the Oval cricket ground. My earliest claim to fame is that my school English teacher was Windsor Davies.
Windsor Davies is a Welsh actor, best known for playing the part of Battery Sergeant Major Williams in the British television sitcom, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
Near to the Lambeth Walk?
I went to the sea cadets just up the road from there, which is probably how I ended up joining the Navy. My mother enrolled me in the Junior Boys Brigade [AKA The Life Boys] when I was a nipper, but I didn’t want to go into the actual Boys Brigade when I got older. She wanted to sign me up for the Boy Scouts or the Cubs or something, which again, didn’t really appeal, but she took me along anyway. As luck would have it, the night that we went along to join, the instructor didn’t turn up, but one of my mates was there. He said, ‘I go to Sea Cadets, why don’t you come along? They’ll be interested in you’.
Why did he say that?
He knew that, because I used to play Cornet in a brass band at school, it wouldn’t take much to teach me to play the bugle, and I would be an attractive candidate for the Sea Cadets. So I went along and they let me in a year early. I probably lied about my age [laughs], but as predicted, they snapped me up without any hesitation. I got thrown out of the brass band at school for practicing the bugle calls, instead of learning my music [laughs]. So I suppose that if I hadn’t joined the Sea Cadets then, back in 1958, I probably wouldn’t have joined the Navy.
The call of the sea?
In 1957 I was living with relatives just outside of Belfast for a while. I remember sitting on the beach at Whiteabbey watching the ships come and go. They always held an attraction for me.
You joined as a boy sailor presumably?
I stayed on at school until I was sixteen, then joined up at HMS Raleigh as a junior seaman.
What was your trade?
Seaman Sonar and Butcher
That’s an unusual combination
I was a sonar operator as my primary job, detecting submarines. It annoys me now that I’m going deaf because, in those days, I had extremely good hearing, which was the main qualification for the job [laughs]. We were so valuable that they used to keep us off the upper deck, if the guns were firing, to protect our hearing. I did the butchery course in-between my first and last surface ship. When I went to boats [Royal Navy slang for submarines] I gave it up.
Not really, you have one butcher on a ship. They bring the meat up from the cold store the day before it’s needed and get it cut up and prepared for the chef[s]. In those days, the butcher also issued the rum ration, so I did quite a lot of ‘afternoon sleeping’, shall we say [laughs]. I was tempted into being a butcher by a chap I knew called Butch, honestly! We’re actually still in touch and, oddly enough, I heard from him only this morning. Anyway, he said that I’d go away for three weeks training with the Army Catering Corps, then come back and join a ship. I was only nineteen, too young to officially draw my TOT (rum ration), but with a few favours here and there … [laughs].
You changed careers and joined the submarine service?
Not because I had an urgent desire to do so. It was just that all my mates were in it and they had more money than me [laughs]. Back then, at the end of 1967, it was eight shillings a day more for being below the water.
According to the website ‘measuringworth.com’, eight shillings, in today’s money, would be worth anywhere between £5.79 and £15.73, depending on measurement comparison used.
I’d already served on two surface ships, one of which was caught up in an Indonesian confrontation, when I was seventeen, and that’s when I got my first medal. In fact, five or six years ago, the Malaysian Government gave us another one as thanks for fighting for their country.
The Indonesian–Malaysian confrontation (also known by its Indonesian/Malay name, Konfrontasi) was a violent conflict from 1963–66 that stemmed from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia.
I’m social secretary for the Malayan Veterans Association, and we’re off there in two years time for the 60th anniversary of independence. That will be the first time that I’ve been back there since leaving in 1966.
You stayed in the Submarine service for the rest of your time?
Yeah, until my dad died in 1977, and then I left the Navy.
What did you do when you left?
I got a job with the Prudential, selling insurance. The ‘man from the Pru’ (colloquial term for the Prudential insurance salesmen of the day) came knocking on our door one day, on a recruitment drive. We got talking and I decided to give the job a go. I tell you though, when I started out collecting the money on the doorsteps, I was frightened to death of carrying it all around. By today’s standards, it was next to nothing, but, at the time, it was a small fortune [laughs].
That was up in London?
No, down here in Portsmouth. When I came out of the Navy I stayed here.
How long were you ‘the man from the Pru’ for?
