Month: September 2014

Petty Officers course and Mechanicians course 1981 to 1985

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I was primarily employed in the workshop but also manned the simulator during countdown training. My duty watch job was fire PO, driving around in the land rover firefly.

So eventually a place on petty officers course at Collingwood came up. Since we had been living in a married quarter in Helensburgh and we were BOTH being transferred South, we assumed we would be entitled to a married quarter. We were………………..but, by now we had our springer spaniel, Cindy. The married quarters that were being offered were NOT ‘dog quarters’. When I explained that we were both serving personnel and were both going to be serving in the area and that we MUST be accommodated, the answer was, yes, you will be accommodated………get rid of the dog!

Well that wasn’t an option, so we moved in with my Mum and Dad, while we looked for our own property. We eventually decided on a small, unmodernised centre terraced place in Elson Gosport. As I say it was totally UN-modernised and needed everything doing to it. By now I had actually almost completed my PO’s course and there was quite a lot of building expertise in my classmates. One in particular was a plasterer in a past life. He came in extremely handy after I had knocked all the horrible yellow tiles off the kitchen walls along with the cement and plaster behind them. This left the kitchen walls looking like the surface of the moon, but Steve sorted it all out within days.

We paid £18650 for the place and spent a lot more money on it. New kitchen, central heating and hot water system, new doors and windows, stone cladding and decorating throughout of course.

It was all worth it as we ended up staying there for several years. Once I completed my PO’s course, this time achieving the holy grail of mechanicians qualifying marks, I was kept on in Collingwood as instructional staff. Valerie was still in the service certificate office so no problems.

I was teaching basic electrics to classes of newly joined youngsters anything from 16 onwards. They really had only just left their mums. I was responsible for checking their kit to marching them on the parade ground once per week. On occasions even explaining that just because you still have cheques in your cheque book it DOES NOT mean you still have money to spend!! DOH. I still have some class photos which I will put in sometime. Unfortunately I do not remember any of the names now. Maybe someone will enlighten me?

I also managed to do a substantial amount of sailing at this time. Sometimes being part of Collingwood yachts racing crew for cross channel races, but mostly on the Nicholson 55’s out of Hornet. We used to sail from Gosport on a Monday afternoon. Sail train in the Solent. Overnight in Cowes, then cross channel to Cherbourg. This was in the days of duty free goods still, so that was always first priority on arrival. All the ‘55’s’ used to use the same place, run by Monsieur Guerain from a delicatessen style place close to the marina. We used to go in there with a list of the crews requirements and handfuls of mixed currency and cheques. This chap used to calculate what was owed, exchange rates and change in the blink of an eye without the aid of a calculator. He was never wrong and the goods were delivered to the jetty within the hour. Then it was on to one or two of the channel islands for overnight stays before heading back across the channel to clear customs in Poole and again an overnight stay. Back into the Solent past the Needles and into Gosport to complete the weeks round trip.

On one occasion, I was asked to form part of the permanent crew for a Nicholson 55 trip to Majorca. This was actually booked by a Royal Navy ship (name forgotten, but it was grey one) which was going to Majorca anyway, but for some of the crew to sail there on the yacht and then some different personnel to sail back. The itinerary was to sail down to Gibraltar via Vilamoura, then on to Palma where we met the ship and changed crews.

On the way back we stopped in to Almeria. Strange place. The harbour is surrounded by tall rocky cliffs. Apparently the surrounding area was a venue for filming the old ‘spaghetti westerns’ and when you sit in the harbour you can almost imagine the Indians popping up over the cliffs! We befriended a local bar owner……as you do…..who actually invited us out to his ranch, even providing transport etc. unfortunately we did not have time to take up this offer as we were to sail the next day.

Then it was back to Gibraltar again. By now we had some trouble with the engine and had to spend a lot longer there than was originally planned. Although this did not do the program any favours, it did give some of us a chance to take a tour round the ‘lower caves’ in the rock. This is a portion of the caves that is not open to the general public. It is a lot more dangerous I guess, involving a bit of scrambling up and over rocks. At one point crabbing along a very narrow ledge alongside a very deep pool of water. A beautiful place and a very worthwhile experience though.

