A sort of Autobiography
|I will add more photos and links as and when I think of them. Its all over the place rather than in an exact chronological order but I'm getting there.
I promise to expand on stories and my adventures when I can. My mood must be right for such things. (also have to consider how much detail I should include for the protection of the innocent).
The picture on the right was taken 4 weeks ago. Told you I was good looking !!!
I was born April 27th 1959 to Mary and Dennis Churchley, at home in Putney London, my parents 5th child. My Baptism took place at St Margarets Putney on Sunday January 24th 1960. I was 1 day short of 9 months old. My God parents are Joyce and Skipper. Joyce is my fathers sister.
|My mother informs me that as a toddler I was a very neat child always puting things away. Anything went missing would always crop up in the bottom drawer of the dresser in my parents bedroom. I still am a tidy (ish) person, although this doesnt expand to my clothes at the end of the day for some reason.|
I did on one occasion give my parents reason for nightmares. Somehow, and to this day my mother still doesn't know how. I had managed to climb out of my cot, scale to the top of a large cupboard and proceed to eat loads of baby aspirins. I believed them to be "sweeties". I was rushed to hospital for a stomach pump. Needless to say I recovered but not after ageing my mother a few years.
I visited Putney recently and was surprised that it was not as run down as I expected. It seemed a lot smaller then I remember as well !!. I was also surprised to learn that the school I first started in Putney was less than half a mile away as was the home from which my parents moved into Tildsley Road. My eldest brother has memories of moving house then and carrying his toys in a pram from one house to the other.
Churchley Family Tree. This page link needs to be smartened up for better presentation. At the moment it just contains links but can be reproduced and makes sense. I would like to thank Richard & Frank Churchley for all the work involved. The links directly from me are still to be added but its an interesting piece of work all the same
We lived in a Council flat on the Ashburton Estate, Putney. 497 Tydlesly Road. I one of the 4 of the last 5 children being born at home. I recall it was small and that was the main reason for us moving in May 1964. I had my first birthday party at the flat shared with my older brother John. The first party I have on my own would be my 21st. An advantage with having children near the same birthdays is the cost of parties could be shared. Robert and Denise are a good example. There are not many memories from those days except receiving a toy gardening set from Angela Mccquillan. She was about a year or two older than me and I was deeply in love.
I had always in my mind a faint memory of one of my brothers, John, pushing me into the pond at Putney Heath, (a few minutes walk from our home). I could only have been 3 and half or 4 years of age. In those days children played alot more safely on the roads and ventured further without supervision. It was only recently that after discussing this memory with David he mentioned that John did indeed push me in. It was a friend of Davids who grabbed and pulled me out. After that I was like a limpet to Davids friend and would cling to him whenever he was around. Cute or What My eldest sister, Susan and me, Putney aged about 2 1/2
There was an old Co-op shop around the corner from us, my mother used to take us shopping there. I can definitely remember our old Co-Op number, 38286. One of the assistants (Peggy ??) often gave us a small sweet and one day she even gave me a mouth organ. I dont know why. Maybe it was to stop me from talking so much.
I have memories of around the flat and on one occasion my eldest sister Susan screaming after finding an earwig clinging to her pants while drying in the bathroom. Faint recollections of having a budgie flying around the living room. This and a terrifying day at Trafalgar Square has probably led to my dislike of birds flying around. Not to say I do not appreciate the beauty and grace of these creatures but I prefer them in a pie and do not like them near me.
My first school only a few minutes walk away and watching the rain collect on the window panes. The photograph of Susan and I, I feel I can remember being taken or is it that I have seen it so often it is confused with memory.
A photograph of all the family shortly after Roberts birth taken on the grass outside the flat. Me with my fingers up my shorts !!!.
My birth certificate dated 25th May 1959 Putney Wandsworth notes that my father (one of 13 children himself) was a painter and decorator. The last time I knew of him doing that work. He was always a Lead Glazier to me and away so often from home that I have very little memory of him in my first 10 years of life. My memories of him are of the way he smelt, of the building site, cigarette smoke and sweat. Not very pleasant you may think, but whenever I experience that combination I travel back to my childhood and see him coming through the door tired and dirty. He would fall into the armchair by the fire and soon be off to sleep. Arms folded across his chest on waking he would call for my mother to help him release his seized up arms.
A man of incredible strength who was always a hero to me. Just as a father should be to a child. Perhaps if I knew him when I got older that impression may have faded and I would have got to know the real him. As he died early, aged 47 I would never know. In my world, and through the eyes of a child growing up he was perfect, despite the things I have learnt since.
The family moved to Colliers Wood, South London in 1964, 4 days after my 5th birthday. I remember travelling in the back of the furniture van. Something I am sure is not allowed these days. It was an adventurous journey for us. I have memories of peering out of the van and watching Wimbledon Common parkside go by. The journey lasted it seemed, forever, but in reality was only 3 or 4 miles. On arrival I recall being swamped by the size of our new home. Home for the next 22 years. 25 Warren Road, Colliers Wood was a 4 bedroom council house. Bedrooms were duly allocated. We had our first meal sitting on the bare boards in the living room, Mum cooking on a camping gas stove and wood gathered from somewhere for the open fire. My mother had great plans for the house which were never realised for one reason or another.
My brother John and I went exploring as the furniture was being unloaded and we instantly got lost (his fault !!). The area and house seemed huge. I was looking forward to employing my new birthday present in the jungle that was the back garden. Over the years my father would concrete more and more. Less mud and grass, cleaner kids. That was the theory but we still managed to get dirty somewhere. I wonder if our hand prints and the cats paw prints are still in the concrete in the alley?.
The house had 4 rooms downstairs. The lounge at the front and David and Douglas' bedroom immediately behind. Down the hallway and into the kitchen. A very tiny room no more than 6 feet across. It would be many years before Mum got the council to knock the wall down and turn the dining room into a kitchen Diner. Mum used to wash us at night for bed in the kitchen sink. Sitting on the draining board with our feet in the sink and having a flannel rubbed over us. I am not sure how often we had baths, probably only the once a week. Even then it was one out, next one in. For a large'ish house the bathroom was very small indeed with the smallest sink I have ever seen.
The back garden was like a jungle to us, all overgrown. A shed falling down and and outside toilet. Something we found very useful with 10 of us in the house.
Upstairs consisted of three bedrooms divided between Mum and Dad at the front. Susan and Denise in the middle and John Peter and I at the back. Robert, still in a cot slept with mum and dad. When Robert got a little bigger John, Peter, Robert and I changed with Mum and Dad and got the front bedroom. A very small toilet and bathroom completed the top landing. Dad put up a false ceiling in the hallway to reduce the heatloss. No central heating just the open fires in the main living room. Many a time during the winter we would wake up to have condensation frozen onto the inside of the windows in our bedroom. After a while a small paraffin heater was bought for the downstairs hallway to keep the chill out. This had to be topped up last thing at night or it would go out. At one point we had a gas bottle fire in our bedroom and the first one awake would venture out of bed to turn it on. We would rush downstairs and get dressed in front of the fire/heater in the dining room. The dining room led out onto the garden and was only protected by large glass frontage and doors. The heat escape must have been tremendous.
We were all in bed one winters evening when a tremendous crash awoke us in our bedroom. Part of the ceiling had given way as somehow water had seeped its way in. It seemed ages before the hole in the roof was fixed and redecorated. Plaster fell over Johns bed and it scared the living daylights out of him. Even till the day we left the house you could still see the mark on the ceiling.
By this time John was in his own bed. The upstairs bedroom with four of us in included John and I sharing a double. We would eventually end up with bunk beds.
Plenty of good memories from the house. We used to play hide and seek in the dark whenever our cousins would come around. That was always an adventure as the house seemed so big and plenty of spaces. In the alley way between ourselves and the Rose's next door we would climb up the wall by straddling each wall, legs wide apart. When we reached the top it would be a race to the bottom. How we ever kept the skin on our fingers or failed to break bones is beyond me. The memory of the way we climbed always came back back to me whenever I found myself climbing in the mountains somewhere. I suppose it also gave me a good head for heights.
By this time John was in his own bed. The upstairs bedroom with four of us in included John and I sharing a double. We would eventually end up with bunk beds.
