by Marian Bulford
Our group or ‘gang’ never went out with the local lads. Every Saturday night we went dancing at the NAAFI and met up with the young sailors from all over the British Isles who were stationed in Devonport. The NAAFI was a huge social club ….
It was always with the young sailors stationed in Devonport, from all over the British Isles that we met every Saturday night when we all went dancing at the NAAFI – the Navy Army Air Force Institute – a social club for all the services and service families situated in the centre of Plymouth and covered a whole city block. At one end, it was a hotel for service families and the other end was a restaurant three bars and a huge dance floor.
I was an excited 16 year old, with the whole world in front of me. Plymouth Devon, in the UK was my home town.
It was a naval port and had been for centuries. Who has not heard of Sir Frances Drake, the celebrated Tudor seafarer, famous for circumnavigating the world on the Golden Hind and fighting the Spanish Armada? Or the Mayflower, the tiny ship that transported the first English Separatists, known today as the Pilgrims, from Plymouth to the New World in 1620? 
Most of my family on both mother and father’s side, were Royal or Merchant Navy and had lived in or around the areas for centuries the same places I lived as a teenager.
Ships of all sizes were always in and out of Devonport, the area I lived in and when a ship arrived ‘home’ there was much celebration in the local pubs and dance halls. This was my town and I loved it.
It was also a very popular summer holiday area with lovely hotels and guest houses. This area of Devon was described as the ‘Riviera of the South’ we even had our own palm trees.
This poster shows ‘Plymouth Sound’ and ‘Drake’s Island ‘ in the background, the beautiful Tinside Art Deco Lido Pool and of course, the sailors. I could have been one of those girls in the poster……
Over the last year, my 16 year old school friends and I had built up a close group of boy sailors, ‘Matelot’s’ as we called them, the young 15 to 16 year old Navy boys learning their trades as apprentices on board various ships at the Devonport Dockyard, where many of my ancestors had worked over the centuries.
The Plymouth NAAFI Club
We were all very excited in 1961 because the NATO  fleet arrived in Plymouth!
About 15 foreign ships would be arriving and the population would swell. The local population was pleased as money would be made and our group noticed a lot of ‘strangers’ in town when the fleet arrived. Lots of ‘ladies’ from London arrived, or ‘unfortunates’ as my Gran called them, and they stood out because of their accents.
Many foreign languages were also heard in the streets of Plymouth, some I was only hearing for the first time, and we tried to communicate with some of the sailors with lots of miming laughing and hand waving.
The biggest ship in town was a United States Aircraft carrier, USS Wasp, which caused great excitement: it was as big as a small town.
But imagine our reaction on the following Saturday, when we went to our usual dance at the NAAFI and saw our very first black men in the flesh AND they were doing the twist, the dance craze at the time!
We had never seen black people before, there were none in our part of England, and especially not ones doing the twist! Boy, they were ever good! Not a patch on us or the local sailors and we could not wait to copy them. But that is another story….
 NATO Fleet: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1952,
Greece and Turkey became members of the Alliance, joined later by West Germany.
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