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Centenary Memories

by Bill Butters

There had been a lot of correspondence in the Evening Mail, about the forthcoming Centenary, which was to mark 100 years of submarine building at Barrow-in-Furness. It had been suggested that the Freedom of the Borough should be granted to the Submarine Service.

A committee of dedicated personnel was formed to research into the past and present life of Submarines and personnel. Eventually everything came together and a date was agreed, 5th May 2001. It had been hoped that a member of the Royal Family would be present, unfortunately that was cancelled owing to foot and mouth. Flag Officer Submarines, Rear Admiral Rob Stevens, who did a first class job, took on the roll.

Bill Butters (Center)
Bill Butters (Center)

With this going on, I started to think of the times I had spent in Submarines and the Barrow boats I served on. Most of my 4½ years were spent on X and XE crafts. When peace was declared we were abandoned in Australia, our parent ship was called upon to help evacuate sick and wounded troops. I returned to the UK and civilised life, which was hard to get used to. One missed the comradeship, I felt I would like to become a member of the 'Old Comrades Association' but had a fear I might be rejected, with serving such a short time when one thought of old timers with 22 years behind them. To make it harder I was the only Midget Submariner in Barrow. My daughter Rosemary knew how much it meant to me to be taken back into the fold. She set the wheels in motion by ringing 'Ann Taylforth', who put Mr. Terry Spurling in contact with her. Between them they worked very hard, I will never be able to give them the credit they deserve.

The day grew near and when it came you could not have ordered it better, glorious sunshine greeted us. We met at BAE Systems at 0930 for coffee and introductions. I met an old comrade, whom I had not seen for 55 years, Titch Fraser V.C. His first words were "Do you think I am still as good looking as when we first met" I came out with the flannel and relied "better". I did notice his hair, like mine, had changed. I also met a charming Lady Fieldhouse (what a lovely person).

We were transported to the Town Hall where the great Barrow people had assembled to give us a warm welcome. The Freedom of the Borough was handed over but one thing stands out in my mind, the Royal Marine Band struck up and played the Retreat. We left the Town Hall for the yard where the inspection of HM Forces took place.

My big moment was fats approaching; I think the chap in charge of the parade was what used to be called a 'Master of Arms'. He had a voice of thunder and gave me an envelope, which I had to hand to Admiral Stevens. He assured me he would "cut my guts out if I faltered". Admiral Stevens presented me with my medals and the people of Barrow applauded. I felt very humble yet very proud and thought about the lads who never made it.

The Marines treated us to a grand display of unarmed combat. By this time the hunger pangs were taking over so it was back to BAE for an excellent lunch.

In the evening we met for drinks and diner at the Town Hall, once again first class. We left at midnight so that I could be up ready for Church parade at St James'. It was a fitting end to a perfect weekend. We bade farewell to comrades from all over the country and I wish to give my sincere thanks to all the people who made my weekend one I will never forget.



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What a Marvellous Weekend