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Memories of Donald (Buckwheat) Harris

While reading an old edition of the Submariners News I noticed a name in the Xmas greetings column that brought back a few memories of my time in the 4th squadron based at Hunters bay in Sydney. That name was Buckwheat Harris or to give him his proper name Donald John Nathaniel Harris (according to buckwheat).

There were about 60 of us on the draft and we took passage aboard the RMS Otranto in June 1955, an Orient line Ship that had seen better days.

On arrival in Australia I joined the Telemachus and Harris took up his duties as Capt S/M steward. Now Harris is the steward who is known as the steward who fell out with the Wardroom of a boat he served on and on one morning when it was kippers for breakfast he kept one back and pinned it under the wardroom table.


A few days later he went on leave, and whilst at home received a telegram saying "Harris we know what it is but were the hell is it" true or false I don't know as I was not there.

As Capt S/Ms steward one of Harris's duties was to baby sit. One evening Harris was left with one in a cot and one in a bed and a very nice cocktail cabinet.

On return Capt S/M found one child crying in bed and one child crawling around the floor, and Harris XXXX as a newt asleep in the cot. Harris had a swift transfer from S/Ms steward to steward on the Telemachus (this is Fact).

On a trip up to Singapore for exercises in 1956 on the Telemachus we called into Townsville on a courtesy visit. While there we were allowed to use the outdoor swimming pool, which at the time was being used by the Australian Olympic squad for training.

A number of the lads set off equipped with towels & cossies however on the way they were persuaded by one officers steward (Harris) to call for a couple of schooners and some spring rolls first.

So a couple of hours later the pool was invaded by a few merry matelots, unfortunately someone swallows half the pool & upon regurgitating it also brought up 3 spring rolls.

Soon after this we were asked to leave as the Olympic squad was about to arrive for training. I Do not think they were impressed, Was it Harris? (Who Knows)

Not long after leaving Townsville we stopped to ditch gash somewhere in then Timor Sea and being as calm as a millpond the skipper said to use the torpedo loading hatch.

No sooner had the first bucket been ditched than sharks appeared gulping everything down. Upon hearing this Buckwheat decided to catch one and serve shark steaks to the wardroom.

So equipped with a length of codline a meat hook and lump of frozen kidney he did his old man of the sea bit. Straight away the bait was taken and a six footer was caught. It took about 3 men to pull it on to the casing.

Deciding how to dispatch it was a something else. The Gun layer asked to use a .303 and put a couple of bullets into its head, the skipper agreed.

Upon the return with the rifle Buckwheat said to be careful as the wanted the jawbone to make a necklace. With the sharks head just showing over the casing edge guns could hardly miss. Placing the rifle very close he put three shots through its head.

Unfortunately one after passing through the head also passed through the towing slip, action stations finished not to be undone the shark was pulled aboard the casing but it was still wriggling and snapping its Jaws.

Buckwheat Decided to forget his necklace and have it beaten to death.

One of the stokers arrived on the scene with a very heavy pinch bar and started clubbing it about the head with the shark being somewhat smooth and slippery the bar slid across the head on one blow and caught the gun layer on the ankle and broke it quite cleanly.

Eventually it was dead and Buckwheat got his steaks, but the wardroom were not very impressed. How the skipper explained about the towing slip I do not know.

A usual run ashore in Singapore started with a fast black from terror barracks into Nes Soon Village for big eats and a few bottles of Tiger, then another fast black into the City. One evening a few of us inadvertently ended up in either Bugis street or lavender street, both places being out of bounds. As innocent Submariners how were we supposed to know this.

As luck would have it we were soon approached by a group of Army MP'S and Naval Patrolmen who requested that we climb into there nice van for a little ride to the main MP HQ. There they politely asked for Name, Rank, number & Boat. When it came to Buckwheat's turn a large sergeant enquired of his name, the reply being "Donald John Nathaniel Buckwheat Harris OLD SHIPS, what's yours?"

Blank weeks in Singapore tended to be a sods opera in then the lower canteen in Terror Barracks.

So with tables pushed together and 30 or 40 matelot's around them the chants began, Sing sing or show us your ring starting with the person next to Harris and working around the tables leaving Harris until the end. Now Harris's most famous turn of course was the very theatrical "death of Nelson". The roles of Nelson & Hardy both played by Harris.

Upon completion he would then ask for two volunteers to assist him with "as he put it with a song written and composed by him self" where upon the assistants would return with two fire buckets full of water which they poured over Harris's head. He would then give his rendition of "singing in the rain".

I suppose my most abiding memory of "Harris" is of a rather wild looking character stepping through the engine room door (not long after the rum issue) wearing a sarong a no 8's shirt and flip flops usually on the wrong feet. He would have a short chat with everyone normally saying hello old ships have you got a ciggy for Buckwheat. Then on into the stoker's mess, after perhaps half an hour he would re-emerge and head for the pantry to dish out the wardroom lunch. People have often said to me that he must have been a bit crazy or not right in the head but believe me the only word that describes Harris is "OUTRAGEOUS".


1 comment

My father, Frank Field, also served during the 1950's on the Telemachus in Sydney. I read this story with fond memories!
   Lindsay Field Thu, 12 Jan 2023

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Lieutenant Commander Thomas GodmanPetty Officer 1st Class Albert George Hodder