SUMMARISED BIOGRAPHY

COMMODORE FREDERIC GLADWYN THOMPSON
MBE MSc CEng FIEE RN DL

Known as 'Eric'

I was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, on 9th November, 1943, six weeks after my father's ship, HMS Intrepid, was sunk by German bombers at Leros in the Greek Dodecanese Islands. (see under 'Royal Navy'). (Leros was the fictional Navarone in Alistair Maclean's novel/film, 'The Guns of Navarone'). 

My father survived the sinking and turned up later but by then, I had been given his name. Thereafter, I became F G Thompson Junior, 'Junior' becoming my working title.

1943 was the year the Second World War turned in our favour. Victory was achieved when I was two but the impact of the War, dominated my childhood thinking; I was weaned on heroism.

Coatbridge 1943-1961

Coatbridge (pop. 52,000), once known as the Iron Burgh on account of the number of iron works, was the epitome of an industrial town. The Monklands canal linked its produce to the shipbuilding and heavy engineering industries in Glasgow. It was possibly the most unfashionable town in the British Empire. Even its football team, Albion Rovers, dared not mention its name but it was a great place to live during those immediate post-war years. The community spirit was second to none; education was an imperative; the upward mobility ladder was there for all to grasp. It offered the best of both worlds, easy access to the big city and equally easy access on foot or by bike to the open countryside.

Coatdyke Primary - FGT Jr on left of 2nd front row

Coatdyke Primary School (now demolished) was an old-fashioned, no nonsense seat of learning. Apart from teaching the three Rs, its aim was to get the academically more able pupils through their Qualifying Exam (11+). Those who 'qualified' proceeded to the superb Coatbridge High School, where the aim was to get the most academically gifted pupils onwards into University. I was fortunate to have been in the 'academically gifted' group, though I never stopped to ponder it at the time.

In both schools, corporal punishment (the tawse) was used regularly by both male and femal teachers. I had and still have no objections to use of the tawse. I experienced numerous 'beltings'; it was far better than being given a hundred lines to write out. However, I am not in favour of caning on the backside; that seems to have sado-masochistic implications.

My aim at school was to qualify for officer entry into the Royal Navy. That demanded similar academic entry standards to universities plus a three day interview process. Coatbridge HIgh School did not let me down. At sixteen, I won a scholarship to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. To this day, I thank my wonderful teachers for the great start they gave me. 

My main interests at school were football, running, cycling, tennis, badminton, debating society, school opera, Citizens' theatre club, the excellent 2nd Coatbridge Scouts, Cliftonville Community Association Youth Club, camping, youth hosteling  and, of course, the girls, some of whom I had known since primary school.

Alas, Coatbridge had one great social fault line: religious sectarianism. Due to the number of Catholic Irish labourers who came to the town during the Industrial Revolution, 60% of the town's population was of Irish Catholic descent and the two communities did not mix. We lived in parallel worlds. I grew up in the Protestant community. I was entirely ecumenical in spirit but mixing with the Catholics was virtually impossible. We went to separate churches and separate schools, even to separate Scout groups.

As secretary of the school debating society, I broke this mould by inviting St Patrick's High School to join us in a joint debate. On the football field, it was a different story; that was like a juvenile Rangers v Celtic match. Coatbridge High School was then one of the top footballing schools in Scotland and reached the final of the Scottish Schools Senior Shield competition in both my fifth and sixth years, the finals being played at Hampden. Tragedy upon tragedy, in both finals we were beaten by Catholic schools (St Mungo's Academy of Glasgow and Our Lady's High School of Motherwell)!!

Ironically, my first friends in the Navy happened to be Catholic. I only discovered this when they fell-out from Sunday divisions to attend the Catholic church service. 'I didn't know Catholics were like you,' said I to Roger and Tony. 'What do you mean?' they asked. That brought home to me, the nonsense of having religious apartheid in our schooling. (For the record, it was the Catholic church which demanded separate education).

My Coatbridge upbringing gave me the firmest of foundations for life, a fantastic childhood and the moral compass that has guided me safely ever since.

Coatbridge High School
Head Boy, Coatbridge High School. Sixth Year, 1961.

NAVAL CAREER 

(described in full in On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service)

At age seventeen, I entered Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, a truly life-changing transition. There, I was remoulded into a Naval Officer. It was a tough regime, especially at sea in the Training Squadron. My freedom had gone. There were no women. But I loved i

Dartmouth was emerging from having been an exclusive,  English-style, 'public school'. (It was here that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was introduced to Prince Philip of Greece through an introduction engineered by his uncle, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten who failed to fix me up with Princess Margaret). By 1961, the College was accepting 'grammar school' boys if academically able and fit in all other respects for officer training. 

Royal Naval Engineering College, Manadon

I joined the Royal Navy with the intention of becoming a fast jet pilot in the Fleet Air Arm but was too short-sighted either to fly fast jets or drive ships. So I opted to become an 'Engineer' rather than  a 'Secretary' and volunteered for submarines where eyesight was required only for watching dials and movies. (Not true, in submarines I kept both bridge and persicope watches).

