Written by: David Black
Submitted By: David Black
This review submitted by the book's author
This is the latest "Harry Gilmour" novel, a series following the Second World War career of a young RNVR submariner.
For anyone looking for a feel of these naval adventure stories Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Boyce KG GCB OBE; former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, 1998 to 2001; Chief of the Defence Staff, 2001 to 2003, and the Royal Navy’s senior submariner wrote this review on Harry’s first adventure:
“When I was first given the opportunity to read Gone to Sea in a Bucket by David Black, I was very busy and I put the manuscript to one side. However, when I did finally manage to pick it up, I was glad I’d cleared my in-tray first – because I could not put it down!
Speaking as a submariner, I found this tale of submarine life in wartime a genuine pleasure. It is technically extremely accurate from an engineering/equipment point of view, with regards to how a submarine of that era was operated and fought; and the detailed description of life on board (even down to ‘Train Smash’ and ‘Cheese Oosh’ – always popular scran!) and all the associated atmospherics one might encounter are most authentic. There are a couple of instances where I felt nomenclature was different to that I have used – for example, I would say “All Round Look” as opposed to “360 Look” – but these are tiny; and the author may have it right: in 1940 that may have been the expression used.
I found myself easily transported back to the time I joined my first submarine 50 years ago – built in the closing stages of World War 2, so not that different from the submarines David Black describes. I was in total empathy with Harry Gilmour, his hero, when he joins HMS Pelorus as the junior watchkeeper on board; in my case - and at a similar age - I went aboard my first boat as 5th Hand, and Harry’s experiences scarily mirrored my own, right down to having a CO known for his liking of the hard stuff – though happily in my situation he indulged ashore and not aboard where he was a formidable and skilled attacker. And when Harry joins HMS Trebuchet … well, what can I say? I too had a wardroom steward just as much an eccentric character as Harry’s ‘Lascar’ Vaizey.
The insight into the relationship between *‘the Trade’ and General Service (the surface navy) is also absolutely spot on – and an element of that still exists in modern times between submariners and ‘skimmers’! (It was certainly powerfully in-being when I joined my first boat – **Vice Admiral Wilson’s words live on!!)
And his insights also capture perfectly the ethos and professionalism of the whole crew beneath the waves – right down to the fear of ‘friendly fire’ from the RAF!
The book’s closing adventure is indeed the stuff of Hornblower and Jack Aubrey; it’s the singeing the King of Spain’s beard and ‘Crap’( I knew him personally, and my father served under him) Miers*** winning his VC in WW2 rolled into one – and the exciting way it is told helps to sustain credulity! All the aspects of submarine warfare are brought into play: the surveillance mission is extremely authentic, and once the shooting starts …
I could go on – there is so much to parallel with my own experiences as, I suspect, will be the case for anyone who has been in the Trade, even in today’s nuclear submarine fleet – but if I did I would end up making this foreword longer than the book with my own quotes and personal reflections from every page!
Yet I do hope that anyone reading this book who is not a submariner will gain as much enjoyment as I have taken!
I say this because I know that out there is a huge readership with no experience of Nelson-era Ships of the Line, yet who find the works of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian hugely readable in spite of their delving deeply into the technical detail of their day.
In the same way, Gone to Sea in a Bucket reflects the submarine service in World War 2, with the same attention to detail. And that is why I believe that in its hero Harry Gilmour, David Black has created a Jack Aubrey for the modern age. And set him at the heart of tale as epic as those of O’Brian and Forester; a tale that encompasses not only the same thrill of action, but also the same compassion and understanding for the true heroes of our nation’s seafaring traditions – the fighting sailors then, as now.”
*‘the Trade’ – The Royal Navy Submarine Service’s name for itself.
**In 1901, when the Royal Navy was first considering commissioning submarines into the fleet, the then Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson VC described them as: “Under-hand, unfair and damned un-English.”
*** Rear Admiral Sir Anthony Cecil Capel Miers VC KBE CB DSO & Bar, who won his VC commanding HMS Torbay in 1942