Down & Dirty in
The remainder of our first night in Torbay passed reasonably quietly. I took the first available boat ashore, posted a whole bunch of letters, phoned Shirley, and then spent the evening in an alcohol-induced daze in the pubs of Torquay before retiring to the bed and breakfast that several members of the crew had booked into. It was a night for relaxing and winding down after the demanding patrol. We were all too tired to cause any real trouble, although the local constabulary probably had their busiest night since the end of the summer season. On the whole it was good-natured and the local police were acting as submariner’s taxis for the night, ferrying drunken sailors back to their hotels.
We tended to have a good relationship with the police, wherever we went in the UK. We always made a point of inviting them to visit and have a few free beers with us aboard. It’s always difficult to arrest someone who, only the night before, had bought you as much beer as you could drink and took you, drunk, back to your house. It wasn’t so much corruption as a localised form of diplomatic relations. Well, that’s the way we saw it.
On the second day of our four in Torbay, I was duty watch. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. The Captain, having dined at the Mayoral reception the previous night, was duty bound to host a reciprocal cocktail party onboard the boat. As duty watch we had to be on our best behaviour. We spent the day cleaning and polishing until the boat gleamed from stem to stern. All the secret equipment or sensitive items of shipboard hardware were covered in colourful flags and bunting. The wardroom was resplendent with the mess silver, brought out for this special occasion.
As the wardroom was so small the control room would also form part of the area in which the Captain would entertain his guests. This made life a little difficult for the duty watch, as they had to continue to monitor the ship’s systems, many of them situated in the control room itself. That also meant we had to be in our best No 1 uniforms for the duration of the function. The casing sentry, also in best dress blues, spent his entire watch on deck, greeting dignitaries and helping them in and out of gently rocking boats onto the slippery and narrow casing of the submarine.
Getting the guests down the vertical access hatch was a favourite job. The sailor at the bottom of the vertical ladder had the opportunity to look straight up the cocktail dress of any female guest who had chosen to ignore the advice in relation to trouser suits being the most practical form of dress for boarding a submarine. Should any female ever comment about the sailor’s presence at the foot of the ladder, she was quickly reassured by the duty Chief Petty Officer that the sailor was there for her safety (which was true) and that he personally had selected only married sailors to perform this most delicate of duties. LOL.
I was on watch in the control room, trying to concentrate on monitoring the many gauges and dials on the ship’s system panel. I was surrounded by men and women of all ages, dressed up to the nines, drinking cocktails.
I turned around to see Bert Jameson, the forward stoker for the night, poking his head into the control room. He beckoned to me and I walked across.
“What’s the matter Bert?” I asked.
“The shit tank’s nearly full, and this lot ain’t helping things, I’m going to have to blow it overboard.” He said. “Can you get hold of the duty officer and ask permission to do it?”
I nodded and re-entered the control room, searching for the Torpedo Officer, who was duty officer. I found him deep in conversation with a buxom young lady in a miniscule top. She had nipples like car wheel nuts and the officer’s eyes were practically glued to them.
“Excuse me sir, could I have a quick word please?” I asked.
He looked at me, reluctantly dragging his eyes away from the young woman’s bust. I must admit, I found them to be quite impressive as well. I thought to myself she could make even Jayne Mansfield’s voluptuous bosom look positively countersunk in comparison.
“Well, what is Chief?”
I snapped back to the real world.
“The sewage tank is full, permission to carry on and blow it overboard please sir?”
“Yes, of course, but make all the normal warnings.” He replied and immediately went back to perusing the woman’s ample cleavage. It would appear that I was dismissed.
I wandered back into the control room where Bert was still waiting.
“The duty officer says to go ahead, but don’t forget to make the warnings broadcast.”
“Cheers mate” Said Bert and disappeared down the ladder to prepare things.
Now I may need to explain a few facts of submarine life here, especially in relation to the toilet facilities. For every two feet of depth to which a submarine dives, the external pressure on the hull increases by one pound per square inch. So at six hundred feet, the external pressure is, approximately three hundred pounds per square inch, an awful lot of pressure, when you take into account the total surface area of the submarine hull.
I defy anyone in this world to eject, from his or her bodily orifices, any item of waste at that pressure. If any reader knows of anyone who can do so, please let me know, as I would like to put them on the stage and be their agent. To overcome this problem, all the sink drains and toilets on Dreadnought were drained into a slop drain and sewage tank, a large holding tank in the bottom of the boat. Once every twenty four hours, normally at night, the contents would be blown over the side. This was quite an involved evolution during which all the sinks and toilets had to be isolated from the tank and a low pressure air blow being routed into the tank. Once the pressure in the tank was greater than the sea pressure outside a hull valve was opened and the contents would then be pushed out into the sea.