I was four years with the Prudential, then after working as a broker, I went out on my own until I got divorced from my first wife. There was a lot of financial instability during that time, and you’re not allowed to handle money for a financial institution if your own background is not solid. So that was the end of my career with the Prudential.
And now for something completely different?
Yes, the NHS was next, which is where I retired from at 60, due to problems with my heart. I’ve got a wizzy pacemaker which is constantly monitored using state of the art technology.
What was your role in the NHS?
I was a mental health nurse. As an ex-submariner, they said I was a perfect fit [laughs]. I worked out in the community in the learning disabilities sector. All aspects: autistic, downs syndrome, handicapped from all walks of life. Some that were unlucky enough to be born with an affliction, others had disabilities that were as the result of an injury.
And all this time, in the background, you’ve been playing the bugle?
Yep, I’ve been playing the bugle since I was eleven. I was the ship’s bugler on HMS Plymouth, but after my last surface ship, HMS Palliser, I gave up playing when I joined ‘Boats’ in 1968. When I came out of the Navy, in 1977, I got involved with the Sea Cadets and started teaching music and playing the bugle again.
You mentioned playing the drums?
Yeah I play the drums as well. That was from back in the days of the London Sea Cadets as a lad. I didn’t play during my time in the Navy, but when I left, I joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Band. I was there for about six years. I’ve also dabbled with playing guitar on and off. I have a nice Fender Stratocaster in the loft and my first electric guitar, which probably only has one or two strings on it though [laughs]
If you had to choose, which would you prefer, the bugle or the drums?
I’d say that I’m a better bugler than I am a drummer. I’m a mediocre drummer really, but I can teach it.
When you say drum, what sort are you referring to?
Military side drum. I’m also qualified to carry a standard [flag].
When did you first get involved with TS Active?
Good question. It must be about thirty-seven years now! I was first involved with another training ship, TS Wakeful, but that didn’t work out. So in late ’79 early ’80, I joined TS Active.
Were you involved musically from the start?
I joined as an instructor initially. I used to run the band at TS Wakeful, and I wanted to do the same thing at Active. But because I was ex-Navy, they were more interested in me as an instructor to teach seamanship etc. They agreed that, if things went well, they would let me start a band, but they wouldn’t be able to fund it. It turned out that I fitted in, so, in 1980, I started the TS Active Band. I raised all the money myself to buy the instruments, bit by bit. Over the years, as they’ve progressed, the band has been able to get paying gigs, which meant that we had the funds to upgrade the older instruments.
How did you raise funds?
One thing that we used to do was collect newspapers. Where I lived at the time, we had a double garage, which had one side full up to the roof with them. I don’t think that the neighbours would have been particularly happy if they’d known. It probably broke all the Health and Safety rules about fire hazards etc. [Laughs] We did all sorts of things to get some money.
How many band members were there?
Once we got on the road, we had a total of thirty.
Did you travel much or was it a local thing?
Over the years, we’ve travelled to France, Austria, Southern Ireland and all around Britain. We performed at The Royal Tournament (1982 and 1984), Navy Days and, long ago, at HMS Vernon’s Searchlight Tattoo. We have a regular booking to lead Bletchley Royal British Legion Remembrance Parade at Milton Keynes.
A popular band then?
[laughs] The Irish Tourist Board saw us at the Royal Tournament. I’d organised nearly a hundred kids from four different training ships to perform, and we were invited over to Dublin for the St Patrick’s Day parades and band competitions. Twenty years on the trot, I went to Ireland with the band. We were sponsored by the Irish Tourist Board. The parade organisers changed and sponsorship priorities followed. After that, we had trouble getting enough money together for us all to travel over. We did the best we could, but had to stop going just after their millennium celebrations, which was a shame.
Didn’t you receive an award for that?
I was fortunate enough to be given an award by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. It’s one of only twenty in existence. It was presented for my work in helping to promote their city, by encouraging bands to visit, all through ‘The Troubles’. We always had a fantastic time and never had any hassle during all the years that we were going. I was really chuffed to be given that award.
I also hear that celebrations for the training ship are in order?
It was our 50th anniversary this year, June the 6th. I organised a birthday party up at the RNA Club, Waterlooville.
Next time we talk about Tony’s passion for his hobby of medal mounting, and his time in the Fort Cumberland Guard. Stay tuned.
Web Links and References of interest
Wikipedia [Military awards and decorations]:
Maritime Cadet Corps:
Maritime Cadet Corps:
Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association [South]: