One last run ashore in Gibraltar for navy man with warm memories of the Rock
Navy man Graham Barker has returned to the Rock for the last time.
This was his first port of call when he sailed back in 1971, and it will be his last.
Mr Barker, known to his friends as Woofer, finished chemotherapy last week and was told doctors could do no more for him.
Upon hearing the news, he told his brother Brian and two close friends, Roy Evans and Ray Crawford, that he wanted his final port of call to be Gibraltar.
“I have just done 21 months of chemo and it was really awful,” he said.
“Last December, when they told me that there's not much more they could do, I said to Roy, the first foreign port I ever went to was Gibraltar.”
“And I want to do it again on my birthday.”
“So we did it this week.”
“This is my last port of call before I die.”
“Last Tuesday, they took me off chemo. They said it's not working or doing anything, and they give me two to six months to live.”
Mr Barker flew in on Sunday, just in time to celebrate his 68th birthday on Monday.
At one point during the trip down memory lane, Mr Barker was in Trafalgar Cemetery with his brother where he was filmed talking about his memories of Gibraltar and the times he served here.
However, shortly afterwards the phone was lost and the memory with it.
An appeal was made by a friend, Michelle Smith, who managed to track the phone down, albeit completely smashed from having been run over.
The Chronicle spoke to Mr Barker about some of those memories.
“I first came here in 1971 on HMS Juno and I have come back here so many times,” he said.
“I used to do guard ship for Gibraltar when the border was shut.”
“And we used to go out every day, come back in the evening, and if you were not on duty, we would go out drinking in all the bars.”
“I was also on HMS Hampshire and we came here so many times. I think one time we were a guard ship again for six weeks on HMS Hampshire.”
“It’s a great time when you have got guard ship [duties], because you go to sea for the day and come back in the evening.”
The guard ship’s role was to maintain a presence at sea around the Rock at a time when the Spanish Navy destroyer better known as ‘Smoky Joe’ sailed routinely in the waters around the Rock.
The constant Royal Navy presence at sea was a reminder of British sovereignty and the UK’s commitment to the Rock.
Mr Barker has many stories about his time on the Rock over the years, some of which he joked would not be printable.
But his favourite anecdote does not, in fact, involve him directly.
“Two electricians that I used to work with came ashore one night and they got drunk and they stole a taxi,” he recalled.
“They went up to the top of the Rock. When they came down they were too fast and came off the road, went through a garage, through the roof and onto a car.”
“And it was the Admiral of Gibraltar’s house and car they went into. They were sent to court and got three months in Gibraltar jail.”
“It's quite funny really,” he added.
60 years ago, when he was 18, Mr Barker completed the infamous Rock race to the top of the Rock, noting he has only ever done it the once.
He also recalled passing a swimming test on a bitterly cold April morning at what was then called the Nuffield Pool.
These days, apart from having a nice cold pint in the sun, Mr Barker likes just being on the Rock and taking in everything around him.
But he was incredulous as to how much it had changed in the past 50 years.
Change aside though, one thing the four men agreed on was had not changed at all was the warmth of the reception and the friendliness of the people who call Gibraltar their home.