Dave (Gonk) Hoy

Halley Bay Diesel Mechanic 1969, Tractor Mechanic 1970

an obituary by Mike (Muff) Warden, Halley Bay 1970/71 - 20 Nov 2019


I have put together some collected memories from fellow Fids, which from their warmth truly show the affection and respect with which Dave was held. In part I have done this to pass on to his family, at their request, some our memories of him, and in part to fill in some of the blanks post BAS. Dave Hoy, know to us as Gonk, the name a badge of honour Fid to Fid, a name earned through great respect and deep affection that will always live on with us. A name so welded in our brains that on return to UK we struggle to recall who Mr Hoy might be. I first met Gonk in February 1970, very late in the relief season, Gonk was the driver of a Muskeg, a big red tracked vehicle, one of those big men, larger than life cavaliers charging around in the ballet of the red tractors, that hectic 4 days when the Perla Dan disgorged the contents of its holds onto waiting sledges at the edge of the sea ice. Ballet of the tractors? Bright red Muskeg tractors reversed empty sledges to the ice edge. Loads were slung over the ship's side and lowered to waiting men who stacked them onto the sledges. Loads were lashed, the red tractors whisked them away from the ice edge to safer ground where the sledges were carefully manoeuvred into sledge trains and coupled to IH bulldozers, bigger red tractors which took them four or five at a time away off the sea ice up the snow ramp and away to Base. A constant chaos of tooing and froing of red tractors backwards and forwards. A task with significant risk. The dock was the edge of the sea ice at the time. Areas of sea ice large and small kept breaking off and floating away to infinity. Often tractors and sledges had to be hastily driven away to safer ground over widening cracks as great sections of sea ice floated away. Not for the faint hearted sitting in the cab of a two and a half ton monster travelling over frail and fragile sea ice. Gonk initially signed up as the diesel mechanic for Halley Bay. On his shoulders rested the whole efficacy of the base. In the year from relief to relief, he was responsible for ensuring the constant supply of electricity day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute to drive all the scientific recording instruments and equipment. Our whole purpose was gathering scientific data of the world around us. We could have survived with primuses in tents, just. But we were there to run a whole gamut of scientific machines in laboratory after laboratory to better understand the mysteries of the geophysical world close to one of the earth's poles. And that required a nonstop supply of electricity from our diesel generators. As Fids on base, we never lost sight of that need for a never ending electricity supply, and Gonk was the special person with the skills and knowledge to make sure it happened. It takes a special person to shoulder such a responsibility. One that he would develop further post Fids. Doc Wilkins has written, "Gonk could sleep anywhere - hence the nick name - even in his deafening genny shed. Rumour has it he had once been found asleep on top of one of his generators. Another that when the generator alarm, which was wired directly to the side of his bunk, went off one time, everyone in the whole bunk hut was awake only to find Gonk, still only half awake trying to put his pillow over the alarm to stop it!"

Malcolm (Bloke) Guyatt, reminded us of the 'gonker bonker'. Can't remember now who shared his 'cabin ' but Gonk had an ability to 'sleep' (hence his nick-name) - but also snored! The occupant of the upper bunk was so disturbed by his 'nocturnal noises' that a length of broom-handle was fitted with a sponge 'pad' at one end. When the noise became intolerable the 'bonker' would be deployed to get him to change position and stop snoring. Full effectiveness unknown??

Bloke also remembers the time he had to seek out Gonk in the generator shed. I went in, the Rolls Royce genny roaring away and Gonk was sat on a stool at the workbench with his foot up on the vice. He had his ear muffs on so didn't hear me come in. He was in the process of trimming his toe nails using a pair of 'side cutters' . Very sensible tool for the job - but a bit unusual??

The Rolls Royce generators were Gonk's babies. One running, one always in reserve, and one, having run, in the process of being stripped down and rebuilt to be ready again. Change over day was every 10 days. The generator currently running and the generator due to take over had to be running perfectly in sync. Doc Wilkins remembers Gonk was very protective of his big Rolls Royce diesels. He got just a teeny bit tense when it was time to run up and change over from one set to the other. I remember him standing legs apart at the control board with one hand on each of a couple of controls, eyes flicking across dials from one side to the other, absolute concentration writ large on the Hoy visage as he judged the exact moment when the frequencies, or whatever it was that mattered, exactly matched and he could pull the switches simultaneously. I suppose if he got it wrong then all the equipment on base would go down and all of us in our subterranean home would be plunged into stygian darkness so I can understand the tension. When you think about it, it was one heck of a responsibility - especially as because of some cock-up back home, the wrong parts had been supplied and the sets were unable to deliver the power specified, so the supply was always on the edge. But during that year I cannot remember there being any major problems, which was a tribute to his expertise and diligence. Gonk had served his apprenticeship at Rolls Royce spending many hours running big engines on the test beds. The noise was deafening so big ear defenders were worn. He told the tale that if a man tapped you on the shoulder and drew his hand in front of his eyes, he was heading to the drinks machine and was asking if you wanted a glass of milk - past your eyes! His time at RR wasn't wasted. He discovered our gennys on base were not producing the power they should because they had been fitted with the wrong injectors. The base electrician spent his time running round the base turning off everything that didn't need to be running to ensure adequate output was maintained for the scientific instruments. Bunk rooms were kept at freezing, the lounge was only heated on a Saturday night if something else was turned off. At Gonk's request, the right injectors were sent down at the next relief, and the power output went up. Sadly we never saw the benefit. The bunkrooms remained at freezing, the lounge remained unheated because our dear scientists had introduced more equipment demanding ever more power.