Plenty of good memories from the house. We used to play hide and seek in the dark whenever our cousins would come around. That was always an adventure as the house seemed so big and plenty of spaces. In the alley way between ourselves and the Rose's next door we would climb up the wall by straddling each wall, legs wide apart. When we reached the top it would be a race to the bottom. How we ever kept the skin on our fingers or failed to break bones is beyond me. The memory of the way we climbed always came back back to me whenever I found myself climbing in the mountains somewhere. I suppose it also gave me a good head for heights.
Worst jobs. Getting the coal from the scuttle at night in the cold and dark when the fire needed stoking. Watching mum struggle with an old mangle trying to ring the water from clothes on a Monday. Monday was indeed wash day. Monday was also bubble and squeak day when whatever was left from the weekend was made up for our evening meal.
I find it all a little hard to visualise sometimes. The memories come back to me and I think "did we really grow up like that". School meals, Vouchers from the council for school uniforms and more hand me downs then I can remember. Mum every night sitting down and knitting.
On top of and despite everything there was always a tremendous amount of love in the house. Yes, we fought as all kids do but it was always "as Churchley's we can take on the world and win". Mum and Dad always provided a meal each day even though they sometimes went without themselves. We had clothes, a bloody good hiding each time we put a hole in the trousers of our new school uniform. We had presents for our birthdays. I always was jealous of alocal lad who got all the best new toys for his birthday (only child) but we had more around us then he and other single children could ever imagine. We had each other.
At age 5 I started my 2nd school, Singlegate Infants, in Colliers Wood. My first real memory of Singlegate infants was it being very large and daunting. I recently drove past the school and was amazed at how small it really was. The classrooms always seemed cold and every noise echoed throughout. Memories of lessons and the sudden dawning of understanding basic mathematics. Yes !! I could now multiply large sums. The pouring over a painting ending up with a black mess and then not owning up to it when the teacher handed them out at home time. oh the embarressment.
School friends ?. I am unable to recall many. The only other children I remember were the twins Jane and Claire Bridges. They were my first girlfriends (or at least so I thought). Last time I saw them was shortly before my 21st birthday. I used to impress them with my passable Woody Woodpecker impression.
I recently managed to catch up with Jane and Claire via the Friends Re-united web site. Long emails have passed between us it it is so nice to know they are doing well with their own families. Ironically they are both still living around the corner from their mum but this time in Cromer. I was working up there a year or so back and was literally a stones throw from their homes and didn't know.
The classrooms were cold but playtime was always hot and warm. Having lessons outside on the grass was a dream, I seem to recall being more interested in watching the big office block opposite being built. The school was attached to the Juniors and I was always worried about being in the big school and how everyone looked taller than me. (They were, I was always small for my age up to about 22).
The teachers and lunchtime staff were strict but friendly. Alas their names evade me.
We used to have school dinners in the main hall and even though we were only 5 – 7 serving our selves. A trolley would come pass with metal trays of food in. These would be divided up between the normal 8 children at the table. One child was always nominated to do this. School dinners by tradition were terrible and these were no exception. Most of the food stayed in the trays or just pushed around the plate. I cannot remember any meal I really enjoyed. Pudding however was a different thing altogether. My favourite, Treacle sponge pudding. I and one other boy ploughed our way through the whole tray one lunchtime and with plenty of lumpy custard to help it down were both thoroughly sick afterwards. My love of Treacle sponge to this day has not wavered one iota.
School bottles of milk were either freezing cold so that the ice had pushed the top off the bottle or so warm the milk had curdled by the time we were made to drink it. I feel the teachers loved seeing us drink warm lumpy milk during the summer months
From the Infants onto the Juniors.
During one particular day at school I was walking thorough the playground when the best Cricketer in the school (Lloyd) decided that was the time to go for a smash and miss the ball completely. What did connect to the bat was my head. I sat down instantly and just felt as though everything was going in slow motion and people deciding to talk in slurs. The lovely Mrs Etherington (whom I knew for my remaining school years) took me to the local hospital in Tooting for a check up. She never allowed me to stop talking and kept me awake. Whilst walking through the car park at the hospital a wall decided to jump out at me. One minute it was standing there nice and straight the next it threw itself at me and knocked me over. It was the first time Mrs Etherington had let go of me in an hour. Poor woman was quite concerned about me. I had an Xray and was collected from the hospital by my mother. Fortunately the hospital was nearer to our home then the school was.
I was not the brightest student tried to keep out of trouble but failing miserably. Once punished for having a fight in the boys toilet with Stephen Snell. I made his nose bleed. I was given the slipper and Stephen sent home early. Next time, I thought I would get the nose bleed. I, even to this day know Stephen started the fight and I threw lucky punch. My only other fight at the school was with Paul Nathan. I had him pinned down and thumping his face I just stopped. I recall to this day the horror of how easy it was to be able to hurt someone and was quite disgusted with myself. I learnt this lesson aged 9 or 10. Since then I have walked away from nearly every bit of trouble I managed to get myself in to.
My best friend at Junior school also lived in my road. Leonard Chapman. We lost touch at age 13 when he moved to Motspur Park and on to another school. Lennie did come back to the area once and asked after me but I was away with the navy at the time. So if anyone knows where Lennie is get him to contact me.
I went through the comprehensive system attending Singlegate Juniors, Alphea Middle school, both in Colliers Wood until eventually Raynes Park High School in Raynes Park.
My early school days were very pleasant. I had plenty of friends with whom we would play during the holidays and at weekends. I recall attending a birthday party at about age 9 in a friends flat. Terry Robson. I spent the entire afternoon filling in all the pictures of the colouring book I had brought as a present. His mother reminded me of it every time I saw her over the coming years.
It must of been around this time that I started Cub Scouts at the local Scout hut. Atlasta Hall. Named because it took so long to get the hall. John had been in the cubs and scouts and was doing well so it was natural for me to follow. I did enjoy it but had geat difficulty in remembering the promise. You had to know it by heart to be a fully fledged Cub. The promise was written on several pieces of paper which I duly lost, accidently destroyed, washed etc. I have great memories of embarrassment when asking for yet another piece of paper with the cubs promise on. Eventually one of the Cub Scout Leaders managed to laminate the promise onto plastic and present it to me knowing I couldnt destroy it. Lamination was something new in those days and I recall some of the others being a little jealous that my promise was laminated and theirs were only on a bit of paper. Feeling quite smug I put the laminate in my back pocket, sat down and heard it snap in half. I never went back to Cubs again.
I moved onto my high school about 3 miles from my home at age 13. This involved a bus ride each morning from Merton garage to Raynes Park. A service which at the time could only be best described as "iffy".
None of my friends went to the same school and it was larger then anything I had seen before. Being small I became quite introverted and this led to a large amount of bullying. Looking back I believe this was my main reason for so much truancy. I was badly kicked once on a football field and limped home feeling very low indeed. I have very few happy memories of my latter school years other than being a ball boy at Wimbledon and getting involved with the dramatic society at school. My last few years at school were not pleasant ones. I was very small, and a bit of a late developer. I had no support from the teachers or staff as they seemed too busy just keeping control of the other boys. My school record was very unimpressive. Attendance low and grades even lower. I disliked the school, the staff and the other pupils.
I only had one favourite teacher, she taught English. Miss Swift. She had only recently qualified from being a student and I think we were one of her earlier classes. Can honestly say I learnt little from her but loved going to her class. My first crush !!!.
My only real friend at the time was a lad named Alastair Goodwin. I cannot remember how we met but built up a close friendship very quickly. Alastair and I both joined Sea Cadets at the same time after watching the local cadet unit band perform at a nearby park.
Alastair and I would catch the bus into the centre of London rather than the other way to school. Even today I do not know if Alastair influenced me or the other way around. Probably a bit of both. I don't blame my school for their lack of interest in me as it was a large school and not that great. It also reflected the times and area in which I lived. If you came out of my school with half dozen O levels you were considered pretty clever.
My education was in the Centre of London. We would spend hours in the Science and Natural History museum. A good place to skive off school as you would get lost with the other school visits going on around us. Ironically it never dawned on me that I was receiving an education right there and then. Not a formal one, but I learnt much which had stuck with me throughout my life. Today I still enjoy wandering around those same buildings. There is a never ending display of information. I am not truly sure whether it has all been exhibited yet. The last time I went I took my wife and children. I was surprised how much it cost, although worth the admission price several times over. The dinosaur fossils seemed a little smaller then I recall and I was a little disappointed by the lack of delight on my childrens faces. They were impressed but ready to move on immediately. I used to stand and stare at them for what seemed like forever in wonder. To me these were things I had never seen or heard much about. Today there is so much information and dinosaurs are very popular amongst kids. On display was the original Finch that Charles Darwin brought back from his travels and the main inspiration for his Origin of the Species publication. I felt the same sense of awe as in my first visit 25 years previous. History comes to life in such places and long may they be supported and continued.
