Diesel Weasel
Yorkie and Spud
3 O Boats
forward mess
Opportune
Taff Hartvelt and me
derelict boats

The Silver Jubilee Review

Opportune, along with several other ships and submarines, was ordered to Spithead for the Queen's Silver Jubilee Fleet Review [chart]. Given that there are not enough bunks for the entire crew at one time, I can't remember what the arrangements were; perhaps some of the crew were landed for the duration. Anyhow, the Fleet Review was a hectic but enjoyable time. The trot sentry had to keep a sharp lookout as there were more admirals than one could shake a stick at being boated around the place, and every one of them had to be given all due respect with pipes and salutes etc. Inevitably we missed one of them who's dignity was so offended that a snotty signal was fired off in our direction. This in turn enraged the skipper who gave the Jimmy an ear-holing who passed it all the way down the line to the most junior part 3. The result was that anything floating with a flag on was reported as an admiral's barge, the colour party mustered for everything from a fanny boat to a pair of boat anglers. I endeared myself to the duty officer by reporting that a wasp was about to land on the casing, as the flustered subby appeared up the hatch I stamped upon the imagined insect "It's OK sir, I got the bugger" (this joke only works if you know that the wasp was a helicopter in service with the fleet at that time).

Every evening we had to light ship, this involved dragging a lighting necklace up the conning tower and outlining the boat with it. The result, especially when viewed from the shore, was spectacular with the whole fleet sparkling in the twilight. It was hard work for us greenies though, the whole process had to be reversed before colours in the morning.

The atmosphere ashore was great. I can't remember a better time in the RA with the crews from several boats all crammed in together singing and drinking the night away. There was the usual friendly rivalry between boats and squadrons with each trying to outdo the other with the volume of their song and cutting remarks. The dinner time sessions (DTS) were epic too. We decided to go boating on the nearby pool after one such session and, one by one, managed to capsize our canoes. There is only so much a public toilet hand dryer can do, so it was a soggy bunch who staggered off in search of something to eat.

The Review itself took place in typical June weather, gray and blustery. We'd practiced the three cheers for the Queen bit several times, our caps describing a circle roughly in time. I got a fit of the giggles on the actual day, my oppo was shouting yippee instead of hoorah. The royal family did give us a lovely wave as they sailed past on the Royal Yacht, which was nice. Prince Charles was seen to attract his father's attention in our direction, probably saying "Look Pater, there's that droll Geordie who's hand I sat upon"; well, probably not actually.

Killick's Course

Shortly after the review, I left Opportune for a while to attend Leading Hand's course back at Collingwood. My fellow motor room killick Spud was already there so there was a lot of drinking to be done. It was a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the 'real' navy again, we had to actually march around the place on the way to lessons. Spud had discovered that if he volunteered for leading hand of a mess deck, he could avoid the marching bit. As leading hand of the mess, it was his duty to ensure that the place was left in a tidy condition and to draw up weekly cleaning stations roster. When Spud completed his LH course he engineered it for me to take over his mess deck. It was not the sort of thing I normally look to do, but the lack of marching and a cabin of your own persuaded me to take the post on. Part of the floor I now became responsible for was occupied by ratings from foreign navies. There were Nigerians, Kenyans, Iranians and even a couple of Gurkha squadies doing a radio course. For the most part I got on well with these fellows, but the weekly cleaning stations roster was the cause of a diplomatic incident. Two of the Nigerians had complicated but remarkably similar names, in my usual confused state I inadvertently put one of them down for toilet cleaning two weeks running. Next thing I knew there was an angry contingent banging on my cabin door and jabbering away ten to the dozen. It took some time, and not a little grovelling, to restore order. The two Gurkhas offered to sort the belligerent Nigerians out for me, I'm not entirely sure that they were joking!

Collingwood was hard work, the long lectures on electrical theory, the fascinating subject of common range electrical test equipment, the days spent in the workshop, painstakingly filing metal to within a thou of a given dimension, then coming back from a couple of bevies at the Collingwood Club at lunchtime and taking off a good quarter of an inch too much and having to start again. A hectic social life didn't help academically, besides runs ashore to Fareham and Gosport, I was visiting folk clubs at least three times a week. One evening I went to the RA to find Olympus's crew, by then our sister submarine at SM2, in fine fettle. I found out the following day that she'd had a collision whilst dived in the Channel, I for one wasn't surprised. She survived the incident with a bent periscope and some minor structural damage. Then Spud and Ronnie Bouchard got into a fight with some skimmers on the way back from Fareham, I blundered into the ruckus and got my head punched square. The instructor was less than impressed when I turned up for one of the most important exams sporting a black eye and split lip "Good night's revision, Hooky?" he enquired.

