HMS Mercury and my time in the Establishment

Picture adapted by me the author, but copyright given to the R.N. Communications  Museum and Library. E&OE advice applies!

Like many Ganges trained boy's I  was a late starter in that prestigious Fleet Establishment the Leydene Signal School, having joined the navy in 1953 and first setting foot in the early spring of 1960, there to do my professional Radio Supervisor's course, having joined from HM S/M Turpin a submarine from the 1st Flotilla base on Fort Blockhouse HMS Dolphin as a supernumerary for on course training. On passing that course, I returned to Turpin and the next time I saw HMS Mercury was in late 1968 in time for Christmas leave, where shortly afterwards in the Spring of 1969 I did the professional Radio Communication Instructors Course having returned to general service from submarine service. During that period I was allowed to swot-up [a kind of self led mini refresher course, you know, what is a dhoby bucket, and what are skimmers etc?: I also paid for my keep working as a part time book corrector in the CB office.

I was a supernumerary, not complement or ships company but classed as borne-for-advancement-course as a trainee. On completion of it I was whisked away back to sea this time as the RS of the type 12 frigate HMS Rothesay F107 doing the Far East leg of a general service commission, then Beira Patrol, UK and then a stint in the Mediterranean. During this period I picked up my buttons and stayed on as the CRS [RCI] of the frigate. On return from the 'Med I was drafted to the Signal School in a complement billet with an RG number, into the Technical Section as an instructor. At that time the technical division was packed full of whiz kids and some of these names you might remember:- Gordon Laws, Charlie Challinor, Jock Arbuckle, David Caless, Bob Lomas and others. Sadly, I know/believe that only dear Charlie is still alive and he going on 85 next as I am 83 next, or more correctly and to the point,  just turned 82 in July of 2020!

So, having joined the navy in 1953 when aged 15, here I was now aged 34 and a Chief RCI on the complement of HMS Mercury for the very first time and I would say that is the definition of a late starter.

I took to the technical division like a duck to water, and rapidly found myself two years on, the longest period of time I had ever had away from the sea and sea going vessels as the Chief Technical Instructor with a heavy responsibility.  In truth, this was only part down to merit although I thought this was my natural calling, but during those couple of years much happened in the navy.  In more or less one swoop all the top instructors and most of them technical instructors,  disappeared from Mercury for good because they were in the first group of those selected for promotion to the newly introduced Fleet Chief Radio Supervisor and finished their days in the service doing junior officers job appointments or sea-riding on FOCAS, FOST and FOF'S staff's, and, my arrival from sea ex Rothesay not to mention that before that ten continuous years at sea in various submarines, coincided, or seemed to have done, with a clear out of Mercury barrack stanchions many having been hiding in various departments for up to four years since tasting sea air, and that's part of why I had a rapid  promotion within the technical division.

Just as I had everything to my liking and had branched out from teaching senior ratings only [I took two consecutive RCI Courses through the system 1972 and 1973] I had an input into different areas like X Section, Officers Training wing in Nelson Block, some ASWE projects and adviser to Dryad on the radio computer links [10, 11 and 14]  at sea in our modern frigates and destroyers connecting ops room to ops room with high speed AIO [action information organisation] data, all  was to change!   I loved the job and was in many ways instrumental in the way it grew, but FOST [Flag Officer Sea Training] wanted me to add to an already top notch communications work-up team  at Portland and off I went to a new challenge, practically back to sea again.

In September 1975 I was promoted out of Portland to become a FCRS myself and I reckon that I had earned that in bucket loads.

Back to Mercury I went, and although the Training Commander known as T.C. [meaning Top Cat] was an acquaintance of mine [Commander Anthony Hugh Dickins RN who had proved his worth as the SCO of the Suez War Flag Ship HMS Tyne as a lieutenant long course] and we served together, he wouldn't back down in his desire to "grow and stretch me" and sent me off to Kelly Squadron as K6, the Norfolk Divisional officer for new entry trainees. It wasn't my cup of tea, but to my surprise it rapidly became so, as much as anything because the two K1's I served with, the first being Lieutenant Commander John Ewart Dykes a gentleman and a much respected officer. He had been a long time first lieutenant in Jupiter before his appointment to Mercury which carried HRH the POW as the SCO, classic of safety in numbers when the CO and No1 were both long course 'C' officers there ready to advise HRH in his decisions and that group was complimented by a very able RS in Les Taylor - as a work-up sea rider I had precious little to do and certainly none of the remedial kind. 