I left school with 3 or 4 CSE’s all of a low grade. How I achieved them I will never know. I had been playing truant for quite a while and missed too much to make any impression on my exam results. I remember I did not even finish my English paper. I foolishly felt that an English Literature paper should not have been based on an American book "The Red Badge of Courage". I rebelled and left the hall halfway through the exam. I had it set in my mind I would join the Royal Navy and the October before had passed my entrance exams. This was the plan for both Alastair and myself, Alastair being even keener then I was. Unfortunately for Alastair he was found to be slightly colour blind and this affected his entrance. I found this a little hard to believe at the time that it was never noticed before. I felt it may of been because of his writing skills. It seemed the right thing for me to join the RN as I had been in the local Sea Cadets for a few years and my interest in the Navy naturally grew. The Navy was my way out. I could never envisage myself holding down a normal 9 to 5 job. The idea of travelling to work to the same place and same job each day did not appeal to me at all. I still feel the same way, hence my current employment.The Navy was also an employment opportunity that needed little educational qualifications. I had been in the Sea Cadets for 4 years and enjoyed the opportunities it gave me as a youngster. The fact that I managed those CSEs, has always been a constant surprise to me considering I spent many months of my final year playing truant. My only interest outside school, other than the Sea Cadets was swimming. I was pretty good but being so small could not compete against children of my own age. They were not only bigger than me but I distinctly remember them being a lot hairier as well. There was one lad who seemed to have been born in water. My memories of him was huge wide shoulders that seemed ridiculously large on young man. Strange what you remember from your childhood.My interest in swimming continues to this day. I have many memories as a child going swimming either with family, friends or on my own. As a treat one summers day my mother decided to take us all to the pictures to see the Aristocats. I declined the offer and asked if I could have the money to go swimming instead. The local pool was a short bus ride away but in Wandsworth was an open air pool. The admission price was for all day but was more expensive then the local pool. This meant a 3 mile walk to the pool. It was worth it as I must have spent over 6 hours there before walking home again exhausted.
The only thing I ever really enjoyed at school was when we went swimming. Although I was not as good as some I was very confident in the water and continually went for my advanced swimming badges and life saving awards. At the half mile certification I realised that I could just go on swimming and didn't need to prove myself anymore. Much to the dissapointment of the teachers who felt "Could do better".
Even though very small with the Sea Cadets I was involved with a sponsored swim. I was expected to complete around 6 laps of the pool (150m). My determination shone through and I managed 14 laps before being told to get out. This determination of mine has held me well over the years. I will do what needs to be done when it is necessary. And again, only if I feel it necessary.
Swimming also led me onto one of my favourite sports, Scuba Diving, which I was introduced to in Hong Kong and Naples.
In my final year at school I was one of several boys who volunteered to be a Ball Boy at the 1975 Wimbledon Tennis Championships. The training started early and we were put through our paces quite considerably.We needed an awareness of the game and how to look after ourselves. I was finally selected to be a ball boy and was allocated court No 3. There was myself and 3 other boys. We covered every match, every day. By the end of the day we would be coached back to South Wimbledon from where I would get a bus home. Sometimes this was as late as 10pm.I hope they do it differently today.
I was initially disappointed not to be selected for the two show courts but our trainer told us later that we shouldn't be. The show courts had two teams of 6 ball boys running the court who swapped over every so often. On ours it was just the 4 of us all day. I felt the other boys thought they were better than us for being selected for the show court but I now know differantly. (Do I, or was that a way to get over our disappointment ?).
The summer of 75' was hot and long although being Wimbledon we did have the occasional rain. There were many big names at the championships and I was proud to be able to go home and tell my parents of whom played on No3 court that day. People like the extremely popular Bjorn Borg, Englands Buster Mottram beating Stan Smith (73 champion). A very young Martina Navratilova. Jimmy Connors, Billy Jean King and Ilie Nastase. All the players were very polite and appreciative of the ball boys. They were forever thanking us. That year Billy Jean King won her last Wimbledon Singles final beating Yvonne Cawley (Goolagong) and the American Arthur Ashe defeating Jimmy Connors for the mens title. Still the only black man to win at SW 19. I cant remember ever being so tired for so long. The days for us started around 9am with a coach pick up at Morden. We were deposited back in the evening around 9:30pm. There were none of the perks the ball boys and girls enjoy today. We returned the kit at the end of the championships. Remember the green and purple checked shirts ?. Lovely. I had to buy a pair of black plimsolls before being allowed on the courts. We were allowed to buy some tennis balls cheaply. Food was supplied but in all I feel the All England Club had a good deal going. I wasn't too surprised to find some of our teachers turning up during the championships either. Today I still keep a sneaky eye on the runners across the net looking for mistakes. I don't see too many they are as well trained today as they have ever been
I have been back to Wimbledon several times since. As a visitor, to watch my youngest brother Robert be a ball boy in 1980 and to steward whilst in the Royal Navy. (Something I applied for about 8 times but was only available the once). Each time I sit in wonder of the place. I hope that the grass championships continue and those who whine about the surface appreciate that to be a real champion you have to be able to play on all surfaces. I hear players talk about Wimbledon. Those who cannot come to grips with the surface slag it off while the others appreciate the special place Wimbledon has in world tennis.
I joined the Royal Navy 14th October 1975 at HMS Ganges. Resolution 934 class. A shore training establishment at Shotley Gate, Ipswich. Junior Radio Operator 2nd Class. Official number D155197C. I was told by an angry instructor that the only reason I achieved the rate of JRO2 was that they didn't have JRO3s any more. Must admit I used the line a few times myself over the next 23 years. My mother told me she cried as I boarded the train in London. My younger brother Peter thought it was great I was leaving. Although it was for only a few weeks basic training they were some of the worst 6 weeks of my life. The food was absolutely dreadful and as the establishment was due to close in a further 7 months time little had been spent on home comforts. Maybe that was the policy then to harden the "boys" up.
The establishment had places like "Faith Hope and Charity". a flight of steps we were made to run up and down. The "Quarterdeck" where no-one dared saunter across. If you had to go across the Quarterdeck you "doubled smartly". This involved having your arms tucked into your side with your clenched fists tight against your check while half running. Always felt like a prune everytime I had to do that. Ganges was also famous for its large Mast. Part of the ritual there was to climb the mast, although this was not officially recognised. There were horror stories of people falling to their deaths and so on but for one of the first times in my life showed no fear. I did however when one of the rungs I stood on snapped below me. Shortly after that the mast was closed. Memories of being doubled up and down the "Long covered Way" in our pyjamas and wearing a Gas Mask. The instructors used to come in of a morning and throw the metal spit kid down the length of the dormitory and get us out of bed with continual shouting. All good character building I am sure. Worst of all for me I was still being bullied by the other lads. My first photograph in uniform shows a sixteen year old youth who looked 12 years of age. Several times in my first few years I was asked if I were a Sea Cadet. I have always looked younger then I am and even when reaching 21 was still being asked for my ID to prove over 18 !!. This growing up late probably explains my natural youthfull appearance now at age 41.
On one occasion it was my turn to do the laundry and as we had a washing machine in the dormitory I decided on doing all the White Fronts. I didn't realise that my red pyjamas were also in the wash bag and everything came out a love shade of pink !!.
I had to go back to school at Ganges for my English and Maths were not up to the required standard to be a Radio Operator. I know exactly how my students felt 20 years later when I became an instructor. We were taught basic seamanship skills and the finer points of shooting, getting exhausted in the Gym, freezing during damage control exercises and learning how to hold a rifle while trying to walk like sailors. (never could understand the last bit. I didn't expect to march much on a ship so why bother.) I had more injections in me then spines on a porcupine. Rather than put on weight to build myself up I lost a few pounds. That has a lot to do with the famous Ganges cuisine. I am sure that rats eating out of a dustbin have had better.
On one of our last parades the inspecting officer asked me if I was enjoying myself at Ganges. I replied
for which came back
"Good, carry on"
My mother and father came to Ganges for the passing out parade and promptly agreed about the standard of food. My father told me he was proud of me. The first and last time he ever did. We went into Ipswich to find something to eat later on but to no avail as being a Sunday it was all closed up. I was glad my parents managed to come as my father was still very ill. It was only 6 months after his first heart attack and recovery was slow.
