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Leading Steward Donald John ‘Buckwheat’ Harris O/N P/LX 849028
 
 
Donald John ‘Buckwheat’ Harris, who died in February 2008 at the age of eighty, was one of those characters of the Submarine Service whom everyone knew of, many served with and everyone knew a story about – some true, some not so true and many embellished with the telling.  The ‘kipper’ story is the most well known.  With his passing we have lost one of the Submarine Service’s greatest ‘characters’ of recent times.  He has been described - as some older Members might recall – ‘as a legend in his own ‘Tot Time’!  He was born Donald John Harris on 26th April 1927.  He joined the Royal Navy as a Steward and served in Submarines from 1947 to 1961.  He served in many Submarines including SIRDAR, TOTEM, THOROUGH, TELEMACHUS, TACTICIAN, TRESPASSER, SENESCHAL, SEA SCOUT, ANCHORITE and NARWHAL.  He joined the Plymouth Branch of the Submarine Old Comrades Association – later the Submariners Association.

 

Dave (Bungy) Williams, the Membership Secretary of the Plymouth Branch reports:

 

The funeral of Donald (Buckwheat) Harris was very well attended!  More than 100, and possibly as many as 150 attended the service.  I was asked to take photos of as many attendees as possible, as well as some photos of the hearse arriving, and the coffin, draped with the White Ensign.  All of this I duly did.

Our Secretary, Doug Stewart, was Donald's named Next-of-Kin, and he and his wife Helen did a sterling job of all the arrangements.

I did have an e-mail from Buster Brown ( Canada, East Coast), of which the content words were very apt for the occasion.  I asked the Vicar if it would be possible for him to read out the e-mail.  After reading and studying it for a few moments, he said that he would!  With the notes that he had been given about Donald, he said that the e-mail would make a very suitable, and poignant, ending to the tributes. And that it truly was!

Albert Worrillow, our Branch Standard Bearer, gave his usual smart performance; and then at the end of the service, as the curtains were closing around the coffin, he said - 'Keep the Bubble Amidships, Buckwheat'!

We then, family, friends, and former Submariners, went to the Royal British Legion Club at Crownhill, Plymouth.

 
Where the name ‘Buckwheat’ came from is probably ‘lost in the mists of time’ and probably his best Obituary (which follows) is in the words of one who did serve with him – the late Brian (George) Kerr, ex-Stoker Mechanic on HMS TELEMACHUS (55-56) and later of the Barrow-in-Furness Branch:
 

“While reading an old edition of the Submariners News I noticed a name in the Xmas greetings column that brought back a few memories of my time in the 4th Squadron based at Hunters Bay in Sydney. That name was ‘Buckwheat’ Harris, or to give him his proper name Donald John Nathaniel Harris – according to ‘Buckwheat’.

 There were about 60 of us on draft and we took passage aboard the RMS OTRANTO in June 1955, an Orient line Ship that had seen better days.  On arrival in Australia I joined the TELEMACHUS and Harris took up his duties as Captain (S/M)’s Steward.  Now Harris is the Steward who is known as the Steward who fell out with the Wardroom of a Boat he served on, and one morning when it was kippers for breakfast, he kept one back and pinned it under the Wardroom table.  A few days later he went on leave, and whilst at home received a telegram saying "Harris, we know what it is - but where the hell is it".  True or false?  I don’t know as I was not there.

As Captain (S/M)’s Steward one of Harris's duties was to baby sit.  One evening Harris was left with one child in a cot and one in a bed and a very nice cocktail cabinet.  On return Capt (S/M) found one child crying in bed and one child crawling around the floor, and Harris ‘p****d as a newt’ asleep in the cot.  Harris had a swift transfer from Captain (S/M)’s Steward to Steward on the TELEMACHUS.  This is Fact! On a trip up to Singapore for exercises in 1956 on the TELEMACHUS we called into Townsville on a courtesy visit.  While there we were allowed to use the outdoor swimming pool, which at the time was being used by the Australian Olympic squad for training.  A number of the lads set off equipped with towels and cosies, however, on the way they were persuaded by one officer’s steward (Harris) to call for a couple of schooners and some spring rolls first.  So a couple of hours later the pool was invaded by a few merry matelots, unfortunately someone swallowed half the pool and upon regurgitating it also brought up 3 spring rolls.  Soon after this we were asked to leave as the Olympic squad was about to arrive for training. I do not think they were impressed.  Was it Harris?  Who knows?