John Dykes moved on after nine months of me joining the squadron and he was replaced by Lieutenant Commander Francis Michael Emmett [known as Mike in the fleet]  a rare officer commissioned from the lower deck who went on to transfer to the general list from the SD List and such officers were few and far between, rarities to say the least. He was appointed as K1 having been the first lieutenant for two years in Antelope [sunk in the Falklands War in 1982] and before that the SCO in Bristol. I got on extremely well with both K1's and enjoyed my time in the Squadron. Other than my DO'ship for 60 or so new entries and my Block Ownership of Cunningham and Sommerville accommodation blocks on Crescent Road. As preparations were being made for Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee several villages in the Meon Valley requested some form of support, so K1 appointed K3 [Lieutenant Alan Colmer RN] as the Establishment's PR representative and Alan a long time pal of mine asked me if I would be his assistant, to which I willingly agreed. It was a very pleasant job and involved Alan and his wife Audrey with me and my wife Beryl spending weekends at village fetes and sometimes village halls for future planning meetings, with Alan the centre of attraction and giver of countless prizes for village  events like egg and spoon races etc, the ladies sharing the main support role, with me in an agreeable position of bringing up the rear providing the bullets for Alan to fire, and minute secretary.  We all got on very well and made several good friends in out laying areas. As things began to get 'serious' with our closest civilian encampment viz Petersfield, we were both coopted onto the Petersfield Silver Jubilee planning committee, which involved meetings in the towns Festival Hall in the evenings attended by the Mayor and other VIP's, and Petersfield had a high proportion of its residents in the various lists, Navy List, Army and Air Force Lists so you can imagine just how many Admiral's and General's lived in those environs but not unsurprisingly very many fliers. Mercury pledged several centre of arena features events which included ladder climbing and club swinging, Wrens frolicking around the square doing quaint olde worldy dances, field gun, a cooking event sponsored by Mountbatten Block caterers and chef's with free bites of end products for all as long as they lasted, and the village kids plus the kids of Mercury personnel who attended the big day proper in very good numbers very soon made that a very short period! I remember one of these meetings vividly when the subject of loaned equipment came top of the agenda.  All kinds of things were offered involving the use of our one and only Establishment pussers lorry and our 36 seater RN coach, carrying personnel and everything but the kitchen sink from Leydene to the arena which was down between the towns back road and the lovely boating lake.  This included a public address system requiring many more amplifiers and speakers than we had so we borrowed from as far afield as HMS Sultan to supplement what we could muster.  Just about every lad in Kelly Squadron was earmarked as humping party and half of Mercury was cleared out of tables and chairs etc. I suppose we [Alan and I] should have seen it coming, but the question was asked concerning insurance, for the town had no cover unless it involved bonafide Council employees.  Did we have any electricians to rig and operate the PA system and what about coordination, did we have any walky talky's radio sets for event stewards? Very soon our WEO lost all his staff of five and all his portable fittings doing the bidding of the arena organisers who had hired tents, marquees, portable toilets, refreshment/soft drinks/hot beverage bars and other trappings, but one item we were asked to supply which to them was a 'cert, we couldn't provide.  Guess what that might have been given that we were the signal school!?  Bunting of course, and by the string load. Oh! And by the way, who is going to give the arena commentary: we town's folk will not have a clue about what's happening in the centre to be provided by you, Mercury!  Alan, to the meeting representative and to me as minute keeper, "we have that as a BU [bring up] for our next Mercury meeting." Now back in Mercury, in the office of K1 in Dreadnought Block with K1,K2,K3, WEO and me K6 present, guess who was nominated to write the arena script and to deliver it on the big day over the PA system? Why, little old me of course. At the end of Petersfield's big day, which went down well, although there was no civil feedback, at least none that came my way, everybody seemed well and truly satified.  Shortly after all this summer merriment in October 1978 our new Captain joined Captain S.D.S. Bailey RN CSS and he lived in East Meon. He ended up as the Chief Executive of the Petersfield East Hampshire Council in retirement so even at the stages explained above he might have had a finger in the pie unbeknown to us, the doers! He was a gunnery officer and not a communicator.

