A collection of memories best forgotten......
I was appointed Captain’s driver when the boat was alongside Yokosuka in Japan, and motored around the base with the Captain in a gleaming black Rambler American. As the speed limit throughout the base was a sedate twenty miles per hour, and the American Shore Patrolmen policed the limit with an aggressive vigour, life rolled along in the slow lane.
On one occasion the CO had me drop him off at the base wardroom, where he was to meet with Admiral Samuel Graveley, Commander Third Fleet, with strict instructions to collect him at 1300 “on the nose.” It was only 1030 and so I decided to head to the PX at nearby Iwakuni, which was reputed to be the best PX in Asia. Unfortunately Iwakuni is quite some distance from Yokosuka and it was perilously close to 1300 as I eased the big car through the base at the ridiculously low speed limit. I turned into the road leading to the wardroom as the clock on the dash ticked over to 1305 and so I decided, as the road was quite secluded with no shore patrol in sight, I could increase the speed by a few more miles per hour. I pressed on the gas pedal but nothing happened so I shoved my foot to the floor.
In an instant I was rocketing along the road at a speed approaching warp factor nine and was vaguely aware of the entrance to the wardroom flashing past on my left. The car careened around a left hand bend and then, before I know it, the road swung at ninety degrees to the left. There was no time to react and I punched a hole in the roadside hedge and found myself bouncing across a baseball diamond with people scattering in all directions.
I regained a bit of sense and swung the steering wheel to the right, paused a fraction of a second and then swung it to the left, and executed a perfect Williamson Turn! The car rocketed back through the hole in the hedge and I slowed the beast as we roared around the bend, turned into the wardroom driveway and pulled up inches behind a gleaming black sedan flying an admiral’s flag. I raced up the steps into the foyer of the wardroom where I almost collided with the admiral’s driver.
“No need to rush” he explained, I have already signed us in at 1300.” Evidently the arrival time of drivers had to be logged. I stepped outside and, to my horror, saw a shore patrol vehicle roll to a stop behind my Rambler. My heart sank, I would get three days in front of the firing squad for this.
A patrolman stepped out of the vehicle and crooked a finger, beckoning me. I adopted an innocent look and mouthed “who me?” “YES YOU!” he bellowed, and I stumbled towards him.
Just then Admiral Graveley walked out of the wardroom and asked what was going on here. The shore patrolman explained that someone had driven a car across a nearby baseball diamond and I was the prime suspect.
“When did this happen?” asked the admiral.
“About five minutes ago” responded the patrolman.
Admiral Gravely looked at his watch and noted it was now 1315. He shook his head. “Could not be this man” he said. “He was logged in to the wardroom at 1300.” The patrolman glared at me and I smiled weakly as he saluted the admiral, entered his car, and drove away slowly.
The admiral was about to step into his car when he suddenly turned and said to me “Get that brush out of the front fender before you leave here.” I pulled the bits of hedge from out of the bumper and then the CO appeared. I was never more pleased that he was late.
The Wine Bottling
As lookout onboard HMS Astute one night in 1965 near the Scilly Isles, I reported an approaching ship to the Officer of the Watch (a miserable Welsh sod). In those days it was customary for the RN to call all ships by Aldis lamp and issue a challenge.
OOW - Call the ship - make the challenge.
Aye aye Sir, and commenced flashing the approaching ship.
No answer Sir.
OOW - keep flashing
Aye aye Sir, clack clack clack '
Eventually a huge light lit up the night.
She's answered Sir.
OOW - Make the challenge
Aye aye Sir - Clack clack , clack clack - What Ship? Where Bound?
After a delay the huge light came back - RMS Queen Mary, Oo wants ter f@###g know?
The same Officer, was renowned for being late on watch when we were surface running. Every night was the same. He'd clamber into his penguin suit (heavy RN foul weather gear) and make his way to the bridge . Once there he'd order the control room messenger to make him a jug of Kai and take it to the bridge, but would never offer any to the lookout. About half way through the watch he'd ask the Jimmy to be called to relieve him as he needed to go to the heads. (The Jimmy was not a watchkeeper).
Night after night it was the same until eventually the Jimmy had had enough. He arranged with the Coxswain for the nightly Kai jug to be laced with Laxettes and the lookouts given strict instructions not to drink the Kia if offered any. About an hour after the Kai had been drunk the message was received to call the Jimmy to relieve the OOW as he needed to go to the heads. The Jim had left orders that he was not to be called and that no other officers were to called until it was time to change the watch. Needless to say the Laxettes did the job and the OOW spent a very dirty and smelly watch inside his penguin suit. He reverted to General Service shortly after.
