Five significant minutes – Part 2

Petrified. Panic stricken. Proud. Just a few of the emotions our servicemen and women have experienced

I have talked to some very interesting people since I’ve been involved with the Portugal Branch of the Royal British Legion. I could write a page on all of them…they have many experiences – some of them were too emotional or too top secret to share. I did, however, persuade a few of our Portuguese resident ex-service men and women to tell me about an occasion that was poignant for them. I’m so grateful to them for sharing these memories – it makes interesting reading and gives a great insight into just some of the things they went through, experienced and, quite often, suffered on our behalf.

I stress that the modern Submarine Service is a professional service, and mostly dry. It wasn’t always that way. As a young submariner, we embarked on a Corporate Patrol. The trip down to the South Atlantic was mostly trouble free, with the old adage about watchkeeping being 99% ho-hum and 1% yikes! We arrived in San Carlos water, and the bar was then opened. A few personnel were exchanged with a ship in a procedure called a Crosspol. One of which was the Ship’s Chaplain, commonly known as ‘the Bish’. He was welcomed into the mess, with the proviso that all were to be on their best behaviour. The Chief Stoker had brewed a spirit he called ‘Oobie Juice’ – vodka steeped with chillies. The Bish was offered a shot and the mess fell silent … a small speech was made and the shot was downed in one – there was an immediate unrepeatable exclamation from the Bish, and the mess broke down in peals of laughter.

Andy McRae – Warrant Officer, Submarine Engineering, Royal Navy

Royal Navy

Royal Navy

Living in Portugal but made in the Royal Navy

A six-month unaccompanied tour in West Belfast – the tour consisted of being on duty seven days a week without a day off except for a four-day break half-way through. Just patrol, eat, sleep, repeat – and not knowing what potential danger lurks around each corner. ‘Home’ for six months was an abandoned ‘converted’ mill – windows all bricked up. On day two of our tour, I was leading a two-vehicle mobile patrol supporting a foot patrol in Andersonstown – the streets were suspiciously quiet – always a bad sign.

Suddenly, the second vehicle comes under attack – loud bang and flash as an RPG is fired from a concealed location close to the road. Fortunately, the range is too short – the warhead fails to detonate and passes through the base of the vehicle containing four soldiers without exploding. Lady Luck was on our side – and everyone lived to patrol the following day.

Giles Nevill – Captain, Queen’s Own Highlanders

It was early morning, we were in the ‘patrol quiet’ state in the Mediterranean Sea, all was calm when suddenly the sonar picked up a metallic noise. After a few minutes, thankfully it was classified as own ship noise probably external. The order was given to surface. A colleague and I got ready to open the hatch. We surfaced and exited onto the casing in our life jackets. I was the one to enter the free flood space which is in between the Hull and the casing. I searched for the source of the noise which I was unable to find. As I started to make my exit, suddenly waves started to enter and I found myself trapped against the top of the confined space I had…after each wave, I took a deep breath and I started to feel the panic set in. It took me a full five minutes to get out, which seemed like an eternity. The panic I felt and the sense of relief I had when I got out is one I will never forget…

Trevor Morgan – Chief Petty Officer, Tactical Systems Submarines, Royal Navy

Military pilot boarding his fighter plane at sunset

Military pilot boarding his fighter plane at sunset

Fighter plane at sunset – morning patrol!

New boy on their first real Station after training is always a good “volunteer” for duty crew. It was bucketing down with rain, only two of us had arrived at the hanger and the Hunter was on finals. What to do? We normally park the aircraft on the pan then tow it into the hanger but neither of us had a towing licence.

It was raining very hard, and the cockpit would fill with water before the pilot gets out. We had a solution…marshal the aircraft between the hanger, cut the engine at the doors and roll in – the only ones to get wet would be us.

Good plan. All goes well, without a hitch.

Pilot stands up and asks for his gear from the pannier. I have never seen so much gold braid on one hat. Having just parked an aircraft in a most illegal fashion, I see my career finishing before it really starts. At this point, one feels it cannot possibly get worse, when the second pilot stands up…Outside, the Station Commander’s car arrives to take Prince Philip to the officers mess!

Five minutes after they left, the car returns and they unload a crate of beer with the Prince’s compliments and gratitude for keeping him dry. My career lasted full term…

David Wickham – Chief Technician, Royal Air Force

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Media Rep for the Portugal and Atlantic Islands Branch of the Royal British Legion.

Portugal Resident