Allan (Flower Pot) Clayton recalls the occasion when the two of them hand-pumped an extra couple of barrels into a reserve fuel tank before the 1970 four-day Midwinter holiday to be absolutely sure we would have enough fuel, seems like only yesterday. It was about -50C at the time and despite our enormous beards, we were constantly checking each other's noses for any sign of frost-nip.

Later that same year Gonk wrote in the Base diary "-50C today - There's been a continuous stream of brass monkeys coming into the garage for small brazing jobs!" While visiting the base, Derek Gipps visiting the base at relief, said he nearly died laughing when he read it. Someone commented that now we know that people in London Office actually read all these reports that we write!

There was the regular chore of digging out the ramp leading down to our subterranean garage. In those days our equipment was nigh on useless. How does a bulldozer, which is designed to push , instead have to drag out backwards nearly 25 feet deep snow? Today there are hydraulic buckets designed to scoop out, but in those days for hour on hour our tractor mechanics used the bulldozer blade to scrape out backwards small quantities of snow each time. And if the wind increased, for them it became a race against the drift filling in the ramp faster than they could scratch it out. In the dark with driving snow almost obliterating their view in the headlights, sometimes they lost the race.

Peter (Rocky) Clarkson and Bloke recall Gonk, when back blading the ramp, came in for smoko after reversing his bulldozer into another one parked at the top of the garage ramp. You can imagine the 'ribbing' he got from the other members of the 'Black Gang' . The driver who had parked expressed his annoyance saying that there are only two other IH bulldozers on the continent and you manage to reverse into one of them. Gonk replied that it shouldn't have been parked without lights!

Doc Wilkins recalls that in April 1969, Gonk fell 20' down the met access shaft and landed on his left knee and sprained his shoulder. Very shook up and bruised but no broken bones and could have been much more serious. He had a stiff shoulder for pretty much the rest of the year. Going on a fuel run with him was always an experience. I never heard him run down anybody and he was always kindly. His sense of humour has been alluded to and that I also remember. I believe that he felt the somewhat restrictive routine of base life more keenly than many and he would often drop by for a chat.

The routine on base for a diesel mech. really was restrictive. Gonk managed to get off base in his first year only once on the ill fated tractor trip intended to lay depots to the Shackleton Mountains. Ill fated because it was aborted after four days when an IH bulldozer dropped and was lost in a crevasse in the Bob Pi route crossing the hinge zone to the inland ice.

But Gonk broke his tie to base when for his second year he changed to become a tractor mechanic. I only met Gonk in his second year and he surely must have become a changed man. I don't recognise this eternal sleeping diesel mech. Still the same happy, gentle, easy going man. After relief, as winter was almost on us, Gonk was off in his beloved Muskegs using the mountaineering and climbing skills he had learnt back in Shrewsbury. We sometimes forgot that Gonk was an experienced mountaineer and a good climber. Before Fids, Gonk joined the Youth Centre in Shrewsbury and did rock climbing, caving and walking He lead this Muskeg trip round the shelf ice for Dave Peel, Glaciologist, to lay out a number of glacio lines with Bloke Guyatt, G.A. and Derek Devitt, Radio Op.

His second winter was all activity, spent stripping down every vehicle, making replacement spares, and putting them back together for the summer journeys and for next year's relief. Stripping down to their bare bones both IH bulldozers, both Bombardier muskegs, every skidoo and Elsan. The new Snow Cat had to be completely rebuilt from scratch and kitted out for its Antarctic journeys. Gonk was at his happiest solving problem after problem. Everything had to be right. Everything was in preparation for the summer expeditions. There was the routine too. Every Saturday the base came alive winter and summer as tractors came to life to dig out and lead in stores like fuel and food; and haul out the rubbish using an ingenious gantry system powered by a vehicle.

