Captain Ulmer commanded CLAMAGORE. In retirement he has written several submarine novels. See his article in tile Winter 2013 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
The early sixties awakened rural Western Scotland to a Yank invasion. Sleepy villages surrounding idyllic Holy Loch came to grips with an American Polaris submarine base in their front yard. First, the tender PROTEUS, then a supply barge and finally a floating dry dock arrived. Soon, boomers slithered into the Loch for refit and crew exchanges.
Local Scots, ever hospitable, welcomed the POLARIS laddies, to say nothing of attendant good impact on the economy. Bottom line; Yanks loved being there and Scots loved having them, resulting in US Navy assignments to the Loch being termed plum.
Not measuring up to nuclear propulsion standards, smoke-boater officers did qualify for the lesser task of overseeing more destructive power than all the bombs of WWII seated atop roman candles in a glitch-filled system deployed well before anyone figured out how it worked. But boomers slid down the ways faster than nuke school could produce officers to man them, hence smoke-boaters jumped into the breach. Compensation with post tour plum jobs seemed the right thing to do for boaters who’d accepted these diversions from chosen career paths. Lieutenant-we’ll call him Smokey–landed the Squadron 14 Assistant Weapons Officer plum. Exhilarated, he, with wife and two daughters, would pass two delightful years in Scotland.
“We’re not taking the dog, and that’s final!” Smokey explained to his family-animals entering the United Kingdom must undergo six months of quarantine, so their Chesapeake Bay Retriever, HMS Sea Gypsy would remain behind in the care of a friend. Yeah, sure. Clinching the argument, daughter two asked, “I’m an animal. Do I get quarantined too?” That resolved, Smokey air-shipped Gypsy to a kennel near Glasgow.
Travel to the plum job included an ocean crossing in SS UNITED STA TES, a plum unto itself. Family Smokey arrived at Portsmouth, trained to London, took delivery of a new VW Beetle and embarked upon a week’s leave. Much had to be seen: Buckingham Palace, changing of the guard, and Tower of London for a peek at the crown jewels.
They visited Stratford-on-Avon and saw a Shakespeare play. Next came Coventry and remains of the cathedral destroyed in WWII with a reminder cross made from huge timbers charred in the ensuing fire.
Passing through the Lake Country Smokey recited to his disinterested family some poems of Lake poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey as they drove. The Smokeys spent a magnificent couple of days in Edinburgh touring Holyrood Palace, walking the Royal Mile and viewing the Firth of Forth from ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. They followed the river Clyde north bank to Dunoon reaching the Royal Marine Hotel at suppertime. There they stayed a month while finding suitable digs in the community.
LT Smokey’s opening day on the job is the stuff of legends. His first assignment, go ashore and break up a hail and farewell gala at the Royal Marine, announce that President J. F. Kennedy had been assassinated and say this is hardly a time to be celebrating. Thus Smokey’s initial exchange with fellow officers at the Loch.
Smokey and family visited his predecessor who resided at Dunselma Lodge on nearby Strone Point. The property built in 1890 by the Coats family of Paisley, famous thread makers, the house served as a gate lodge for Dunselma Castle that sat upon Benmore Hill to the north. The Lodge stood on good-sized grounds with fantastic sea views east to Loch Long, across the Clyde to the cities of Gourock and Greenock and south down the Clyde estuary towards Arran Isle. Mrs. Smokey liked what we saw and that was that. LT Smokey did not object because on a clear day, the view included one of Ballantine distillery at Dumbarton.
A week later, Smokey tucked daughter one into her new bed. With her usual happy demeanor, she threw her arms about his neck in a giant hug. “Good night, Daddy.”
“Good night, sweetheart.” Beams from distant Cloch Point Lighthouse pulsed softly into the room every three seconds. “If this bothers you, I’ll close the blinds, sweetie.”
“No, Daddy. It’s my special friend coming to visit.”
Central heating consisted of a bucket of soft coal, paper logs (fire starters made from rolled up newspaper) and fireplace in each room. Every week or so, the collier came and filled an outside bin. Many Yanks mail ordered kerosene (paraffin the preferred Scots term) burners from Sears. These were portable and could be moved about the house room to room. Smokey’s boss couldn’t understand why all the coal and paraffin fuss. Electric heaters kept his house snug and for a price equivalent to what everyone else paid for the more cumbersome alternative. Then one day the power company determined his meters were lapping prior to being read each month. Only submarine pay enabled him to deal with the accumulated debt. Smokey’s boss shifted to coal-paraffin on the spot.
A milkman made daily deliveries of glass quart bottles covered with metal foil caps. The Smokeys brought the milk in promptly, for ravens had a habit of pecking through the caps to draw off considerable amounts of cream.
Family dog Gypsy’s quarantine ended, she rejoined the Smokeys. Turned out Chesapeake Retrievers, one of four American originated breeds recognized by the Royal Kennel Club, caused her arrival in Strone to create quite a stir. The RKC advised Smokey to be prepared for a burst of interest, his Chesapeake the only one known to be in Britain. It did not take long. A prominent citizen and dog lover called Smokey and invited him to dinner. The gentleman added in a polite voice, “And please bring along your bitch.”
Smokey took a breath to say, “I beg your pardon, sir,” but quickly recognized the dog lover referred to the Chesapeake. But to be certain, Smokey added, “And my wife too?”
Requested by its organizers to attend a game fair and dog show at Whatley, a small rural village in the south of England’s county Somerset, Smokey and family jumped on the invitation. CO submarine tender, seizing upon every opportunity for good public relations, had a stack of handouts printed with Gypsy’s photo and story. They went like hotcakes and toward first day’s end, more than half were gone. Smokey decided he’d pass out no more and save the remainder for the next day. A bit later, in a booth provided for the occasion, Mrs. Smokey stood alone with Gypsy. A young woman and man approached, expressed interest in the Chesapeake and asked for one of the handouts. Mrs. Smokey explained the circumstance and declined. The young couple understood, said polite good-byes and left. A British newsman walked up to Mrs. S. and asked, “What did Prince Charles and Princess Anne have to say about your dog?” leaving Mrs. S. feeling like the Ugly American reincarnated.
The River Eachaig runs three miles between Loch Eck and the head of Holy Loch. It abounds with Sea Trout and Atlantic Salmon from early summer to late fall. Smokey, an avowed fly fisherman salivated over the idea of snagging a few. He learned the road to doing this went through the Laird, who not necessarily owned the property bordering Eachaig; only the fish that swam in it. The routine: call on the Laird at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). Stay exactly fifteen minutes and talk of anything but fishing. Upon departure ask, “Might I wet the occasional fly in your river?”
The Laird replies, “Ach, that would please me. See m’ water bailiff for particulars.” This meant visit the water bailiff, in person, each time Smokey wished to fish. He’d be assigned one of the thirty-five named pools on the river. Smokey quickly learned that fishing improved immensely when he showed up at the bailiffs with a fifth of whiskey.
Daughter one came to her father twenty-four months into the Smokeys’ Scotland tour. Complaining of her younger sibling, she concluded, “Ach, Daddy, she’s daft.”
Smokey, fearing his daughter’d become a Scot, went to his wife, “Dear, I think it’s time we packed up and headed back home.”