Part of the ethos of the Submarine School in the early seventies was to give new recruits to submarines a week doing 'fun' things. One of these was a trip to a shooting range somewhere in Portsmouth, so off we set in a boat complete with rifles and bag meals...sailors and guns, it was never going to end happily! Incredibly we all survived the live firing to return to Dolphin, but for some reason the Petty Officer in charge was not going back with us. Showing a shocking lack of judgment he put me in charge of getting the squad across Portsmouth dockyard to catch the boat back to Dolphin at Ramilles Steps. Some of the class were old salts retraining for submarines and, to cut a long story short, they prevailed upon me to 'march' them via a Dockyard canteen they happened to know. So there we were, a squad of tyro submariners with side arms akimbo queuing for tea and sticky buns at the canteen adjacent to that holy of holies, H.M.S. Victory. I'm still scarred by the memory of Victory's Royal Marine staff sergeant, with the maddened eyes and demeanour of an enraged bull, charging down the gangway to have a 'quiet' word with "whichever ****ing joker is in charge of this ****ing shambles!"; my, was he excited. He got one of his corporals to march us out of public view and down to Ramilles steps and make sure that "These ****ing clowns get on the"****ing boat"; it would appear that an extensive vocabulary is not a requirement of your Royal Marine. Having been safely escorted to Ramilles Steps, we had a giggle over the incident on the boat over. And it was so nice of the Master-at-Arms to be there to meet us when we got back to Dolphin.
So upon such foundations a career in submarines began. I survived Submarine School including the ascents up the submarine escape tank which all would-be submariners, Prince Charles and sundry Blue Peter presenters must complete. After a short spell as Spare Crew, during which I was introduced to scrubbing the main batteries by one Ginge Sarsfield of H.M.S/M Roqual (something that would become all too familiar throughout my time in boats), I was drafted H.M.S/M Opportune on 10 December 1973 and was to stay with her for almost thirteen years with only a brief break for Leading Hands' course back at Collingwood.
Opportune was a conventional Oberon class patrol submarine. She was in fact a 'Super O', one of the later boats of the class which were, in turn, a development of the Porpoise class. The basic design of the Oberon class was based on the German XXI class of U Boat which were considered, by both sides, to be the finest submarines to come out of the Second World War. The Oberons had a fine reputation as the quietest submarines of their day. They were powered by diesel, a fact apparent as soon as you stepped aboard. The smell of a diesel submarine, or indeed a diesel submariner, was unmistakably... diesel. This was celebrated by Cyril Tawney in his song Diesel and Shale (shale oil was used as a lubricant).
My arrival coincided with torpedo loading, not a time when a young would-be submariner could be guaranteed a warm welcome. I was curtly sent below by the trot sentry "Report to the 'swain". Nor did Coxswain (Sheila) Sharrocks seem overly glad to see me, he sent me back aft with a flea in my ear; apparently I should address him as Coxswain not, under any circumstances, as 'swain. He sent me aft to report to the POLTO (Petty Officer Electrical), Ginge Steer, who was not particularly welcoming. I was 'turned to' straight away replacing the brushes on the 100kw motor generators; I did such a bad job that they had to replace all the brushes I'd just replaced. The POLTO, had a fatherly word in my ear, good advice full of exactly what he would to my body should I ever cause him to be late getting to the bar again. So began my career as a member of the Motor Room team on Opportune.