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19 December 1975. Wedding day at Portsmouth.

Not long after leaving HMS Scylla I met my wife Carol and by 1975 we were married with a child and with another on the way. Carol hailed from South Wales and her childhood had been as insecure and as challenging as mine in many ways (but probably even more miserable) and so we had a certain something in common from day one. It doesn’t take long for two people with those kinds of backgrounds to bond and the closer we became, the calmer I became; for the first time in years I didn’t feel the need for alcohol, more often I’d rather be at home.

Southsea, Hampshire.

Our first daughter Tracey was born at Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, Wales and in due course all three of our children would be born in different countries. I loved that.

Early in 1975 we were awaiting the arrival of our second child Samantha at St.Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth. Carol never had easy pregnancies and was often kept in hospital for extended periods before giving birth which naturally made her feel really low. And although I was there for the birth of my children I always got kicked out after delivery due to post natal complications and so they were always worrying times for me.

Since leaving HMS Scylla I’d had several postings including HMS Vernon, HMS Danae and HMS Pembroke and these drafts often meant me being away from home for extended periods of time. Having been at sea for more than my quota I was due some shore time and with my family growing I requested a particular ‘married-accompanied’ posting. Some weeks went by before I heard anything and then one day Chief gave me news that I had a feeling would lift Carols spirits – and I couldn’t wait to tell her.

Visiting time at the hospital was 2-3pm and so with Tracey looking pretty in a frock, her hair in ribbons and her dolly in hand we set off for the hospital arriving (on time) to find Carol naturally feeling fairly low at being bed-ridden ‘having tests’. These days with the NHS being so depleted of both beds and staff she wouldn’t even have been admitted but back then that wasn’t the case; for those patients ‘kept in’ there was a massive feeling of disempowerment in terms of being dictated to when they could get out of bed, have something to eat or even use the bathroom.

Seeing Carol in that situation was really hurtful to me, she was a proud young woman feeling unnecessarily controlled and though I do ‘get’ that more vulnerable patients need special care sometimes I’ve never ‘got’ the way some professionals in hospitals become power driven and turn into little Hitlers. Not wanting to upset Tracey we put a brave face on the situation, had our rudimentary hugs and kisses and as Tracey settled down to play with her dolly I told Carol I had some ‘good’ news. 

With her eyes glued to mine, barely blinking, it was almost manna from Heaven for me to see the low subside and a slight sparkle of hope come back. Without her having to have a second longer of anticipation than necessary I said “I’m drafted to HMS Rooke. We’re going to Gibraltar”.