Gary Oakley - Submariners: Friends for life

Running time
4 min 34 sec
Date made
Place made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


I was lucky because I came there as a surface ship. They used to call surface ships skimmers because they skim along the surface. Used to call them skimmers or targets and I'd been at Platypus as a skimmer. So they, so I'd got used to what how it works.

So it wasn't such a cultural shock for me, actually it was quite interesting, because there was two Oakley’s, it was me and another Oakley. And I was indigenous. And we were both electricians. And they used to call us both Annie Oakley. And someone would go, "Which one? " They’d go, "Positive or negative? " I was negative and he was positive. The bloody play on the electric thing. But I got used to the place and I got used to how they do business.

So when I joined boats, there was another five of us, we went to do the part one and two in the United Kingdom at HMS Dolphin. In those days, we didn't have a submarine school so you had to do it in the UK, and also, that's where you did the tank, the scope training. So we went to the UK, the five of us, yeah, the tank was dry so I thought, "Oh, I'm gonna have to come back to England to do the tank ".

We did our part one and two, then I came back to Platypus, then you do your part three on a submarine, first mate and watchkeeper, all that kind of stuff. Within a year, I was the only one left out of those five. Because it's just, the attrition rate for submarines was just horrendous. We could never man six submarines ever. We were always lucky to have one in major refit and one in minor refit, the other four we could just maintain the crews on them. So, yeah, and then, basically you just get used to it.

The job was crap. I mean it was long hours, you know, if you are on a patrol or your, you know, your six on three off, six on or not on a patrol, on a trial patrol your six on six off, you’re in defence watches, six on, six off, and when you’re six off, you can't get to sleep. You have to clean the boat and if there's anything broken, you fix it. So, there are times where you don't sleep for days.

Normal routine is usually six on, three off, six on, three off, something like that, unless you're transiting anywhere and that could be two on 20 off, 10 off. It depends on the watch system. But the job, submarines themselves are horrible, but it was funny. Blokes talked about it and went, "Ah, this sucks. This is a shit job " blah, blah, if anybody else outside the group said that, they’d go for them.

You were only allowed to bitch if you were a sub-mariner, you can't bitch outside of that. But what I found with him, the manpower, the guys, which is a problem, it caused me a problem, was these guys would die for each other. Even if they didn't like the bloke, they would die for him, you know, and they literally would die for him. And it got to the point where you thought more of the guys you're serving with than your family.

If you went away and did a patrol, you went away for a while and you came back home, there used to be Platypus family, meet the boat in the wharf 10 o'clock, you all go up to the messes, have a smorgasbord, you know, meet and greet, have a good time. And then all the wives and kids go, and the blokes would stay there. And get liquored to the eyeballs and get the anger and all that shit out of the system and go home the next day.

They’d either sleep on the boat or sleep in the mess hall or whatever and try to get that anger out. But that was the problem. Every second guy I met on submarines was on a second marriage or you know, went through girlfriends like bloody water because they were so dedicated to the job and to the people.

They thought more of the people than their own family life, I mean, I had a failed marriage out of it. It was just one of those things where I thought more of these guys than I did of my home life. A crap job, a horrible job, the people were just, you’ve got them for life.

These guys I mean, in their eyes, even though I'm in Air Force now, I'm still a sub-mariner, you know, that's the way it is. And these guys, if I died tomorrow, there'll be 20 of them at the house saying to my wife, "What can we do for you? ", you know. Yeah, that camaraderie that bond was the best thing in submarines.

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