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Open Features: Salvage Money?

...One day I got the chance to take a trip in one of our own submarines. Most carried two Telegraphists. If one was off sick or on leave a volunteer was requested from the surface ships. I had to sign a notice saying I was volunteering at my own risk, This was because I had not taken the deep sea underwater escape test all submariners had to go through...

Bob Boyd continues his story of serving as a Royal Navy telegraphist on HMS Woodbridge Haven.

To read the earlier articles in this series please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=bob+boyd

On one occasion an American submarine arrived to join in the exercises with the Royal Navy ships and submarines based in Rothesay Bay in Scotland. This was before the American submarine base at the Holy Loch was built. Our Captain invited the officers and crew to a reception on board. They thanked us, but only a couple of officers turned up and none of the crew. We had been told to arrange a film show and drinks - although in those days there was no alcohol allowed on board (except for our rum ration). Apparently the American sailors were keen to get ashore to meet the Scottish lassies and sample Scotch whisky. They were not interested in seeing an old American film and drinking coke!

We in turn were invited to visit their submarine and I was amazed to see a built-in ice cream making machine and coffee machines. They also told us they could show films themselves, although I don’t know how they found the room. Their submarines were luxurious compared with ours, but they were no better at hitting us with a torpedo!

One day I got the chance to take a trip in one of our own submarines. Most carried two Telegraphists. If one was off sick or on leave a volunteer was requested from the surface ships. I had to sign a notice saying I was volunteering at my own risk, This was because I had not taken the deep sea underwater escape test all submariners had to go through. The submarine was HMS. Alcide and the wireless office was so small only two people could squeeze in. Once we were at sea we sent off signals before diving. All the time we were under water at depth signals could not be sent or received. I do not suffer from claustrophobia, but being cramped up in such a small office with no porthole was not very comfortable. Not only that, after a while water started to drip in from the deck head above. My Telegraphist colleague said “it always does that when we get below 100 ft. Just put a bucket underneath.” I thought that’s a good start, what happens at 1000 ft.?

Getting rather bored I thought it would be interesting to take a walk around. I was quickly told this was not allowed as it could affect the trim all the time we were under water. I also would have liked to look through the periscope, but only the Captain and First Lieutenant were allowed to use it, and certainly not a lowly Telegraphist.

Soon it was back again to Rothesay and the depot ship. I was not sorry to be back and glad I had not volunteered to serve on submarines. The pay was better, but I liked to see where I was going, to breathe the fresh air - and to walk around the ship.

One day out on exercise near the Isle of Skye a gale blew up and we received an SOS from a cargo ship that had run aground in one of the lochs. Having never received an SOS before there was much excitement as we quickly steamed to the rescue. Our crew were talking about salvage money and how we would tow this ship to safety, but when we arrived the freighter’s captain told us he hoped to re-float on the next high tide and would only ask for assistance if necessary. Of course, that is exactly what happened and we were not required at all.

Once a year a big exercise was held in the Atlantic with ships of the Home Fleet and foreign warships. The exercise was called Summer War and we were to take part in it. I thought it would be quite exciting as there was a blue fleet defending and a red fleet attacking, with a convoy in the middle. Guess who was to be part of the convoy.
HMS Woodbridge Haven.

Several ships made up the convoy and we zigzagged at about 5 knots through a heavy Atlantic swell. As we bobbed about like a cork some of the lads were going down with sea-sickness. Although I did not suffer myself I did not feel capable of eating anything for a few days.

We were told to keep our headphones on and to read all the Morse code signals coming through. These were in code and we were kept busy coding and decoding messages to and from ships and the Admiralty in London. We were so busy that one did not think about sea-sickness, and sleeping in a hammock at night was quite comfortable in rough weather.

After a week or two we were homeward bound, but called in for a few days at Londonderry. It was good to get ashore for a look around a different town. There was no trouble in those days and we were made welcome wherever we went.

On our return I was sent on a course for Leading Telegraphist to Rosyth Naval base on the east coast. There were several Telegraphists from various ships taking part with coding and Morse exercises to complete. After this I returned to the Woodbridge Haven and we sailed south back to Chatham where the ship was due for a refit. I had spent about 18 months aboard and together with the rest of the crew it was back to barracks to await my next assignment.

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