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The Recollections of Desmond Gerrish

1947, 1948, At Ganges

Joining the Royal Navy. I joined in September 1947 at age 16, as a Boy Seaman, 2nd Class. I went to HMS Ganges, a huge training barracks for boys (3,000 of us) on the estuary of the broad River Stour at Ipswich. Ganges trained only seamen and communication boys. Electrical engineers, stokers, cooks, stewards and medical boys all went to their own individual specialist barracks dotted around the UK.

The first five weeks were spent in an Annexe Camp across the road from the main barracks, where they kept the new entries (200 every 5 weeks) separate from the hurly-burly of the real Ganges, while kitting out with Navy uniform which clothed you entirely, learning basic marching, learning to live in a Mess and doing basic school tests. We were batched together in groups of 30 for our entire time in Ganges (15 months) and lived in the very well designed dormitories containing 30 beds and lockers, with a dining area occupying the first third of the Long Dormitory. No frills, but excellent quality throughout,for instance, excellent parquet floors and immaculately clean paintwork everywhere.

Cleanliness was almost a religion at Ganges.

Once you had learned the rudiments of Ganges living, you moved over to the Main Barracks in the same batches of 30, which had fused in the Annexe. Ganges was laid out in groups of 10 Dormitories called Divisions. We went to Blake Division. All ten Divisions were named after RN Admirals: Rodney, Nelson, Drake, Raleigh etc. The 10 Divisions were all linked by glass–roofed covered ways,we call them Malls in modern parlance. The enormous Galley (cookhouse) was situated centrally, where 5 boys from each Dormitory collected the food in large metal dishes to race back to the Dormitory Dining Area.

Daily Routine:

Monday to Friday:

  • 6.30am Out of bed. Collect hot cocoa and hard tack biscuits.
  • 7.00am Sweep covered ways and general clean all round.
  • 7.30am Breakfast and clean Dormitory.
  • 8.30am Assemble on huge parade ground for Prayers, Notices and Ceremonial March past.
  • 9.00am To classes. Classes included ordinary school subjects: Maths, English, History, Geography, Mechanics and Electricity. Seamanship classes, rope work, sailing, anchors and cables, sheer legs, chartwork and rule of the road, signalling by semaphore, Aldis light and masthead flag signals, damage control and firefighting in ships, 4 inch twin turret gun drill, rifle range sessions and Physical Training (gym work), swimming and lifesaving.
  • 12 noon Lunch in Dormitory, wash up dishes etc. Change into sports rig.
  • 1.15pm To allocated sports event, which was a rotation of soccer, hockey, cricket, gymnastics, swimming, cross country, track events, sailing, rowing, rifle shooting, cutlass drill.
  • 4.00pm Showers. Change back into uniform. Tea.
  • 4.30–6pm Classes again.
  • 6.30pm Supper and free time. Occasional cinema, concerts, boxing matches all in the huge gym and rotated in allocation by Divisions.
  • 10.00pm In bed and lights out.

Saturdays:

Mornings Wash clothes in the purpose built laundries, huge sinks, endless hot water, scrubbing brushes and hard tack Admiralty soap bars, together with hot air drying rooms.

Backward classes for any subjects that groups were lagging in.

Afternoons Organised recreation. Top teams had regular fixtures with outside teams, both inter–RN and local schools, in soccer, rugby, hockey and cricket. I was not good enough to get into any of the Ganges First Teams, out of 3,000 very fit 16/17 year olds, these teams were of County standard. Fortunately, there were 2nd, 3rd and 4th HMS teams in all the main sports and from time to time I won a place in these, in soccer, hockey and rugby. To keep the emphasis on more boys playing in matches than boys as mere spectators, there were many inter-Ganges games, like every Dormitory produced teams to play the other 99 Dormitories.

The sports fields were fabulous. At least 15 soccer pitches, 10 hockey grounds, 8 rugby pitches etc. All kept in immaculate condition by an army of civilian Grounds staff.

We were allowed to be spectators at the sort of semi-finals and finals of Cup Matches, or the occasional blood match like Ganges 1st Soccer XI playing HMS Vincent, our mirror image in Portsmouth.

Some Saturday afternoons were spent on the River Stour, sailing Naval whalers (crew of 7) or rowing the whalers, very strenuous activity and of course there were organised races in both sailing and rowing. I nearly forgot the twice as large Naval cutters with a crew of 12. We spent more time in the cutters than the whalers.

You could qualify to be a boy coxswain for both cutters and whalers by passing a practical test and this allowed you to sail or row these boats, complete with a crew of other boys, under your command without a Petty Officer Instructor aboard. I became a boy coxswain early on and added another badge to my uniform.

Saturday evenings Free time. You were never allowed out of Ganges.

Sundays:

Usual morning clean up all round.

Church parade in Best Uniforms, on the Parade Ground, in the gym and covered ways if raining. After lunch we had genuine free time for the rest of the day, write letters, darn socks etc, and generally laze around.

The Ranks were:

  • Leading Boy
  • Petty Officer Boy
  • Instructor Boy

I achieved all three promotions. The top rank of Instructor Boy was very special as there were only 10 of us out of 3,000 boys. It meant remaining at Ganges for an extra full term (4 months). The authority that went with the rank was awesome. Duties included taking command of Daily Parade and March Past, 3,000 boys, a full Royal Marine Band, a huge Boy's Drum and Bugle band, a Boy's Guard and all Officers and Adult Instructors accompanying their Divisions for the March Past. The salute was taken by the Captain of Ganges or the visiting Admirals. Minor movements of this huge parade, like Dressing the Ranks, Coming to Attention, Standing at Ease were carried out by a short roll on the drums followed by a single loud beat. Major movements were controlled by your voice alone and it had to reach the very back of the Parade Ground, crisp and curt.

You stood on the rostrum alongside the Captain, who, to us boys, was next in line to God. He would deliver his opinions as to the quality of the March Past and his highest accolade was "A satisfactory March Past, Gerrish".

Other duties included teaching New Entries over at the Annexe, teaching backward classes in Ganges, inspecting kits and Dormitories and general policing the smooth running of the daily routine from dawn to bedtime. Punishments at our disposal were harsh and terribly effective. The common one was to turn out the entire Dormitory in marching dress, carrying the heavy 303 Lee Enfield rifle for drill at the double on the Parade Ground in their precious free time slots.

Often the punishment was for the misdemeanour of one individual, who would be leaned upon again by the other 29 members of the Dormitory. No one, but no one, argued with Instructor Boys. Adult Instructors used these same exhausting punishments for remedying sloppy behaviour by their classes. A boy would collapse and subsequently die about once every one or two years from those punishments, with only a modicum of protest from relatives, Press and MP.s. Thankfully, I never drove any boy to anywhere near complete exhaustion.

The adult administration could order punishments ranging from caning to fines, after hearing the case by Officers. Serious offences were heard by the Commander or Captain as laid down by the Admiralty Law. The Captain had powers ranging from jail sentences (Naval Detention Quarters in Portsmouth) to dismissal with disgrace from the Royal Navy.

Sometimes, we Instructor Boys discovered serious crimes and gave evidence at the subsequent hearings. Unofficially, but universally accepted by all at Ganges, Instructor Boys would deal with minor offences by a few lashes with a knotted rope across the rebel's backside. Marginal cases of minor/not so minor followed the time honoured code of the Instructor Boy offering the offender "official report or my punishment". The latter was always chosen. Cover-ups were superb. From time to time MP's responsible for governing military training in the U.K. would visit Ganges and probe for unofficial punishments by questioning boys at random. The answer was monotonously the same from any Boy, "Oh no Sir"! The answer simply said we wanted no outside interference to the Rule of Law we found fair and just.

