Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…

Leather Dog Tags


Growing up in the 1970s, whenever you filled in a government form, they would ask your religion — similar to how they ask your ethnicity or gender now. Mum taught me to write CofE (Church of England) on the forms and that’s what I did for many years. I stopped believing in God on the 5th of September 1973 but I carried on writing CofE because that’s what everyone did. When I joined the Navy, they stamped CofE on my leather dog tags which I had to wear all of the time. Pretty much everyone I knew was CofE except maybe a handful of folks who were RC, CofS or METH.

After five years in the Navy, I was promoted to officer.

When you become an officer, as far as the Navy is concerned, you have left the Navy, rejoined and are starting again from the beginning. You have to fill in the forms all over again and I remember sitting in the Senior Rates mess on my submarine and my messmates heckled me as I filled in the forms. When I got to the religion question, I was overcome by a sudden rebellious streak and instead of writing “CofE”, I wrote “atheist”. My friends were shocked and said I was crazy. “They will give you such a hard time!” they said.

couldn’t find my own tags

When I got to Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, I was assigned a Divisional Officer (D.O.) who was responsible for the pastoral and administrative aspects of my service. As I had already been in the Navy for five and a half years by this point, I found most aspects of the training pretty easy: I was super fit, pretty knowledgeable and I could keep my kit clean and tidy. By contrast, almost everyone else was barely 18, straight out of school and didn’t know anything about the Navy. While they were ironing their uniforms for hours on end, I was usually at the bar drinking treble Glenlivets with Craig. Even so, my D.O. was quite proud of me and put me in charge when he wasn’t around.

One time, we were at some divisional function involving drinkies and my D.O. decided that he wanted to look at my dog tags.

“What’s ATH?” he asked?
“Atheist.” I replied.

Without saying a word, he turned his back on me and walked away. I don’t remember him ever talking to me again.

In the middle, third row from the back. Craig is lifting me up.
I’m wearing my hat properly. I’m wearing dolphins.

For reasons that I’ll explain in another post, the whole point of going to Dartmouth was to get out of the Navy. If I had stayed as a submariner, I had four more years return of service to complete. But when you join the Navy, you get a grace period where you can leave at any time. I was having such a good time at Dartmouth that I stayed until the last possible moment and finally quit on the day Her Majesty the Queen came to inspect us at our Passing Out parade.

I had wanted to go travelling for many years — that was kind of the point of joining the Navy in the first place — but you don’t get to do much travelling on a ballistic missile submarine. After I left Dartmouth, I spent the next year travelling around the world with a backpack and that’s what I’ll write about next.