And the earth moved …

Back in the 1980, sipping pre-dinner drinks in the WRNS officers flat in Naples when the whole building really rocked.  We put it down to being rather heavy handed with the gin until sounds of chaos penetrated from the city: it had been a major earthquake damaging many buildings across the area.  Many of the Neapolitans moved out of their houses – preferring to live in their cars and fearful of further collapses from the after-shocks.  I think we assumed the appropriate stiff upper lip and carried on with dinner.

Just one of the amazing experiences of three fabulous years in Naples at the NATO headquarters.  We lived at the main Allied Forces South base but crossed the causeway to the Naval base on the island of Nisida.  I was even lucky enough to be flown home to RAF St Athan for a month to learn to drive.  Take my word, Naples was definitely not the place for a newly qualified driver: 11 accidents in the first year but only 3 went to insurance claims and did secure two years no-claims bonus at the end.  One quickly learned that traffic lights were purely advisory and one-way signs didn’t apply in the rush hour.

I continued the shooting I’d started at Dartmouth but moved to skeet.  The range was part of the American sports grounds in the middle of a dormant volcano.  I did a little competitive shooting and, because there were few other women, was respectably ranked alongside the men.

There was so much more going on: first car and then my fantastic Capri, Vice Commodore of the sailing club, outrageous parties, exploring Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.  But the work was good too: I soon got bored of being just the administrator of the Intelligence Division and was able to get more directly involved in the material, exercises and inspections.  A high point was a surveillance flight over the soviet ships anchored off Hammemet.

And we had a great bunch of Wrens with us too (even if they did call the Shore Patrol when a party got too noisy).

Memories of the very best that a career in the Navy can offer: hard work, hard play and good people

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Penny Melville-Brown OBE

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Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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