Here we have a guest blog post all about the Silent Service, her Popeye is a submariner and jeez Louise- we think we have it bad! Hats off to Beckie! She writes her own successful blog too- www.thesussexgirl.co.uk
Over to you Beckie!
140 characters in a tweet, 120 words in a Familygram.
Or 60 words if you split it and send two a week instead of one.
The only way you can communicate with your submariner. 60 words, twice a week. Read by about 5 different people before it reaches him (or her, nowadays!), stripped of its punctuation, put into capital letters and printed on a one long thin strip of paper.
Usually it has words missing, or misspelt – literally lost in translation as it gets encoded, decoded and transmitted a gazillion times.
No bad news can be sent, no updates that might be a drain on moral and definitely no comments about dates that they may (or may not!) return. Even mentioning a dead pet can get you a phone call to demand you explain who ‘Freddie’ is and how he is related to your submariner (Goldfish, for the record).
60 words, one-way. No replies, no interaction…no arguments!
No emails, no phone calls and no social media. No bedtime FaceTime, no Whatsapp, not even a satellite phone call.
Writing one can take far longer than you’d expect as you agonise over each word, wondering whether you can delete a few conjunctions in order to cram a bit more information in. Squeezing in a joke and finishing on ‘Miss you, Love you’ every single time. Because that’s the only way you can tell him.
It’s certainly a different experience to the usual expectations of modern life. Conversations with friends usually go something frustratingly like…
‘How is he doing?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Where is he?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I know you said you can’t talk, but he MUST have emailed you’
‘No, no! Really, NO communication.’
‘Oh, that’s…SO old-fashioned…Gosh, that must be peaceful, I’d love to not have to hear from *insert name of other half here* for a few days.’
Everyone has their reality and in the Forces world, we all face separation together. For some, reality is getting a couple of phone calls a week and maybe even, sometimes, regular emails. Some might get to see their sailor during R and R, for others separation is more regularly planned duties. For each of us, we have our own reality to face. Our own communication trials and limitations. Despite occasionally, mid-patrol, gritting my teeth when a civvie friend whinges about her partner’s single night away from home, it’s important to remember that we each have our own routine, our own reality and differentiation from that can be hard to deal with.
Even those friends who are Navy themselves, or in a relationship with someone who is, forget that the Silent Service really is, well, that. Silent. They forget that our very limited, one-way communication is all there is. They forget that you can’t just call to find out where the house insurance paperwork is. They forget that bad news has to be dealt with entirely in the absence of the submariner. They forget that babies get born…and, sadly, people get buried, without the submariner. Once they’re away, once they’re underwater. That’s it. They’ll be back, when they’re back, and not before.
But you know? It’s not all that bad. At least I know my phone isn’t going to ring. I don’t need to be glued to my mobile ‘just in case’, I don’t endure broken conversation on a dodgy satellite phone link and I don’t suddenly get a bleak gap in communication when they go ‘silent ship’. You just get on with it, knowing that in a few months that magic letter will arrive that says they’ll be back soon.
But it does end.
Then the pre-end of patrol preps begin (you know what I mean ladies, speedy hair removal required!) and you know that soon, he’ll be back. You’ll get to hear his voice again and once more you’ll be able to say goodnight in person instead of just whispering it to a photo.
60 words isn’t much. But this is our reality and knowing that receiving it becomes the most important part of his week means that sending it is the most important part of mine.
Little bit about me: I live in Southsea with my boyfriend who happens to be a Submariner (based in Faslane, he commutes down at weekends when he can so I suppose saying ‘we live together’ needs to be used in the loosest terms possible currently – we’re on the same electoral roll, how about that?!). I work full time for The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity as well as being a Royal Navy Reservist, keen netballer and over-enthusiastic illustrator.