In this young, generally very tough, community of potential RN sailors there would be a sniff of mutiny. One occurred in my time. A Dormitory, which had more than the usual sprinkling of rebels and whose collective IQ fell far below the average, had undergone a year of despairing efforts by the Administration to get this bunch of 30 boys up to an acceptable level of knowledge and moral competence. Their Instructors were not the best either. The mutiny started when they were told they were to be held back for an extra term at Ganges. They collectively said they would no longer obey any orders.

Events moved with great speed and slickness. The Captain ordered the rogue Dormitory to be placed on Shotley Routine. This was the well documented contingency plan, two Instructor Boys move into the Dormitory permanently and the two best instructors take overall responsibility for getting the Dormitory back to normal.

The 'mutineers' knew the sequence of events as well as we did. They accepted us two Instructor Boys to live with them in their Dormitory without hostility. We quickly got their consensus to buckle down to the inevitable duel of strength, where time is the only variable. Both sides know Officialdom will win. The only challenge for them is how long can they put up with a particularly harsh routine before agreeing to conform again. This bunch lasted about 5 or 6 days. An unrelenting routine from dawn to lights-out of being hounded through endless parade drills, standing at attention for long periods, heavy, grinding chores such as loading bags of spuds into the Galley, hours rowing the heavy cutters against the tide, etc, and eating their sparse meals standing.

The Peace Treaty goes like this:

  • Us - We are impressed with their strength and grit
  • Them - They respect us by being tough but fair
  • Us - We've seen many classes qualify that were only half as good as you
  • Them - Tarnation, we can qualify like falling off a log if we want to!
  • Us - Why don't you?
  • Them - We will!
  • And they do.

All classes leaving Ganges go to destroyers in the Training Squadron based at Rosyth, near Edinburgh, for 3 months of sea training. Very unpleasant it was too.

The worst aspect was the food. Small warships, destroyers and below operated a ridiculous system, blatantly called 'Canteen Messing'. Each Mess of approximately 20 sailors was allocated a notional sum of money. You 'spent' this allowance by shopping from the ships butcher and grocer. You prepared the raw food in the Mess and then took it to the Galley for the ship's chefs to cook it. All this in a corkscrewing, bucking destroyer, playing war games in the winter gales around Scotland. As learners we ate very badly but survived. This system was very popular with the older hands for 2 main reasons:

  • You chose your own menu
  • Any 'allowance' left at the end of the month was paid to the Mess in hard cash.

Admiralty found resistance to modernising this feeding system from The Fleet in general until about 1950, when new Classes of destroyers and frigates were built with larger Galleys and meals were provisioned, menu'ed and cooked by the Supply Officer's team of properly trained cooks.

Living conditions were, of course, very crowded in all sizes of warships that had survived the war. The number of men Admiralty had to cram into every ship was mainly dictated by the number of guns the ship had. For instance, the universal twin 4-inch mounting needed 8 men to each barrel, which equals sixteen, plus another sixteen to keep a flow of shells from the deep magazines.

The average destroyer had four twin guns, so the total started at 128 men for its main gun armament alone. Add to this the torpedo crews, the smaller AA guns like Bofors and Oerlikons, depth charge and smoke float crews, radar plotters, engine crews, medicos and you arrive at the number of men in an average size of destroyer as 280.

Back in your own living quarters, called a Mess Deck, you had a communal rack to stow your very tightly rolled up hammocks during daytime. Each man had a locker, no bigger than a tea chest, for all his uniform clothes. One table, two benches and a small cupboard for your cups, plates or cutlery. And that was it for 20 men.

The training programme for us included all everyday seamanship skills, working anchors and cables manning the ships seaboat (the whaler), steering the ship, lookouts, working the ship's berthing harnesses, towing another destroyer, searching the upper-decks for foul weather etc.

The military training covered firing the guns, torpedoes and depth charges. The latter contributed to the crew's food rations, fresh fish.

The Captain would have the destroyer steered to find a shoal of cod. The sonar man would con the ship over the shoal, pretending it was a submarine and we (the depth charge crew) would fire to kill. In fact, the explosions mainly stunned the shoal, which would float up to the surface and be whipped into the steamboat. A good shoal could produce a couple of hundred huge cod.

Any ship any man joins is instantly allocated his Action Station. Mine in this ship was on the Bridge as Captain's Messenger. Our Ganges ranks no longer prevailed, but our first ships made ex PO and Instructor Boys as Messdeck Leaders and ex coxswains, as coxswains of the ship's boats.

Ganges invariably marked Instructor Boys' records as Officer Candidates and your subsequent Captains made sure you got the most responsible jobs and on-going on the spot instruction from all the ship's officers. Strangely enough, the greatest support and spontaneous teaching came from the ship's crew themselves, ranging from the senior Chief Petty Officers to Stokers in the engine room. Their motivation in this was summed up by the simple phrase, "Oh well, as you are going to become an Officer, we might as well make sure you will be a good one". And remember, all these adults had just come through the war.

Our rank at this time remained Boy Seamen First Class and the next step up to Ordinary Seaman occurred on your 18th birthday. Below that age, Admiralty acted as our 'parents' and strictly controlled our supervision by written laws. At Ganges we were permanently confined to camp. In these Training Destroyers, the Captains could allow us out of the ship to the canteen and cinema inside the Naval Dockyard at their discretion. We had to be back on board by 9 pm. We were allowed out to afternoon sports events, there and back in Naval coaches. Set amounts of your pay were given to you in cash, for pocket money, the rest went directly to your parents. You were forbidden alcohol, but you were allowed to smoke the small amount you could afford out of your pocket money. In a ship you became eligible for the same Duty Free smoking allowance as everybody else, 600 cigarettes a month, at very cheap prices, and pocket money could absorb this.

Leave was generous. 2½ weeks at Easter, Summer and Christmas and your rail fare paid by Navy, plus Navy transport to the nearest main line station. We travelled in uniform and only wore civilian clothes when you got home. Navy even gave us picnic bags for your journey.

After completing our Term in the Training Destroyer Squadron, we were sent to our home barracks to await being sent to ships of The Fleet as permanent crew members. Every sailor on joining the RN was allocated one of the three home barracks for life. These were Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport. We liked this period of about 6 weeks, since you were back in good RN shore accommodation with not much to do.

And the barracks was a transit base for the entire adult population of the RN, so we shared some of their privileges like cinema every night and later 'lights out', even though we were segregated in a building for boys only.

The Kitbag

Made of almost indestructible light brown canvas, standing 4ft high cylindrical, marked with your name and number and a padlock for locking. Your entire kit travelled with you in this monster plus your personal hammock roped up like a tight sausage.

So, eventually, in dribs and drabs, we were allocated to ships of the Fleets. There was the Home Fleet (European waters), the Mediterranean Fleet, the Far East Fleet, subdivided into the famous China Fleet (Yangtze Incident) and the West Indies Fleet.

Me and about 5 others were allocated to a destroyer in the Med' Fleet, HMS Chivalrous. First we travelled in a Troopship from Southampton to Gibraltar. At Gib' we moved over to our new ship which was not up to standard and after a few days we witnessed the fiery Rear Admiral of Destroyer Squadrons in the Med' storm aboard to inspect the calibre of the ship and hear him tearing off a blistering criticism to the CO, ending with "Your destroyer is not a fit ship for young trainees, who will move now to a better destroyer and you will go to sea under intensive manoeuvres until your ship gets itself up to Fleet standards".

We moved immediately to the destroyer nominated by RA(D) and watched our first ship proceed to sea under a black cloud. The three Destroyer Squadrons sailed several days later for Malta and our new Guardian, RA(D) chose to fly his flag (himself onboard) on our ship.