The sun returned but winter was still with us when Gonk set off with Steve Bean, Graham (Grot) Soar and Paul Burton to recce the notorious Bob Pi crossing with Muskegs, where not long before the IH bulldozer had been lost lost. The Bob Pi is a narrow corridor between huge ice falls either side, the inland ice tumbling down and pressing into the rising and falling tidal ice shelf. The whole corridor is riddled with fast changing crevasses large and small, the route zig zagging around deep gaping chasms with the ever frightening sound of ice grinding against ice. A route vital for the big summer expedition. Grot recalls I was driving with Gonk in the Muskeg through the crossing when he realised that the route map bearings left by the recce dog teams, had not been copied down correctly and, if we had continued on the current bearing, we would have gone down a huge crevasse - ooops a second vehicle lost in the crossing. But Gonk stopped just in time, got a visual on the next flag and changed direction. We arrived safely at Cross Roads on the inland ice, left a depot and then returned safely back through the Bob Pi route back on to the shelf ice and back to base.

Two months later, Gonk set off leading the main summer tractor traverse for 2 months once again through the infamous Bob Pi crossing of the hinge zone, up onto the inland ice taking Dave Peel, our Bristol University glaciologist, Mark Vallance ( G.A), Steve Bean (tractor Mech) and Paul Burton (Chippie) deep into the interior of the continent.

Dave Peel recalls my most memorable and still vivid recollection of Gonk was watching him drive a heavy tracked Muskeg vehicle proudly bearing a Union Jack to cross a perilous wide crevasse bridge as our team climbed off the floating Brunt ice shelf and onto the inland ice sheet - and the look of relief on Gonk's face, and characteristic accompanying verbals, as he reached the other side. Shortly before, we had passed the roof of the IH bulldozer, trapped in the ice, which had attempted the journey the previous year but had not been so fortunate! Thoroughly dependable, down to earth and resourceful, Gonk was an absolutely vital member of our team as chief engineer and driver for our glaciological field expedition in 1970 onto the inland ice to collect a series of snow blocks for analysis to discover whether the spread of global air pollution by ddt had reached the Antarctic interior. Some years later, after 2 tons of snow had been brought back to the UK and successfully analysed, the findings were reported in the journal 'Nature' - thanks to Gonk's sterling efforts to transport us and our valuable samples safely to and from the inland ice.

There were many funny occasions. One memorable story was when the Argie's ice breaker visited us. Flowerpot (the BL - Alan) was showing the captain around the base. When the visitors were shown round the dorms, Gonk was in bed as usual. He woke up, jumped out of his bunk, stood to attention in his shreddies and saluted both Alan and the Captain.

Allan Clayton, Surveyor and Base leader in Gonk's second year, summed up nicely, "Dave proved himself the perfect team member on Dave Peel's snow sampling journey when he was responsible for tractor travel southwards towards the Pole. With his cheerful smile and willingness to take on any challenge, he was a well respected Base member and fitted in to our communal existence without grudge or argument. I can picture him now in the Base photo of 1970, which had less formality than earlier years and included three popular dogs for the first time. There on the right of the picture is Dave in his eponymous South American hat.

Alan goes on, I studied for a degree as a mature student after ten years working. I recall one evening chat with Dave during our first year, persuading him to do the same. With a Rolls-Royce apprenticeship and his intellect, I felt he had it in him to obtain an engineering degree.

On leaving Halley Bay, Gonk left the ship in Chile and worked his way through quite a bit of South America - Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru - with lots of adventures on the way. He had a hairy tale to tell of a wagon driver he had earlier befriended knifing another wagon driver who was about to do for Gonk. Gonk worked his passage home as an engineer on an RFA ship.

He received his Dear John not long before returning home. On turning up at her place and knocking on the door, he was told she was out by an attractive young lady. Undaunted, Gonk said "You'll do". And she did. Sue became his wife.

Despite his Rolls Royce apprenticeship and, encouraged by people like Rocky, Alan Clayton and Bob Wells - and a diplomats daughter he met in South America!, Gonk decided to do a degree at Strathclyde Uni, Glasgow in engineering, and so Gonk became a scientist too. He worked for the now defunct Harrison Line as a ships engineer during Uni holidays.

He went to work in North Lincolnshire for Conoco Phillips, an international oil company, working his way up through the engineering ranks to become their chief engineer. He was working at Conoco when he had to deal with a big explosion on one of their North Sea oil rigs. The explosion happened conveniently when it was at a weekend so there were fewer staff on site - on a weekday there would have been serious loss of life.

