I hadn’t really wanted to leave the Bulwark and take a shore job. In fact my Divisional Officer at the time had actually said to me that he wanted me to stay onboard longer and take some ‘O’ levels in preparation to going for an officer position in the Navy. When ratings do this it is known as Special duties officer. Well it was at that time. The educational facilities onboard Bulwark were really good so that would have been a good place to do it. But I guess that despite doing sufficiently well academically once I was in the Navy, the spectre of my schooling was still very fresh and I was probably afraid of failure if I went back to pure education again.
So whether it was for the best or not, I joined HMS Defiance. The joining routine here was a real ‘double whammy’ as I recall. A new joiner having to run the gauntlet of the regulating office in HMS Drake where the accommodation was as well as the one on board the ship.
HMS Defiance (A187) with Drake barracks in the background
Anyway, once that was survived once again, it was on to work proper. The job was actually ok really. When ships were alongside and needed any assistance with their routine maintenance, due to the amount of work or because the ships company were depleted due to leave periods etc we were the team they called on. In some cases we got all the ***t jobs but usually it wasn’t too bad.
On a Monday morning the whole team was mustered (gathered) onboardDefianceto be given the work for that week. Sometimes you worked on the same ship for several weeks. I was sent to the Ark Royal for a couple of weeks at one point to assist with telephone defects, which I loved, but because of the time it took to find your way round that mighty vessel, I was given a young ‘tiffie’ (artificer) as a guide. The arrangement being that he showed me where to go and I showed him what to do.
As I already said, the dockyard was HUGE. There was actually a bus service to get from one end to the other which was very useful especially when a lot of heavy (it was ALL big and heavy back then) test equipment was needed to do a job somewhere.
There was also a mobile section of FMG known as FMU who could get sent anywhere in the world at a moments notice to assist with some job or another, but I never got a chance at that one, so after a while I needed a change from the routine. There were sometimes opportunities in the forces to do ‘different’ things. Sports related or maybe public relations related. It was one of the latter that I spotted on the notice board one day. Personnel were required to man the RN stand at theBirminghamboat show for a couple of weeks. With my interest in sailing, it sounded good so I applied and got selected.
The boat show was being held at the Birmingham Bingley Hall and we were accommodated in a hotel on theHagley Road, which was quite an experience. My memory does not allow me to remember exactly when it was but the Whitbread round the world yacht race was on at the time so it was either November or Between January and March 1974.
We had a huge board with lights to represent the positions of all the yachts which was updated daily. We also had the actual race trophy in a glass case on the stand which necessitated a leading regulator staying in the hall overnight to guard the trophy. There were some ceiling mounted heaters which he had taken a chair to sit under during the night and was probably dozing when he was awoken by growling. Nobody had told us that they had dogs released into the hall overnight for security! After the first night, when we got to the stand in the morning, the reggie had locked himself in the office in the middle of the stand and he was frozen! J
Sometime during the first week of the show, one of the producers from ATV came to the stand with tickets for us to go to see the game show ‘The Golden Shot’, as long as we went in uniform. I think about 6 of us went to the show and I ended up at the end of a row of seats. The first part of the show involved 2 studio contestants and 2 phone in contestants directing a blind folded person who moved the camera under their instruction until told to ‘fire’. Hopefully hitting an apple and qualifying for the next round.
I must digress here to relate a famous story at the time where a phone in contestant was having trouble directing the shooter. When he was asked if he could see alright, it turned out he was having some trouble as he was in a phone box looking at the TVs in a shop window over the road!
Anyway, on the night we were there, one of the studio contestants missed the apple completely. The adverts were put on and a replacement contestant had to be found quickly. Being a matelot in uniform at the end of a row, I was chosen. Once the adverts finished there I was talking to Charlie Williams on live television. My guidance of the shooter went ok and I got the apple no problem. This meant that I would be back again the following week.
What was also amazing was how many people visiting the boat show recognised me the following week. Some even asked for my autograph. Fame at last…..though very short lived. The following week I spent the whole Sunday afternoon in the studios where we practiced with all the crossbows in case we got to the final level. We were given lunch and met several famous people including some of the cast of the popular soap, ‘Crossroads’. I had a kiss from Anne Aston, met Stepenne Greppeli and one of The Tremeloes stood on my foot!
My moment came and I was again talking to Charlie Williams. The boss of the Navy stand had given me a Navy plaque to present on the show which I did, then it was down to business. ‘Bernie the Bolt’ was supposed to remember the settings for the height of the free standing bows for each contestant, but mine was far too low. It being a live show there was nothing I could do but give it a go. Having not missed a thing during rehearsals, the actual event was a disaster. Oh well I got a teasmade as a prize and that was that.
We were supposed to attend a post show drinks party afterwards, but this was when the IRA were being rather troublesome and before the show ended we were all evacuated from the studios due to a bomb threat being called in. We assumed it was because they had a serviceman in uniform on the programme.
One famous visitor to the boat show stand was Howard Lang, who was playing Cap’n Baines in the Onedin Line. A popular series at the time all about square rig sailing ships. He arrived, in character wearing his ‘uniform’ from the show and I still have a picture meeting him somewhere.
After the boat show was over, I returned toDefiance. I had at some time actually applied to join submarines and being so impressed with HMS Revenge, I had specified Polaris boats. Submarines are definitely not for everyone and it was not unusual for there to be a shortage of volunteers. When this occurred, sailors from the shortage branches would be ‘drafted in’. Despite being ‘pressed men’, there were very few who joined ‘boats’ (submarines) who ever left them. I guess the extra pay helped, but it did give you a certain kudos as it was a fairly elite branch.
I was summoned to the regulating office one day to be greeted by a grinning leading regulator, waving my ‘draft chit’ at me saying, “You’re going to boats sunshine!” I was equally delighted to take the wind out of his sails by saying, “that’s great news! I applied for that”. And so shortly after that I leftDefianceand went for my submarine training at HMS Dolphin inGosport.