Unbelievably nowadays, he also shipped his wife back to the Main Base at Malta. She was given the Captain's Cabin and free access to the open Bridge. We learned, in hours, to fear her more than the splendid Admiral. She would rise at dawn to inspect the brightness of the brass we polished feverishly during the Morning Watch on the Bridge and then scan the sea as to the tightness of formation of the 24 destroyers racing in tight company at speed to Malta, all under her Admiral husband's command. We hit a Mediterranean gale 'en route' and I remember being on duty as Messenger on the Bridge at night, when a hatch door in the Gunnery Director above the Bridge flew open. The Officer-of-the-Watch, driving the ship, with enough problems of his own to contend with, shouted through the wind-lashed spray (open Bridges in those days) "Gerrish, get up there and shut that damned hatch". Even now I wonder how I did it. Except for our previous training, which imbibed you with the knowledge that orders were given for the utter necessity and you obeyed them without question.

After a spell in Malta to restore and paint up the ship, we sailed in company with another destroyer for a cruise around the Greek Islands. We spent a few days in Athens and, now we boys were proper ship's company, we were allowed to go ashore in daytime. So, we did all the tourist sites, which were deserted after 5 years of war followed by the Greek Civil War, Communists against Royalists, which was in full swing in the mountains at the time of our visit. Indeed, Admiralty carefully kept the entire Greek coast covered with pairs of destroyers in case the Greek fight escalated across the water to Communist ruled Albania.

We changed our pound notes in Athens for 40,000 Drachmas each, which would give us lots of spending power in the more remote Greek ports, where last week's rate of exchange of 20,000 D's to the pound still prevailed. This was my first experience in currency markets. We went next to Salonica. Most pleasant visit. Wonderful food in the cafes and marvellous beaches (kept out of minefields though) all around this busy fishing port.

News came in that all CW candidates (potential Officers) were to be sent to cruisers, which had a schoolmaster and classrooms. I was transferred to HMS Euryalus, when our destroyer got back to Malta, with a little apprehension on my part. In general, most sailors preferred the informal, friendly style of life in destroyers. Cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers, while having the better living quarters and more creature comforts, were much more formal and less personal. In small ships you knew everyone onboard well and lived in close company with the ships' Officers. The big ships were 600 men upwards and there was enough space for the Officers to live detached and aloof from the men.

Euryalus was one of 4 cruisers in this Squadron, Liverpool, Newcastle and Phoebe, the others. Mountbatten, having just finished being the last Viceroy of India and having ended the war in the rank of Admiral of The Fleet (top RN ranking) as Supreme Commander in Burma, asked Admiralty if he could come back in the RN at a lower rank to continue his Naval career. He was made Rear Admiral and given command of this newly formed Mediterranean Squadron.

He and his staff lived in the Liverpool (flagship), though he regularly lived for short periods in his other 3 cruisers, so we got to know him quite well. There were 6 of us CW's in Euryalus and we quickly settled down in this new life. Once again I was detailed to be Captain's Messenger, but this time he was a senior four-stripe Captain, RN and I had a much bigger ship to find those people he wanted to speak to or pass his orders to. Worst part of this particular job was having to be in my best uniform while on duty with him and just try going down the engine room to get, say, the Engine Commander in my spotless white shorts and shirt, without smearing grease on your clothes.

On 21st May our group started the first really demanding Course, Gunnery. This great empire was based at Whale Island, near the northern end of Portsmouth Harbour and had been growing in stature for over 200 years, as Naval guns advanced in size and accuracy. The Navy with the best guns and gunners ruled the oceans, right up to the 2nd World War, when the submarine and aeroplane interrupted this supremacy.

From the start of the 2nd World War the main purpose of guns in warships was to shoot down attacking aeroplanes, but the odds remained stacked with the 'planes until after the war when missiles replaced the guns. We were to learn our gunnery at the time of the first missiles being introduced into very limited service and hence our dependence remained with the guns.

The practical side of what we had to learn was robust, exciting and pretty easy loading and firing guns in turrets, firing the Bofors, Pom-pom and Oerlikon, fast firing smaller guns at dummy aeroplane targets, firing rifles and machine guns and, of course, Parade Ground work. Much more difficult to learn were the automatic machines, linked to the ship's radars, which aimed the guns at ship or aeroplane targets. The aim of the gun was continually being adjusted by these complicated machines to take account of your own ship manoeuvring wildly at high speed and the enemy target doing likewise. We had to learn the difficult mathematics that these machines were solving.

I did well in my Gunnery Exams, and they earmarked me as a potential Gunnery specialist for the future. However, long ago, I had made up my mind that war at sea was now ruled by the submarine and warships, with their guns, were already obsolete.

HMS Dryad

On 2nd July we moved to HMS Dryad, a lovely country mansion, to learn navigation which included the art of disseminating the vital information, pouring in from any ship's radars, into a clear picture of the battlefield. This was done on automatic machines on which sailors would plot the movements of ships and aircraft.

July was the time for the annual Sub-Lieutenants' Field Gun Competition, when each group would represent the establishment they happened to be at in July. So, we represented HMS Dryad and underwent three weeks' intensive training of Field Gun racing as an extra-curriculum activity. The risk of mangled fingers, arms and legs made this very gutsy Naval type of competition hair raising and always exhausting anyway, from heaving this ton of wheels, barrel and limber over barriers and obstacles set in the race track. In the run-up to Competition Day, Dryad plied us with treats and favours, not ordinarily afforded to lowly Sub-Lieutenants', like special meals in the Mess and free beer at times. Anyway, the 16 of us in the team got through all the training runs without serious injury and, each day, fractionally improved our race times. However, we didn't win the Competition and the day it was over our Mess treats ceased abruptly!

An interesting feature of the main Ante-room of Dryad's Wardroom was a huge wall plot of the D-Day Landings, frozen at the time Eisenhower ordered the Invasion to commence. It is still there today, preserved as a national museum piece. In August we moved on to the School of Amphibious Warfare in Southsea. This was a role met by the Royal Marines and we enjoyed the short break from the RN Schools, to learn the fundamentals of storming ashore in Tank Landing Ships etc. Later in August we moved to HMS Mercury, the home of the Navy's communication specialists, another appropriated mansion on the outskirts of Portsmouth. Subjects were radio, secret codes, flag signals etc. Mountbatten had been a communication specialist and his successors remained of the same ilk, polo playing upper-crusters (or so they thought!) aloof from the gunners and torpedo men. So, our bunch did not get with these types, who rewarded our disdain of them with low marks for our exams.

1949-1950

His name was Parry, who had come through the war with many distinctions, a good bloke, kind and friendly and a very senior Captain; he knew how to run a happy ship. Based on the age old Naval formula that efficiency came first, and the rest followed easily. The Commander was a war veteran, who suffered shell shock, named McWhinney, and was spitting image of Gilbert and Sullivan characters. Once, when I had to summon him to see the Captain, he was busy blanco-ing dirt patches on his jodhpurs before going to Marsa Club with Mountbatten and the boys! He also let everyone know that he painted watercolours. And Jock McPherson, a 3 Badge AB, lifelong Naval criminal, about the same age as the Commander, would dart into McWhinney's palatial cabin when pursued by the OOW and Naval Police for returning on board drunk (again!) and blatantly admire the Commander's latest work of art. The Commander fell for it every time, since no-one else ever bothered to admire his crappy paintings, ordering the OOW and his police team to push off and stop hounding Jock!

Jock was probably the most outrageous character in this cruiser full of close contenders. He went ashore every time leave was given and always returned hopelessly drunk, a Naval offence to return aboard drunk. He had false teeth top and bottom, not a tooth of his own left and these two precious plates, together with his hammock pillow, he would deposit with the Master-at-Arms (Chief of Police) before proceeding ashore. The pillow would be in one of the ship's 4 cells where Jock was locked up in on return and the false teeth returned to him two minutes before The Commander "heard his case" and summarily punished Jock next day.

