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Volunteer Voices1st June 2022

HMS Wildfire: Life in the Royal Naval Reserve

Have you ever wondered it would be like to be in the Royal Navy? Meet Learning and Reading Room Volunteer, Les Holland, as we learn about his time in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).

Joining Up

Myself and my wife took her nephew to Navy Days, at this time the government was cutting back on the regular armed forces and the Royal Naval Reserve was recruiting. I discussed joining the RNR with my wife and she said she did not mind.

I had a moustache when I attended the first interview and was told for the next interview it must be shaved off or I had to grow a full set – a beard. My wife was fine with the beard, so I started to grow one for joining the local RNR headquarters, HMS Wildfire, in March 1978.

As part of joining, there was normally an entry exam, but as I had a high-quality City & Guilds I was exempt from taking this exam.

The unit had two departments known as divisions – operations division and communications division, I chose communications.

Les Holland is second in from the right. This photo was taken in the early 1980s.

Training & Promotion

We trained on one or two nights a week and one or two weekends. Once a year we had to do two weeks exercise. The following year we had to do two weeks training at a Navy base to help with advancement.

Sometimes the two weeks exercise would take place at another RNR unit around the country, what we did on these I cannot say as I have signed the Official Secrets Act.

Over the years the role of the unit changed, and as I was about to be promoted to Chief Petty Officer Radio Supervisor the role changed again, as the role included using a computer system which we in the communications division had been using, it was decided to keep communications personnel to the operations division and communications personnel to cross train to operations work. I had to wait a year before being promoted to Chief Petty Officer.

Training eventually changed to two nights a week, plus weekends and two weeks training at HMS Warrior at Northwood, North London.

I was offered the role of Divisional Chief in charge of discipline in the division, then Acting Unit Chief in charge of unit discipline – acting Master of Arms.

This photo was taken in either 1981 or 1982.

Performances & Marches

In 1979, a representative from the Women’s Royal Naval Service and I, both from HMS Wildfire, performed at the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall. Normally you only perform once at this, but in 1982 a member of another RNR unit dropped out at the last minute and, as I had performed before, I was asked to stand in.

In 1986 the unit formed a Guard of Honour. I was Senior Rate of the Guard – i.e. second in command after the Officer of the Guard. This was done for an Admiral’s visit, services at the Navy War Memorial at the Great Lines in Gillingham, and a performance as part of a large RNR Guard at the Lord Mayor’s show in London that year.

In 1987 and 1988, two Petty Officers plus four other ratings from HMS Wildfire took part in the Royal Military Police and City of Chichester March. There are medals involved – bronze equals six and a half miles, silver equals thirteen miles, and gold equals twenty-six miles. We did the gold medal distance.

Travel Opportunities and an Unexpected Rescue Mission

In 1990 two Petty Officers plus a Leading Seaman from HMS Wildfire were chosen to take part in a NATO exercise in the Western Atlantic. The Navy was still training sailors to operate the computer system and, as the RNR had been using the system for some time, we were sent to Bermuda to join HMS Ark Royal. During the three week exercise we did defence watches – six hours on duty, six hours off. During this time off you had to eat, sleep, and get your washing done.

I was one of the RNR members who manned the Submarine Operations Room for the NATO COMSUPEASTLANT (which stands for commander submarines Eastern Atlantic) as shown in this picture from the book ‘Today’s Royal Navy in Colour’ by Jeremy Flack, which can be found in our Reading Room).

Les at the Salute to the ’40s Weekend.

When we arrived on board HMS Ark Royal, we found that that they had no Flag Staff so therefore we were not required and ended up working in the operations room. Whilst working there a man was lost overboard. The ship used a satellite navigation type system and we were given a chart, the time he went missing, the direction of the tide and wind, so we had to work out where he would be from the time we were given the information, using latitude and longitude. The ship sent a Sea King helicopter in that direction and found him treading water. He was successfully brought back to the ship.


With thanks to Les Holland, Learning Team & Reading Room Volunteer, for writing this blog.



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