Eric Jones recently donated two bottles of "Chateau Chunder" to the Maritime Museum in Fremantle. The following is a quick history on those bottles of fine wine (vinegar) that are going to the Ovens Museum.
The bottling was held by the Ovens Crew in Lane Cove National Park in the late 1970s. Probably 78/79. Tony Parkin was the Skipper at the time. The weather was miserable, cold and wet for most of the day, but the alcohol seemed to warm things up after a while.
We had 44 gallon drums of red and a white wine. Evidence of the red wine is still spattered over the white wine labels. The spillage occurred during transfer of the hose from one bottle to the next. Not to mention the loss of wine from the transfer of the hose from the pourers' mouths to the bottles, between fillings. There was water and wine everywhere.
After a short struggle, one intoxicated communicator managed to throw the Skipper's wife (Wendy) into a huge hollow of mud. Being the wife of a submariner, she managed to take it with a better than average sense of humour, but I'm sure she was pretty annoyed with the way that the brazen Able Seaman had treated her. Plus, to rub salt into the wound, her husband did nothing to prevent the dunking and failed to berate the sailor for his actions.
Later in the day, the After Mess and the Fwd Mess duelled in a tug of war. I'm not sure who did the dastardly deed (I think it was someone from Aft) , but to ease the effort required by his side's anchorman, a sailor decided to tie the end of the rope to one of the neatly aligned copper log fences around the park. Needless to say, the opposing Mess gave an almighty heave, pulled the fence completely out of the ground, and landed on their butts.
On the way back to the Squadron Club in the pusser's bus, the crew carried out the usual public relations display in an effort to impress pedestrians and motorists alike. Some observers no doubt took offence to some of the evolutions that were conducted in "Bong Bong Races" style, but everyone had a great day, and I don't recall seeing one broken wine bottle all day.
I opened a bottle of white, several years after this momentous event, only to discover that it tasted like vinegar. The other two have travelled with me during every removal since the "Great Ovens Wine Bottling" twenty odd years ago. You know, just in case they came in handy for something? Now I am glad that I kept them. After all, removals are free and memories are precious.
Footnote: I was there although the memory of the day are best forgotten. One thing I do know is that it cost a lot to get my car repaired...... Norm
Mare Island Navy Yard at San Francisco was quite a place in its heyday (it was closed in 1996) and the adjacent city of Vallejo had many attractions. Perhaps the most famous of these attractions, to a submariner at least, was the Horse and Cow bar, known as the Whinny and Moo. The original Horse and Cow was located on Ellis Street in downtown San Francisco and catered for the submariners from the Hunter’s Point Navy Yard. When Hunters Point closed in 1974 the bar was relocated to East Tennessee Street in Vallejo. In 1990 a second Horse and Cow submariner’s bar was opened at 2734 Lytton Street in San Diego, about a mile or so from the submarine base at Ballast Point.
As I recall the Whinny and Moo at Vallejo, immortalised by Sherry Sontag in the book Blind Man’s Bluff, was illuminated by Navy issue fluorescent lights, with one tube in each light being red so the bar could change to red lighting at the flick of a switch. It was commonly felt that you could develop film under that lighting! The booths along the wall had bunk lights. There was a mahogany bar with a brass foot rail and at one end there was a swiveling pull-out stool taken from an old World War II fleet submarine.
There were numerous ships’ plaques on the bulkheads, dozens photographs of boats surfacing or diving, a number of submarine’s bells, cloth patches from submarines around the world, and probably several thousand dollars in bank notes from various countries displayed under a plexiglass cover (obviously to stop submariners from appropriating the money and buying a drink!) I did notice an old Australian one pound note there.
There were chronometers, depth gauges, barometers and inclinometers, and a collision alarm which was activated every now and then. Even the heads came from a boat although they were modified to satisfy the building code and there was nor possibility of getting a blowback.
Every square inch of the place featured some kind of fitting or piece of equipment from submarines past and it was considered that the Mare Island engineers considered the bar a source of spare parts at one stage.
Further down the peninsula at Mountain View is another bar (whose name escapes me) opposite the entrance to Moffett Field Naval Air Station that had aircraft parts and equipment on display.
I do not know if the Horse and Cow at Vallejo is still in existence, but these places are of historical and social significance and should never be forgotten.