Six weeks after joining Ganges we were moved to our specialist training establishments. So as JRO2 Churchley I unpacked my kitbag at HMS Mercury. Another shore establishment, this time just outside Petersfield in Hampshire.
Now I really started to become miserable.
I was struggling with the training and my lack of education was beginning to tell. The subjects seemed to be another language altogether. Morse code was totally lost on me and although I would eventually crack it, throughout my career it was something I had to continually practice to keep up the required standards. I remember someone telling me that reading Morse was an ability you either had or didn't. If you didn't have it you never would. It was the only real thing I worked hard on in those days. I was lazy, immature, stubborn, not the brightest of people and again being continually bullied. I returned to my messdeck one day only to find my bed wrecked and having holes in my sheets and pillow case where someone had thought it funny to shred with a pair of scissors. No-one owned up to the deed and I was to buy a new set of bed clothes. I lifted my pillow a few mornings later to have a note which named the culprit below. He was dismissed from the Navy as being "of not the right material". Something that would not happen today as the Navy are desperate to keep people in no matter what. Such fun days and practical jokers. When in future years I became a trainer I took much from those days and applied myself. I never gave up on a student, and still don't.
A few instructors and Senior Rates saw something in me worth developing and for them I am forever grateful. One in particular, Dave Morris a Fleet Chief Yeoman, onboard HMS Bulwark. The management and leadership he possessed made me want to want to give the navy a serious try. He was also my divisional officer at HMS Mercury for one of my professional courses. He would often talk with me, tell me I was a prat, and put me back on the right track again. I unfortunately went through life with a "just do enough" attitude. I owed nothing to anyone so why bother. Dave "inspired" me. A bit heavy I know but I have been racking my brains, and failing for a more appropriate word. I recently managed to contact Dave and finally, nearly 20 years later thanked him. I asked what he saw in me that made him give the extra effort. He mentioned that I reminded him of himself in some ways when he was younger.
On leaving the Navy one of my colleagues mentioned that I was a lot cleverer and intelligent then I wanted people to know. He asked me why I went out of my way to hide it. The answer is I do not rightly know. I of course agreed with him on the spot though. I hate seeing things done wrong and at times knew that I could do a better job. My approach to such times were never diplomatic and lacked a little tact (Understatement). This always wound up people the wrong way and was something I learnt to perfect over the years. (Winding people up that is). In my last few years I treated the Navy with contempt and when asked by my 'superiors' told them so. Always believed in given a straight answer to a question. I lost count the amount of times Lynne said to me "Oh tell me you didn't really say that". It is strange but when I am teaching students I have an infinite amount of patience. I expect my superiors to be cleverer than me and have difficulty when some are not. Just because some people are better educated then others or have grasped more opportunities doesnt automatically command respect in my book. Always believed that respect from me must be earnt.
I have always had problems accepting praise from people for a job well done. almost an emarressment. I know when I have done a good job and did not need someone telling me so. On the other hand it is a basic human instinct to be accepted and acknowledged. I was caught short on one of my last ships when my lack of practice let me down. I felt a little embarresed as I had decided a few months earlier I wasn't going to keep up with the things I had to know. I was looking for an easy life and had it. I was due to leave the navy in the next year or so and had wrapped my hand in. When I have the incentive to do something I go for it fully. I feel I always have to have a valid reason to do something. It has never been to make myself look better then someone else. I didn't even mind if someone got praise for a job and not I for the same thing. I know when I have done well and that is usually good enough for me.
Recently I have come to be made aware that I need to let others know that I am doing a good job. I have to sell myself a little more and let possible future employers know what I offer.
I got frustrated (and still do) when I see things being done badly. There were many examples of this in the Navy. I was asked my opinion and I always gave it as I saw it. Eventually I replied to a request of my opinion "do you want your answer or mine". It never went down well. Once I was threatened with insubordination for the reply.
This was still many years down the line when I finally came out of my shell. In my early career I was described on a report as introverted. Anyone who knows me now would say the opposite. Within 6 years the word would change to gregarious. For now I was a young fresh faced recruit in a world totally alien to me.
I was unhappy during my training and failing badly.
I knew I couldn't pack the navy in, leaving for me was not an option. Even though I could still give 6 weeks notice. My mother and I had fought hard with my father to allow me to join and he eventually and reluctantly signed the consent form. I couldn't have looked my father in the face had I thrown it all in. My parents came down to Mercury on one occasion after I had phoned home and virtually broke down as I was so unhappy. I wanted to be in the navy and it was all very hard for me. After a traumatic period in training, which lasted longer then it should have due to being "back classed" twice I was finally ready to join my first ship.
I was immediately stationed in Scotland, with some of my other class mates. Whilst I was stationed in Rosyth at Commcen MHQ Pitreavie I received the news of my fathers death from a heart attack.
I had thought my father was progressing well and hanging in there but he eventually gave up the fight. My father was forever strong and the loss of strength was too much for him. This may seem a bit of a harsh statement but unfortunately very true. My father was unable to carry on with his current life style and trying to learn new trades at a local college became too much for him. He did indeed give up the fight. My fathers death hit me harder then anything I could imagine. I was pulled from my bed on a Saturday morning and asked to go and see the Officer of the Day. He sat me down and mentioned that my father had been ill for some time. While he blabbed on for, I don't know how long, it never dawned on me my father may have died. The shock took the wind out of me and I didn't know what to say or do. I think I may even have passed out for a short while as I have no memory of the following few minutes. I spoke to my mother on the phone who kept saying she was sorry. Something I have never understood. I was put on a train with an escort (I was still under 18) and met at Kings Cross by 3 of my brothers. It was on the way home that I learnt that my father had died 2 days earlier. For a long while I was annoyed that I had not been told immediately. Something I would have to get used to while I stayed in the Navy. I arrived home and spent the next few hours telling everyone what I had been doing and saying anything as long as it wasn't about my father. After I had exhausted everything I could say it finally hit me. It took a while for my emotions to come out. Today I hold my emotions and feelings in check. A sort of defence mechanism. Occasionally they come out and I need to be away from people to sort myself out again. Foolishly I live with the thought that "A trouble shared, is 2 people with trouble".
Still today I have the same recurring dream of my father turning up on my doorstep. Having not being at home when he died something in my brain will not totally let him go. I spoke to my eldest brother David, recently, and he shares the same dream. I miss my father still, 24 years later.
My naval career, of which I will add more and more as these pages progress was not the most inspiring. I served on 8 ships over the 23 1/2 years and I did not enjoy most of them. I was too immature to have joined the Royal Navy at 16 and feel on reflection that I should have been a bit bigger. The bullying I experienced at school continued for a few years in the Navy until I grew. When I went for my medical, at Holborn in London in November 1974 I weighed 99 lbs and stood 5ft 1 1/2 inches. On leaving in 1999 I stood 6ft 1 inch and weighed in at 196 lbs !!!. If nothing else I grew up. Many would debate whether I matured or not.
I am still not too sure of what I have the Navy to thank for, I have bitter memories and they tend to cover the better times. It was not until I started to be a little selfish and looked at what I could benefit from that things started to change. I play on John Kennedys words here "Ask not what you can do for the Navy, but what you can screw the Navy for"
I have been to more countries then I can remember. Have had opportunities and seen things which others dream about. For all this, I grew up and now have a wife and 2 lovely children. Whether the Navy made me into a better man or person generally I do not know. I have the same sense of respect, right and wrong that I had when joining in 1975. I do have this hatred now of being late for something or a loathing of things not done properly. I am now an organiser. Things or people it doesnt matter. The Navy gave me a sense of how things should be done. This I will openly say is not the experience of spending 23 years seeing things done correctly but just learning about it. Of all the plus things with life in the Navy there were many minuses as well. I have a few friends who live and breathe the Navy even though they left the RN many years ago. I envy them to a degree. Maybe in a few years time the separations, the crappy work, smelly cockroach living conditions, rubbish food, long hours, lack of thanks and recognition, bullshit and general sense of worthlessness will dissapate. In 20 years time I may look back on the Navy with fondness. Saying all that I will include in the following pages many happy stories and times I have had. There have been many relationships with people who I lived with in close proximity for 2 1/2 years. Some became great friends while serving together and then never saw again. Others I still see. One became my best man in 1984.
