Tony Beasley really did run away from home to go to sea. My latest book recalls some of the adventures he had during his time with the Royal Navy.
He looks back on his time serving as a boy sailor, a time when the discipline meted out might mean six harsh strokes of the cane and where young boys were expected to climb to the very top of a mast, some 185 feet above a ship’s deck and with no safety equipment issued, simply to prove themselves to their superiors.
He also recalls his memories of World War Two, observed from the relative safety of rural England yet with frequent dramas unfolding before his young eyes that left lifelong impressions on his memory.
It’s a remarkable story that includes his retelling of the role he played in a mission that occurred during the Cold War. One that took place on a vessel that he had vowed never to serve on, yet a mission that, with typical stoicism and courage, he faced up to and dealt with in such a way that, ultimately, he emerged from it being regarded as a hero.
Yet a hero who wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where he had been or what he had done and a mission that, as he ultimately discovered, never officially happened at all.
Memories of a life spent at sea told with a refreshing mix of dark humour and brutal honesty. Tony doesn’t hold back, he tells things as he sees it.
He is, it goes without saying, a remarkable man.
Tony resembles a character from one of the classic old British or US comic books come to life. Maybe one of Superman’s best buddies, the straight talking Navy man who always told Superman the truth, even if it wasn’t always what he wanted to hear. I’m not sure that Tony would appreciate the comparison but at least I know that if he doesn’t, he’d soon let me know. The so-called golden era of children’s comics such as those, complete with their tough, lantern jawed heroes; men like Union Jack Jackson, The Flash and Captain America were fictional, yet served as role models for a generation, men revered because they were loyal, tough and unwavering in their duty. A man’s man as the saying goes.
Tony didn’t come out of the pages of a comic. But he is, for me, that kind of man who, when I was growing up, I would have wanted to be, someone to look up to, to respect and admire for what he did in life and the way he went about it. He really is the young boy who ran away from home to go to sea, a life in service that began when he walked up the gangplank to join his first ship as a Boy Telegraphist in 1950.
It was at a time when both Great Britain’s Royal Navy and the nation itself was still recovering and rebuilding, a mere five years after a hard won peace in Japan had finally brought to an end the horrors and devastation of World War Two.
Little did Tony, or any of his contemporaries know that they would soon be sailing into the teeth of another war, one that saw no fighting or loss of life but which was still, nevertheless, as potentially deadly as those which had preceded it.
I am, of course, talking about the Cold War. Tony played his part in that clandestine duel between East and West in a way that he would never have expected or asked, an account of which he shares with the reader in the pages that follow.
The recollections and memories of his life, as both a boy and man that follow, are told with brutal honesty as are his observations relating to the people, places and situations he has found himself in over the course of his life. Tony doesn’t hold back, he tells things as he sees it, something he has never been afraid of doing, even if it gives someone a bloody nose in the process, his own included.
It’s a remarkable story, one I feel immensely privileged to have shared with him.
I hope it is one that you enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
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