Three other 'Wild Ones', all war veterans, deserted when the ship was in Athens to join the Greek Resistance Army (Greece was in a terrible civil war following the War) and one of them, AB McGarry, stole a ship's rifle too, since he learned the Greek Communists promoted you to Officer rank if you joined complete with a weapon. They were finally returned to Euryalus in Malta three months later for their inevitable Court Martial and two year prison sentences.

The war was too recent to wind down a mighty fighting machine from top gear. One Sunday afternoon in Malta, with a Force 11 Levanter gale blowing which had closed even Grand Harbour to normal traffic, our Cruiser Squadron was ordered to sea, in full Action State, to test our war readiness. The 4 cruisers were moored by 2 anchor chains each to huge buoys. No question of putting sailors on the buoys to unshackle these enormous chains in such violent sea conditions, so we cut our cables inboard and headed for the breakwater entrance. The huge breakwater was almost submerged by monstrous waves rolling over it and we had to go full steam ahead to punch through the breakwater entrance. Euryalus lost 2 big motor launches, smashed away from their davits by the same Levanter monstrous rollers which were sweeping over this big cruiser. The 3 other cruisers suffered similar superficial damage in the onslaught of breaking out of Grand Harbour.

Once at sea, ships can manoeuvre to suit the prevailing seas conditions and this we did on our Active Exercise of going to bombard pretend enemies in Crete, being continually attacked en route by the RAF imitating an enemy Air Force. We fired 'blanks' at them and they fired live ammunition at the 'splash' targets we towed astern. Cruisers were five or six times bigger than destroyers and the main decks were therefore much higher out of the water. Nevertheless, in severe storms, you kept to the higher network of cat gangways above the main decks when moving about in cruisers, so as not to be caught out by the occasional roller that swept the main decks.

The Bombardment Practice was spectacular. Live shells are fired at the Army Range, always on an uninhabited island, at dummy targets laid out by the soldiers. Warships always steam in Line Ahead for bombardment of land targets, the first ship of the Line opens fire abreast the target and as she finishes firing, the next ship of the Line has started firing and so on. The 'victims', for their part, experience an unremitting explosion of a large shell every 5 seconds, moving along the target road or whatever. For us, we get the thunder of our 5.25" turrets firing one barrel at a time in 5 seconds sequence and cordite smoke all over the ship. Upon the (open) Bridge we got lungful's of cordite smoke, which is not unpleasant to smokers, rather like a very strong cigar!

During my 2 years on Euryalus we visited all the major ports in the Mediterranean. One such visit, to Port Said, was political. King Farouk of Egypt was causing trouble to the UK Government by his declarations to his people that he was going to throw the British out of Egypt. At that time, we ruled Egypt, kept major military bases there and owned the Suez Canal. The Government knew Farouk would be quite friendly with Mountbatten as another 'Royal', so Liverpool and Euryalus were dispatched for a 'courtesy visit' to Port Said.

Mountbatten gave us the 'lowdown' on the passage there and asked us to put on a show of good behaviour, smart ships and dress during the visit. This we did and Mountbatten was Farouk's 'best friend' as the 5 day visit came to an end. Farouk told the two ships that he was so pleased with our visit that every man would receive a present from the King of Egypt. The 'present' was dished out to us on our way back to Malta, an orange and a box of Egyptian matches to each man. Mountbatten apologised for this by saying Farouk was really bonkers!

Schooling consisted of 3 half days a week of formal teaching by the Instructor Officer, subjects were Maths, English, History and Geography in a classroom in the ship, backed up by 'homework' in your spare time. There were about 6 of us CW candidates and, out of this bunch, I was the only one to go on, eventually, to become a fully commissioned Officer. Most of the others succeeded in becoming Warrant Officers much later on though. The wonderful Med' climate was not conducive to work of any sort. So, we all skived a lot. Daily work was invariably cleaning or painting ship.

The Quarterdeck, Officers' territory, was kept immaculate. The large expanse of deck was covered with teak planking lining the armoured steel deck underneath. We hosed down and scrubbed the teak deck every morning before breakfast. The minute the ship arrived in any harbour we would spread the huge canvas awning which shaded the entire Quarterdeck. This demanded at least 50 men to haul the rolled-up monster out of its locker and spread it over the central backbone wire, finally pulled taut by no less than 20 tackles.

During the Med. summer most Officers chose to sleep outside on camp beds on the Quarterdeck, but our awning 'roofs' were at a premium for space, the Forecastle and small areas amidships amongst the Boat and Gun Decks, so those who turned-in last had to gamble with the rain under the open sky. Our working dress through the long hot summer was simply a pair of shorts and sandals. We became very bronzed.

The ship's high side was painted overall every summer. Hundreds of us sailors worked on stages, a plank with 2 ropes for each pair of men, slung over the side, starting at the top and lowering yourselves at intervals until you had painted your section down to the waterline. Officially, once at sea level, you were supposed to step into the ship's boats complete with stage and paint pots and go up the gangway to start another section. But of course, sailors kept 'falling' into the blue cooling sea for an unofficial swim at every opportunity.

So, you've got the picture. Annual 'paint-ship', moored to a buoy in the middle of Grand Harbour, Malta, was an unruly, but always hilarious, carnival. It was also a contest of law and order. The 'law' were the agitated supervising Officers charged with completing paint-ship before dark. Every sailor who 'fell' into the sea was a delay for his allocated section. We not only 'fell in' for our own enjoyment but spent half our time untying the knot on one's neighbour's stage, for the 2 of the hapless 'stagers' to be catapulted into the sea, preferably from the highest point, together with their full pots of paint and brushes. In the meantime you spent half your working time defending your own stage from attacks from both sides.

The 'law', of course, had powers of punishments. You could be, and often were, charged with 'Deserting His Majesty's Ship, Euryalus, at Grand Harbour, at 1416 on Friday, the 8th day of July, in the Year of Lord, 1949' anytime you fell into the sea. This charge still carried a long prison sentence. So, at the subsequent Assizes, in front of the Commander, this charge would be watered down to 'Was negligent in carrying out duties properly assigned' and you were punished according to how the Commander assessed your real contribution to his 'paint-ship'. Anything from being let off if you were one of his good workers to 30 days loss of pay and leave if he knew you were an itinerant skiver.

Loss of pots of paint and brushes was much more serious. You were charged with 'Deliberate sabotage of Admiral's Stores' and since any Commander was rationed with paint and brushes to keep his ship pristine, he didn't 'water down' the charge and, if it was proved that it really was your fault, he would sentence you to 14 days' Extra Work, Drill, loss of pay and rum and loss of cinema and canteen privileges.

As a CW Candidate it was axiomatic that should never get an official sentence; it was the end of the line. I had some close shaves and the few times I was charged with any offence I was found 'Not Guilty'.

Sensible sailors, in the heydays of paint-ship, tied the brush and paint pot separately to their waists. I've seen less well prepared sailors swimming to depths of 30 feet to retrieve their slowly sinking paint pot after a 'fall in'.

At this time, 1949, it was 'de-rigueur' for Officers to pitch in and work at the especially objective tasks set to their men, but, fortunately, for good leadership, attitudes changed for the better and by the 1960s you could lead from the front!

My 16 months spent on board Euryalus was as an Ordinary Seaman until promoted to Able Seaman at age 19 years.

Benefits of becoming an AB were: more pay, eligible for daily Rum Ration and eligible for All Night Leave, previously you had to return onboard at midnight; now this was extended to 7am which meant you could sleep ashore in any of the many clubs (YMCA etc) or Bed and Breakfasts that catered for sailors in every port. Most important though, you were free of the Cinderella Syndrome of rushing to get back before the strike of midnight.

