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.

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