If the reader is interested in why I stayed in for so long. It was for the pension, gratuity and regular income in a time when all other work was being laid off or "downsized". Every time I thought of leaving my personal circumstances changed. The thought of leaving the navy and the security it offered was also frightening. This came to a head when I did eventually leave.I did put in for voluntary redundancy at the 16 year mark but was turned down. First time in my life I was told that I was too old for something.
The Commander on one of my last ships was furious with me, during a bollocking, that I mentioned my loyalty to the Navy came just below the weekly sorting out of my sock drawer. Well the man had just about said that my career (none) and commitment to the Navy should always be in the forefront of my mind. I sometimes wondered if these people had a life outside of their work or were they on drugs. (Probably the latter considering how things are in the armed forces)
Chronological record of Naval career, dates still to be confirmed
All dates in between were either HMS Mercury or HMS COLLINGWOOD in Instructor billets/Buffers party, Qualifying courses or loan drafts.Rates achieved
My Naval ship career started on the Sheffield and was not inspiring. I had very little confidence and because of that made too many mistakes. I was forever being put on a charge of one sort or another and came close to be sent to Detention Quarters (Navy Jail) for "Accumulation of Offences". I was also still being picked on due to my size.
My time on the the Sheffield was not all unhappy and as you will see further on I did have some good times. Sheffield was the first of its class. A Type 42 destroyer used mainly for air defence. Ironic really as it failed to defend herself and was lost during the Falklands campaign 6 years later. The "Shiny Sheff" was the new breed and because of that much was expected of it. In later years it became apparent that the design was flawed and the new Batch 2 took over. I was a little annoyed that shortly after her loss in the Falklands the Type 42 Sheffield class Destroyer became the Type 42 Birmingham Class Destroyer. I am not sure the reason for the name change but found it disrespectful for those who died on her. The navy works in mysterious ways known only to themselves.
During an exercise in the North Sea "Teamwork 77" made famous for the loss of a ton class RNR minesweeper (trying to recall name) whilst replenishing. It was also the first time the Americans had landed a Tomcat on the decks of a carrier. The USS JFK was playing host to the world press and as the aircraft tried to land, hit the deck, the pilot ejected and the plane spilled into the North Sea. We respectful and caring sailors of the Royal Navy thought it hilarious.
During this exercise we experienced some of the worst weather ever known in the area. We were operating only a few miles from HMS Ark Royal and had difficulty seeing her. An aircraft carrier is not an easy thing to lose. The troughs were so deep that no matter which side of the bridge you looked out of you would often only see water. The ships were designed to be able to turn them selves upright if they fell over. It had crossed our minds on one or two occasions that it was about to be put to the test. The Sheffield never finished the exercise as the storm caused damage when the ship was lifted out of the water and dropped. A crack appeared in the A frame of the prop shaft and we beat a hasty retreat to Gibraltar for emergency repairs.
Alongside in Gibraltar we were moved into a dry dock for the repair. One night the alarm sounded as a Royal Fleet Auxillary ship RFA Hebe, alongside the dock had caught fire. We were nearest and became the main fire fighting team. It was my first occasion and by no means my last when I was involved in firefighting. I had never been too confident in front of a raging inferno but it is credit to the training given that you find yourself "just doing it". The fire lasted a few hours and there was I recall loss of life onboard from the RFA crew. One member of the crew survived the fire in the Galley by locking himself in the fridges when escape routes were blocked. There was a big enquiry afterwards to determine the cause. There became the realisation of what may have happened if the Hebe fire had got out of control. The ship was full of ammunition while sitting alongside the main wall of the dockyard. It was calculated that had the ship exploded it would have taken out the majority of Gibraltar with it. I believe policy of allowing such ships alongside changed after that.
Our ship was repaired after approximately 4 weeks and we were ready to leave. The night before in a pub the barkeeper told me we would be staying for another 2 weeks at least. I was unsure of his information but in my state of soberity didn't argue. After all, we were due to leave the wall at 9am the following morning. When letting go of the last line someone had not checked that a cat on the outboard side was released and brought back to the dock edge. As the ship moved forward the lines under the ship caught around the shaft and dragged the cat under. A loud whining sound followed by several Gibraltarians running for their lives. The line snapped and pulled a small vehicle over the side. We went back into dry dock for inspection and repair of the shaft and stayed in Gib for a further 2 weeks.
I had left the Sheffield under a cloud to join HMS Mercury where I would wait out my final 12 months until leaving. My total naval time would have been a little under 4 years. It was at HMS Mercury I was employed in a tactical simulator as support staff. My level of knowledge soon increased. I worked hard and enjoyed my time. I was put on a programme that would increase my knowledge. With this my confidence increased, therefore I wanted to learn more. All it needed was the spark and there was no stopping me. Within 6 months I had taken out my notice to leave and was drafted back to sea. My draft order said HMS Bulwark. On there I found other misfits, and no pun intended, many in the same boat. I also found that my renewed confidence allowed me to approach things differently. HMS Bulwark was a Commando Carrier who even then was well past its best days. The ships motto, on its crest, read "under thy wings I will trust" This was soon bastardised to "Under thy wing I will RUST !!". Hence the nickname of the ship, affectionately called "The Rusty B". The Communications department was large with over 50 personnel. I was put into 3D mess up forward. It was originally the old catapult room which was converted into a mess deck. On many occasions whenever the weather got hot we would move our bedding out to the focsle or onto the flight deck and sleep under the stars. It got so hot in the mess and stank to high heaven at times. Its because the close poximity of people in ships the Navy is very strict with Hygene and cleanliness. On a few ocasions a sheet was dropped onto the side of the island superstructure and reel to reel films would be shown. A drive in movie with a differance !!.
I first saw the movie Final Countdown here when the USS Nimitz, with whom we were operating loaned it to us. The Navy had a deal going with the film foundations that we could see movies (to be replaced by videos in due course), before or while they were on general release in the cinemas at home. The nights when films were shown helped break the monotany and were very well attended. I found out once that the most popular film request at this time was Disneys Jungle Book. So much for roughy toughie matelots!!. The ship was very cramp and I suppose because it was so old not a lot was asked of it. Basically just to float would do !!. When it came to painting and "ships husbandary" the first line was to find out whether the thing we were to paint or renew still had a function. If not it went over the side.
I spent 2 happy years on the Bulwark, The senior rates were excellent and my renewed confidence was put to good use. I enjoyed the freedom due to the size of the ship and felt that Carriers would do me in the future. Although large with all amenities it was still crowded. Especially when the embarked squadrons and forces came aboard. A complement of 800 crew could easliy double. Space then became a premium. Queues for meals, toilets, showers and the Naafi were endless. Whenever they all left it seemed like normality was resumed. The crews attituted to the embarked forces was always a little strained. As is still the case on carriers. It felt that we did all the hard work before they arrived and then to keep the WAFUS (WAFUS friendly term for Fleet Air Arm), squadrons and booties operational. That was what we were there for. Some had a problem remembering that and resented the flight onboard.
In later years I considered a Warship as just something that took me away from home. It had a bar and occasionally we would go somewhere nice where I could Scuba dive. We seemed to spend the majority of our time either in the Mediterranean or up the Norwegian fjords. I loved the Fjords and the way when we did early morning excursions into places like Lyngen Fjord. Usually as the dawn was breaking the sides of the fjords would have been mixed with cloud and suddenly reveal themselves in all their majestic splendour. Rising sharp and high above us as we sneaked in to drop our cargo of Royal Marines. I never tired of being in the fjords and only ever regret never managing to dive there. This was for the purpose of the Royal Marines training. I lost count the amount of time I went into Gibraltar or was anchored of a beach somewhere. We occasionally spent some time across the big pond to the USA. On one occasion it was found to be cheaper to send the ship to Florida for 6 weeks with the additional cost of crew overseas allowances, shipping of parts and fuel then it was to be in Portsmouth. This was one of the very first times that I noticed the Navy having problems with money. Something that still dogs all the armed forces today. Because of the money problem I spent 6 weeks alongside the wall at Mayport Naval base Florida. This was my second visit to the states and having taken 10 days station leave managed to see alot of the state. Trips down to Disney world wre almost obligatory as well as visiting the Keys and Miami beach. A couple of us hired a car (I couldn't drive at this time) and toured around the state getting drunk, chatting up women and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. (Thank you taxpayers !!).