One of my several changes in job was to Officers Fast Motorboat Crew. Officers were ferried to and from shore or to other ships in sleek fast motorboats, while the sailors were ferried in large pinnaces, open to the elements. Quite a gruelling job. On duty for 24 hours at a time with 3/4 of the next 24 hours off. All the ship's boats were lowered and tied to booms sticking out from the ship's sides on arrival in any harbour. Each crew was made up of a Coxswain, Bowman and Sternsman. Every time a demand was made for your 'taxi' you had to clamber out along the boom and down a rope ladder to get into the boat, no mean feat in some of the Med.'s wicked winter gales. Your Officer passengers were collected and deposited at the large set of wooden stairs rigged down the side of the Quarterdeck. The crew, of course, had to keep their boat immaculate, which among other things, involved scrubbing it inside and out and polishing the brass work every morning at 5am.

When severe gales struck, all boats were ordered to 'lie-off' to prevent damage against the ship's side and you would ride out the storm underway staying close to the ship.

All the ship's boats were 'coxswained' by Leading Seaman and Petty Officers for the big pinnaces, except a small boat called the skimmer which was a very high speed 'flyer' carrying only the driver and one passenger, invariably the Captain. The driver was an AB and I was allowed this highly prestigious job for a couple of weeks. Most enjoyable.

Christmas, 1949, onboard Euryalus was also enjoyable. Day off for everyone. Special Christmas Lunch etc. The law turned a half blind eye to illicit drinks previously smuggled onboard and a benign attitude prevailed, just for Christmas Day!

The tour of duty for Officers and Men once posted to a 'foreign' Fleet was 2½ years, with no trips back to the UK for anyone. These foreign Fleets were: West Indies, based on Trinidad, The Med., based in Malta, The Far East, based at Singapore, the China Fleet, based at Shanghai. The Far East was subdivided to cover India, based at Trincomalee.

Once abroad, you clocked up one week's 'Station Leave' for every six months served on the station. Each station had built up over the years a variety of Leave Camps for Officers, NCO's and Ratings. Some of them were far better than modern day leisure hotel complexes; I went to the one for Ratings at Golden Bay, Malta. Run just like a hotel and the only required work of us 'guests' was to keep our living quarters clean. The great relaxation was to be out of the ship for a whole 7 days. Also, the luxury of sleeping in a bed, we are still sleeping in hammocks onboard.

Royal Marines

Every cruiser, battleship and aircraft carrier carried a detachment of RM's. In Euryalus we had approximately 30 Marines who were one turret's gun crew at Action Stations. Their routine duties onboard were mainly Sentry Duty in the Captain's cabin lobby, where the ship's rifles were stowed in racks; outside the ship's 4 cells when customers were in them (they were rarely empty in Euryalus) and keeping sentry on the Quarterdeck, under the Officer of the Watch, supervising entry and exit of anyone over the gangways, the only way into, or out of, the ship. They were the core of the ship's Landing and Boarding Armed Parties and had the machine guns (Brens) to support the sailors with rifles in the event of major armed landings against armed enemies. So, part of their time was devoted to training in the Infantry role, regular firings and marksmanship on the RN Ranges ashore and, when the ship was at sea for lengthy periods, sharp shooting practice at targets we put into the sea. Our Squadron of the 4 cruisers could land 800 sailors and Marines anywhere in the Mediterranean with no outside support. We practised this once in my time.

There was also the RN Band. It was divided in 4 sections, one to each of the 4 cruisers. The whole band numbered approximately 32, so each section was eight Bandsmen. Routine duties onboard included keeping a bugler supplied to the 'round-the-clock' watchkeeping Quarterdeck staff. The ship's daily routine was regulated by a series of bugle tunes starting with Reveille, announcing Stand Easy, Rum Issue, Dinner, Tea, Supper etc. all played by the bugler over the loudspeaker system. And, of course, Morning and Evening Colours when the Ship's Ensign was hoisted and lowered. The sections merged together to become a Full Band on ceremonial occasions, usually in the flagship Liverpool, or on the jetty abreast the cruisers in foreign ports. Each Band section was expected to play music for the entertainment of ships' companies when at sea after work hours, mini concerts on the Quarterdeck, most enjoyable.

HMS Defiance

The only way to go home before you had completed 2½ years on your Foreign Station was for advancing your professional ability. For Able Seamen this meant going to one of the Schools of Weaponry, Gunnery, Torpedo and Sonar, and Radar, all situated in the UK. I chose TAS (Torpedo and Sonar) and travelled by Troopship to join the TAS School in Plymouth named HMS Defiance. Firstly, you enjoyed your Foreign Service Leave, 2 days for every month served abroad, in my case 18 months, so 36 days' leave, based at home in Walsall and taking trips to stay with relatives in Wales.

HMS Defiance was a floating museum. It consisted of 3 wooden hulled ships, last of the RN's sail warships, moored together off a place called Wilcove on the Cornish side of Plymouth harbour. Tin roofs and covered gangways connecting the 3 hulls kept the Upper decks dry from rain and spread over the spacious decks were lots of modern huts serving as offices and classrooms.

How to operate sonars and detect and track submarines was taught in automatic purpose-built trainers fitted with the up-to-date sonars, now being built into frigates and destroyers, ashore at Wilcove. Travel to and from Defiance was by ships' boats plying the short distance regularly all day.

Torpedoes, stripping them down, re-fuelling, fitting warheads etc, were taught in the huge workshops below decks. Similarly, large workshops for practical teaching of mines, depth charges and mortar bombs (the modern depth charge) were also below decks. We Sonar men were not taught these heavy, oily subjects, they belonged to another breed of sailors called Torpedo men.

The living quarters were excellent. Old mess decks, originally accommodating hundreds of men, had been modernised to high standards to house very much smaller groups of sailors. Everyone onboard liked Defiance in preference to brick built shore barracks, no roads and the tranquillity of being cut off from the shore, a touch of the Robinson Crusoe's! However, the day of the bunk bed had still not arrived in ships, so we continued to sleep in hammocks.

My reports from Euryalus were excellent and basically said 'positive Officer material'. So, at the end of the 4-month Sonar Course I was held back in Defiance, my fellow Sonar men went off to join ships again, because the Captain (a TAS Officer) got the idea of not losing a potential Seaman Officer to our arch-rivals, the Gunners! As I well knew, two of the many steps to actually get to Dartmouth were that you had to have achieved the rank of Leading Seaman and also passed an academic exam called the Higher Educational Test. Defiance said they were going to get me through these two qualifications right now to speed up my progress towards Dartmouth. I was now aged 20 years. And ready to have a go at these two awesome goals.

The school exam (HET) would be the easier of the two for me, since I had been nibbling away at education since joining the Navy. Passing a formal Seamanship Board, constituted of a Captain, together with 8 Subjects, all entirely practical, was daunting at my age. The average age of 'new' Leading Seamen was 28.

Once again, the confidence that 'you can do it' came in large measures from my own Officers. Firstly, the Captain, by name Blundell, like Captain Parry of Euryalus, a veteran and survivor of a ghastly war which they had won, quietly said 'You have the ability and it is your duty to go forward'. Underscoring this gold plated testimonial as to your worth was the common knowledge that no senior post Captain RN would put forward to the prestigious Fleet Board a candidate who could not at least put up a tough, determined attempt over the two whole days the Board had to test you to the limit. Passing or failing was of no great consequence to this first unwritten requirement. So, while Defiance organised a learning programme for me, I was apprehensive.

Their training programme covered all skills tested in any Fleet Board:

  • Boat work: coxswain of a ship's sea boat (also the lifeboat for man overboard) which required VERY fast launching from the ship's davits, then Coxswain of pinnaces and launches of bigger sizes inside harbours.