On the 6th December 1976 I had stomach ache with an immediate need of a toilet, and managed to make the officers heads in the basement of Dreadnought Block. I was found by my fellow peer/colleague FCCY Jock Barrie who was K7, having suffered a major bleed with the loss of a tinch over four pints from a burst duodenal ulcer. At that point I bade farewell to Kelly Squadron [and very nearly to the world] and joined the ranks of Haslar Hospital on their VSI list 'Very Seriously Ill' involving protracted and complication abdominal surgery with two resuscitations to boot, followed by a few months of P7R during which period I was retained in the signal school this time as GC1 in charge of the Procedure and Organisation section before returning to the waves again P2 to be a sea rider on FOF2' Staff,  Rear Admiral Martin LaTouche Wemyss, in the cruiser Tiger.

In this period of being in Mercury I had already done much as mentioned above but much more was to come. 

I returned to Mercury on the Tuesday 5th December 1978 this time to the Executive Side to a very busy and often worrisome period on the security side, my main term of reference appointed as the Standing Officer of the Watch.  The IRA had increased their foul activities many fold but the atrocity date in August 1979 topped the bill of their depravity. On that day two events occurred one being the slaughter of Lord Mountbatten his family and a family friend in Eire and the other the slaughter of many British soldiers in Northern Ireland  within just 60 metres of the border.  These murders incensed the western world and all right thinking human beings and demoted any vestiges of decency these Irish thugs might attempt to claim to the ranks of sub-human beings who to this day have absolutely no vestiges whatsoever, deserted by God and even Lucifer had second thoughts! The outcome of this dreadful summer day are confined to the history books and to my position in it. The things I did whilst in Mercury were growing and in such a short period of time. I began to wonder what would come next?

Just about the first thing I did was to familiarise the working of a Green Goddess fire engine and to drive one as a recorded acquaint. During this period I attended a HMS  Phoenix fire officers course after which I qualified for a MOD Driving Licence which as Mercury's fire officer and MT Officer, involved me becoming the DO of five lovely Wren MT drivers, which I found strange because Mercury had a resident 2nd officer WRNS and she acted as DO to all Wrens accommodated in the Establishment - [Soberton had a different arrangement] - all except our MT Wrens. I employed them so I'll do the write up's was the plain and simple answers.  In actual fact I wrote up four of these girls and the captains A/SEC a WRNS 3/O wrote up the captain car driver - made good sense. One of my functions with WRNS Ce officers was a syllabus event that they came down to the MT section where the Dennis fire pump was kept and maintained and I taught them the use of the applicance. It was then towed to a suitable place and they were instructed to put out an imaginary fire marked with a suitable mini flag atop of a metal stake pushed into the ground. I employed a stoker to be the keeper and maintainer of the pump [cushy draft for him] whilst the garage civilian staff maintained the landrover. I was also the naval number three contact person for all these civilians on camp [gardeners etc] and I passed on the reason for any mal or discontent to the first lieutenant [No2 in the civilian chain] who took the case further to No1, the commander, involving if necessary, trade unions. On top of that I was the divisional officer to 15 ships company gangway staff which including an ex seaman PO who had served as permanent Britannia crew for 20 years.  He had rejoined as extended service for a five year period. What with the very first ever WRNS officer as the first lieutenant and boss of all I surveyed to an interesting spread of ratings and civilians, I found it very interesting much more so than being a DO on board ship for example.

