I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days that all these memories come flooding back to me.
It was while I was taking my stepdaughter and her partner home along with their wee boy, after they had been visiting us on Christmas Day, when I heard this music track come on the CD player in my car. It was on oldie from the early seventies, a rock-and-roll one that really got your feet tapping, and this memory came rushing back into my mind. First I will have to explain the situation to you, so then you will be able to appreciate the whole thing properly. It was back in seventy-one — our ship was in the Persian Gulf, doing what they called a police action patrol, which basically meant stopping small ships and boarding them in order to search for contraband, like drugs or munitions, which may be hidden on board or even attached to the wooden hulls below the water line. It was quite common for these wooden dows to travel in groups, so when we encountered them we would lower the small rubber Geminis along with the ship's motorboats, filled with armed marines and the specially-trained boarding parties, to stop and search them. Now, these boarding parties were just normal crew members who had been trained in all aspects of boarding and searching, which also included being able to carry and operate the sub-machine guns that we carried as part of our kit.
Now as we all know, this is not part of a normal day's work for your average stoker (marine engineer), which I was, or indeed your average seaman or sparkie (electrician), so we did not particularly enjoy this kind of gung-ho behaviour, which came as bad news to our Chief GI (Gunnery Instructor), whose job it was to keep us on our toes and look and act like a fierce fighting body of men. In fact, he took exception to our outburst of laughter one day when during a boarding the small Gemini in which the Marines were crowed collided with the dow they were supposed to be stopping, because the flag that they had to fly to show our colours was so large that it blocked the boat's coxswain's view, causing him to collide with the dow, which caused two of the Marines to fall overboard. This also caused a rather humorous reaction from the crew of the dow, another point that was noticed by the Chief GI. In fact, it was fair to say that we were not at all in favour with the Chief GI and he wasted no time at all in letting us know his feelings on this matter. This was expressed by his constant shouting at us, as he marched up and down our closed ranks on the flight deck, prodding us with the stick he carried everywhere with him. Still, it never really bothered us all that much — after all, we were only under his command during these boardings and the training sessions we had on the way out to the Gulf.
So there we were on that sweltering hot day, all kitted out like little action men, which made us look even more stupid then we felt, as we fell in on the flight deck ready for inspection. We wore old World War II tin hats with chin stays down, then our gas mask holders tied to our chests and our shorts held up by the heavy webbing belt which held a water bottle and six magazines of 9mm ammunition, along with a torch and whistle. Then, to cap off our ensemble, we wore green gaiters. We must have looked really stupid to the crews of the dows we were boarding and this fact was constantly on our minds — hence our smiles, which really infuriated the Chief GI, who tried ever so hard to make us believe in what we were doing. Then, just as were getting ready to board our boat, one of the blokes who was up on the upper deck having a bronze (sunbath) turned on his cassette machine and out came this rock-and-roll number, which we all started to swing along with and move accordingly. Well, this really wound up the Chief GI, who began running up and down our ranks, demanding that we stop this movement and the laughing that went along with it. Oh! Looking back on it all now, I feel really sorry for that poor Chief GI. After all, he was only trying his best to do his job, but then the only people that were interested in such matters were the Marines, and even they tried to give us a hard time about it all. But just like the poor old Chief GI, their remarks never seemed to get through to us. After all, we saw the funny side of it all, and who in their right mind would take us seriously, rigged out the way we were? Certainly not the crews of the dows we were boarding. Ah! Happy days are here again....