    You had to be able to sail or row all these boats in the event of engine failure. Above all, safety of the men under your orders, the crew.
  • Martial skills: power of command over squads marching, landing platoons (armed) and armed Boarding Parties.Seamanship: take charge of men working anchors and cables, rig hawsers for towing another ship, rig sheerlegs' (a seaman's extempore crane) and lift a ½ ton weight.
  • Signalling: send and read messages by flashing light, semaphore and masthead flags.
  • And so on.

I had about 3 months preparation time in between my onboard jobs and got in plenty of practice with boats and taking charge of squads of sailors doing seamanship tasks.

1951

In the event I passed the Seamanship Board and was duly promoted to Leading Seaman early in 1951. Separate to this I also passed the HET exam.

My next move was to join HMS Devonshire; a big three-funneled cruiser adapted to give Dartmouth Cadets a taste of real seamanship for one Term before they completed their studies back ashore at Dartmouth. Here, I met up with fourteen or so other Sailor Candidates and, more or less, we remained the same bunch through our road to Dartmouth.

Manning the Devonshire was organised such that the Cadet Classes made up half the crew and suitably hand-picked Officers, NCOs and sailors made up the other half. Our half had to teach the Cadets in carrying out the day-to-day tasks of running a fully operational Fleet cruiser. Hilarious times, since you were encouraged to drive your Cadet Working Parties much harder than regular sailors.

Dangerous, occasionally, when these fledgling Naval Officers (about seventeen years old) made fundamental mistakes while hoisting and lowering boats in heavy seas, or manning the six-inch triple gun turrets for live firings etc. In my time onboard no Cadet perished, but we had some very close shaves and the ship's Sick Bay was always full of injured Cadets.

One bonus of serving in the Dartmouth Training Cruiser was the Term Cruises. These involved visits to 'choice' ports, like Copenhagen, Oslo, Lisbon, Gibraltar etc. often to Capital cities, since several Cadets, sons of European Royal Families, had been consigned to Dartmouth for their education. The Training Cruise involved carrying out war-like exercises with other units of the Home Fleet too.

At Gibraltar one of us CW Candidates was crossed off the 'List'. This was Michael Burke, son of an upper-crust Irish landowner. And we knew why, that father had frog-marched Michael into the RN Recruiting Office, insisting they took him into the Navy that very day, on his 16th Birthday! Michael had a brilliant mind and dazzling wit and on overdose of charm. But he was a lunatic! His pranks scared everybody, particularly the more refined Officers who saw Burke as an unexploded bomb about to go off any second! The Commander, John R Gower, a martinet, whom we would meet again at Greenwich College, was the only one who could handle Burke.

It was late morning at Gib. with everyone looking for Michael, long overdue from his shore leave the previous evening, when the Commander himself found Burke fast asleep on the Quarterdeck awning, clutching some charts and a sextant. At the subsequent Assizes he told his story. Became drunk ashore and fell in with a bunch of Irish travellers bent on stealing a yacht to sail around the world. It was agreed they would steal a yacht that night while Burke was to gather a navigational kit from the ship and be collected by them at Devonshire's gangway, thence off around the world, Burke navigating! He fell asleep on the awning while waiting for them. He was sent off to the Naval Detention Barracks in Portsmouth and unfortunately none of us ever heard about him again.

The new Captain of Devonshire was Dickie Onslow. Following the age-old tradition, the entire crew is mustered on the Quarterdeck for the new Captain to address us. 'Dickie' was known about for his daring battles, leading Destroyer Squadrons into action during the war and had a very good reputation with sailors. His face was similar to a bloodhound's wrinkled mug and his first words to us were 'I know I've got an ugly mug, but I can see a good number in front of me who would win the Ugly Competition well ahead of me, so I'm in good company!' He had us eating out of his hand from the word go. He went on, quite rightly, to become one of the Admirals on the Admiralty Board.

Towards the end of 1951 all fourteen of us CW Candidates from Devonshire were sent to our 'Prep' school at Victoria Barracks in Portsmouth, joining seven other CWs making us twenty-one in total.

Pay and Money Values

Pay as a Leading Seaman was now up to approximately £10 per week. At this time, you could buy:

  • A House for £600
  • Loaf of Bread 3d
  • A Car for £120
  • Pint of Milk 3d
  • A Bike for £12
  • 20 Cigs 12d
  • A Gramophone for £9
  • Pint of Beer 9d
  • A Suit for £12
  • Mars Bar 2d
  • Cinema 12d

The Navy still housed and clothed (uniform) and fed you free of charge, so your pay was unfettered. I was regularly saving small amounts at this stage. By now it was fashionably to go ashore in plain clothes rather than uniform, so we spent some of our pay on 'civilian' clothes.

Victoria Barracks

A barely modernised good quality Victorian set of buildings set around a huge parade ground in Southsea. It was shared between Royal Marines and Navy sailors. Our small detachment was self-contained. By this time our status as Officer Candidates was advertised with a white band showing just above the ship's name ribbon around your cap, marked men!

Victoria Barracks
Victoria Barracks

We lived in a spacious open dormitory and ate in the Barracks' Cafeteria. This spell was to be 3 months of uninterrupted academic studies, followed by exams, parade ground training and lots of sports games. The aim of this regime was to prepare us for the Admiralty Interview Board, your final and once only 'make or break' for anyone aspiring to become an Officer in the Royal Navy.

It was a relaxing three months with no 'work' work or duties to perform, just school and training. The Barracks were in the centre of Southsea, very accessible on foot or frequent buses to Portsmouth. Our 'pub' was the 'Still and West' on the waterfront at Portsmouth's narrow harbour entrance and our drink was Merrydown Cider, a lethal vintage brew normally sold in imitation champagne bottles, but uniquely sold out of barrels in this pub at the same price as pub beer. Women drank it out of wine glasses, men out of ½ pint glasses and us out of pint glasses.

At this age in life and in our optimistic situation, we were free spirits. Mortgages, jobs and careers, trades and professions, pension plans, packaged holidays, buying a car or house, hobbies, the real stuff of life which consumed everybody, except us! We were tough, reasonably intelligent and unburdened of the cares of life, free to enjoy our days and laugh a lot, with malice to no one. Hence our unfailing popularity with strangers in pubs, restaurants and public transport. We adopted the 'Still and West', put the pub on the map as a lively place to go in an evening and left it, like the Prospect of Whitby at Greenwich, to a prosperous future as top tourist attractions which they both remain today.

The old 'Still and West' was just what we were looking for. Flag stoned floors, strong wooden bench seats and tables, a wood fire which donated most of its smoke back into the room and originally built on the waterfront to capture the rough trade of selling huge quantities of cheap but strong alcohol to sailors who would only accept the very shortest journey to any inn. And it had a battered piano together with a matching player, Gladys. She was 60, painted and dyed, a voice like gravel and played the piano with demonic gusto. Our repertoire of endless bawdy rugby and sailor songs matched hers.

The 'noise' at times was deafening, particularly when we took visiting Rugby Teams out for the post-match evening. Our female camp followers were invariably WRENS and occasionally we had to assist in lifting one or more of them into the WRENS taxi when our dire warnings about the deadly effect of Merrydown had been ignored. Usually, on Saturday nights, we began the evening with a meal (mixed grills were favourites) and our favourite restaurant in Old Portsmouth was Monks Oyster Restaurant, still there too [1955].

The Admiralty Interview Board had its own establishment in Gosport complete with an overnight hotel for its Candidates sitting the Two-Day Board. The Board, one Admiral and five senior Captains, kept you under a microscope for the forty-eight hours you were imprisoned on the premises. Day One was a series of different practical tests where each of us in turn had to use the 'gang' to achieve the test set, like 'Get that field gun across a river' using the sparse dump of equipment (spars, ropes, shackles, timber pieces etc.) made available to us. We were physically tired at the end of this and happily bathed and changed to take our evening meal, Dinner, informally with the Board, chatting socially with them. We slept well that night.