  Every morning at turn-to time and after the ceremony of Colours, I would call the station sergeant at the Petersfield police HQ's to enquire whether there had been any Mercury personnel involved in law breaking whilst ashore in the town and outlaying areas. I would then debrief the 1st Lieutenant accordingly and she in her turn the commander. I got to know the senior policemen very well.  Imagine my surprise when one morning they phoned me first asking if I had a son at the local private college in town, an establishment called Churchers College.  My eldest son was a weekly boarder there, and took part in many extra curricular activities including all kinds of sporting activity and outward bound initiative training. The call was to tell me that my son had been questioned about the damage done to a seat in the nearby Queen Elizabeth Forest, part destroyed by a fire lit near to it.  The college had been involved and the headmaster Mr Brooks would welcome a brief meeting with me to discuss the incident at my convenience. That, with my wife also attending, occurred as soon as possible, as any incident of natures like these put the college in bad light.  At that meeting involving other named boys and their parents, plus my son's form and boarding masters the police and representatives of the Forestry Commission, took place in the headmaster study and fortunately was positive, brief and productive. It was proven to all present that the fire was an accident rather than an act of vadalism, reported and extinguished by the boys themselves. The incident was not officially recorded on any records and the damage was slight.  We, and other parents offered to pay to put right the slight damage [which we never saw]. The offer was gratefully received but not taken up by the Forestry Commission. All was settled amicably.

Some but not many of my terms of reference were intertwined with those of the Master at Arms, but whenever we were both involved we got on very well together.

The Establishment was always covered for medical emergencies by sick bay duty personnel but with an ongoing first aid support by the gangway staff once secure had been piped and duty personnel had taken over the running of the Establishment outside instructional periods.

Unlike many of my predecessors I found it an asset to fully understand the professional aspects of communication training and what each building was used for and by whom which enhanced my executive role on a daily basis.  To understand what that role was was very simple, for it placed me as number three in command of any situation which didn't involve the SMOPS professional training model with No2 being the first lieutenant. Number one was of course the commander for action and the CSS to endorse and sign off the incident.

So in summary here is the list of the jobs/appointments I held in HMS Mercury in all areas of professional core-business training of communicators and navigators viz the SMOPS CN Faculty, and in the executive management of the major fleet Establishment in no logical or specific order :-

1.   [CN]  Various GT numbered roles teaching technical subject to all ratings and to some officers.

2.    [CN] GT1 Chief instructor in the technical training division. RCI course instructor, URTS, ASWE and WSTG liaisons, SMOPS Dryad Link 10, 11 and 14 advisor for AIO ships computer fitted. Some officer courses. BR222 author. Training aids.

3.   [CN] GC1 Chief instructor, ratings training  in the procedure and organisation division

4.   [CN] TAO Training Assessment Officer - ships in UK dockyard visitor gathering feed back for the training commander of the SMOPS CN Faculty. Task Book examiner and maintainer of red cases containing pre recorded Morse code MRX tapes.

5.   [CN]  City and Guilds 777 certificate accredited examiner for Parts 1 and 2 of the certificate for all HMS Mercury  communicators male and female, in association with the Army training establishment in Harrogate North Yorkshire which required six- monthly visits.

6.   [CN]  Personal career training. Ganges 1953; passed for LRO in Malta [STC Ricasoli] 1957; for RS in Leydene 1960; for RCI in Leydene 1969.

7.   [Executive] Mercury sponsored jobs/appointments:-

a.   [EX]  Leader of coffin bearers at the Royal Ceremonial Funeral of the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma 5th September 1979, London Ceremonies/Westminster Abbey

b.   [EX]  HMS Mercury - Petersfield/East Meon Valley -  Queens Silver Jubilee coordinator with former K3 Lieutenant [SD][C] Alan Colmer RN who retired from the navy many years afterwards as a Commander OBE RN, and sadly died shortly afterwards.

c.    [EX]  Author and Narrator of the Petersfield Silver Jubilee Carnival central display arena script in the vicinity of the town's lovely boating lake, for Royal Naval events.

8.   [PERSONAL]  By official research of the Herbert Lott Naval Trust Fund Prize records in association with the MOD Prize FUND for Inventions and modifications, I was confirmed as being the highest rewarded Communicator winning total cash prizes of 2050 with 1500 coming from the MOD Fund and 550 from the Herbert Lott Fund.

