HMS Argyll stoker Sharkey hits 5,000-day milestone after 44-year career

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet Storyline: HMS Argyll

Celebrating a remarkable 5,000 days at sea in the service of his country is HMS Argyll’s Chief Stoker Alan ‘Sharkey’ Ward.

The senior rating is the latest recipient of the RN’s relatively-new award singling out sailors – and their families – whose dedication to the job goes some way beyond the norm.

Such is the remarkable service Sharkey has given, the Secretary of State for Defence Mr Ben Wallace took the time to congratulate him and listen to a dit or two when he visited Argyll during the DSEI fair in London in September.

Anyone who receives the LSA5K (Longer Separation Allowance 5,000 Days) award – presented jointly by the Service and RNRMC – has spent at least 13 years and nine months at sea, away from loved ones.

In Sharkey’s case, he’s slung his hammock in 11 Royal Navy ships since joining up in 1977. That’s the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee… the launch of carrier HMS Invincible (long-since razor blades – indeed the only RN ship still in service is HMS Victory…)…  Dad’s Army was coming to the end of its original run… the M5 had just opened and Roger Moore’s James Bond was averting nuclear armageddon in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Sharkey went on to serve on HMS Invincible’s first commission, as well as minehunters, survey vessels, frigates and destroyers.

The Falklands conflict proved to be the defining moment in the career of the then 21-year-old marine engineer mechanic serving in survey ship HMS Herald.

His experience in dealing with the casualties from RFAs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram has seen him dedicate himself ever since to mentoring young sailors in damage control and firefighting so they can fight and win the internal battle.

Anyone serving in Argyll is always welcome to the Chief Stoker’s Office for a posh coffee and a chat – as long as they put a pound in the charity pot.

A dedicated advocate of veteran charities, he has returned to the islands a number of times since, maintains close links with the area and people and is a trustee of and active fundraiser for Forgotten Veterans UK and the Falklands Veterans Foundation, offering a hand of friendship to many and together with his wife Jo, raising over £10,000 for the Falklands Veterans Foundation alone. True to his advocacy of those two charities, he’s sharing the £5,000 he won equally between them.

Determined to give him something he can’t donate or give away for charity, his boss marine engineer officer Lieutenant Commander Andy Nolan and Dave Lockwood, the CEO of Babcock Marine, presented Sharkey with a plaque celebrating his career, and then surprised him with a cheque for £5,000 from Babcock to further the work of Forgotten Veterans UK.

On leaving Argyll Sharkey is returning to the Falklands for his last tour, where he will once again take on responsibility for the upkeep of the many memorials and war graves on the islands, as well as providing engineering support to HMS Forth, the RN’s permanent patrol ship in the region.

“Sharkey is the absolute epitome of what it means to serve and we are hugely fortunate to have him on board,” said Commander Charlie Wheen, Argyll’s Commanding Officer.

“A font of knowledge, a great example to all of us and ever ready to keep us on our toes, thousands of sailors over the years have benefitted from his mentoring, and I hope there will be plenty more yet to come.”

Sharkey is the absolute epitome of what it means to serve and we are hugely fortunate to have him on board

Commander Charlie Wheen