The disaster of Christmas 1963 is a long story and like my previous blog, requires some explanation in order to follow the sequence of events unfolding.
Toward the end of the sea trials I made what, at the time, seemed to be a completely harmless decision, but it would eventually have a disastrous effect upon my future.
Coming alongside in Faslane for weekend leave, Matt Smalley, the boat’s chef, asked me for a favour. He planned to rent a car but had no licence, so he asked me if I would drive for him. He wanted to visit his girlfriend Irene and their two-year old daughter, who lived in Lochgilphead, a village on the shores of Loch Fynn. It was more than a year since he’d last seen them. This surprised me because I knew Matt was married and his wife lived in married quarters in Portsmouth.
Matt and I planned a few more visits to Lochgilphead and we invited two of our shipmates, Michael Foster and Michael Chislett, to come with us.
Michael Chislett had only recently joined the Taciturn. He and I had quickly become good friends.
Getting to and from Lochgilphead wasn’t always easy. The weather was often bad and we couldn’t always afford to rent a car. Hitching a ride in the Highlands was never the simple answer either. The traffic was scarce and not everyone stopped. Wearing a uniform did improve our chances but nevertheless we still ended up doing a lot of walking. The biggest worry was getting back to the to base on time. With no guarantee of a ride, we ran the risk of missing the boat.
My old Ganges shipmate Michael Foster was smitten with Marie, Irene’s younger sister, and he was spending a lot of time in Lochgilphead. A few weeks before Christmas leave was due to start he announced he was getting married.
The wedding was planned for Boxing Day, 26th December 1961, and I was invited. I would have rather gone home but couldn’t let my shipmate down on his special day. I wrote to Eleanor saying I couldn’t get home for Christmas.
The Wedding Day in Lochgilphead. The flowers had come on time, the photographer had arrived, and most important the bride turned up. I wondered if the earlier search for a safety pin had contributed to the day’s success.
More photographs were taken at the reception with the bride and groom cutting the cake. Next came a variety of speeches and toasts, and finally, later that evening, the bride and groom left for their honeymoon.
The place was awash with whiskey and beer, and I had my share. I was celebrating enthusiastically, and later in the evening I somehow ended up wearing a kilt. I’m not sure how that happened but it’s possible that I traded my uniform with Angus.
I was certainly no fashion statement wearing a kilt, and I definitely didn’t capture the Rob Roy look. I seemed to recall that Irene had been involved in the exchange of the costumes. I’d flatly refused to go completely native and she called me a chicken, insisting that real Scotsman didn’t wear anything under their kilt. I might have been thoroughly inebriated and barely functioning but I retained enough dignity to hang on to my underpants.
It was in the early morning hours when I eventually arrived home and found my bed. In literally one movement I undressed and collapsed onto the bed. Moments later I was aware of Irene slipping in beside me. A young man will soon learn that sex is a dangerous and powerful women’s weapon.
In August 1963 I joined the submarine Alcide, she was just completing a refit in Rosyth and was heading to Canada for a two years commission starting in January 1964. In the time since the Lochgilphead wedding I had stopped visiting and considered the relationship with Irene to be over. Then one morning as I was walking through the yard to collect some last minute supplies, I was surprised to bump into Michael Foster. Michael said that he was delighted to be based in Scotland, close to his wife and their home in Lochgilphead. As we resurrected some of our liveliest moments at Ganges and on the Taciturn, he asked if I’d heard from Irene. I told him I hadn’t heard anything in over a year and considered the relationship was over. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stand gossiping for too long so Michael and I agreed to keep in touch and we moved off in opposite directions.
I thought no more about this brief encounter until we arrived in Faslane about a week later and received a letter from Irene. It didn’t take me long to realise that Michael had written to Marie, and she in turn had told Irene.
It was a glowing letter, telling me how excited she was to have found me again, and how excited Lorraine was too. She said everyone was looking forward to seeing me again and that I must visit the next time the boat came to Faslane.
Common sense told me not to go or even to reply to the letter. Unfortunately common sense wasn’t something that I had a lot of. I decided just one more visit couldn’t do any harm? One week after this harmless visit I received another letter from Irene. It sounded important as she pleaded with me to come back on my next free weekend, she had something very important to tell me. I probably should have asked her why she couldn’t tell me in a letter, but instead said I’d return the following weekend.
And that folks is where I will leave you for today. Follow the continuing story in tomorrows blog tomorrow.
God Bless and Merry Christmas