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Chief Petty Officer Coxswain Gordon Selby

Adapted from an article by George Malcolmson
Archivist at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport

Gordon Selby, who 'Crossed the Bar' in Australia on 21st March 2007, is known to a whole generation of RN Submarine Officers by virtue of his being the Coxswain of the Submarine Officer Training Corps with the Royal Navy from 1950 until 1959. In that role, he organized, disciplined, encouraged and instructed his charges thoroughly in all the technical aspects of being a Submarine Officer. By the end of the course, they not only understood the systems in a Submarine, but could operate every piece of equipment in the boat.

He was by that time a legendary character in the Submarine Service for other reasons. He joined the Navy as a Boy Seaman, aged 15, in 1935. He joined Submarines in 1938 as an Able Seaman. He was made Petty Officer in 1941 and, in February 1942 and thenceforward, he was a CPO Coxswain. He served in Submarines at sea throughout the war, in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Far East. He won his first DSM in 1941 whilst 2nd Coxswain of the famous Submarine HMS Upholder. His Captain, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, was later awarded the VC, but this time was awarded the DSO and their common citation reads: "For skill and enterprise in successful submarine patrols".

At this stage the desperate struggle had begun, by our Submarines based in Malta, to interdict Axis supplies to Rommel in North Africa. It was waged on both sides with unrelenting fury and for some time the Royal Navy lost Submarines at a rate of about one per week. The Allied forces paid a terrible price to win the logistics battle which enabled the Allies 8th Army finally to prevail.

Upholder was lost in April 1942 on her final patrol en route to England and refit. Providentially, Gordon was drafted from Upholder just before she sailed, to remain in the Mediterranean as Coxswain of another boat.

He was first 'Mentioned in Despatches', "For selfless devotion in twice rerunning to a sinking vessel to provide others with life-saving apparatus". The "sinking vessel" was in fact HMS Olympus, on which he was a passenger and which had struck a mine, in May 42 - about 6 miles south of Malta. She was sinking by the bow - survivors of the explosion were mustered on the casing and Gordon went below, via the conning tower, to fetch such escape apparatus as he could carry on two occasions before she went down. He and 11 others managed to swim ashore. They were the survivors.

On 8 September 1944, he was again 'Mentioned in Despatches', "For undaunted courage, skill and devotion to duty in successful patrols in one of HM Submarines in Far Eastern waters". The Submarine was HMS Storm, commanded by Lt. Cdr. Edward Young, the first RNVR officer to achieve Submarine Command and whose excellent book "One of Our Submarines" was required reading by young peacetime Submarine officers of the time.

On 5 June 1945, Gordon was awarded a Bar to his DSM, "For marked courage, devotion to duty and coolness in action in successful patrols whilst serving in one of HM Submarines". Again, this Submarine was HMS Storm in which, mercifully, he safely finished his 6 years war service at sea.

He received one further award and that was the BEM in 1956 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the training of young Submarine Officers. In a remarkable career, few episodes would be more remarkable than the manner in which his life was spared on 3 providential occasions. The first was his escape from HMS Olympus in 1942. The second was his drafting from HMS Trucullent to HMS Alliance about three months before the former boat sank with all hands by collision at night in the Thames. The third was his inexplicable collapse and consequent transfer to RNH Haslar, half an hour before he would have sailed in HMS Affray on her final, fatal voyage.


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The Pomeroy's A Submariner FamilyLieutenant Commander Thomas Godman