There are several inherent problems with this system. Firstly, the toilets and sinks are out of use throughout the period that the tank is being blown. Secondly, if the boat is at sixty feet, the tank pressure must exceed thirty pounds per square inch or seawater will flow into the tank instead of the contents going out. Thirdly, when the tank is emptied the air used to blow it must not be allowed to go through the hull valve or large bubbles would reach the surface to give away the boats position. Finally, once the tank is emptied and the hull valve is shut, the air inside the tank is still at thirty pounds per square inch. The pressure must be released somewhere and the only place for it to go is back into the boat. The result is a six hundred gallon fart, which permeates throughout the boat, adding to the already pungent aroma of sweaty men and cooked food. Now back to the story.
About five minutes later Bert reappeared at my shoulder.
“Almost ready Pedro just got a few more valves to shut and I’ve got to make that warning broadcast. I might as well do that now while I’m here.”
Bert walked across to the broadcast system control box in the deck-head above the helmsman’s seat and picked up the handset. He put all the switches down, making sure that the broadcast would be heard throughout the submarine. He put the microphone to his lips and, in his deep Cockney voice announced.
“Do you hear there, bogs and bathrooms out of use, lining up to blow the shit tank overboard.”
There was silence all around him as the cocktail party conversations stuttered to a halt. He replaced the microphone in its holder and turned to leave.
“Jameson.” It was the Captain. “We have guests aboard, moderate your language and hurry up with the blow.”
The Captain was obviously embarrassed and angry at Bert’s terminology and Bert was now panicking. He had upset the Captain, the last thing you should do on a submarine. He was literally God onboard and could dole out some particularly awful punishments if he was of a mind to be vindictive.
“Sorry sir, I wasn’t thinking.” Bert said apologetically and scuttled out of the control room.
I returned to the systems panel and continued my watch. There was a nagging worry at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I sat there, trying to think what the problem was. I scanned the panel for any sign of a problem with the ship’s systems.
Trim system. OK
Ballast system OK
Hydraulic system OK
Fresh water OK
High pressure air OK
Low pressure air.
Low pressure air; that was it, low pressure air. Bert, in his panic at the Captain’s reprimand had forgotten to isolate the sinks and toilets in the wardroom. Oh no. What should I do? I wouldn’t have time to get through the crowd and shut them off myself. In desperation I made a ship-wide broadcast.
“MEM Jameson, Control Room at the rush.”
I picked up the telephone and dialled the mess. Bert wasn’t there. Where would he be? That was it. The hull valve and blow control was in a small compartment under the bunk spaces and there was a phone there. If I rang that and left it ringing, Bert would answer it when he got there to do the dirty deed. As I lifted the phone there was a loud hissing noise, followed by a rumbling and a few squeaks and squeals. I looked at the gauges for the air system. Air was being used somewhere on the boat and the pressure was dropping. The only person who could be using air was Bert. He had already started to pressurise the tank.
The rumblings and squeals grew in volume. Conversation started to die down as the guests became aware of the increasing and deafening noise. Several were looking round to see where it was coming from. I knew exactly where it was coming from, and I knew exactly where it was going. With a final whoosh, the entire contents of the sewage tank flew from the various toilets and sinks around the wardroom bathrooms, pantry and washroom. Six hundred gallons of particularly pungent human effluent burst from the tank and into the midst of the cocktail party. It ricocheted and splattered everywhere. Screams echoed around the control room as people desperately tried to get away from the flying filth. Too late. With a hiss the liquid outburst ended and the remaining air in the tank began to vent, adding to the already disgraceful aroma in the area. I grabbed the microphone.
“Bert, for God’s sake stop the blow.” I shouted into it.
The hiss slowly faded as the pressure in the tank and the atmosphere slowly equalised. I looked around at the devastation. Most of the guests and the officers had brown polka dotted clothing. Instead of cherries and olives, everyone’s drinks now had something objectionable floating in it. Raw sewage was dripping from the deck-head and running down the bulkheads. The cocktail party was ruined. I sat back at the panel my head in my hands. I was trying to look as if I was upset. In fact I was desperately biting the inside of my cheek, trying not to laugh. I could taste blood in my mouth. I heard movement in the corner of the control room and Bert peered round the corner.
“Why did you want me to stop the ……..”
His eyes were like saucers. His jaw had slackened.
“Shit” He exclaimed.
“Precisely Bert, and such a lot of it too.” I replied.
The resultant aftermath took days to clear. The dry-cleaning bills alone must have cost the Royal Navy a fortune. The letters of apology were flowing for months afterwards and the Mayoral Chain had to be sent to a specialist cleaner. And Bert? Well Bert spent every minute of the remainder of our stay in Torbay cleaning shit off the wardroom bulkheads. He was not the Captain’s favourite rating, and the huge fine imposed at Captain’s Defaulters crippled Bert financially for some months. He was not allowed ashore for several weeks and, if the captain had been allowed to do so, I honestly believe he would have awarded Bert lashes as well. Luckily, the cat o’nine tails had long been discarded as a form of naval punishment. The remainder of our visit to Torbay passed without incident. Nobody dared to misbehave after Bert’s little episode. The Captain was in no mood to be trifled with and discipline aboard the boat was back at an all time high.