It’s a Bonny Life in the Land of Kilts and Bagpipes – ALL HANDS September 1967

This article was written less than a decade after Site One was established in the Holy Loch.

I did not arrive in Scotland until August of 1990 to serve on board the AFDB 7 Floating Drydock but many of the same conditions that existed back in the Sixties were very similar to what was written. The major differences of course were mostly economic and the price for gasoline was WAY higher than what it was in 1967.

My wife and I lived off base in a little house at the head of the loch that had just been vacated by another American family. To be honest, it was a real learning experience for us as we sacrificed a few small appliances while learning about the different electricity. But the wood stove furnace kept us very cozy at night.

It was really very pleasant and we enjoyed the new way of living. It was a far cry from our base housing in Hawaii, but it held a certain charm of its own. The neighbors were nice and by the time we were stationed there the site had been active for over thirty years.

The saddest day of my career came when we were informed that our tour was ending due to the site being phased out and closed. But as I sat here tonight and reread the article from ALL HANDS, so many memories came flooding back.

I am grateful to the Navy for giving me a chance to live in Scotland (even if it was a short tour). For us, it was indeed a Bonny Life.

Mister Mac

“September 1967 THE BULLETIN BOARD – ALL HANDS MAGAZINE

It’s a Bonny Life in the Land of Kilts and Bagpipes

Authored by William Roger Maul, CTC, USN

When NAVYMEN and their families complete a tour at duty stations overseas, they leave with a better appreciation of the country and its people, thanks to their life as neighbors of the local residents. That’s part of the broadening experience of travel, one of the service fringe benefits that has a tendency to be overlooked.

Of course, some duty stations abroad are more interesting than others. Some have an ideal climate. Some have exotic scenery. And then there’s duty in Holy Loch, Scotland.

Navy families have been known to return from a couple of years in Holy Loch almost unrecognizable to family and friends they had left behind. Hitherto unmusical Navymen can be seen—and heard—sending the skirl of the bagpipes wafting across the water as their submarine pulls into Charleston, S. C.

Friends are sometimes startled when newly returned families rush outside at the first sign of sunshine and throw their arms skyward as if greeting a long-lost comrade.

Former diehard bachelors come home with brides, whose thoroughly charming accent quickly devastates the local populace.

There is no U. S. naval base at Holy Loch. A small, protected bay near Scotland’s western coast, it is used by the Navy as an anchorage for a submarine tender (currently Uss Simon Lake (AS 31) is as signed), and the boats of Submarine Squadron 14, most of which are Fleet ballistic missile subs.

Since there is no base, Navy families are required to live among the Scots (not Scotch, if you please), and it apparently doesn’t take long to become captivated by the whole Scottish scene. Most of the scene, anyway. The Scottish weather is notoriously uncaptivating.

There are three principal towns close to Holy Loch. Most Navy families set up housekeeping in either Greenock, Gourock, or Dunoon.

Greenock (about 77,000 population) is the largest of the three, and thus has most to offer the Navy family, especially with respect to available housing.

It is also only 25 miles from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Greenock has one major disadvantage. It is on the wrong side of the Firth of Clyde, as far as the submarine tender is concerned, and the boat ride to the ship is rather long.

Gourock (about 10,000) is near Greenock, also across the Firth of Clyde from the tender, and the boat ride to the ship is still lengthy.

Many Navy families choose to live in Dunoon (about 10,000), since it is closest to the anchorage. There is a small Navy Exchange and Commissary located here, and the tender is anchored nearby.

Housing: Most Navy families rent furnished apartments (called flats) or houses. Unfurnished houses are available, but are much more difficult to find, and often require a minimum two-year lease. Furnished two-bedroom apartments and houses usually rent for $100 per month and up. One-bedroom flats start at $45 per month.

Houses are generally unheated. But, even if they are provided with central heating, the maximum temperature may not be as high as that to which you are accustomed during the winter months in the States.

Heating is usually by portable electric or paraffin (kerosene) heaters.

Gas heating is more expensive than in the States.

Scottish communities have an electrical supply of from 200 to 240 volts at 50 cycles. Electrical appliances of American manufacture normally operate on 110/120 volts, 60 cycles; therefore, they can be used only with a transformer. It is suggested that you check your American-made appliances to determine the correct size transformer to use.

You should bring plenty of sheets, pillowslips, towels, and tablecloths so that you do not have to do your laundry too frequently. Good drying days do not come with any regularity.