Eventually we got underway again to get back to UK as quickly as possible. I think we only had one stop on the way back, which was at a port at the southern end of Biscay to prepare for the crossing. Everything was checked and secured. Glass bottles disposed of or well secured etc…. in the end the Bay of Biscay did NOT live up to its feared reputation and we ended up motoring nearly all the way. In fact we motored so much we were I danger of running out of fuel just of l’ouessant. (By Brest). Just as we were discussing the best way to get some help, the wind sprung up from a fair direction to blow us all the way up the channel, past the Needles and into Gosport to await customs clearance.

Eventually, after about a 2 year wait, I started my mechanicians course. I was a member of Mech 25, which was actually one of the last mechanicians courses. Thereafter, becoming artificers courses. It did mean that once I finished I did become an artificer instead of a mechanician…………….much to Fathers delight of course.

Leading Hands course, Firemans strike and wedding. 1978 to 1980

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So it was back to ‘Collingrad’ for leading hands course. I think this was about 6 months duration normally but there was some delays on occasions due to leave periods and systems availability.

The aim for most people on leading hands course was to get enough high level exam results to get selected for mechanicians’ course. Unfortunately I did not achieve this……at this time.

The course was progressing well until about October 1997 when the firemen decided to go on strike. The course was basically halted at this time and all students organised into teams for various tasks in various parts of the country, having been suitably trained. I was selected as a driver and sent to Hounslow to be trained as an HGV 3 driver by the Army. This training was all carried out in a ‘Green Goddess’ fire tender which was ……….interesting to say the least. The accommodation was in a local army barracks, where you did NOT want to be on a lower bunk as rats could be heard scurrying around once the lights went out!

The training was fairly rough and ready mostly around the local streets. Stopping occasionally to leave promissory notes for wing mirrors removed during negotiating narrow streets and tea breaks at transport cafes.

The ‘test’ was also done around public highways with some portions, emergency stops etc….carried out on army grounds. Once I had passed the test and gained my HGV 3 licence, I was sent back home to await deployment.

I was eventually contacted around Christmas time and detailed to report, after Christmas, to a team in Glasgow, which is how I found myself the only ‘matelot’ amongst 5 teams of Royal marines! We were accommodated in some sort of huge barracks type building in Glasgow which was totally self-contained. Garaging for the Green goddesses, galley, rest areas and bunk spaces. The morning after I arrived, the ‘Royals’ were turfed out of bed early for a morning run…………….they did not even bother to shake the matelot! Wise move.

After breakfast we went into the garage area for shift change. As the driver, I was responsible for making sure the Goddess was all ok. Oil and fluid levels, fuel etc….. it was while I was doing this that I heard a lot of shouting and stamping going on. The whole 5 crews were to fall in for inspection.

At this time I was wearing filthy steaming boots and overalls rolled down to the waist. I didn’t even know where my beret was at that time. I ended up literally in the middle of a squad of 24 VERY smart ‘booties’, waiting for some sort of senior bootie to march up and down in front and behind us all delivering scathing verbal attacks on the quality of dress and haircuts. When he got to me, he just stared disbelievingly and carried on without saying a word. He was similarly brief in his appraisal of the rear view. But I made sure I at least had my beret to hand in future.

We had several callouts in the couple of weeks while I was there, the Grosvenor hotel being one of the really big ones. We also attended a fire in a coffin makers which was surrounded by waste ground and typical old Glasgow tenements. There was an elderly lady in one of the tenements who immediately started supplying bacon and egg sandwiches to all the firefighters.

I could not take advantage of this as I had to man the pump controls at the rear of the goddess. A lonely…….but safe position to be in…..or so I thought, until a rather ‘confused’ Scottish gentleman (politically correct version) approached me. He was carrying the obligatory, post drinking cargo of a fish supper and a bottle of ‘Irn bru’. After exchanging standard greetings of “how yer daein Jim” etc while doing the one footed glasgae shuffle, he then offered me a drink from his iron brew bottle. Now I was a little reluctant at this point due to the colour of the product and the uncertainty of its recent history. However, he was most insistent to the point of me feeling rather intimidated, so I hesitantly accepted the bottle and was incredibly relieved when it gave a fresh ‘hiss’ of a newly opened bottle. I gratefully accepted his hospitality and then he cheerfully wobbled away……Phew!!