It was around this time that the Admiralty had another wizard idea for messing around with the order of things. Electrical Branch Distribution (EBD) was to split the electrical branch into either weapons ratings or electrical stokers. One had to expess one's choice and hope for the best. Although I wasn't keen on being a stoker, nor was I anxious to become reaquainted with torpedoes. Luckily my first choice was accepted and, overnight, I transmuted from an LOEM into an LMEM(L); rather like a butterfly, but in reverse I always thought. In real terms the only effect this had was to make the Engineer Officer my Divisional Officer (DO) and to replace the lightening strikes on my branch badge with a more prosaic propellor.

At the end of the course we went to HMS Centurion to visit 'Drafty' to discuss where we wanted our next draft to be. I wanted to return to Devonport and asked for Olympus by way of a change, there was no vacancies on Olympus so Drafty offered me Opportune again which I was happy enough to accept. First, however, I would join Defiance as part of the Heavy L support team. I'd no sooner joined Heavy L than Opportune came out of a docking down and tied up at North Corner. I promptly went down to the after mess for a visit and a few tins. Before I'd staggered off again, Spud had had a word with the Engineer who asked me if I'd be prepared to rejoin early as they were a killick down. Although this meant having to do the post docking work-up, I accepted.

Work-up were generally dreaded, they involved an intense period of evolutions, exercises and inspections all overseen by FOSM's sea riders. Every refit and docking down was followed by a work-up which was undertaken in the Clyde areas. I always found that, so long as you approached it with the right frame of mind, work-ups weren't so bad. They certainly had the effect of pulling the crew together in the face of a common enemy, the work-up staff. FOSM's sea riders could be a funny bunch, both funny ha ha and funny peculiar. Their favourite toys were the smoke generator and the thunder-flash. The thunder-falsh, as the name suggests, was a glorified banger and was used to simulate explosions. If one went off behind you it was a sure cure for constipation. The smoke generator, which was used to simulate fires, was kept in the EMR behind the motor room switchboard. It leaked smoke and gave off a particular smell when warming up so we had a good inkling when a fire was planned, we also amused ourselves by piping "Fire, fire , fire!" when the sea riders were warming it up; after some stern words, we desisted with this game.

As the safety work-up progressed, so the intensity of the exercises increased. Fires, floods, hydraulic bursts, HP air bursts, hydroplane jams, electrical failures, they would be coming thick and fast by the second week of work-up. We were playing cribbage during one plane jam. I'd drawn the perfect hand, the only time this had ever happened to me, when the boat took on an acute downward angle. Cups, ashtrays, cards and cribbage board went shooting forward with Taff Lloyd and me tried to hang on. Taff was laughing like a loony, I was desperately trying to preserve my perfect hand when we noticed that a member of the work-up staff had gone deathly white; this was no exercise, we were in danger of plumbing the inky depths. Eventually the boat was set to rights, but my only chance of getting 29 at cribbage had gone. Ginge Sarsfield had joined as POLTO on a temporary basis, we all liked Ginge, but I'm not so sure he liked us. We'd been hard at evolutions all morning and had just sat down to lunch when another electrical failiure was sprung on us. Half way through a plate of curry, we were having none of it, so in effect staged a minor mutiny. Eventually Ginge coaxed us out of the after mess, but he took a lot of flak over the incident; sorry Ginge (actually he recently told me that he didn't dislike us over that incident, he f***ing hated us! Shouldn't have joined if he couldn't take a joke).

Work-up started with a harbour inspection, hours of fun scrubbing the boat to pass a searching rounds. It also included divisions where we paraded for inspection in our best number 1 uniforms. Inspecting officers like to stop and ask questions of various members of the crew. We had a horrible stores assistant who had a long and scraggly beard ala ZZ Top, an over fondness for cider and a taste for raw garlic. He made a point of chewing a clove of garlic before divisions just in case the officer should wish to discourse with him, it was amusing to see captains and admirals taking a hasty step to the rear. Much later in my career a leading steward almost caused HMS Trenchant to have a re-scrub of divisions. Gibbo was a ruffianly looking character with a hooked nose, dark beard and a missing front tooth, when the inspecting officer asked him "And why did you join the navy, leader?" he answered, in his best Robert Newton voice "To scour the seas of piracy sorr". The whole squad dissolved in a fit of the giggles.

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