Dave's funeral was in Shrewsbury Cathedral, his family home. Later Rocky, Graunch, Gengis, Paul Burton and I attended his memorial service in Brigg: There was a huge turnout of about 150 friends and colleagues which shows the high regard in which he was held. We heard he was held in the highest regard by his Conoco colleagues, supporting youngsters, giving sound advice and making sure things were absolutely right.

A side of him he kept fairly quiet from us, even before he joined Fids, was his passion of folk singing. He won best unaccompanied male singer at Liverpool folk festival in '65 and '66 and was a founder member of Shrewsbury folk club. He did bookings from Orkney to Plymouth, and singing was his great passion. After Fids, he travelled the country singing at festivals, jar in hand obviously. Apparently he had an enormous repertoire which he could and did recite at will. We heard many tales of folk festivals, and pubs, as well as serious engineering. The boy done good.

Dave is survived by his lovely wife Sue, two sons, James (an engineer designing sub-sea equipment) and David who works in the City, and a daughter, Sarah, who is following in her Dad's footsteps by trying to visit even more countries than he did. She's an assistant professor in Michigan, studying wolves, and is definitely better looking than Dave!! She spends all winter skiing, and all summer sailing - a nice lifestyle. She was over for Dave's funeral, but had to go back to lead a study on an uninhabited island in the middle of Lake Superior. Graunch and Rocky have met her. His children are all much better looking than Gonk and very tall, so his ale did some good.

Gonk was a main man on the base. First he kept the gennies going, then he kept all the vehicles going, in those days a very difficult task. Full of humour, a common saying of his was "I don't know anything about that" claiming it was for people cleverer than him. But that just wasn't true.

He did several trips in vehicles through the Bob Pi crossing, the most dangerous area of the hinge zone, heavily crevassed, changing every day. His first trip ended very abruptly when a bulldozer dropped into a crevasse. Despite having witnessed that, he then did the return journey twice more. Bloody brave. He led the last tractor trip through the zone when we all knew it had deteriorated badly and he travelled miles inland into unknown country knowing that the return meant travelling through the hinge zone later in the season when the snow bridges were at their weakest. I travelled through the zone several times with dog teams and I can vouch that it was a very scary place. Even light dog sledges opened crevasses you could lose an aircraft carrier down. I wouldn't go through the zone sat on a two and a half ton tractor.

Martin (Snoopy) Pinder maintained a special friendship with Gonk after Fids. He wrote a very personal tribute in the BAS Club magazine (Issue 81 May 2019) which I quote in full: "I first met Dave (Gonk) Hoy in the Falkland Islands (probably the Globe or the Upland Goose) on my way south in 1969 in the Perla Dan. I went to Signy for a year whilst Dave continued south to Halley Bay. The next time I met up with him was when the Perla Dan arrived at Halley Bay in 1970. Dave and other rather smelly troglodyte Fids stormed on board rushing to find the Purser (Ruben) for liquid refreshment. I spent a year at Halley with Dave, many fond memories of the 'Bondu Bar', party nights, midwinter celebrations, at which Dave was the life and soul of the event. I remember food and fuel runs with Dave (in his trusty muskeg!) and digging out and erecting the Armco extension to the garage entrance. After returning to the UK, I caught up with Dave whilst working in and around Shrewsbury. We met up at many folk clubs (Dave was a founder member) and at the occasional folk festival. When I had my own business in Oswestry, we would meet up socially as other Fids from Halley would frequently descend on me - namely Hwfa Jones, Graham (Gengis) Wright, Ian (Finn) Smith and Mike (Muff) Warden. At whatever event we met up Dave was always ready with a little ditty, shanty or apt song. He had a wonderful rich, deep harmonious voice and a commanding presence. I attended Dave's requiem mass at Shrewsbury Roman Catholic Cathedral on Tuesday 30th April 2019, where there were 5 other Halley Bay Fids - Ian (Fin)Smith, Bob Wells, Keith (Graunch) Chappel, Roger Tiffin, and Peter (Rocky) Clarkson. The funeral service was well attended, the singing marvellous (loud and tuneful) and an excellent wake afterwards at The Lion Hotel, Shrewsbury at which some of Dave's folk singing friends sang some sea shanties very powerfully. Dave was best man at my first wedding in 1980 and was always a stalwart friend. His personality, presence, voice and sense of humour will, I'm sure, be sadly missed by all who had the good fortune to have known him." Gonk always kept the party going. Full of laughter and great stories. And he could sing. I remember his whaling songs with fondness. He liked his drink like many of us, and his cigs. Always scruffy, with black hands except on Saturday nights when he scrubbed up well. But when necessary, he was a real grafter. Yes he made my time down there fun, even when the chips were down.

With thanks to the other contributors.


[Dave Hoy died on 3rd April 2009...Ed.]

21 November 2019


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