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Open Features: It's Me Or The Navy

....As many of the farms were getting cut-off with snow, myself and another telegraphist were taken by helicopter to set up a temporary communications base at Wick, further north. We had walkie-talkies and could communicate with the helicopters that would take supplies to farms. It was an interesting time, but I can remember it being very very cold as we were housed on a small disused airfield where there was very little heating....

Bob Boyd was posted to a Navy Air Station in Scotland.

This is the concluding episode of Bob's account of his service in the Royal Navy. To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=bob+boyd

After the exercise with frogmen at Sheerness our ship sailed down the Thames. We anchored in the river near Erith for further underwater surveys to be carried out. I could not easily get ashore, acting a ship’s postman as postman, but our Captain asked the passing River Police if they would give me a lift in to the nearest Post Office. This happened several times and once in the Police Superintendent's personal launch, where I felt very privileged.

From Erith we moved down river to London’s Surrey Docks and tied up alongside the jetty. It was easy to get ashore now and I could take the train down to Gillingham where my girl friend lived. Surveys were carried out in several of the London docks and eventually we moved back to Chatham dockyard where we were sent into barracks to await our next draft. This suited me fine as I could get ashore every evening to meet my girl friend.

As I still had about 18 months to go before my 7 years was up I knew I would get a further assignment, but was rather shocked to be given H.M.S. Fulmar, the Naval Air Station at Lossiemouth in Scotland. It could not have been much further away, without going abroad, although a Naval Air Station would be an interesting assignment. My girl friend promised to keep in touch by letter and phone. I thought if this romance lasts the enforced separation it would give us time to consider our future together.

It was a long train journey to Lossiemouth near Elgin, but I soon settled in to one of the Nissan huts that housed the telegraphists and various other naval staff. The base (it is now an R.A.F. base) was home to a squadron of Sea Vampires, Meteors and several helicopters. The Vampires were used for training purposes and a dummy aircraft carrier deck was used for practising taking off and landing.

There were six telegraphists and our job was communicating with the aircraft from the control tower over voice radio. Each position had a wire tape recorder so that all messages could be checked if there was a problem or a plane had crashed. We tested all communications before take off and switched to an emergency frequency whilst they were in the air. Air traffic control was carried out by naval officers. Emergency calls were rare and usually because other communications had failed. Never-the-less we had to be on our guard to act quickly to report any problems. There were two aircraft crashes whilst I was there, but they had nothing to do with communication failures.

During the winter of 1954 there was heavy snowfall all over Scotland, our runways were cleared and flights continued, but it was bitterly cold getting to and from the control tower early in the dark mornings. One of the lads found a flare that had been dropped by an aircraft and to see if it would burn he foolishly put it in our hut’s stove. As it was made of magnesium it certainly did burn and soon the stove was red hot. It threw out so much heat the pipe going through the roof started to burn. We had to climb up with buckets of water to stop the whole roof catching fire. Fortunately it soon burnt itself out. We kept very quiet about that episode.

As many of the farms were getting cut-off with snow, myself and another telegraphist were taken by helicopter to set up a temporary communications base at Wick, further north. We had walkie-talkies and could communicate with the helicopters that would take supplies to farms. It was an interesting time, but I can remember it being very very cold as we were housed on a small disused airfield where there was very little heating. After a week or so it was decided we were no longer required at Wick. We were flown by helicopter north to land on an Aircraft Carrier just off the coast. The carrier had picked up supplies for the helicopters to take to farms and communications continued from the ship. We were eventually flown back to Lossiemouth. So for one short period I had spent time on an aircraft carrier after all.

I had kept in touch with my girl friend by letter and she would telephone me at the weekend. The problem was we could only both use public phones at home and on the base. Although we arranged for a time to contact each other sometimes the phone was in use. If the phone call was incoming it would be announced over the Tannoy. I would then jump on to a bicycle and quickly get to the phone box some distance away. The young people today don’t know how lucky they are with their mobile phones.

As I was nearing demob I could request a transfer nearer home with the idea of looking for civilian work. This was a request I soon put forward. Once granted I was sent south to serve on the Cruiser H.M.S. Diadem, the depot ship for Chatham Reserve Fleet. She was stationed permanently in Chatham dockyard and my duties were mainly checking and testing radio equipment and acting as postman for the Reserve Fleet of several ships.

I was interviewed by a senior officer to discuss my future in the Navy. I was advised that if I were to sign on for a minimum of a further five years there was a good chance of becoming a Petty Officer Telegraphist, although I had already made up my mind to leave the Navy. I had proposed to my girl friend who answered “Yes - but you have to choose between me and the Navy, as I don’t want to travel the world.”

So a marriage date was fixed and I left the Navy for good. I had enjoyed my seven years and was still on reserve for a further five years. I said to her “I would probably be a captain by now if I had stayed on."

Her reply was “Yes, but a single one!”

After more than 50 years of married life what can I say?

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