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John Monan - A Shotley Boy

By John Monan

HMS Ganges was the premier boys training establishment for boy seamen in the 1930s. It was a shore establishment situated at Shotley near lpswich.

Anyone trained at Shotley was considered a first class seaman. The training and discipline were considered very strict and although we hated it at the time, it was always with a certain amount of pride that one said, 'Of course, I was a Shotley Boy.'

So it was that early in March 1933, my letter arrived to tell me I had passed the necessary tests and would be acceptable to the Royal Navy. I was told to report to the office in Belfast on a certain day.

On arrival at the office at the prearranged time, I met five or six other lads in the same age group. They came from different parts of Ireland and were obviously there for the same purpose as me.

When the recruiting officer arrived, a man called McKnight, he introduced us and proceeded to give us some tests. Some required written answers and others were verbal. We discovered later that two of the lads had not made the grade and were sent home. The remaining four of us were told to be at the boat leaving for Liverpool at 2000 hrs. The boat was called the Ulster Prince and a man from the office would be there to meet us. After receiving all the instructions, we were given pocket money of 3/9 (approx. 20p) each and told that someone would meet us at the boat in the morning in Liverpool.

I will never forget my feelings when the boat sailed. Here I was, the first time I had left Ireland, being cast out in the open sea. I am quite certain that the other lads felt the same as me, almost reduced to tears. I managed to cheer myself up a little by thinking of the poverty and hardship I was leaving behind and I thought that whatever the future held, it would be better than remaining with that.

The boat trip was terrible, rough weather and people seasick all over the place. I was lucky. I did not get any ill affects, but all the other lads had turned green and were violently sick.

We were very relieved when we arrived in dock and disembarked. There was a man from the recruiting office waiting for us and we got our first taste of Naval Discipline, falling in and marching from the boat to a Salvation Army Hostel, where we were given a good breakfast. After that we were marched to the office in Canning Place.

There we joined up with other lads from different parts of the Country. Some had come from boys' homes like Dr. Barnados and other sea-schools. After spending the day at the office and being marched to the Salvation Army for meals, we were subjected to numerous other tests and lectures. Then we went back to the Salvation Army to sleep, being told that in the morning we would be marched to the train en-route to Harwich. We were then given 7/6 (approx. 37½p) pocket money. The train journey was quite uneventful, but as it was something new to me, I felt quite excited and took mental note of everything I saw on the way.

Eventually we arrived at Harwich and when the Perry Officer met us from the train, we realised we were in the Navy. There were about thirty of us by this time. Some we had picked up at Liverpool, some at Crewe and other places along the line. The Petty Officer shouted at us and ordered us around. Of course we were not used to this and it upset us a little. Anyhow we eventually arrived at the pier where we were to catch the boat for the next part of our journey to Shotley.

We arrived at Shotley with a sense of foreboding, wondering what was in store for us. We were soon to find out as the booming voice of the Petty Officer shouted at us to fall in and start marching. Marching up quite a steep hill, which we afterwards got to know as 'Laundry Hill,' we arrived at the new entrants' block on the other side of the parade ground. The new entrants block, otherwise known as the Nozzer's Block, was actually two double story buildings away from the main part of the establishment.

Although we did not realise it at the time, this period of our training was quite easy after the initial trauma of settling in. Our time was spent being kitted out and having our names stamped on all our clothing etc. After this we had to sew our names on all our garments, some in red cotton, some in black. We were allocated our beds and began the first part of our training on the parade ground.

Everyone was 'Sir' to us and I remember one of the instructors saying, 'If it moves, call it SIR and salute it. If it stands still, Paint or Polish it.' We were also told, 'You do NOT walk across the parade ground. You do NOT run across the parade ground, but you WILL B.... WELL DOUBLE ACROSS THE PARADE GROUND. Is that clear?'

After about one month we were considered fit to leave the new entrants' and move into the main establishment, called the Barracks. We were issued with canes to fit our nozzers' little 'Beret like caps.' The canes distinguished us from new entrants. We were then 'Old Sea dogs.'

I was moved into number 16 mess (Rodney Division) and there I was introduced to my two instructors, Petty Officer Clark for Seamanship and Petty Officer Mills for Gunnery and Parade ground drill.

Petty Officer Clark hated Irishmen and he led me a dogs life. He said "my name is 'CLARK' and I hasten to add that I do not belong to the low down Irish mob with an 'E' on the end. My name is spelled CLARK." I muttered under my breath that his people were too mean to afford the 'E' so he had to do without it. Unfortunately he heard this and it did not do me much good thereafter.

One of the highlights of Shotley was the end of term concert. These were always held in the main Gymnasium and some very good turns were presented. I hate to say anything complementary about Petty Officer Clark, but I must say that he and our other instructor Petty Officer Mills kept us entertained for quite a long time. They used to sing funny duets together. One I remember particularly. When they got to the end of the verse one of them would sing, "While the rich man rides by in his Carrier arm chair."