The Fighting Cocks public house on Clayhall Road at Alverstoke was a favoured watering hole for many an Australian prospective submariner posted to HMS Dolphin. With a small public bar, a cosy snug and the personal attendance of Jack and Thelma, the elderly couple who ran the place, it was a haven for the few hours away from base. Behind the bar was a very large (approximately six feet) model of a T-class submarine, and I often wonder what happened to it. We would play darts in the snug, snack on the week old sandwiches and enjoy a pint of the best bitter on a cold Friday evening and then wander back to Dolphin, a good thirty minutes walk.
One evening Neville McLean and I entered the bar and were greeted by an always good humoured Thelma. She pulled us both a pint and we engaged in a bit of idle chatter.
“Where’s Jack?” asked Neville.
“Oh, he’s upstairs watching the radio” replied the old girl.
“Watching the radio?” chuckled Neville, and Thelma gave us an embarrassed look.
“Dear me,” she said “I meant watching the telephone!”
We could not stop laughing for quite some time.
Jack and Thelma must have passed on by now and one of my workmates, who recently visited the UK, told me that the Fighting Cocks was now a bit of a yuppy watering hole. How times change.
Jack the Tourist
In the USofA
While in San Francisco we decided to hire a car and see the sights, and so rented a “pimp mobile”, an electric blue Oldsmobile convertible with (big mistake) white leather seats and room to accommodate the entire after ends on the rear seat. One place we wanted to go was South Tahoe and the casino and, to make the trip interesting, we drove there via Sonora Pass, a 10,000 feet high crossing of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
It was a warm and sunny morning when we set off but, as we drove through the Stanislaus River National Park, the air had a chill in it and so I put the top up and switched on the climate control. It was a steady climb up to the pass and I marvelled at the smooth white rocks along the side of the road as we ascended the pass. At the top we pulled into the car park, which was filled with camper vans and the like, where Steve Addison decided he needed a photograph of himself next to the sign which read “Sonora Pass 9,654 feet”. We tried to let him know that perhaps that was not the best idea, seeing as we were all dressed in light slacks and short sleeve shirts. Before we could stop him he leapt from the car and realized the nice smooth white rocks we had seen were actually clumps of ice and at an altitude near 10,000 feet, it was quite cold. The parka wearing tourists stared at the stupid Australians in short sleeve shirts hurriedly taking photographs alongside the sign before they froze to death!
En-route to South Tahoe we called in to a small place called Gardinerville in Nevada to get some gas and stretch our legs. The attendant came out to the car and started to fill the tank, and I looked around at Gardinerville and the surrounds. A single building which the blowing sand had blasted to a furrowed silver hue, gritty red dirt littered with grey rocks, hardy brown stunted bushes as far as the eye could see, a constantly blowing hot wind which carried away the sand and deposited in gritty clumps in our eyes. What a sight!
“Lively looking place” I remarked to the attendant.
“Has it’s moments” was his non-committal reply.
“Lived her long?” I probed.
“Born here.” He stated. “My daddy was born here, and my grand-daddy fought the Indians for this land.”
He looked around at the stark landscape, adjusted his cap and spat onto the dusty ground. “Guess he was one hot-headed son-of-gun!”
Jack the Tourist
Mark Howard was a fore-endy and, while in Singapore, he took me to see where his family had lived when his father was in the British Army. The two story houses were now deserted, and have probably been knocked down for high rise to be built, and Mark provided a running commentary as we wandered through the old house. Back outside mark had me take a photograph of the house, with him on the front porch, so he could show his parents their old house in Singapore.
A few days later Mark approached me and asked if there had been anyone present at the house, besides he and myself, when the photograph was taken. I assured Mark that there was no-one within a bull’s roar of the place – then he showed me the photograph I had taken.
There was Mark, standing on the front porch of the house, smiling at the camera. And in the window behind him was the clear face of a young man! Talk about the Twilight Zone.
Shorty Carroll was the scratcher and, on a trip to New Zealand, forgot to stock up on toilet paper. A few days out of Auckland and the unthinkable happened – we ran out of toilet paper!
The XO, Brian Clarke, was not amused and called Shorty into the wardroom for a please explain.
Ever the optimist, Shorty put his hands up - mea culpa – and explained he had a solution.
Prior to leaving Sydney was had taken on board several cartons of fresh apples, each individually wrapped in a sheet of tissue paper. Shorty had collected every piece of tissue wrapping from those apples and would issue two sheets per man per day until we arrived in Auckland where new bumpf could be purchased.
Shorty relished the fact that he had been able to resurrect that old joke about tissue issue from the tissue issuer in the tissue issue room!