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Two Rooms And A View: 96 Causing A Stir On Leave

...Angela and I had kept the postman busy during my absence and we spent most of my leave together. While working as a secretary in Newcastle, she continued studying shorthand and typing at evening classes. On a Wednesday night she usually went to the Majestic dance hall and I recall going with her in naval uniform during my leave. It caused quite a stir...

Robert Owen tells more of his national service days in the Navy.

One advantage of being in the Navy was that I got three times more holiday than at Reyrolles - six weeks as opposed to two! For my first major leave during national service, I returned to South Shields at Christmas 1956 to enjoy some home comforts.

Angela and I had kept the postman busy during my absence and we spent most of my leave together. While working as a secretary in Newcastle, she continued studying shorthand and typing at evening classes. On a Wednesday night she usually went to the Majestic dance hall and I recall going with her in naval uniform during my leave. It caused quite a stir.

When returning from leave Angela and I had a good routine worked out. I had to get the midnight train from Newcastle to London in order to be back on board ship by 8 am. To have a little extra time to ourselves, we used to get the 11 pm train from South Shields to Newcastle and take our time saying farewell in an empty compartment. Angela would then stay on the train which returned to South Shields as the last train from Newcastle.

This worked very well until one night later in my national service, unknown to us, the timetable was changed. When I got off the train, so did the driver and the guard. Enquiries confirmed that the train was finished for the night and the final train to South Shields had already left.

I was okay, but Angela was stranded in Newcastle. There was nothing else for it but to get a taxi, which in 1957, was a rarity and expensive. We didn't have enough money between us and embarrassingly, Angela had to wake her parents at 12.30 to ask them to pay a huge taxi bill. That night, my credibility took a great plunge.

After returning from Christmas leave, we started the Artificers' Orientation Course at HMS Sultan in January 1957. Up to then, I had managed to cope with most things the navy had asked of me, but I found this six-week examination course extremely difficult.

It was concerned with the technical aspects of fuel, steam, compressed air, water, and the numerous engines, boilers and ancillary equipment used on board an H.M. ship. Also, it was taught in isolation in a classroom with only photos or drawings, instead of an actual visit to a ship's boiler or engine room.

The lecturers did not seem to have heard the famous Chinese proverb, "Hear and forget, see and remember, do and understand". Not having worked in marine engineering - unlike most of my classmates - I felt very inadequate. During the six weeks, I spent many extra hours studying when the rest of the group were out enjoying themselves.

In the end the extra work paid off, and I was marginally successful in the final written examinations. The result, however, was perhaps telling me something, because, like my trade test, I was again bottom of the class. As I was usually better at academic rather than practical work, this made me think: would I be able to cope with the skilled work on board an H.M. ship? Time would tell.

About this time, in order to provide a break from study, I attempted to continue with my football refereeing career. This was easier said than done. Both the navy and two local league secretaries must have thought I was just an enthusiastic, unqualified national service sailor, seeking some extra pocket money, because they never replied to my letters. It took a strong letter from the Secretary of Durham F.A. to convince them otherwise. After that I enjoyed refereeing several games in the Portsmouth and Fareham areas.

In the navy, I found, a sailor has many loyal shipmates but perhaps few good friends. One such good friend during my national service was John Randle from Poole in Dorset. John was ex-RNVR and an acting Artificer like me. We got on well together and he helped me with my studies. He was drafted to HMS Zest so we lost contact until we met again just before discharge.

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