Clothes dryers are especially helpful items to bring with you, although the limited space in the kitchen area can present a problem, and you may have to pay for special wiring or run your dryer on half power.

Clothes washers of the semiautomatic or wringer type will work with a converter. Automatic washers can present a number of problems due to the difference in cycles, plumbing lines, and fixtures.

Radios, hi-fi’s, phonographs, mixers, toasters, grills, vacuum cleaners and electric heaters are desirable, and you will want to bring them with you. However, it is suggested you store television sets (completely useless), freezer, stoves, and automatic washer-dryer in the States until you get back home. Television sets may be bought or rented locally.

Medical and Dental Care: There are two U. S. naval clinics, one in Dunoon, the other in Greenock. Medical care is also available from civilian sources, but dependents may not use the free facilities of the British National Health Service without the permission of a U. S. Navy medical officer. When hospitalization is required, it must be obtained from civilian sources.

It is recommended that dependents have all necessary dental treatment completed before leaving the U. S., because only limited dental treatment is available from the Navy Dental Clinic and local civilian dentists. British dentists are highly skilled and qualified, of course, but their first concern is to their own patients. Some, however, will accept other than National Health patients.

Their fees are comparable to those charged by dentists in the States.

Commissary and Exchange: The U. S. Air Force has a commissary store and exchange at Prestwick Air Base, approximately 40 miles from Holy Loch. The store is, of course, open to Navymen and their dependents.

You will probably find yourself doing considerable shopping in the local markets, since the Air Force commissary is so far away. (In Scotland, a 40-mile jaunt can turn into quite an expedition. There are few super highways between Holy Loch and Prestwick.) You will find that personal contacts in your daily marketing are far more important than they are in the U. S. supermarket, and you will get personal attention that you will not find at home.

There are many small towns and villages in this area, and you will rarely find it necessary to leave your neighborhood for most of your needs.

A limited selection of commissary and exchange items and package liquors is available at the Ardnadam Recreation Complex, near Dunoon. Money and Banking; U. S. currency is used on U. S. bases in the United Kingdom. Elsewhere, British sterling is the medium of exchange.

The pound sterling (£) is valued at approximately $2.80, and is composed of 20 shillings. A shilling is valued at 14 cents. Other units of exchange are: 10-shilling notes ($1.40), half crown, or two and one half shillings (35 cents), two-shilling piece (28 cents), six pence (seven cents), three pence (pronounced “thruppence”) (three and one-half cents), and half-penny (pronounced “hayp’nee”) (one-half cent).

One U. S. bank maintains a branch in Glasgow. Military personnel may maintain dollar or sterling checking accounts with this bank. However, checks drawn on this bank are not readily negotiable outside Britain. Postal money orders and bank drafts are the only practical means of remitting funds to the States. While it is suggested that you consider retaining your checking account with your present bank, a local bank account is most convenient and highly recommended.

Clothing: The reporting uniform for Navymen is Service Dress Blue Bravo. In addition to the prescribed military uniform, personnel are permitted to wear civilian clothing for shore leave. A full seabag should be brought when reporting for duty. Local prices on women’s clothes are from moderate to expensive, depending on taste. Materials are of excellent quality, and woolens can be bought at a considerable saving.

Sweaters and other woolens are in good supply and reasonably priced.

If you wear narrow shoes you may find it difficult to get a proper fit. Otherwise, shoes are attractive and moderately priced. It is a good idea to be in contact with your favorite shoe dealer in the States. Have your size and width handy, and allow three to four weeks for delivery.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must.

Clothing for girls is easier to find than for boys. Girls’ wool skirts and sweaters are plentiful as are good coats. Mail order houses in the States give good service and orders can usually be obtained in three weeks. If you enter a child in a British school, the school uniform is comparable in price to other clothing, and is of good quality.

You will probably want to bring some summer clothing, but the bulk should be placed in permanent storage in the States. For everyone, a raincoat with a lining is another must.

Automobiles: There are no restrictions on the importation of a privately owned automobile, as long as it is in a safe operating condition and in good mechanical order. A mandatory inspection of all automobiles manufactured over six years ago is now in effect in the United Kingdom.

Vehicles are entered free of duty and purchase tax, provided that a certificate is executed which requires the owner to export the car at a later date. A sale to another U.S. serviceman, who must execute the same type of certificate, is permissible.

Spare parts and repairs on American cars are expensive in Scotland and hard to get. Compacts are preferable to larger automobiles, since some of the roads and gates are quite narrow.

