Submarines, especially diesel submarines, had always attracted oddballs, eccentrics and grade-one listed loonies; Opportune had its fair share. The seamen lived in the Forward Mess, the stokers and electricians (greenies) in the After Mess (another Cyril Tawney song, Chicken on a Raft, alludes to this in the line "Dab-toes forward and the Dustmen aft"). The After Mess would not have featured in any Royal Navy recruitment poster. Big and small, many bearded, covered in oil and grease from the Engine Room or carbon dust from the electical rotating machinery, leering and blowing kisses in my direction — well, I was "an essence bit of skin"in my youth. The killick of the After Mess was 'Boss' Bosson, there was a huge stoker called 'Bungie' Edwards and the Motor Room team included Ken Crawford, Barry Pinnegar and Pete Armitage. The Stores Accountant (Jack Dusty) was 'Ali' Gator and the REM (radio electrician) was 'Jesus' Westbrooke. My allotted 'sea daddy' was short of stature with a mop of greasy hair and eyes like a cat in a coal-hole. Despite the permanent grin on his pock-marked face, I doubt even his mother would call him a beauty, so it was with amazement that I saw he'd found himself a stunning girlfriend within minutes of entering the Texas Bar in the rough end of Lisbon. Boy was I an innocent back then, but more of Lisbon later.
The Senior Rates (Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers) were equally frightening. In those far off days breeches of discipline were not always dealt with at the Captain's table. There are plenty of stories about the Chief of a department shutting the bulkhead door to put his point of view across in a forcible manner. Which is not to say that all Senior Rates were tyrants, it was quite common for the lads to be invited into the Senior Rates mess for a beer whilst in harbour. In fact there was very little standing on ceremony in conventional submarines, you knew where you stood in the scheme of things, but everyone was on first name terms, even the officers in some cases. Of those I remember: Tommy Tucker was the Chief Stoker, Terry Lawler was the Donk Shop Horse, Eddie Laing (who stayed with Opportune a long time, rising to Outside Wrecker) joined around the same time as me; the Second Donkshop Horse came from my home town of Cleckheaton, strangely his name escapes me. The Coxswain and the POLTO I've already mentioned, and I seem to remember that the Chief Tiff delighted in the nickname Treewood, but I could be wrong.
The wardroom (Bunhouse) was, on the face of it, full of toffs. There were three double barrelled names amongst the officers, the skipper Lt/Cdr Pender-Cudlip, the Navigator, Lt Burnell-Nugent (Second Sea Lord at the time of writing...glad to give you your leg up BN) and SubLt Walton-Waters, the Torpedo Officer. The First Lieutenant was Rupert Best, ironically Rupert was genuine landed gentry (or so rumour had it) his family owning most of Dorset or some other such minor county. He used to wear a badge declaring that 'single barrelled names are Best'. He's now the head of development at Portland. It seems a fact that Opportune was a good posting for an officers career prospects. Besides BN, at least two former skippers have gone on to make Admiral; Rear Admiral Sir James Perowne and Rear Admiral Tim McClements, and even a former Electrical Officer, Rear Admiral Peter Davies. The boys' done good!
Part III submarine training was undertaken at sea, a very uncomfortable final leg before being awarded your dolphins and submarine cap-tally and becoming a real submariner. Submarine pay was also dependent upon successful completion of your training, as was the liberty to step ashore when in port, but the major incentive was to be no longer a Part III, an object of scorn and derision amongst the crew. So the lot of a Part III was not a happy one, even when off-watch you had to crawl around in bilges tracing ships systems, learning emergency drills, taking in the technicalities of everything from top secret sonar systems to how to blow the sewage tank, it was very intensive and there was an awful lot to take in and memorise. Personally I couldn't quite grasp the need to know the exact specification of the sonar, radio and radar outfits, but, on the other hand, it did give you something useful to let slip during interrogation by the Soviets. There were no movies for the Part III, bed, when he was finally allowed to sleep, was a hammock or camp-bed in amongst the torpedos, his constant companion was his Part III task book in which were hundreds of tasks to be completed, witnessed and signed by a qualified submariner (if you could catch one in a good mood); if good progress wasn't made then woe betide!
My first trip on Opportune was a six week patrol in the Northern Atlantic in February; no pleasure cruise. I was lucky in that I didn't really suffer from sea-sickness, but I can't say that I enjoyed the extreme 'roughers' we encountered. The after end of the boat describes a figure of eight in rough weather on the surface, keeping watches in the motor room I was sometimes hanging on for grim death. When the pipe "Diving stations, diving stations, open up for diving" was made the crew seemed quite pleased. I was, naturally, somewhat excited as my first dive approached. I don't know what I expected but the actual event was something of an anti-climax, other than a bit of a downward angle, a lessening of noise from the waves and a need to clear one's ears, there wasn't much to it. On the other hand surfacing could be quite exciting; we did one emergency surface with the spilt blow valve ( a valve which allows the compressed air to go to both saddle tanks, or to a selected side) inadvertantly lined up to port, the panel watchkeeper had been sat upon it apparantly. This caused the boat to surface with a severe list to starboard. I was struggling to get out of a bottom bunk in the forward mess at the same time that the mess teapot and assorted crockery was trying to get in.
The first week of nearly every trip was spent doing evolutions, a period of rehersing and perfecting drills and emergency procedures. There is no room for passengers on a diesel submarine and, to a certain degree, a new part III was regarded as a passenger. Unlike the surface navy, every submariner must know both his own job and that of others, so if a chef found himself in the vicinity of the forward hydroplanes when they were jammed, he would be expected to be able to line up the hydraulic system to operate those planes in hand control. It doesn't necessarily follow that a stoker would be entrusted to rustle up the Bunhouse hors d'ouvre whilst the chef was thus employed, but neither was it out of the question. I must confess that my first experience of evoloutions was not as successful as it could have been. I was sat in the forward mess day-dreaming when the Engineer (engineering officer) sidled up and, in a conversational voice, announced that there was a fire in the gash bin. As I didn't react other than to insert a finger deeper into a nostril, I was less than popular. I hope from that shaky start I improved to be a more or less valuable crew member. But it was during this trip that I ended up on defaulters for the only time in my naval career. When the order "Stand by to snort" was given, the junior motor room watch-keeper had to hare around lining up battery ventilation. This involved shutting a series of flaps starting at the front end of the boat and moving aft, then running up the battery agitation and cooling systems. Once complete this had to checked correct by an officer before the snort could begin. There was great pressure to do this quickly to the extent that the officer was often right behind you checking the line up as soon as a flap was shut. Anxious to impress I missed a flap and was duly punished with a £17 fine. I'd have probably got away with a bollocking as I'd only just got the task signed off in my part III book, unfortunately another motor room member had been 'trooped' for the same offence earlier in the trip so the skipper felt he had little option. It was a Canadian officer on exchange who got me trooped; I bear a grudge against Canadians to this day (only joking).
By the end of the first trip I was ready to take the walk throughs and oral examination necessary to pass Part III training and become a qualified submariner, a nerve racking experience which, more by luck than judgement, I scraped through. When the skipper presented me with my dolphins and submarine cap tally he brought up to my poor performance at that first fire exercise and the battery ventilation incident, so what should have been a proud moment turned into yet another bollocking.