I Went To Joe's Wedding Subic Bay 1978


Leading Seaman Joe X Gets Married

HMAS Derwent, Subic Bay 1978


HMAS Derwent’s 1978 deployment to the Far East was one that had many amusing incidents.  Perhaps the most amusing of all was during our second visit to the US Naval Base located at Subic Bay in the Philippines.


I was the Executive Officer’s Writer at the time, a relatively ‘Senior’ Leading Seaman, as things go, working in the Armaments Office under the tutelage of CPOFC ‘Uncle' Ronnie Cross.  This job meant that one usually shared a quite close relationship with the ship’s Executive Officer and I was privy to a lot of what was going on within the ship, from both the Lower Deck and the Wardroom. It was also not uncommon for an XO to confide in his ‘Writer’ on personal matters involving members and issues of the Ship's Company.


We arrived at Subic for the 2nd time in as many months on Friday morning and our immediate ship’s program was still very much undecided. 


At secure on Friday when all the troops were about to rage ashore for the weekend the XO informed me that he would require me onboard Sunday morning so as to type up, produce and deliver ‘Ship’s Daily Orders’ detailing the events for Monday and the forthcoming week. 


I wouldn’t be able to do it beforehand for we were not sure of our programme as yet.


I saw this somewhat of an embuggerance as this was perhaps my most favourite port ‘Up Top’ and I relished my weekends off.  Never mind, it was part of the job and besides, as the Armament’s Office Writer I was not keeping duties or watches so I couldn’t complain.


It was a typically hot and sticky tropical Sunday morning when I awoke quite seedily from the previous night’s run ashore at Marilyn’s Inn in Subic City.  I quaffed a couple of bottles of Coke and then hopped a ‘Jeepney’ and headed back to the Naval Base at Olongapo.


It was around 10:00AM when I finally wandered down the SRF Wharf towards Derwent.  The brow was positioned forward on the Fo’c’sle and as I grew closer I was aware of a large gathering at the gangway and all looking towards me.  The closer I got to the ship the more the gsthered sailors started to yell and gesticulate in my direction. What was even stranger was that I noticed the XO standing amongst them. Shit!  I thought, what the hell have I done now. 


Reaching the gangway I found that the sailors were all pissing themselves laughing and the X O looking as though he was about to have a coronary.


I barely had time to salute as I crossed the brow when the XO physically grabbed me and hustled me into the Captain’s Cabin Flat (right outside the Captain’s Cabin door), where he wheeled around and shouted,


“Tell me it’s not true!”


I stood there stunned. “Tell you what’s not true, Sir?” I calmly answered him. Having absolutely no idea what he was talking about.


“This business with Leading Seaman Joe”, he screamed. (Last Name withheld to protect the guilty)


“What business with Leading Seaman Joe?” I inquired.


This only seemed to enrage ‘Wally On The Piss” (The XO) even more


" Don’t play dumb with me”, he said, “Did Leading Seaman Joe get married whilst ashore yesterday or not, the whole ship is talking about it?"


"Oh that!”, I stood relieved, for at least this had nothing to do with me and I wasn't in the shit, “That’s correct Sir, Leading Seaman Joe did get married yesterday!"


The XO turned pale and was visibly shaking, either with rage or fear I was not sure which.


“He can’t do that!”, screamed the XO, “What do you mean got married, who to?"


"I believe it was a young Filippina lady from the ‘Bosun’s Locker’, Sir , a small bar just off Magsaysay Drive, in Olongapo City".


"He can’t do that!  He just can’t get married!  How long has he known this girl?”


"I believe he met her during our last port visit to Subic Sir, last month”. (not a bad effort Joe, I thought, for just a short weekend visit).


“Yes, but this is a joke right, not real or legal, surely?” The XO was trying to to console himself by optimistically answering his own questions.


"Well Sir”, I stated, “Yes it is real, it was in a real Catholic church with a real Priest and a real congregation, plus her family and friends were in attendance”. There were also Bridesmaids and Best Men, (not to mention the regulatory inebriated group of shipmates filling the back pews, where they all attended wearing their specially made white T Shirts for the event, emblazoned with the slogan on the front  ‘I went to Joe's Wedding – Subic Bay 1978’.


'Wally On The Piss' was beside himself. “What am I going to tell the Captain?”  his voice now wavering.


"Tell him the Bride and Groom are very happy Sir”, I answered in a subtle, smart alec way, perversely enjoying the XO’s obvious discomfort.


“Don’t be a smart arse Leader, what are the implications of this?


”Having attended a few and being slightly familiar with foreign, overseas marriages I explained, briefly, the ‘legal implications’ surrounding these events.


And that was, the marriage, unless registered beforehand with the appropriate officials in the Australian Embassy in Manila it would not be legally recognized by the Australian Government or Immigration Department. Thus absolving the Australian Government of any responsibilty.


'Wally On The Piss' was very visibly relieved at this news, but then, rolling my eyes upward in an exaggerated spiritual like gesture I cruelly added.


“But in the eyes of the Lord, Sir"


That seemed to be the straw that broke the proverbial and with that turning the handle to the Captain’s Cabin door he told me to wait for him in the Armaments Office.


The fact of the matter, from Joe’s, as well as the sailors point of view, the whole affair was just a bit of a lark and an excuse for a piss up and party and something not to be taken seriously (as if sailors needed an excuse for a party in a port like Subic Bay, PI) – however I doubt that it was from the same angle as the Bride and her family viewed the event.


The Skipper, CMDR Eric Mentz, RAN, must have decided that the whole affair would be better handled if absolutely nothing was done officially and to pretend it never happened.  It was never ‘officially’ mentioned again, but that did not stop the Ship’s Company from using the event as a topic of amusing conversation during beer issues etc. It was in fact a pretty good turn.


The sequel to the story was that by the time the ship returned to Australia some 6 months later, Joe had plenty of time to reflect on the possible legal implications and ramificartions of the ‘Marriage’ and consequently made an appointment with a Sydney Lawyer on our return.


A very serious and concerned Joe related the story to a very amused Solicitor and after the Solicitor picked himself up off the deck of his office where he was rolling about in fits of laughter, offered this piece of free advice.


"Mr. X, I suggest that you do not return to the Philippines for a very long time".


End of Interview!