Whilst alongside in Florida I was detailed to help paint the mast above the signal deck. For some reason the deck had been painted first. I was known as a monkey and had no fears about climbing out on the yardarms to fix blocks/halyards that sort of thing. I was standing on the outside of the mast overlooking the jetty some way below. A friend called to me and as I turned lost my footing. What happened next all came in slow motion. I made a grab for something to hold. My hands made contact with the pot of paint I was using which gave no support so I continued to fall. The paint pot was following me. The safety harness I was wearing finally caught and I was left suspended bent over like a sack of spuds with the jetty below me. The paint pot hit my back and as a wind caught covered me and the decks below. On the pot crashing to the deck the Chief Yeoman (Ken Chambers) came out of the Signal Shack to see what was happening. He looked up to see me dangling, covered and dripping with paint and gave me a right earful for ruining the newly painted deck. I managed to get hold of the superstructure climb back up to release the harness and then come down to deck level. There still covered in paint I stripped of to my pants to realise the paint had soaked straight through my overalls. Much white spirit and rags later I was able to make my way to the showers to clean up. I was admittedly a little shook up. The harness was returned for destruction (once used in anger, never again used). My overalls were thrown away and I spent the next four hours trying to wipe up all the spilt paint. The following day I was detailed to carry on with the painting of the mast. If I hadn't gone up the mast again the next day I think I may have lost my nerve completely. I still have no fear of these things though I am a bit more careful nowadays.
It was on this deployment and after leaving Florida that we travelled up to Philadelphia. On the way we had reports of Florida receiveing a snowfall for the first time in living memory. I Think the British were blamed for that. This change in weather included a major Hurricane on the Atlantic coast line. Even though we were in a Carrier the waves pounding the ship ripped off pieces of superstructure. There was a worry that some of the bow waves were reaching and spraying over the bridge. Had they gone down the funnels we could of lost some boilers and been in serious trouble. The morning after the storm allowed us to ascertain the damage and we finally arrived in Philly in a sorry looking state.
Again Philadelphia gave me an opportunity to visit some more of the cities on the East side of the States. I went on a bus tour "Bish Ship Visits ltd". run by the padre on board. I spent a day in New york and admittedly was not too impressed. It was February and it was freezing cold. I have since been back and found it a wonderful place. (point to note - go when its warm !!!). Whilst in Philadelphia we all awoke one morning to sounds of the ships alarms ringing and telling us all to go to emergency stations. This was about 6:30. The Stokers onboard had been attempting to flash up one of the boilers, a valve stuck and althought her fire was burning nicely no water was entering the "A Boiler". This caused it to explode and melt. The ship was soon full of smoke and I was called to don firefighting gear to assist in extinguishing the fire. My role was very minor in this as the Civilian fire brigade arrived shortly. It was an exhilarating experience and not the first time I was going to be involved in fire-fighting. The resultant damage meant we had to stay alongside for another 10 days. An investigation team were flown out which included two Wrens. They came back with us, possibly the first time Wrens served onboard ship.
The ship was meant to visit the States again. This time travel down the St Lawrence river and onto Chicago. In preparation for this and a major exercise that side of the water we had a mini refit in Portsmouth and spent a few million pounds on essential repairs.(The A boiler wan't renewed due to cost). A month after coming out to sea again it was deemed not worthwhile so the ship was scrapped ahead of schedule. (It had been going on and off for 36 years by this time). Another example of waste of money the navy squandered.
In the Royal Navy I progressed slowly through the ranks until I reached the dizzy rank of Communications Yeoman.
I was finally discharged on the 26th April 1999. One of the happier days in my life. I had returned my ID card and left HMS Collingwood at the beginning of March due to a Navy cock up on how much time I had left. My eldest brother once remarked to me that he was proud of the way I went into and stuck out the Navy. That surprised me as I had always considered it a natural progression and also the easy way out. After all, everything was provided, there was job security and a promotional ladder. The fact you could go to war and be shot at never even seemed worthwhile considering. My mother (as all mothers are) was continually worried in case something happend to me. I had a difficult time explaining that unlike a tourist visiting foreign countries I had around me excellent medical facilities in case anything was ever wrong. There was never any time in my naval career that in my opinion I was placed in direct danger other then those of my own doing.
31 Oct 1981 was to be the day that my life changed around. Although the flow of this autobiography so far may leave the reader feeling I have always been very negative I felt this was the day that things really started to change for the better for me. I met Lynne, the girl who would become my wife and mother to our children. My friend Peter, (orignally a crew member of HMS Sheffield with me) with whom I was spending the weekend had tickets with his family to a night out at a local community hall. Asked if I would go along he informed me that "Lynne" would be there. The last thing I needed at this time was to have a date thrown on me. On arrival and after introductions Lynne and I hardly spoke to each other but somehow hit it off towards the end.
Lynne was studying for her BA(Hons) degree at college in Farnham, Surrey. It was one of those events where you take your own drinks. Our first real words came after I had reached down between us for a can of beer to refill my glass. Lynne wasn't paying any particular attention and just saw a hand going for her leg. A small shriek followed. I said
"don't worry sweet-heart, that comes later"
Corny I know, but it was the first thing that came to my head. Certainly not a chat up line. Lynne and I started talking and even had a couple of dances. By the end of the evening we had hit it off. I asked if I could see her again and she accepted. We spent a day in London the following Monday and from there everything bloomed. I have to mention a this stage that it was on the same evening I met my future in laws. Yes it is true that I met my mother-in-law on Halloween night
I used to drive down to see Lynne in Farnham on my motorbike (Honda 250RS) and occasionally stay. It seemed to be winter all the time and as I had not yet passed my motorcycle test had to stick to the A roads all the time. (250cc bikes were the maximum on a provisional licence in 1981).
I am not too sure how we decided to get married it seems that after only a few weeks together we knew. I don't even remember asking her to marry me. Other of course when I presented her with her engagement ring. (The second time). I had bought the ring, a dress ring, in Farnham. Lynne had already chosen it and I had to go and get it. She was in her room in West Street, her college accommodation, when I came in. I tossed the box over to her and said something like
"here you are".
This was not good enough and the box came weaving itself back at me.
"Now do it properly"
I had been told. (not for the last time in our relationship I may add)
On one knee I asked Lynne to be my wife and although I knew the answer already, the happiness I felt when she said yes was pure magic.
A year before our marriage a friend of mine was married. I was to be his best man. On the way home from rehearsal the night before, I had an accident and came off my motor bike. The first and only time I drove my bike without gloves. Although not seriously injured I was shook up. I managed to wheel back what was left of my bike to Lynnes house and sat exhausted and in shock. I was badly grazed over my hands, arms, knees and especially back. The wounds were the type that kept weeping. Lynnes mum had an antiseptic spray to help dry out the grazes. The following day I applied the spray again. Unfortunately when mixed with the weeping wounds the graze became a pukey orange colour. I limped up Peters drive way the morning of his wedding. Lynnes mum commented that if Lynne did marry me there wouldn't be too many dull moments. Peter was quite concerned and asked if I was alright to continue. I was, and bravely smiled through it all. I couldn't however shake hands with people because of the state of my hands. The wedding was videoed and there is an audible gasp as Paula (Peters bride) saw a rough, orange weeping hand with her wedding ring in it!!!. At the reception everyone was congratulating me on the my part and I was trying to avoid shaking hands. One of Peters relatives gave me a sharp well done slap on the back. This resulted in having to peel my shirt off and change into another later on.
A few weeks before our marriage I was on a qualifying course at HMS Mercury. This was about 15 miles from where Lynne was at college. I phoned Lynne after getting a message that she was trying to get hold of me. Obviously I thought that something was wrong and I was quite worried. I didn't realise when making the call that it was me that was in the wrong. I had finished my days training early and decided to play sport. A few of us went for a run outside the camp and then onto playing tennis. It was a glorious hot July afternoon and we were having a great day. What had slipped my mind (and Lynne still doesn't forgive me for it) was I was due to pick Lynne up and we were to go to Langley for our wedding rehearsal !!. I had totally forgotten. It was made worse by Lynne phoning the establishment to have been told I had left on my motor bike a few hours earlier. Lynne had visions of me lying in a ditch somewhere. Gwen (Lynnes mum) apologised to the vicar for us (or did she tell a little white lie. I mean who forgets their own wedding rehearsal !!). We married in St Mary's Church, Langley, Berks 28th Jul 1984. The hottest day of the year. Our reception was at Datchet village Hall and spent our first night together as man and wife at the Manor Datchet. The day was also the last day of Lynnes college show in London on completion of her Art degree. I was very proud of her and the happiest man alive that day.