We attended many other interesting situations among which was a callout to a house fire which had been started due to an electric heater being turned on whilst it was behind a sofa. Most of the time we were under close scrutiny by the local media who were desperate to record any mistakes we made. Knowing this we were often also accompanied by the RM officer in charge who used to position himself to be interviewed.

On this occasion, however, he decided that there was a photo opportunity as we were advised to fight the fire by putting a hose down the chimney of the house on fire. Our gallant OIC positioned himself astride the roof ridge, put the hose in position…………………and flooded the lounge of the property next door. Once he came down, he was no longer available for comment of course.

After 2 weeks of driving a goddess around Glasgow, my shift were then due 2 weeks leave. At this time it was starting to look as though the strike was drawing to a close and we were told to contact our local unit, before returning for further duty. In my case this was Collingwood. When I reported there all was total confusion. I was told to go back on leave and await further instructions. I think I managed about an extra months leave before I returned to complete my leading hands course…..bonus.

Unfortunately, this furlough meant that the completion date of the course was now 2 or 3 months later than was originally planned. Our wedding was planned to coincide with the end of the course with Valerie and I heading off for our honeymoon in North Wales en route to us both re-joining Neptune. In the event, the wedding took place as planned as did the honeymoon and the subsequent journey to the land of haggis and men wearing tartan skirts. But…….now it meant that I left my new wife there and I returned home to the hotel of Mum and Dad to complete my course. Oh well, that’s life I suppose.

I eventually completed the course and my father and I took a hire van up to Helensburgh so we could move into our married quarter on Churchill estate to begin our married life.

Our wedding was a rather complicated, but totally naval affair. We married in St Ann’s church in Portsmouth dockyard on 25th March 1978. We managed to get the use of the Admirals launch to ferry the wedding party from the Gosport ferry landing across to Kings stairs in the dockyard. The wedding party consisted of my lovely bride, her parents and my parents, the 3 bridesmaids (Valerie’s 2 younger sisters Brenda and Helen and her best friend Ruth Noble) also my cousins wife who was a hairdresser in case of any bridal follicle mishaps during the crossing.

We were attended by 2 padres. The St Ann’s church padre (David Evans) and (John Oliver) the padre who had been at Manadon college church when my whole family were confirmed many years before.

Now the reason we knew the Admiral (Jim McClune) would not be using his launch was that he had also been a family friend during his time at Manadon and was attending the wedding. Looked good to have him in the photographs in his best bib and tucker. We also used his sword to cut the cake.

The cake had been lovingly baked by my Mother and very professionally iced by my Auntie Doreen who was once a Lions corner house baker. This involved many phone calls to confirm the finished sizes so my father could make the bespoke boxes to transport the 3 fully iced cakes home and then to the reception. I had also hand painted a standard bride and groom cake top decoration, to make the groom into a sailor.

After the wedding the photographer took Valerie and me to HMS Victory where we had more photos taken, one of which featured in the local newspaper.

The reception was held at the artificers club on Southsea front where my best man, Paul Jackson and I had spent the previous night.

We also found out a later date that the DJ we had booked for the event was actually a lieutenant commander, so a totally naval affair from start to finish.

We spent our first night as a married couple at a Southsea hotel. We had tried to keep this a closely guarded secret to avoid any ‘pre arrival interference’. However, my ever resourceful parents had seen a headed envelope arrive at home and had used the information to prepare a surprise for us. An envelope containing the preserved wishbone from the chicken that we had at our engagement dinner was inside the envelope along with a best wishes message. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned as we were not given this until we checked out.

We went back home in the morning to collect a rather special picnic, prepared by my mother, to eat on the way to Betwys-y-coed…………and to give the family a chance to ‘get at’ the car. But they were quite gentle with it really. Even so, we had several celebratory horn blasts from large lorries on the motorway.

We had an enjoyable and varied time in Wales. Walks and visits to all sorts of places and a medieval banquet one evening where we were presented with a bottle of mead. The traditional Welsh honeymoon drink.

The honeymoon was over all too soon and I was off back home having left Valerie to move into Wrens quarters in Faslane.

The actual dates get a little vague here until I can find my service certificates, but on we go anyway……..

So leading hands course was completed and as I said previously, the required level of marks for mechanicians course were NOT achieved at this time so it’s back to Faslane to be trained for the Polaris weapon system.