Not long after leaving Townsville we stopped to ditch gash somewhere in the Timor Sea and being as calm as a millpond the skipper said to use the torpedo loading hatch.  No sooner had the first bucket been ditched than sharks appeared gulping everything down.  Upon hearing this Buckwheat decided to catch one and serve shark steaks to the Wardroom.  So equipped with a length of codline, a meat hook and lump of frozen kidney he did his ‘old man of the sea’ bit.  Straight away the bait was taken and a six-footer was caught.  It took about 3 to pull it onto the casing.

Deciding how to dispatch it was something else.  The Gun Layer asked to use a .303 and put a couple of bullets into its head.  The skipper agreed.  Upon the return with the rifle Buckwheat said to be careful as the wanted the jawbone to make a necklace.  With the sharks head just showing over the casing edge Guns could hardly miss.  Placing the rifle very close he put three shots through its head.  Unfortunately one, after passing through the head, also passed through the towing slip.  Action stations finished, not to be undone, the shark was pulled aboard the casing but it was still wriggling and snapping its jaws.  Buckwheat decided to forget his necklace and have it beaten to death.  One of the Stokers arrived on the scene with a very heavy pinch bar and started clubbing it about the head.  With the shark being somewhat smooth and slippery the bar slid across the head on one blow and caught the Gun Layer on the ankle and broke it quite cleanly.  Eventually it (the shark) was dead and Buckwheat got his steaks but the Wardroom was not very impressed.  How the skipper explained about the towing slip I do not know.

 
A usual run ashore in Singapore started with a ‘fast black’ from Terror Barracks into Ne Soon Village for big eats and a few bottles of Tiger - then another ‘fast black’ into the City.  One evening a few of us inadvertently ended up in either Bugis Street or Lavender Street - both places being out of bounds - as ‘innocent’ Submariners how were we supposed to know this?  As luck would have it we were soon approached by a group of Army MP'S and Naval Patrolmen who requested that we climb into there nice van for a little ride to the main MP HQ.  There they politely asked for Name, Rank, Number and Boat.  When it came to Buckwheat’s turn a large Sergeant enquired of his name, the reply being "Donald John Nathaniel Buckwheat Harris ‘OLD SHIPS’ – what’s yours?”

Blank weeks in Singapore tended to be a ‘Sods Opera’ in then the lower canteen in Terror Barracks.  So with tables pushed together and 30 or 40 matelots around them the chants began, ‘Sing, sing or show us your ring’, starting with the person next to Harris and working around the tables leaving Harris until the end.  Now Harris's most famous turn of course was the very theatrical "Death of Nelson".  The roles of Nelson and Hardy both played by Harris.  Upon completion he would then ask for two volunteers to assist him with, as he put it, a song written and composed by himself, whereupon the assistants would return with two fire buckets full of water which they poured over Harris's head.  He would then give his rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’.

I suppose my most abiding memory of "Buckwheat" is of a rather wild looking character stepping through the Engine Room door (not long after the rum issue) wearing a sarong, a No. 8's shirt and flip flops - usually on the wrong feet.  He would have a short chat with everyone normally saying “Hello, old ships, have you got a ciggy for Buckwheat?”  Then on into the Stoker's Mess, after perhaps half an hour he would re-emerge and head for the pantry to dish out the Wardroom lunch.
People have often said to me that he must have been a bit crazy or not quite right in the head, but believe me the only word that described Harris is “Outrageous”.