This Christmas requires some explanation, I lost my father early in 1960, the day after the funeral I met Eleanor. I have explained below how we meet and the relationship that followed and leading up to Christmas 1960.
My father was buried next to our mother at Carnmoney Cemetery. On my mothers death in 1939 the family had been unable to afford more than a gravesite marked by a rusty number tag on a raised mound of earth. Now slightly better off we raised enough money to have a white marble headstone and surround erected.
The day after the funeral, feeling sorry for myself, I wandered down the Ballygomartin Road. I wasn’t heading in any particular direction and had no idea of what to do in the two remaining days of leave. Lost in a world of my own I almost collided with a girl coming from the opposite direction. Stopping to apologise I realized she looked familiar. She was the young girl who a few years earlier called me “Rock”. Blushing and clumsily I attempted to apologize and explain who I was. With a warm smile she said it was only an accident and she was fine. She offered her sympathy saying how sorry she was for the loss of my father. We stood there for what seemed like an eternity struggling to make small talk. I knew I wasn’t being very suave with this pretty girl. Her name was Eleanor and she was on her way home from work. I was so taken by this pretty girl I ask to walk her home. On the way to her house I learned she was training as a seamstress at Ewarts Mill. She was only fifteen but her sixteenth birthday was just a month away on the 26th June. I made a mental note of the date planning to send a card when I got back to Portsmouth. Walking with Eleanor my head must have been in the clouds because I stumbled when she halted at her front gate. We stood in an awkward silence while I tried to find the courage to ask her out. That evening at after supper I arrived for my first date with Eleanor. When she opened the door to greet me she took my breath away. When I’d met her earlier coming from work she was beautiful. Now she was absolutely gorgeous. That evening was the first of our many visits to the Stadium cinema on the corner of Tennant Street. Later after the show standing at her front door we embraced and gently kissed. I think this was her first real date and kiss. I was disappointed when she told me she was going with a couple of friends to a gospel meeting the following evening. She didn’t want to let them down, but added that I was welcome to come. I politely declined, gospel meetings were not my style. At the time in Belfast, there was a wave of these gospel halls promoting what was termed “Good Living”. Their list of sins included going to the cinema, pubs and dancing. They regularly handed out religious tracts and preached to lines of people outside cinemas on Friday and Saturday nights. I wanted to spend time with Eleanor, but not at a gospel meeting. I was already guilty of their first three sins
On Sunday evening I had to catch the steamer back to England. Eleanor and I met in the afternoon and went for a walk. We rode the bus to the city limits at Legoniel. Then hand in hand we followed a pathway onto the surrounding hills to look down on our grand old city. Returning home around suppertime our last kiss was more of a peck than an ardent embrace. I realised because it was still daylight Eleanor was too shy to be seen kissing in public. We said sad farewells promising to write each other as often as possible.
Christmas of 1960 I was home on two weeks leave, all of it spent in Eleanor’s company. We danced and saw several films, but our favourite time was sitting in the parlour playing records. The front parlour in our house was seldom used and mostly available whenever we wanted it. I’d light the fire in the later afternoon so by the time Eleanor arrived the room was cozy and warm. In the dim lighting we’d listen to Parry Como, Jimmy Rodgers and Doris Day singing their latest hits. We sat together on the sofa our arms around each other talking, petting and kissing. These were warm and tender moments only experienced in the prime of ones youth. When my leave was over Eleanor came to the docks to see me off. We kissed a final time before I headed for the gangway. She handed me the photo I’d been pestering her for, for months. I wanted to have it above my bunk where I’d see it each time I turned in.
I was in love and had a bounce in my step when I returned to Portsmouth. With her photo fixed above my bunk we were soon back in the North Sea on NATO exercises. The North Sea is seemingly always rough and cold and makes submarine operations difficult. At periscope depth in gale force conditions we sometimes broke the surface causing our Skipper to go ballistic. In wartime breaking the surface unintentionally might cause detection and the loss of the boat. Living in a submarine in such dreadful weather conditions was very unpleasant. The chef was often unable to provide hot meals. Submarine missions during these exercises were always covert. We were the enemy, and using a periscope there was always a risk of being detected. Surfacing to recharge the batteries was out of the question leaving snorting the only option. The snort mast is raised like a periscope but has a larger profile that is more prone to detection. For that reason we only snorted after dark. This enabled us to draw fresh air into the boat and run the diesel engines that in turn recharged the batteries. Snorting in heavy seas can cause a couple of very unpleasant things to occur. If the snort dips below a wave a valve snaps shut cutting off air and stopping the diesels. It takes a few moments for the diesels to stop during which time they draw air from inside the boat. This causes a vacuum in the boat and abruptly awakens sleeping shipmates with painful eardrums. Loud curses can be heard
God Bless and Merry Christmas.