Dorset Submariners

Articles Index

Letters to Mum

The following two letters were written by a Submariner in 1953/1954. They brought a smile to my face, one can imagine Mums reaction to some of it, all to easy to laugh now but how many of us wrote such missives with little thought as to how they would be received?


Sidon Letter Home. Written in 1953

This is a verbatim copy of a letter I sent home to my parents, written at sea during my first time as a serving submariner and as a crew member in the submarine 'Sidon' on an exercise in September / October, (I was twenty one at the time and reading it now makes me feel embarrassed as it must have frightened my poor mother near to death) Tactless it may have been but as an accurate account it is a truthful word picture.


Dear Mum & Dad,

I will take it for granted that you received my letter which I posted Monday.

Tonight is Thursday and I'm somewhere off the west coast of

Scotland, rolling like 'bast..d' (I won't finish that word.)We left harbour at 8-30 Tuesday morning last week

and it's been hell ever since. The last I saw of my mate’s boat 'Ambush' was when she dived just off our stern.

The weather was too heavy for her. 'A' boats are terrible sea boats. I watched her from our 'bridge' for

about an hour and for at least half that time she was keeping a periscope watch as nobody could get onto her

'bridge.' That's all I know of him since, except that they were operating in the Bay of Biscay, off Finistair.


As for us, I think I've suffered every discomfort, hardship and fright there is going. I finally found

somewhere to lie down, not sleep, on a torpedo rack, between the clamps. There are twenty three of us living,

eating, and sleeping in a space about the size of half a railway coach (not compartment) and the same shape.

Also in this space are stores to last sixty-four men, fourteen days, thirty sets of escape apparatus and all

our eating utensils, gash bins etc.


I haven't undressed since we left but have washed four times up to now, I'll get one more wash and a 'SHAVE'

before we get in. You see there are three wash bowls between us all and the water is only 'On' for fifteen

minutes twice or three times a day. The food except potatoes is tinned. We have had corned beef, tongue and

some horrible tinned pies, in rotation for dinner, supper and dinner again next day. (It’s corned beef for

dinner tomorrow)Breakfasts have been more varied. Beans, bacon and eggs, sausages, tinned tomatoes, kidney,

etc. so that's not too bad. We're in three watches, two 'On' and four 'Off' from 8.0 am to 8.0 PM and three hours

'On' and six hours 'Off' at night.


For the first week we used to dive at 5.0 am. and surface at 7.0 PM. and by that time we'd all be panting after

about three or four paces and of course you are not allowed to smoke for that time. Strangely enough, I don't

miss it all that much. That was when our billet was in the Bristol Channel but as I said, we are now off



The 'Heads' are the next nightmare. I've forced myself to once every two days. You have to go 'aft' and climb

over (not edge past) the stokers, and the one and only lavatory pan for about forty of us is in the end of

the stoker's mess, without as much as a canvas screen between you and them eating dinner. It's bloody

disgusting. At first it was embarrassing but I soon got over that.


If the weather would give us a break it would help. The officer of the watch and two lookouts are up there now

with safety belts on. We're so small that you feel so insignificant compared with the seas. When on a wave,

I tense up and wait for that hell of a drop into the next trough and in the trough you just can't see out but

look up and feel lost at the next wave.


The other morning we were dived at eighty feet and every hour it was routine to come up to periscope depth for

a look round. At 7.30 we came up but couldn't maintain our depth and surfaced. We were going 'full ahead'

with both hydroplanes at 'hard to dive' and with the 'quick dive' tank flooded. The storm was still forcing

us up and we just couldn't get down. I don't think I've been so scared for a long time. After a while we did

go down, and then like a rocket. Still there is only about five days to go, so I'll say good night for now.

Roll on a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.


Today is Sunday and the exercise is over as from noon. We are now running as hard as we can for Portland,

which we should reach by about noon on Tuesday. Up top it's a beautiful night with just the slightest swell

and a stern sea, so we're making quite good time at about thirteen knots, which isn't bad for these boats.

I managed to get a good wash and a shave tonight as they've eased the water situation. I am still filthy dirty

in my body but at least I feel cleaner. You get so black because there are so many wheels, rods etc. which all

leak grease and oil in a steady drip. It's something that only becomes noticeable after a while.

It only seems fate but I am on duty Tuesday night, which means I'll have spent sixteen consecutive nights on

this thing. Still its sixteen shillings (80p.) more earned in 'hard living' allowance. My mate and I now owe

four pounds on the car so I'll wait until pay-day And send you both lots together. I'm just wondering how

the car is fairing, only a fortnight unattended in the dockyard is some time. I expect she's OK.


I wonder how my Oppo. got on and where he is now. he should be in when we get there as he's in a faster boat

than us. I've been aboard 'Ambush' a couple of times and she's like a palace compared to this 'crabby' old

thing but I believe I'm better off in the long run as this is the happier 'boat'. They have a lot more room

on board, not overmuch but things like 'heads' etc. are respectable. They are proper lavatories with a simple

flushing system and a proper washroom. You can only get two in at a time but at least you aren't standing in

the passage, blocking it up.


We surfaced at twelve noon after my longest dive. We had been down since 1.0 am Saturday, thirty-five hours in

all. For about eight hours we have been 'snorting' so we got some fresh air into the 'boat' while we charged

the batteries. Oh! And a few smokes. It was our last dive so nobody minded too much. It is a hell of a strain

somehow when you are 'snorting'. I don't know why it should be really. If you drop a bit too deep, the engines

suck the air out of the 'boat' and it's a bit sickening for the ear drums but I can't see why it should strain

the nerves quite like that. It could be the constant expectation of a 'dip' or perhaps the popping of the ears

each time she does it.


Well that's the lot for now, I'll add a PS. when we get in. I'm glad it's nearly over but it's been an experience even if it is far from the last one.


 Letter to Mum part 2


DSA Counter