Frederick (Ben) Rodgers
Many readers will dismiss this story as mere coincidence, but those of you with a touch of Irish may well believe it, as do I.
In order to tell my story I must first relate an event that occurred one year earlier. My name is Frederick Rodgers I’m a 20-year-old able seaman and as yet unmarried. I have served happily for three years in the silent service. During the summer of 1962 in Plymouth, England I was serving aboard the Royal Navy submarine HM/SM Taciturn. On weekend leave I suffered a severe head injury as a front-seat passenger in a shipmate’s car. Three weeks in hospital and 30 stitches later I was sent home on sick leave. Whilst on leave my brother-in-law suggested I claim damages and took me to a solicitor. I recounted what little I remembered about the accident and gave the lawyer a newspaper clipping, the only real information I had.
When sick leave expired I was posted to HMS Dolphin, the submarine base in Portsmouth, I remained there until declared fit for sea duty almost one year later.
In May 1963 I was declared fit to return to sea duty. I reported to the drafting office for my next assignment. I had long since forgotten the solicitor or any hope of receiving compensation.
The submarine base maintains a complete spare crew. If a submarine found itself short a crewmember due to health or such, a replacement was readily available. It was to spare crew I now find myself posted. I’m given several forms to complete and deliver to appropriate departments. It was important the pay office knew my whereabouts if I expected to be paid. It was equally important the post office had my new address if I hoped to receive mail. However, the first priority was to transfer with my kit to the spare crew accommodation. By the time I moved to my new billet it was already late. I decided the forms could wait until the following morning. That night I turned in and quickly fell asleep.
Suddenly a blinding light is shinning in my face. Behind it, someone was shouting, “ You Rodgers? You’ve got 10 minutes to get your ass aboard the submarine Totem, she’s about to sail."
I landed onboard as they were about to remove the gangway. I was unshaven, unwashed and now underway. The boat was heading out to operate in the Irish Sea with a visit to the City of Cork on the weekend. Thursday at sea being payday everyone was paid. Everyone except me that is! I was almost broke with maybe five shillings to my name. The chance of borrowing from a shipmate was nil. Not a permanent member of the crew, loaning me money was high risk. I could disappear as quickly as I had arrived.
Saturday morning, alongside in Cork City I was free to go ashore. Opposite the gangway was a pub. It didn’t open until noon. However, a discrete tap on a side door my shipmates and I are quickly ushered inside.
The interior was dim blinds still down. We ordered pints of Guinness and headed to a table by the fireside. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom we saw a garda (Irish policeman) standing at the bar.
“Tis British sailors breaking the law I’m seeing here?” he says. We froze on the spot. After a pause he continued. “Ah well! Sure tis breaking the law to let salty young seafarers like yourselves go thirsty.”
A few pints later and my funds reduced by half I returned onboard for lunch. Levity in a seaman’s mess usually increases after the daily noontime issue of rum. This was the case aboard Totem. Someone suggested we head out of town to Blarney Castle to kiss the famous stone.
Having imbibed a tot and two pints of Guinness, kissing the Blarney Stone seemed an admirable idea.
The bus fare depleted a further sixpence from my dwindling funds. Arriving at the castle we were directed to climb a circular stairway to the top of the tower. Here we found the Blarney Stone and an enterprising photographer. For one shilling he would take our photograph kissing the stone. We readily agreed — we surely needed a record of our lips touching this famous stone. After paying the photographer I couldn’t afford return bus fare and had to walk the five miles back to town. I returned aboard Totem, depressed, my feet aching and my pockets empty.
A dance was hosted for Totem’s crew that night promising lots of girls in attendance. I knew I wouldn’t be doing any dancing even if my feet recovered in time.
When I entered the mess I noticed the mail had arrived. I showed no interest; there would be none for me. Like my pay docs, my change of address was sitting in my locker back at the base. Therefore I was stunned when a shipmate asked if I’d got my letter? What letter? It had to be a mistake. It couldn‘t be for me.
Nevertheless, on the table was a large official-looking white envelope with my name clearly printed on the front. I quickly tore it open to find it contained several typed pages. But what immediately caught my attention was the attached cheque. It was from my lawyer: a settlement for my injuries in the sum of 1,000 pounds. Never in my life had I held such a huge sum of money in my hands.
The first question that came to mind was how this letter found me? How was it possible? The fleet mail office didn’t have my new address.
Now my second question?
A few hours earlier I had kissed the Blarney Stone with only small change in my pocket. Now I was rich beyond my wildest dreams. Coincidence? Or luck of the Irish? You decide.
Oh, and yes I did make it to the dance that night.
F. Ben Rodgers lives in Abram-Village and assures the editor this is a true story.