About the Author
Gilles Poirier, CD
Chief Engine Room Artificer (CERA) Ret’d.
Gilles joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1962 and retired 25 years later. More than twenty of those years were spent on board our Canadian Oberon class submarines. He served on Onondaga, Ojibwa and Okanagan starting as a young leading seaman in the engineering department and finished as chief engineer (CERA) in 1986. After submarines, he joined the work force of the Navy dockyard in Halifax and continued to look after the welfare of our submarines till his retirement in 2006.
From the very early days of Project Ojibwa, from his home in Nova Scotia, Gilles has helped us to understand the inner workings of the Oberon class submarines in true Sea Daddy fashion – always encouraging, setting us straight when we might not have grasped some element and making certain we get it right. He is the first to admit that there is more than a little rebel in him – a trait he shares with many submariners. Let’s just say we agree after reading that he was the last sailor in the RCN to shave off his beard – his mustache is another great story.
It doesn't go Unnoticed
In July 1975, OJIBWA departed Halifax for a three month deployment and work-up with the Royal Navy. The September 12th issue of Maritime Command Trident contained a substantial article about this time with the Royal Navy. Included was the photo and caption seen here. Recently, we asked retired submariner Gilles Poirier about the photo and he sent along the story you see below.
Traditions Die Hard
If you notice in this picture [above], none of our Canadian sailors are sporting a beard. Before the famous unification of the armed forces, navy personnel were permitted to wear beards. After unification, like the army, we were allowed to wear a moustache, as long as it did not go below the corner of your lips. I had had a beard since the early 60's and I was the last sailor to shave his beard off; however, I did keep a really long moustache. In order to stay within the new law of a moustache not being below the corner of your lips, I had to wax it with special moustache wax. Of course the officers did not like it and could not do a damn thing about it which explains the caption. [Beards were still sanctioned in the Royal Navy and indeed the Exchange Officer on this deployment, Lt. J.S. Mankertz RN, wore a full beard.]
Gilles with a full beard in the Engine Compartment.
There's a Little Rebel in Every Submariner
Here is a good story about this moustache. Like I told you, I had to use moustache wax in order to keep it above the corner of my lips. This wax came in a small tube. It was basically a mixture of wax and soap. It worked beautifully but it had one big disadvantage - it was not water resistant because of the soap content. In the rain or while taking a shower, the wax would simply "melt away".
One day while I was fueling the submarine in Halifax, I was standing on the after casing in a real downpour. I knew that after a few minutes my moustache would simply droop down below my chin (it was that long). Then I noticed that the engineering officer (Lt. John Smith) was walking back on board the submarine. He hated that moustache; to him I was a rebel. He spotted the fact that it was drooping. So he basically ran to the after casing knowing that finally he had me!
As I saw him Coming...
As I saw him coming around the fin, I knew I was doomed. So, I quickly stuffed my whole moustache inside my mouth. By the time he got to me, I was still within regulation since there was nothing below the corner of my lips. Mind you I could not talk since I had a mouthful of hair…! He just stood there, stomped his feet for a few second and left. Another win for me…!
It was a close call mind you.
It was a close call mind you.