Day Two was all interviews and short sharp written tests bounced on you at unexpected intervals. As well as interviews, separately, with each member of the Board, there was one with Admiralty's Psycho. Our considered opinion afterwards was that he was a nice gentle lunatic!

Towards early evening you presented yourself alone to sit at a very long polished table with the assembled Board sat the other side - a very lonely experience. A few final questions from them. Leave the room temporarily. Called back in for their verdict. They were kind and fatherly in their summing up of your performance, which included ice-cold criticism of your personal abilities and then gave their verdict.

I HAD PASSED (I nearly fainted!)

Out of twenty-four of us attempting that particular Board, twenty-one of us passed and, remember, we had been well filtered along the years leading to the Board. Nevertheless, we achieved one of the highest PASS rates of the Board since the war. I was in good company.

1952

In January 1952 we joined HMS Hawke, the self-contained establishment inside the grounds of Royal Naval College, Britannia, the official name of Dartmouth. We had arrived! We were not called Cadets or Midshipman, but Upper Yardmen, to differentiate us from Cadets, who had entered Dartmouth via the same Admiralty Interview Board from civilian schools. The Cadet, crystalising into Midshipman, had to undergo four or five years training before qualifying to be a Sub-Lieutenant, whereas we Upper Yardmen had already done this time in the RN so our duration at Dartmouth was condensed into one year to qualify us as a Sub-Lieutenant. And what a year it was!

The buildings were relatively modern, grouped in tidy fashion, situated near the Lower Gate, as opposed to the Main Gate, for entering the extensive grounds of the College. There was room to accommodate approximately 40 Upper Yardmen, 6 Officers, our Instructors, and approximately 10 Cooks and Stewards to feed us. There was an intake of new Upper Yardmen each Term (4 months), numbers of any Intake depending upon individual's success at passing the Board. Until we arrived, twenty-one of us, the Intakes since the war averaged only 6! Hence we presented the regime with a challenge of sheer numbers they had not met before. When we arrived that January, the Senior Term numbered five and the Middle Term was six. They called us, the Junior Term, the Horde!

Each Upper Yardman had a single room (a cabin) and communal bathrooms. The Staff Officers had bigger cabins and the Captain, a separate house. But we all shared the Mess, a large ante-room complete with Bar, the Dining Room, Reading Rooms and Billiard Room.

Life in Wardrooms was an important part of our training. There was a formal Guest Night Dinner every Thursday evening, to which two or three guests were invited. Like all smaller Wardrooms, we ran the Bar ourselves and each one of us was rotated through the jobs of Wine Caterer (buying in and keeping the Bar stacked with beer, wines and spirits) and the Mineral Caterer, similarly for the mixers. All drinks were 'paid' for by 'chits' until end of month when you were presented with your Mess Bill, which had to be paid promptly.

So, we lived with our 'Teacher' Officers very closely, every meal together daily etc, just like any Wardroom.

Daily Routine:

Mornings: Classroom studies of Maths, History, Geography, English, Astronavigation.

Afternoons: Sport; rugby, soccer, cricket, hockey, swimming, dinghy racing, cross-country running.

In winter, when the weather was too bad for field sports, we were ordered to boatwork on the River Dart or to cross-country runs, the afternoons outside activity was never cancelled for weather!

Evenings: Classroom studies again

Saturdays:

Mornings: Classroom studies

Afternoons: The Big Matc; Rugby, against local teams in Devon and Cornwall, occasionally against visiting sides, like Sandhurst and RAF Cornwall. Once a term we played the Officers and Masters of Dartmouth College, always a blood match with the Cadets cheering us on to defeat their lords and masters, which we did, just! And the last Saturday of term was reserved for us to play the Cadet 1st Team. They were approaching 18 years old and us 21 or 22. Hence the last Saturday of Term so any injured Cadets could recover during Leave rather than miss term time.

We knew our team had to build up a big score during the first half, because, as the battle went on, the younger Cadets were not as breathless and could run at full speed right to the final whistle, whilst our running speeds flagged towards the end of the game. Nevertheless, we were expected to win by reputation and maintain our place at the top of the League. It was always a much-prized scalp to beat our Upper Yardmen Team of 1951.

Evenings: Always a booze-up at Home or Away. Home meant a massive tea after the game for the visitors and ourselves, then into our Bar where the visitors enjoyed free beer at our expense until the pre-poured buckets ran dry. Thence to our 'pub' the Dartmouth Arms, for a free-for-all rowdy night of rugby songs.

When there wasn't a Match, we treated ourselves to a mixed grill at the pub before the serious drinking. Away games produced marvellous hospitality from the local clubs, who had their wives, mothers and girl-friends to cook and serve us.

Little Dartmouth town was very friendly to us Upper Yardmen since their only other customers from the College were the Staff Officers and Tutors. The Cadets could only visit the town on Saturday afternoons to consume tea and cakes, whereas we drank pubs dry.

Dartmouth had a good sprinkling of town characters too. All these were our cronies and enjoyed drinking and yarning with us. The milkman was Sir Jeremy Hinds, aristocrat fallen on hard times. The Bookshop was owned by Christopher Robin's son. (Mr. A A Milne, who wrote 'Winnie the Pooh' and other books, died in 1996). The Dartmouth Arms pub was owned by one of Wingate's Chindits. And the local fishermen and river ferrymen were kindred spirits. Otherwise most local people worked at the College, cleaners, caterers and groundsmen.

Sundays: Church at College Chapel or Dartmouth town Church. Rest of the day was free time. Occasionally, when the weather was fine, we would travel to Paignton by train for a Sunday day out and, in the summer, take picnics to the local beaches and swim.

One week of the year was spent living in London as part of our education. We took accommodation in the Navy equivalent of the YMCA where prices were subsidised and left more of our Living Allowance to spend in pubs in the evenings.

Our Officers took us to the usual places, Houses of Parliament, hosted by the Navy Minister; to Lloyds of London (did you know they have most of Nelson's artefacts in their private memorial Nelson Museum?) to most of the Palaces as official visiting groups; major Museums and Art Galleries.

One whole day was given up to a visit to Sandhurst Army College where we met our Cadet soldier counterparts. Sandhurst had just opened the newly thought of Indian Army Museum inside the College, bursting with bloodthirsty relics of that Army's two turbulent centuries spent subdividing India to British rule. They had to drag us away from it. By coincidence, The Festival of Britain had just opened in Battersea Park, so another whole day flew by amidst those glittering novelties.

In our own time, freelance in the evenings, we sought out the livelier pubs and nightspots of London Town. A great week.

Also included into our busy year at Dartmouth was a visit to Farnborough Annual Air Show. This year was the unveiling of the Vulcan Bomber, whose display flight was deafening. And a visit, overnight, to the RAF's Officer Cadet College at Cranwell. The Army and Navy get along well with very similar codes of daily life.

Neither Army nor Navy get along easily with the RAF, chiefly because of their differing codes of life, made up in the few hurried years of their new existence. What really offended was RAF's stiff determination to live life differently to that lived by Navy and Army Officers, which resulted in petty rules which brooked no criticism or humour. For better or worse, we viewed RAF people as pompous twits.

The Journal

And the hardest task of our year. In it you recorded the events of every day, to be written in succinct, grammatically correct English prose, containing your own views and opinions on topics pertaining to these events.

Your Journal, mighty tome, had to be handed to the Captain dead on 6pm every Friday night. Woe betide you if you missed this deadline.

He would read them, make written comments and return them to us over the weekend with the general grading of POOR, SATISFACTORY or GOOD.