9.   [CN] In Kelly Squadron I was a new entry divisional officer with the appointment of K6 Norfolk Division and accommodation block officer for Cunningham and Sommerville blocks Crescent Road;  the Establishment's Exped officer; its Brickwoods field gun officer under the Establishments gunnery officer Lt [Ginge] Wingate, appointed as a Kelly Squadron officer K3.

10.  [EX]  Civilian employee's 'first call' liaison officer and security/fire prevention/fighting adviser.

11. [EX] Policing Droxford Road from outside the old Establishment main entrance at the eastern side or as it was oft times called the Hyden Wood entrance to where the civilian garden centre in the far west of the Establishment boundary met up with the entrances to Crescent Road and High Trees sports ground. In modern day speech, the garden centre has gone and in its place is a light industrial park area and just before this point on the left [travelling west]  is the sustainability centre accommodation block called the Wetherdown Lodge - quite a long stretch of tarmac.

12. [EX] Establishment Fire Officer

13. [EX] Establishment physical and  corporate Security Officer.

14. [EX] Establishment colour party ceremonial officer in normal working instructional hours in term time and sunset in the winter months when the event occurred during instructional hours.

15. [EX] Establishment Garage and MT officer

16. Meet and Greet officer for VIP's who arrived at the Droxford Road main gate OOW position.

For those of you wondering was I a one man band, be assured not, as everybody in the navy has a superior?  Even our captain was answerable to Captain SMOPS in HMS Dryad and after him F.O. Portsmouth etc etc up the long chain of naval command. None of my jobs in isolation were onerous but collectively it kept me on my toes and permanently on guard. To say the very least, my time in coming to the much loved alma mater was late, but once firmly on board I knew that I had arrived, and for the most part I enjoyed every moment whether [CN] or [EXECUTIVE] instructing or merely assessing in the [CN] Faculty or helping to ensure that this premier major fleet establishment was safe, welcoming, and proud of its inheritance and its well known school of excellence of which I will always be proud of. 

Finally, one of my everlasting cherrished memory was my association with Patricia the second Countess Mountbatten of Burma Lord Louis eldest daughter.

We once met quite by accident on a visit she made to HMS Mercury when her meeter and greeter [for courtyard arrivals] informed her that I was Mr Dykes and reminded her of my role in her father Royal funeral. I remember that she was temporarily caught off guard and was nigh on speechless although her smile shone through, and it was perhaps wise that she was ushered along to avoid any emotion being shown. Irregularly thereafter she would drop me a card, and quite often a letter in response to a letter from me or an occasions which concerned her.  She was a delightful lady, communicative, with more that a good measure of spontaneous friendship and chumminess. We lived in a very nice apartment overlooking the sea at Southsea watching from our huge and generous Georgian windows the passing of huge ocean passenger liners in/out from Southampton and of course warships in/out from Portsmouth. Anyway there came a time when the old Royal Marine barracks drill square was going to play host to a WW2 Commando Association being sadly disbanded as most of its members were officers in the late 80's to mid 90's jokingly known, so I gathered, in the old Royal Marines Barracks wardroom mess the actual Eastney RM Museum, as the "octonona brigade" meaning a group of now old very brave WW2 soldiers the 'octo'comimg from the word octogenarian = people in their eighties [thats me by the way] and 'nona' from the word nonagenarian = people in their nineties.  This sad but inevitable last parade was in early autumn 2005.  Their guest of honour was the Countess Mountbatten of Burma.  I therefore wrote to her inviting her in for a cup of tea and a buttered scone. Given her role for the day, any day I rather suspect, she politely declined. I knew that she would be driving herself and perhaps for that reason alone she would want to get back home to Mersham in Kent. Her husband Lord Brabourne [a famous movie director/producer] was very ill and in need of constant support and just over four months later he passed away so it was well that she didn't delay her journey. Like father like daughter Patrician joined the WRNS as a communicator.

I am attaching just a few letters.

 A. 1.  Letter re the last WW2 commando's parade.

A. 2.

B. 1.

B. 2.


C. 1.


D. 2.

E. 1.

E. 2.