Lynne and I moved to Brighton where we rented the upstairs room of a house in Preston Park. It was an elderly ladies home who had great difficulty in leaving us alone. On several cases Lynne swears the Land lady had been in our rooms for a mooch around. Lynne was at Post Graduate college in Brighton doing her teaching certificate and I was commuting to Portsmouth every day on my bike. Towards the end of Lynnes year I managed to get married quarters at Eastney in Portsmouth so Feb 1985 saw us move in there. I was attached to FOF1 staff in the dockyard and in 1986 Deployed for a Far East tour. I was due to be away for approximately 8 months but unfortunately the ship I was due to join (HMS Illustrious) in the Falklands had a major fire the night of leaving Portsmouth.
I did however fly to Hong Kong on an advanced party of 3 in early June. (Sqn Ldr Chris Bagnall and WO(CY) Spud Murphy). It was to be a time of mixed feelings over the next 6 months as although I was having a good time I was also away from home and my new wife.
It was here in Hong Kong that I received my first introduction to Scuba Diving and parachuting. I had been working temporarily in the PT section and getting to know most of the lads there. The clearance divers had organised a Banyan to one of the local islands and I had been invited to come. We left early in the morning in the boats and arrived at one of the most beautiful, quiet and secluded beaches I had ever seen. We took all our gear ashore by floating on a raft or swimming with it. There we set up a barbecue while the divers explored a local wreck. When the divers returned they allowed us a "suck it and see!!". It was the first time I had ever worn scuba gear and I felt it very uncomfortable. I was however hooked. I had always enjoyed swimming and looking at the sea below me. To be able to now spend time on the bottom and get close up to the marine life was totally fascinating. It was to be another 4 years, and Italy, before I wore scuba gear again. I had applied to become a Naval ships diver but because of my poor eyesight I failed the medical. Ironically I found that on completion of my Sports Diver training I was more qualified to dive deeper and longer then the Ships Divers. My eyesight was no restriction on sports diving due to purchasing a mask with prescription lenses.
After my first day in Hong kong I noticed on the sports notice board that they occasionally ran parachuting courses. I asked if one was coming up as it was something that appealed to me tremendously. I was told that if I turned up at 6pm that evening I could jump out of a plane tomorrow. I admit if I had thought about it in any great depth I may have said never mind. However, I went "ok". The following morning I found myself on a Land Rover with 5 other nervous people on our way out to the RAF base in the New Territories at Sek Kong. We were shown how to land and after what only seemed like 20 minutes instruction I was on the plane. I will add here that the training lasted 4 to 5 hours. Its just that time flew past quickly. I remember I was the second to leave the plane. I was ready to throw myself out when it dawned on me I had to climb out on the wing first. It was a static line jump, as are all first jumps so the parachute would open automaticall as I let go. (thats the theory anyway.) I asked the lead instructor how long it takes to get down, he replied.
"8 minutes or 8 seconds depending on the parachute opening"
Nothing like inspiring confidence. I let go of the airplane falling backwards. I was told its great watching the plane disappear above you. I missed that bit due to having my eyes shut so tight you would need a crow bar to open them. The first few seconds seemed an eternity and the sound of the wind flowing and pressure of falling was exhilarating. When the parachute eventually opened (it had opened instantly, again time flying) I let out a mighty scream of joy which was heard quite clearly 2500 feet below me on the ground. It felt as though my body had been jerked by a mighty force (it had !) and then silence. The next sensation was as if someone was holding me by the shoulders or under the arms and gently lowering me to the ground. Travelling at about 8 mph the ride down was gentle. There was no wind and the drop was just about vertical. An instructor on the ground was giving me instructions via a one way radio strapped to my chest. Just as well it was one way. The first thing I heard was
"OK Bill stop singing and listen to what I have to say".
The parachute was of the round canopy type and not too difficult to steer in a no wind situation. At about 300 feet I prepared for my landing making sure I was facing the right way and looking to avoid any buildings. The grass looked very inviting so I headed that way. Unfortunately I over shot the grass area and landed on the runway. I landed both feet at the time and upright. It was great. I remembered I was meant to roll to cut down on the impact of landing so even though I had stopped and standing up right I went into my parachute roll. Apparently the biggest laugh of the day !. I lay there on the floor thinking
"oh yes, got to do this again".
The breeze came up and because I had forgot to unhook one of my shoulder straps the canopy filled and I started to get dragged across the runway. I quickly released the shoulder strap which collapsed the parachute. It was only after I stood up again that I realised how much sweat had come from my body. I was soaked through. It had to be those few seconds of walking onto the wing and the parachute opening. I loved the jump but again it was to be another 5 years before I threw myself foolishly out of a perfectly servicable aircraft.
I phoned home that night to speak to Lynne. It was only on the way to the phone that I started to wonder if I had promised her I would never do such stupid things. I spent the first few minutes of the call trying to find out if I had broken a promise. Lynne and I have a great relationship and I am forever messing around. Whenever I need her to believe me on something I will promise her I am telling the truth. This format has worked very well over the years.
Lynne is not at all keen on me doing adventurous sports or anything remotely "dangerous". I like to feel an adrenalin rush every now and then and will try most things. When I eventually leave this world on my grave stone I would like the words "DONE IT"
I received a phone call shortly after arriving in Hong Kong saying Lynne had broken a bone in her foot. She was otherwise unhurt and managing but if I wanted to go home they would send me. It seemed strange that I was on the other side of the world at last and in a place that I had always wanted to visit. Now after only a couple of days I was asked if I would like to leave. After talking to lynne on the phone we decided there was nothing I could do and that she was coping. Always felt a little guilty about the episode but it was the right descision in the end.
Lynne managed to join me for 10 days in Singapore a few months later. If I had gone home we would never have been able to afford the trip due to an absence of less than 6 months. The Navy had a policy with separation pay that included being apart for long periods and getting extra money to help families join us on deployment.
Lynne and I had had our honeymoon in her aunt and uncles hotel on the Isle of Wight. Although very enjoyable its not the exotic location we would have chosen. It was convenient and a good price. I had promised Lynne then that we would have a good time together somewhere nice and managed it 2 years later.
Lynne flew out with Qantas and Chris Bagnall and myself met her, Chris' wife and another officers wife at Changi Airport. Lynnes first reaction on leaving the airport was to comment on the humidity and accused me of telling her it was cooler in the evening. I had to assure her it was cooler in the evening !.
We drove from the airport straight to Raffles Hotel to start our holiday in style. There we sat drinking Singapore slings in the Writers bar. Our hotel was a very short distance away and as we had not seen each other for a few months there was 'alot of catching up to do'.
I had managed to save as much as possible and there were to be no shortcuts on the trip. We had a fabulous 10 days together and when Lynne finally went home I left the airport so penniless that I had to bum a ride back to the ship. The honeymoon we had promised each other. Lynne went back to the UK and her job as Graphic Designer at the Hampshire Fire Brigade HQ and I rejoined my ship and carried onto Australia.
Australia was the place I joined the Navy to see. It took 10 1/2 years to get there but it was all worth it. When growing up in Colliers Wood in London my parents spoke about emigrating to Australia. This was in the early 1960' and the Australian government were encouraging immigration for the country to grow and develop. I am not totally sure why we didn't go. Probably because of pulling up the roots of our family. There used to be an old milk tin in the front room which Susan had stuck "Australia here we come" across. Pennies and other loose change went in but nothing came of it. I believe the money went towards spending money if we ever went on holiday.
My ship pulled into Brisbane first (now where my youngest brother Robert lives with his wife, Amanda and daughter Emily). To be honest I do not have many recollections of our time there other then meeting up with 2 Aussies. They were quite friendly blokes who asked if I was going down the night club later. Not knowing where I was I said "sure, why not".
We queued outside a club at about 1030 pm and I couldn't figure out why there was no women in the line. I was beginning to worry that maybe it was a gay club. I mentioned this to one of the guys who laughed. He said it was a female only club up till 1030 then they let the men in. Someone like the Chippendales had been performing and when the doors opened all you could hear was 800 screaming women. The club was certainly different. I dont think I have been groped or assaulted so many times in my life. We stayed as long as possible before eventually leaving. I crashed back at the lads place and finally woke hungover just in time to get back to the ship. We were only in Brisbane a few days and it is one of the places I would like to revisit.
From Brisbane we went to Sydney. One of my dreams was to sail into Sydney harbour (another is Cape Town, which I have still to realise). Australia was celebrating 150 years of the Royal Australian Navy and had parties, displays and events all over the place. It was in reality a dry run for the 200 years bicentennial of Australia in 2 years time. But we didn't mind. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sydney doing all the sightseeing that you do in a major city. I had a week off which I spent a few days with relatives and the rest looking aound.
