Hawks Nest Probus hears from Navy Submariner

Hawks Nest and District Probus Club President Peter Nealon with a dozen new members of the social club inducted this month.

SUBMARINER Rob Woolrych delivered a much-enjoyed guest speech about life under the sea at the Hawks Nest and District Probus meeting at the Hawks Nest Golf Club on Friday 3 May.

Seventy-seven members, including a dozen new inductees, and eleven visitors, listened intently as Mr Woolrych described a travelogue of his time with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), which included some very interesting interactions in and around the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

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Rob joined the RAN in 1959 and was soon on his way to Dartmouth Naval College in the UK, finding himself in the Dartmouth Squadron in the West Indies by the age of eighteen.

After answering “No” to the question: “Do you get claustrophobic in a lift?”, he was on his way to a career in submarines.

“That was the extent of psychological testing for submariners in the 1970s, although today it is much more strenuous,” Rob said.

“The first submersibles were made of leather and wood, and most of them ended up sinking, like the Confederates’ Hunley in the American Civil War,” Rob explained.

“In WWI and WWII, Axis U-boats nearly starved Europe.”

Much of Rob’s training took place in the North Atlantic, so homecomings would normally be via the Suez Canal, except for instances like during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when his vessel was diverted via Panama instead.

Eventually, he entered the ‘Perisher’ course at HNS Dolphin, so named for the fact that candidates either ‘pass or perish’ – the latter seeing them leave submarines forever.

“We were hunted to exhaustion over five weeks by RN, RAF and Canadian Navy units around Gibraltar, they were ordered to ram us if they ever saw our periscope,” Rob said.

His later homecoming included massive storms in the Bay of Biscay, two close encounters with Soviet submarines, witnessing the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker before it broke up on the coast of France, a party in Greece while awaiting a replacement for a damaged 75-foot antenna, and some very questionable pilots along the Suez Canal.

“Canal pilots were entertaining company, once we found out who they really were.”

Perhaps one of the most moving experiences Rob relayed was that of the Remembrance Day event at Bremen, Germany, where the German Navy and government led a ‘public display of the tragedy of conflict’ in the middle of the Cold War.

By Thomas O’KEEFE

Former RAN submariner Rob Woolrych had many stories about his time in the navy

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