After a year in a destroyer, HMS Barrosa, the Far East Fleet, based in Singapore, I won my Commission as an officer and proceeded to the Royal Naval Engineering College, Manadon, (now demolished), for four years to graduate in Electrical Engineering.

Manadon (aka the Plyouth monosex monotech) must have been the most exclusive technical college in the world. Its students were all commissioned officers on full pay, committed to a Naval career for life, it was men only and the only faculty was Engineering in its various manifestations. We were simultaneously treated as schoolboys and young gentlemen. Manadon was not in any way comparable to a university and most of us regretted that.

The good news was the fellowship of my brother Engineer Officers. These were the men who would go on to keep the Fleet operational, to project manage huge technical projects such as the building or refitting of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers etc. What's more, we would be colleagues in these endeavours for the rest of our careers, particularly so for the submariners as Britain's burgeoning new flotilla of nuclear-powered submarines required at least six graduate engineers per boat. Submarine Engineers were a club within a club within a club.

STARTING A FAMILY

Whilst at Manadon, I met and married Catriona Thomson (Kate) from Uddingston, only five miles from Coatbridge. We met on the train, in Perth Station to be exact. We were both going on a ski-ing course at Glenmore Lodge, an outward bound school near Aviemore in the Cairngorms. We would remain happily married until Death did us part forty years later. 

Before leaving the College, our first son, Richard, was born. By then, we also had Parahandy, our first Alsatian, a guardian for Kate and Richard and then Andrew when I was at sea.

Submarine training followed and then I was appointed in succession to three diesel submarines, HMS Andrew, Otter and Osiris.

Nuclear Training

1974 - On being selected for nuclear propulsion (as oppsed to nuclear weapons) training, I studied for a post graduate diploma in Nuclear Reactor Technology at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich (now Greenwich University). This was surreal. I was living in history, ancient and modern. We dined in the famous Painted Hall but in the basement was a small nuclear reactor for training purposes - in the 'nuclear free' Borough of Greenwich. Utterly bizarre.

Royal Naval College, Greenwich

As a creature of the Cold War, I served in HM Ships Vigilant, Hermes, and Barrosa and HM Submarines Andrew, Otter, Osiris, Conqueror and Revenge in which I was awarded an MBE for leadership during an emergency on patrol. 

UK Atomic Energy Authority site at Dounreay

Having completed the theoretical nuclear training at Greenwich, the class decamped to the very North of Scotland, to UK Atomic Energy Authority site at Dounreay, easily recognised by its massive containment sphere. What is less well known is the the Navy had a protoype submarine nuclear propulsion plant there for research and development purposes. This is where our practical training was carried out. 

On completion of training, I joined HMS Conqueror for my sea qualification and thence to the HMS Revenge as Senior Engineer. Revvenge was one of our four strategic nuclear deterrent submarines, her role to prevent a third world war.

After my sea time, I became a specialist in underwater warfare: sonar, homing torpedo development and stealth technology, the cutting edge of Cold War submarine technology. To help with that, I took a Masters degree in Acoustics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Numerous staff appointments followed in Submarine HQ, Squadrons, and in the Ministry of Defence, finishimg as Chief Engineer and then Commodore-in-charge (i.e. Managing Director) of HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane, the home of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. 

 

On retiring from the Navy, I stood as the Lib Dem candidate for Dumbarton in both Scottish and Westminster parliamentary elections, then a very safe Labour seat. I also became a freelance management consultant, a trustee of the Lomond and Argyll Primary Care NHS Trust, a member of Strathclyde Police Board and was elected as Councillor for Helensburgh East in Argyll & Bute Council in which I served for eight years. I also have the honour of having been appointed by Her Majesty the Queen as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire from which I have just retired. I am a Freeman of the City of Glasgow and Past President of Glasgow's illustrious Bridgeton Burns Club which specialises in a school's competition in the East End of the City. 

My long term interests, however, have been to write, which I now do full-time, and to perform live as an after dinner speaker. My autobiography, 'On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service', is both my personal homage to the Submarine Service and a statement of my gratitude for having lived my life in peace, thanks to the sacrifices of my parents' generation and the role of nuclear deterrence in my lifetime.

As a writer, I have won several literary prizes, in particular the Scottish Association of Writers Constable Trophy for best (unpublished) novel. Most recently On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service was runner-up in the Mountbatten Best Book Award 2018 out of 38 entries. I have always sought to bring humour to the party and have published three books of humorous verse (Colquhounsville-sur-Mer, Democracy for Birds and Love Songs for the Romantically Challenged) with another in the pipeline.

'On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service' has been an astonishing success in so many ways. Not only because of international recognition, excellent reviews in the media, a highly favourable interview on an American radio book review programme (see link in Blog) and three reprints in the first six months but also because it has elicited so many kindly contacts from former colleagues and complete strangers, all gratefully received and hugely life enriching.