I was called to the gangway one morning and surpirsed to see one Fez Parker. He had emigrated from England a few years before and we had kept in touch. He thought I might be onboard and on the off chance decided to look me up. Fez and I had served onboard HMS Bulwark and at Northwood together. He had stayed at my home in London and I at his in Felixstowe. He emigrated to Australia to be a gold miner !!. To be honest Fez always had wild dreams but once he set his mind he tended to achieve. Being a very good sportsman he took a degree in Sports in Sydney and I believe he is still there today. I know he married and subsequently divorced.
The ship left Sydney and after a major exercise around Tasmania headed for the West Coast. We berthed in Freemantle on the Swan River (?). It was shortly before Australia got to defend the Americas cup and the town was alive with yachties. The British challenge boat came out to meet us and escort us in. I found life different on the West coast of Australia "G'Day from WA". The WA people were a little more laid back and things spread out a bit more. Perth, I was very impressed with and took the opportunity to visit the WACA. England were due to start a winter tour to try (in vain) to win back the Ashes.
It has been said many times that service life is a life for the single man. It was not until I married that I started to believe that. Although Lynne and I had now known each other a long time this was to be our first real separation. I have often had people remark that "you must be used to it by now". I never did get used to seperation. After all when we married we promised to be with each other. I hated going away but once I left home quickly fell into ship life and its routines. You can never manage to block off what was going on at home and neither should you. Life is strange because you have no direct influence and could drive yourself mad with worry if you let it get to you.
For those of us who went away we had the easier job. We have a task to do and a way of life totally alien to those who have never experienced it. Food, language, working hours and conditions, type of work, places, people and situations you find your self in are all totally different. For those who stay at home everything is the same except the one person you really want to be with is missing. I have heard some wives mention its a little like their partner dying. One of the most difficult things is coming home again. It may surprise some but its not always a smooth occasion.
I came back from a deployment to the West Indies once and my first child Jennifer was now 10 days short of her 2nd birthday. When I had left she was crawling couldn't speak and still in nappies. On arrival back she had a reasonable vocabulary, for a 2 year old, and was walking everywhere. My wife had been fully self sufficient over the past 6 months in a home that was falling to pieces, next door to a neighbour who was phsycopathic and in an area with very few friends. She remarked she would go to the shop purely to be able to speak to an adult once in a while. When I came home I tried to pick up the reigns of where I had left off. Suddenly I felt a stranger in my own home. Lynne had been doing everything her self wonderfully. The last thing she needed was to have it all taken away from her. I once told Jenny off for doing something wrong and to this day I swear Lynne growled at me !. It has been a common thread that servicemen have had problems settling back into normal life. Of many things I am grateful to Lynne for is the way in which she encouraged Jenny to say goodnight to me every day I was away. She had a few photos of me and she kissed me good night each time she crawled up stairs to bed. When I came home Jenny was excited and knew exactly who I was.
When it came to my last five years in the Navy I decided I needed to consider my future. I sat and passed the 2 GCSE’ I had decided on and was quite surprised how easy they were. It gave me confidence to tackle more qualifications though I chose not to go down the scholastic route. I have now managed quite a few professional qualifications. I will say here with very little help from the Navy. With hard graft and a relentless support of Lynne I feel I have achieved much.
Since leaving the service of the RN I have managed to find work in the IT end user business. I trained in IT for a major company and modestly admit was very good at it. I felt during my time in the RN as an instructor my individualism was curtailed and I was not allowed to express how I felt. This contributed to a minor breakdown from stress. I was also an argumentative type (still am) and lacked a little tact when people asked me a direct question. Never being a "yes man" I found it very difficult to stay quiet when things going on around me were not right. The administration and running of the RN is respected all over the world and is a benchmark for many others. I feel senior management and political incompetence has let the Navy (and the other armed services) down tremendously. Too much commitment with a policy of cutting down on people has led to major disruptions. More and more servicemen and women are leaving the armed forces and even with a more positive recruitment drive would do well to even catch up.
Its one of the more up to date pictures I have.
I now do what I am good at and enjoy it as well. It has been said many times before that to be happy you should find something you really enjoy doing and do it well enough for others to pay you for doing it. I feel this way with where I am at the momentI am not convinced that I am a very good husband or father to my children. I know I do more than most but not as much as others. Lynne tells me took look at some other fathers and I see I do much more then many. Still feel at time I could do more. I have a limit to my patience when it comes to playing with the children and I try to involve myself in their activities. Jennifer and I will go to football together. Rachael and I will have a rough and tumble, she also has taken a liking to 10 pin bowling so I will try and do some more of that with her.
I try to pull my weight around the house and involve myself in many of the chores that have to be done. I prefer to be in the workshop or playing on my computer though. Cleaning the bathroom seems to be one of my jobs (one that Lynne hates). I also take the turn at ironing and general tidying up. Rarely will I prepare something to eat. I am a mean dab at a stir fry or "Bills Bum Burner" as they are known. If pushed I could cook and prepare meals. Fortunately Jennifer is now starting to love being in the kitchen. (Makes Lynne nervous).
With my family supporting me in everything I do and 2 lovely children who are every parents dream my life is looking very good. What is around the corner none of us know but I feel for the first time in years that whatever is ahead of me I will handle them. Things will change for my family and I but I now live with the philosophy of
"Change must always be seen as an opportunity".
With that continually in my mind I feel I have mellowed slightly and am more comfortable with my lifeI was recently let go by the company I was working for. I felt a bit down for an hour or so until the idea of being unemployed set in. I remembered the motto above. I have started training as an approved driving instructor with a college in Southampton. Its something that has always been in the back of my mind and, because of the nature of the work I am in, will be something I can fall back on.
Well, I worked for a short while with a company in Winchester recently and at the 3 month review stage was let go. My emotions were running riot from confusion, through rage into disbelief. I certainly didn't see it coming and had very recently received a bonus for all the excellent work I had been doing. Reasons given were that a couple of my colleagues felt that they couldn't work with me. No team harmony and the easy solution for the company was to let me go.
Unfortunately I swallowed up the ethos of the company. Going the extra mile and working my arse off. The company had indeed rewarded me for the extra hard work as they said. They had put me onto a D34 programme for my next NVQ qualification and kept on about the "company being as good as its employees and that "people" were the most precious commodity". I suppose that was why I was so shocked to be let go. No warning, no inclination there may be something wrong. How I went from excellent to goodbye in just 3 weeks I will never know.
Knowing what I do now, about how the company works I am glad I no longer have to travel to Winchester each day. If members of the "team" didn't have the strength to tell me to my face there was a problem, rather then go straight to the directors then its an environment I would rather not be associated with. I am sorry to be leaving a couple of the people I have had the pleasure to work with and had developed close working relationships over the past few months. I am also annoyed that I was so naive as to believe enerything I was told. Lesson learnt.
Ironically I keep receiving job spec's from various agencies that PDM are looking to fill positions. Seems they are having problems keeping their personnel. When I was there they expected a "natural wastage" of about 10%. That s1 to 2 people in a year. By my reckoning its up around the 60% mark.
The future is again opening up for me and I am looking to move on again. After a few weeks I finally got the sinking feeling out of my stomach and am ready to grab the bull by its horns once again.
Its Autumn. Since leaving the PDM Company (spit spit !!) I took another short term contract with Telectronics based in Milton Keynes. I enjoy working for them as you are treated right. Goes a long way in my book. Unfortunately the contract I was working on ended suddenly due to the sudden liquidation of the contract company. Telectronics have again kept me on for as long as they can but as of 2 September 2002 I am again unemployed.
Coincidentally, 2nd September is the day I go to Eastbourne to have my first attempt at the final part of my Driver Instructor training. I have been offered a job whether or not I pass with a company based in Hayling Island and my areas will be local to Gosport. It will be nice knowing I dont have to travel for a few hours to get home of an evening. On the other hand I will also miss the freedom I was allowed to go off on my own every so often to chill out and get a few things out of my system.
Whether or not I will stay with the Driving Instructor job or not I do not know. I always have this fear of getting bored doing the same thing and falling into a pigeon hole for the rest of my life. The future is unknown to us and we will have to take each day as it comes. I have tremendous support from all those people who care for me and to whom I hold dear. Without you all I feel I would fall apart.