From the Sublime to the Ridicluous
by Brian (Bill) Haley BEM
Trafford Publishing

"I had witnessed death at close quarters, which made me realize how finely balanced the line is between life and death."

This memoir spans from the very day the author left his home at age fifteen to join the Royal Navy of Great Britain until his retirement more than twenty years later. Vivid descriptions of the harsh awakening awaiting him in the British form of naval "boot camp" segue nicely into insights he gains of a newfound maturity and ability to cope. Training in anti-submarine and torpedo school, it is not long before he is plying the waters of the Suez Canal, helping enforce a blockade of oil shipments to a newly independent Rhodesia. He contracts malaria, sees a man infected by tiny spiders, and winds up getting shot in the back during a skirmish in Yemen. More training, then a chance to try out for a position on the Royal Yacht Britannia, which carried the Royal Family, arises. He succeeds and accompanies the Royals on a Pacific Ocean tour following the footsteps of Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin. The descriptions of the small Pacific Island states and countries are fascinating. He ends his narrative describing the debacle in the Falklands.

This is a spirited and heartfelt story of a life spent in the British Navy. He joined to see the world and succeeded, allowing us to share the far flung scenes and peoples he encountered. There are poignant moments, such as when he sees senseless death or, as in the case of the sinking of the Argentinian warship Belgrano with all 368 on board, perplexing ones. The style is accessible, personal, and not overly given to introspection. Thankfully, the life described is sufficiently unique to not require it. Surely to be of interest to maritime fans, the simple appeal of an interesting tale well told helps open it up to the general reader.

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