Shipmate Spike Milligan, 1927-2014

Spike Milligan, 1943 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
Spike Milligan, 1943 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
The Royal Naval Association brings together former, and serving, personnel of the Royal Naval services including their families and friends in unity and comradeship. RNA ‘shipmates’ bond together as a family, and so, it was with deep sorrow that members of Huntingdon & District Branch were told that their Vice Chairman, shipmate Spike (Gordon) Milligan had ‘Crossed the Bar’ on Saturday 14th February.

Spike joined the Royal Navy as an ERA (Engine Room Artificer) Apprentice in 1943. Great Britain was still in the midst of the Second World War as Spike carried out his artificer training at HMS Caledonia in Rosyth. He left Caledonia in 1946, joining HMS Nelson (one of two Nelson Class Battleships) and spending most of his time at Portland.

HMS Nelson during gunnery trials
HMS Nelson during gunnery trials

Spike’s next sea draft was to HMS London (a County Class Heavy Cruiser) in December 1947. The ship was stationed around the Far East, deploying from Hong Kong, he spent a lot of time in Shanghai, Singapore, and Japan amongst other countries.

HMS London’s ships’ Company, 1948 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
HMS London’s ships’ Company, 1948 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)

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It was while Spike was serving onboard HMS London that the ship became involved in action with Chinese Communists in what became a major incident involving the Royal Navy in 1949. The Black Swan Class frigate, HMS Amethyst was trapped by Chinese Communist forces up the Yangtze River, HMS Consort was deployed to assist Amethyst, being joined later by HM Ships London and Black Swan. All ships sustained heavy gunfire, and a number of lives were lost (which included 15 men from HMS London). After 100 days on the Yangtze, HMS Amethyst was finally able to escape the river and the threat from the Communists.

HMS London in 1948 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
HMS London in 1948 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
Damage to HMS London during the Yangtze Incident (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
Damage to HMS London during the Yangtze Incident (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)

In September 1949, Spike spent 2 years at the naval base HMS Vernon, during that time he had a number of loan drafts to HMS Plover and HMS Pluto to take part in local exercises. Spike’s next ships were HMS Indomitable (an Illustrious Class Aircraft Carrier), HMS Theseus (a Colossus Class Light Fleet Carrier), HMS Newfoundland (a Crown Colony Class Light Cruiser). Between sea drafts, Spike served at other shore bases (HMS Terror, HMS Gamecock), before returning to the naval base at Portland on discharge from the Royal Navy in 1957.

Spike Milligan, circa 1955 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)
Spike Milligan, circa 1955 (photograph courtesy of Judy Burdett)

Spike never lost his love for the Royal Navy. He was an active member of the Huntingdon & District Branch of the Royal Naval Association, he became the Branch Vice Chairman in 2005, and took great pleasure in passing on stories of his time in the mob.

Spike loved the social side of the RNA, he would attend the annual Trafalgar Night dinner and enjoyed helping out with the evening’s entertainment, especially the raffle. Spike had that wicked glint in his eye, and as expected, always had a real laugh with his shipmates (especially with the ladies).

Spike Milligan, Trafalgar Night Dinner 2011
Spike Milligan, Trafalgar Night Dinner 2011
Spike always had time for the ladies, 2011
Spike always had time for the ladies, 2011

At the annual BBQ, Spike would looks forward to an afternoon of food, drink, and the company of his shipmates. He would also be sent home with his ‘doggy bag’ full of goodies from the day.

Spike had his own special bowl of trifle at the Huntingdon Branch BBQ, 2012
Spike had his own special bowl of trifle at the Huntingdon Branch BBQ, 2012

Sadly, Spike’s health was slowing him down. Spike was unable to attend all the annual functions; he attended the 2012 Trafalgar dinner, and the BBQ in 2013, but was not well enough to attend last year’s dinner. He was missed at the monthly meetings, but was kept in touch with his shipmates’ latest activities, parades, and parties, as often as possible.

Spike checks out Ben Dear’s piping skills, 2012
Spike checks out Ben Dear’s piping skills, 2012

Hearing that Spike had crossed the bar was a shock to the branch, but, as a family it was important to say goodbye in the best way possible. The Armed Forces Associations are always happy to show their respects; for the Service to Celebrate Spike’s life, three Royal Naval Association Standards (Huntingdon & District, St Neots & District, and March Branch) were paraded with two Standards from the Royal British Legion (both from St Ives – Men and Women’s Section) at Cambridge Crematorium’s East Chapel.

The Royal British Legion and Royal Naval Association Standard Bearers
The Royal British Legion and Royal Naval Association Standard Bearers
Standard Bearers outside of the East Chapel
Standard Bearers outside of the East Chapel

The service was to be carried out by the Reverend Andrew Milton, who is also Huntingdon & District Branch’s Honorary Chaplain. Andrew has known many members of the branch over the years, Spike being one of them, and so it was really fitting that Andrew was able to be a part of Spike’s service to celebrate his life.

Revd Andrew Milton greets the Standard Bearers prior to the service
Revd Andrew Milton greets the Standard Bearers prior to the service

As Spike’s coffin is driven to the East Chapel, the Association Standards are lowered.

Standards are lowered to the ground in a salute to Spike
Standards are lowered to the ground in a salute to Spike
RNA and RBL Association Standards
RNA and RBL Association Standards

Spike’s coffin is carried into the East Chapel, his family and friends follow for the service.

Spike’s coffin is carried into the Chapel
Spike’s coffin is carried into the Chapel

A surprise awaits those entering the chapel. Spike was well known for his love of sandals, he rarely wore anything else on his feet, so in a tribute to him, and knowing his humour, a pair of sandals were placed by the collection box.

A pair of Spike’s beloved sandals, it would not have been the same without them
A pair of Spike’s beloved sandals, it would not have been the same without them

Once everyone had taken to their seats, (with the Association Standards on each side of the chapel and Huntingdon’s being positioned in the central aisle), Revd Andrew Milton welcomed everyone and began the service with opening prayers for Spike.

Shipmate Karl Webb, Hon. Secretary for Huntingdon Branch, gave the first reading, a traditional poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson entitled ‘Crossing the Bar’. Spike’s granddaughters then gave the Eulogy, written by his step daughter, Judy, and shared their family memories of Spike, his life in the Royal Navy, his hobbies (and favourite TV shows such as Last of the Summer Wine), and of all the things unique to Spike.

With further prayers from Andrew and the congregation, William Whiting’s ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ (also known by sailors as For Those in Peril on the Sea) was sung before Huntingdon Branch’s Standard was, once again, lowered to the ground for the Committal. Revd Andrew Milton said that with the service complete, Spike’s family wanted to invite everyone back the Bridge Hotel in Huntingdon for refreshments.

Outside of the Chapel, the Association Standards were once more paraded for Spike’s family and friends.

Huntingdon & District Branch members leaving the chapel
Huntingdon & District Branch members leaving the chapel
The Old Bridge Hotel, Huntingdon
The Old Bridge Hotel, Huntingdon

At the Old Bridge Hotel, a number of prints and drawings from Spike’s life were on display. A toast and a few words of remembrance was given by Steve, Spike’s son-in-law. Spike would have been proud of his family, his friends, and his shipmates. He will be remembered, and sorely missed by all.

Rest in Peace shipmate
Rest in Peace shipmate