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Devonport Dave clocks up remarkable 50 years in the dockyard

11 August 2021
When naval base stalwart Dave Trigger started work at Plymouth’s Royal William Yard in 1971, he could never have imagined that 50 years later he would be one of Devonport’s key players as its wharfmaster.

Celebrating an impressive half century with the Royal Navy, larger-than-life Plymouthian Dave believes he’s been lucky to have worked with some amazing people along the way.  

Responsible for the comings and goings of ships and boats in Devonport, Dave can always be found arranging riggers to tie them up, connect them to shoreside support, as well as liaising with captains and dignitaries. 

“My first day was 16 August 1971, a Monday, I joining Royal William Yard in an area called section five, which was basically loan clothing for the Royal Navy,” Dave recalls.

“I was 16 and encouraged to come into the victualling yard by my family – there were five generations of them in Royal William at the time. One of my uncles was the blacksmith and another was a manager. It felt like a family business.”

Back then Royal William was still the main victualling and stores yard for Devonport Naval Base, supporting the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in and around Plymouth as well as supplying food and clothing for ships deploying globally.

“The training has stayed with me, it’s something you never forget. Another thing about Royal William was its history. Originally meat was slaughtered in the yard then packaged up into tins for storage or issued fresh to the ship’s cooks.

“Over the years it was a world leader, preparing food for ships off on long voyages. We found evidence from Captain Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica, where rations, clothing and equipment were specially developed and packed in the Yard.”

After training Dave’s job involved packing uniform items for the Navy. In 1975 he was sent to the dockyard for a short assignment, but in the end lasted three years, working with frozen food.

“I was part of the food inspection team, looking at food technology and supplying the ships as well as meat preparation, both fresh and tinned,” says Dave.

“It was a pretty busy time across the dockyard, at that time upwards of around 20,000 people working here. You could never know everyone individually, it was impossible, but you did know all those in your particular area.”

His team worked long hours, often at night and in all weathers, and loaded ships at anchor in The Sound which were too big to get alongside or only in Devonport for a short period.

A particularly proud time was during the Falklands War, when ships were prepared and turned around in record times. His department worked non-stop for days, managing and providing essential supplies for the south-bound task group. 

Dave is just brilliant to work with. He has an exceptional knowledge of Devonport and – with a twinkle in his eye – an uncanny ability to make good things happen

Chris Stephens, Dave Trigger's boss

Dave has also worked at the Royal Navy’s Supply Depot at Wrangaton, near Ivybridge. Here, trains would bring in vast quantities of stores and food that had been shipped across the country. It was repackaged in usable pallets to be sent to the ships or stockpiled for use at a later date.

“The sea flows through my veins, I’d grown up near the sea and was a lifeguard at Bigbury in my younger days, as well as an Auxiliary Coastguard and served on the Plymouth Lifeboat, so my roots have always touched the water,” says Dave, who became wharfmaster in 2002.

“People are really what makes this job though. I’ve worked alongside and met everyone: admirals, royalty, Defence Ministers, MPs, VIPs from all over the place, ship’s captains and sailors and marines from all nations, and everyone has a job to do. We are all working together which really makes me proud.”

He was awarded the MBE in 2006 – his second visit to Buckingham Palace as in his youth he picked up a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s award from Prince Philip.

“Over the past ten years we’ve undergone a lot of changes in the way we work, we’ve embraced many changes and we’re better for them,” Dave continues.

“I’m really keen on youngsters taking over, we have got a great legacy, which has been built in the dockyard, making sure we can produce the best we can for Devonport and the Royal Navy. It’s really good when I receive messages back from visiting ships thanking me for the work we do, it makes me proud to be the wharfmaster.”

Chris Stephens, Dave’s boss, says he is “just brilliant to work with.

“He has an exceptional knowledge of Devonport and – with a twinkle in his eye – an uncanny ability to make good things happen for all vessels alongside or in The Sound.

“Earlier this year it was quietly awesome to see six frigates, destroyers and support vessels very successfully deploying from Devonport on the UK’s first Carrier Strike Group deployment.

“This success is in a large part down to Dave’s energy, dedication and determination to do the very best for the Royal Navy and our maritime allies.

“Dave is a bit of a superstar, really.”

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