This was a source of amusement to us all and, although we did not know what it meant, it was the only good thing I could say about Petty Officer Clark. A few years ago I visited Shotley and was shown around by the duty Lieutenant. I asked particularly to see the gym and it had not changed much. Rudyard Kipling's poem 'IF' was still prominently displayed and, as I looked at it, I could almost hear Petty Officer Clark singing, "And the rich man rides by in his CARRIER ARMCHAIR."

Every morning at 5.45 we had to go over the mast and Petty Officer Clark always made sure that I was on the end, so that he could follow me up and belt me with his 'Stonnichy,' which was a length of square section runner and I can assure you it stung. He used to belt me all the way up the 180ft. mast. I discovered that he could not manage the last lSft. up to the button, as there was no ladder or rigging to climb. I used to feel a sense of relief when I got there, although when I got on the button my bottom was so sore that I could hardly stay there.

I think every boy who ever attended Shotley always boasted about being 'The button Boy' but in my case it was 'force put.'

It is unbelievable the tricks that man got up to, to make it hard for me and some others. He did his best to break our spirits. Some boys were fortunate enough to have wealthy parents and were able to get bought out. I was not so fortunate so I had to stay put. I remember on several occasions, when I was having a bad time, I thought, "NO you are not going to break my spirit," so I stuck it out.

One day I was sitting on my bed reading, as it was make and mend when we were allowed some freedom. Petty Officer Clark came in and ordered me to fall in on the Quarter Deck. I was amazed when he brought a charge against me for smoking. I tried to deny this but was ordered to "shut up, Anyhow I was placed in the Commander's report and charged with smoking and being in possession of smoking materials. Petty Officer Clark produced what he said he had found in my possession, a cigarette butt, a piece of match head (red head) and a piece of the abrasive side of a matchbox.

The charge was read out and the Commander said what have you got to say to that?

"Well Sir, "I began.

"Shut up," ordered the Commander. "You have been found guilty as charged. I sentence you to twelve cuts of the cane."

To receive these cuts you were clothed in a pair of white duck trousers pulled tight round your bottom. The doctor inspected you and you were then bound hand and foot over a vaulting horse. The cuts were administered by an R.P.O. who was a big, well built chap. He was not supposed to lift the cane above his shoulder, but he had a knack of swinging the cane round. I will say you only felt the first one. All you knew after that is someone counting 1,2,3, etc. up to 12. The doctor inspects you again and you return to your mess. If, as frequently happened, it was meal time, Petty Officer Clark was behind you to push you down on to the seat, which was a long wooden stool. The pain was excruciating but there was nothing you could do about it.

On another occasion, our mess was entered in the heaving line competition. All the year I had beaten all comers with the distance of my throw. I took my turn and to my amazement my line only went halfway and, of course, we lost the cup.

I did notice at the time that Petty Officer Clark was one of the first on the field gathering up the heaving lines. I did not think too much of it at the time, apart from thinking how unusual.

Later one of the boys said when he was stowing the lines away in the locker he found one covered in some sticky substance and I immediately thought about petty Officer Clark. Had he tampered with my line, I wonder?

Anyhow, I was before the Commander again. I remember his words clearly. 'We are very disappointed with you. You have let the side down badly. We know you can do better and to ensure that you try harder in future I am going to order you to twelve cuts of the cane'.

I could go on further about Petty Officer Clark and the tricks he played. I used to cry myself to sleep every night and hated the name Shotley and Ganges. I used to wonder why he had such a dislike for Irish men. One of the boys said, 'I expect his mother was crossed with an Irish pig and he was the result.'

I didn't know at the rime, but relief was just around the corner. I developed a sore throat which was eventually diagnosed as Tonsillitis and the doctor ordered me to be sent on fourteen days leave to get my throat ready for the operation. When I returned from that leave I was sent to Chatham Hospital where the doctor decided that my throat was still not ready for the operation, so I was sent on another fourteen days recuperation leave. I then returned to Chatham Barracks and was eventually sent back to Shotley. I was escorted there by a Leading Seaman Wing, who later became Petty Officer Wing. Having been absent from shotley for such a long rime I had missed my class and was transferred to later class in 3 mess Collingwood Division. Imagine my surprise when I found that Petty Officer wing was to be my instructor in this new class.

Shotley took on a new meaning for me then and I got on like a house on fire.

When it came to passing out ready to go to sea, I came out top boy, being first in Gunnery and Parade groundwork and being narrowly beaten into second place in seamanship.

After this I was drafted to Devonport and joined my first ship HMS Rodney for a West Indies cruise.


Reproduced with kind permission from
Submariners News


1 comment

I have just read my dads story although sadly he passed away in 2001 but I am sure that what he endured helped make him the fantastic person he became.
   victor john monan Sun, 2 Apr 2017

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