Military personnel are not required to obtain a British driver’s license, but must hold a valid U. S. license. If your stateside license expires while you are in Scotland, you can obtain a British license for five shillings (70 cents) a year, upon the presentation of a certificate signed by your commanding officer.

Two other items are essential for operation of an automobile in Great Britain: payment of road tax at the rate of 15 pounds a year, and automobile insurance for which the yearly rates vary according to a number of circumstances. In regard to automobile insurance, a letter from your present insurance company attesting to the number of accident- free years you have driven will result in a no-claims bonus policy with the resultant reduced rates.

Exchange gasoline is sold at Ardnadam Recreation Complex, at25 cents per imperial gallon. Gasoline at this price is rationed for use in driving to and from work (that is, the appropriate pier). Gasoline on the local market (petrol, of course) costs 70 cents per imperial gallon.

Education: Since there are no U.S. Schools in the Holy Loch area, your children will attend British schools. Each school is under the supervision of a headmaster, who is generally one of the faculty. The children are placed in classes according to age and ability.

These classes are called “forms” instead of grades—thus, what we call the sixth grade is called the sixth form. The first stage of schooling, called the “infant stage” is for children from five to seven years old.

The next stage, the “primary,” takes the child through age 11.

At this point the local children are given an examination called the eleven plus exam, which determines where they will be placed in the secondary system. American children do not have to take these examinations.

The secondary system takes the child through to ages 15 to 18, or older. In secondary, or grammar school, the student will be offered college entrance courses, commercial, homecraft, or technical courses. American children are placed in classes based on the records transferred from their last school and, in some cases, as a result of conferences with the teachers. Once school is in session, the child will be moved up or down until he is with a class of the same educational level.

Children are generally expected to walk or cycle to school if they live less than two miles from the school.

Students who are under 15, living two or more miles from school, are entitled to transportation. The transportation provided may be a season ticket on public transportation and does not have to be a special bus or automobile.

Students at most schools in the Holv Loch area wear uniforms. This is often just a blazer, but is sometimes a complete outfit. Although wearing the uniform is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged.

Preparing for the trip: Dependents planning to travel to Scotland would be wise to check early on immunization requirements. Applications for passports and visas should also be made well in advance. It is a good idea to maintain close liaison with your sponsor so that you will have up-to-date information on requirements.

Pets: As there is a six-month quarantine for all pets arriving in Great Britain, you are advised not to take your pets to Scotland. Costs of maintaining animals in quarantine are high, and must be borne by the owner.

Recreation: Most of the towns in the Holy Loch area have public facilities for individual sports such as golf, tennis, swimming, bowling, and fishing.

The U. S. Navy contingent also has established its own sports program. There are softball and bowling teams for the ladies, and baseball competition for boys. The men participate in basketball, softball, swimming, soccer, boxing, golfing, skiing, cycling, bowling, camping, and other sports.”

 

4 thoughts on “It’s a Bonny Life in the Land of Kilts and Bagpipes – ALL HANDS September 1967

  1. Another Great Article Mister Mac.

    As you know from my article, AFDB-7 Los Alamos “IN THE BEGINNING”, I arrived in Holy Loch on May 27, 1961 to help the SEABEES of MCB-4, Detachment Kilo erect the floating dry-dock to service the Polaris submarines. While there, we lived aboard the floating barracks APL-42 which was normally tied up to one of the 4 sections of the dock anchored in the Holy Loch we were working on at the time. If not, we took a Mike Boat to work & back.

    So, your article really was interesting to me since the APL-42 (we called it THE APPLE) was my home from May to November 13th, 1961 when we returned to the States. I had not thought much about how those stationed there lived and mingled with the Scots.

    However, I do have an autographed copy of the book, “The American Years, Dunoon & the US Navy” by Andrene Messersmith. She was a child at the time of the US arrival but has compiled a collection of impressions and memoir from both sides of the Atlantic of what this major change meant to Dunoon. It’s been decades since I read it, but I pulled it out and is in line to “read again the “.127 pages.

    Keep up the GREAT WORK !!!

    Norm

  2. Interesting , thought provoking article. I made several patrols out of “the Loch”, early 70’s to late 80’s. Did not get to mingle with the natives much but , enjoyed the country.
    I do recall( not fondly) of being in charge of several bagge details. One in particular was after crossing the Firth in nasty weather and looking into the well deck of the Mike boat with all our seabags floating around ! That was called experience- pack your stuff in a plastic bag in your seabag. Still do it today and my Wife is dumbfounded.
    Good article!!

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