As the year went on, if you collected too many 'POOR's, you were given a severe warning that your final assessment of Pass or Fail to become an Officer was in jeopardy. Most of us breathed weekly sighs of relief with 'SATISFACTORY's. 'GOOD's were rare indeed. One week, Ronnie Laughton who came from a noble Scottish family (his Aunt was Director General of WRENS during the war) and our best rugby player, biggest collector of 'POOR's and already under the cloud of one warning, came in to collect his Journal and whooped with glee. He said, "The Captain likes me! He has signed my Journal with his nick-name!" Since we all knew the Captain had no nickname, we put this scrawl under the magnifying glass to read 'SCRAPPY'. Ronnie was deflated for weeks! At one stage we tried to help him by dictating things to write, but the Old Man bowled this out at first glance of Ronnie's pages, so he was doomed to waiting under the gaze of the Duty Staff Officer.

Where is my Journal? They were official Admiralty books, deposited in the vaults of Admiralty when we left Dartmouth. Are they still there? Two members of our Team were 'failed' before year-end Finals. The first went towards the end of our first term with the common agreement of ourselves (not that we were consulted in any way!). A chap who had everything going for him, from a well-off family, but stricken with a supercilious and cynical streak, which sailors would resent in an Officer. He was returned to the Lower Deck Navy and recommended for release to civilian life.

The second, who went in our 3rd and final term, was Reggie Rocke. We were divided in our opinion; half of us considered Reggie to be good Officer material; the other half, not. His going was not swift since we had to await Admiralty decisions in this, a borderline case. One feature against him was his determined stance not to alter his soft rural Herefordshire accent. The Navy's pragmatic case for subduing strong regional accents was two-fold:

(i) Efficiency in battle calls for CLEAR orders from the Officers whether over radio, telephone or loudspeaker or simply the spoken word. It must never be mis-understood in the heat of battle.

(ii) Peacetime role of the RN involves deliberate diplomacy on behalf of our country and is implemented by our ships being sent to foreign countries as floating ambassadors. Once there they expected to hear English speech devoid of strong provincial or regional accent.

Reggie's argument was that many good men had served this country throughout history without surrendering their home accent and he wasn't going to surrender his.

There were, of course, other factors for scrutiny and debate, all distilling down to the crux, was Reggie going to be totally committed to Her Majesty's Royal Navy? The balance tipped against Reggie, who went on to a talented and successful career on the Lower Deck, becoming a Chief Petty Officer and, finally, a Warrant Officer.

Nearly forgot to remind you that King George VI died in January 1952. We were hurriedly mustered on the small parade ground, in formal uniform, not knowing why, until the Captain appeared in full dress uniform and sword straight to the dais. "Gentlemen, I regret to have to inform you the King is dead. Long live the Queen". That was all.

The Captain left

The Staff Officers, also assembled, then told us, quietly, that we would observe the official mourning period, I think it was ten days, by wearing black armbands and cancelling all social engagements. And that all uniform gilt buttons bearing a King's Crown would be exchanged within a day or so with replacement buttons embossed with a Queen's Crown. We were all quite sad, for we all liked King George and remembered he too had undergone the rigours is attending and graduating from Dartmouth College, little changed since his day.

The College possessed fleets of small boats, sailing dinghies, rowing boats, motorboats and 50 square metre (sail area) yachts, all berthed in an enormous Boathouse and Yard in the river. This 'factory' was staffed by Admiralty civilians, all qualified shipwrights and engine mechanics, who kept this hard-used fleet in tip-top condition.

The yachts, which had bunks for five, were seized off Germany at the end of the war and were excellent, fast sea-goers. One of the fleet of ten yachts was allocated for the sole use of us Upper Yardmen. They kept their German names. Ours was SEE BREEZE, the others, all 'SEE's, SEE SPRAY, SEE MIST etc.

One weekend in early winter, the First Lieutenant, George Cousins, a top-notch seaman, took four of us on a trip to Falmouth. We sailed on Friday eyeing and, after a rough night at sea, put into Falmouth that night. When we awoke on Sunday morning a severe gale was blowing, so it was planned to have a leisurely lunch onboard and sail for Dartmouth in the afternoon, when, hopefully, the storm would have eased somewhat. Some hope!

We finally sailed mid-afternoon, the only craft going out, scores of trawlers coming in for shelter. One or two of them shouted across to us to turn around and stay in harbour, which we didn't and heard faint shouts of "You're mad" from the fishermen. I was apprehensive. George was a known expert yachtsman and not given to rash decisions, but his quiet confidence that we should be back at Dartmouth in time for Monday classes stretched my faith in him. My eyes were fixed on the huge running seas outside the harbour and my short experience as a mariner told me it was really bad out there. And it was.

We steered the mountainous seas to put as much distance between us and the coastline as possible. We reduced to just a small foresail shortly after passing the breakwater and before dark the wind had increased to Force 12, making too much strain on even this small foresail, so we took that down too. Now we were sailing in bare masts, but quite enough to keep us moving ahead plus steerage, as long as we kept her head to wind. The yacht was permanently keeled right over to the gunwales and it needed two of us in the cockpit to keep the tiller forced up to hold this heading. By now George admitted his decision to sail had been wrong but, returning to harbour was out of the question, we would have been smashed on the rocks at the harbour approaches. So we were committed to riding out the storm, hove to, under bare poles, off Eddystone Lighthouse for that black night.

We took half-hourly turns on the tiller in pairs. Peter (Granny) Perry with me, John Caughey and Reggie Rocke, the other watch. George gave a hand all round in-between his dozes. The off-watch pair, down in the waterlogged cabin, would hand-pump out the flooded bilges before dozing.

In the middle of the night an extra big roller broke the after-locker hatch away from its fixing, an emergency to be dealt with instantly before the waves breaking over us filled the big compartment below. George worked like a demon possessed and between us all we got a lash-up cover in place sufficient to stop the sea flooding the compartment. In those days a yacht was a yacht. No engine or radio. Only a compass and a stove to cook on (ha, ha). We carried red Distress Flares and knew the Eddystone Lighthouse would see them. So, we kept the flares close to hand in the event of the mast breaking or rudder being smashed. At 4am-ish morale does a natural dip and, by then, the night Watches were sapping our strength. Peter's conversation (you talked to keep your spirits up) took a tack to the morbid. What a pity he hadn't made a Will and who would pay his laundry bill he'd meant to pay last week etc. I was quite rude to him and let my temper go, spiced with some choice swearwords, to the general effect that I was fed up with him, fed up with this ridiculous yacht, fed up with the First Lieutenant, George, and vowed I'd never go to sea again in anything smaller than the Queen Mary.

There was some faint hand clapping from below at the end of my tirade and Peter laughed his head off. I felt better too!

Shortly after dawn the wind moderated slightly, but, more importantly, shifted in direction more favourable for a 30-mile dash to Salcombe River, our closest port. And this we did with a fully reefed foresail giving us good speed over the ground. We made Salcombe and moored to a buoy about 2 miles upriver. George raced off to 'phone the College before they started searching for us. We were more than happy to flake out on deck in weak sunshine in our waterlogged oilskins and sink into deep sleep.

Revived, we made the short passage to Dartmouth, eating slabs of corned beef sandwiches washed down with piping hot cocoa en route and berthed back at Dartmouth late Monday evening. George's last remark as we trudged uphill to a bath and a night's sleep was "find out from the others what you missed in Monday's classes and catch up in spare time". He wasn't joking either!

Characters

All of us were oddballs in one way or another, that's why we achieved Dartmouth, rubber-stamp conformers had no place in the RN The more colourful amongst us was:

Ernie Lourme, Canadian Navy, who got away with murder under the real RN excuse of "Oh, well, he's a Colonial, what do you expect!" Oldest of all us, Ernie was a very amusing extrovert with a quasi-American/Canadian accent. He was not stopped from greeting visiting Admirals with a slap on the back and a gushing "Gee, Admiral, you know, it's a great honour for me to be allowed to shake your hand". They loved it. If a Brit did that, we'd get a severe reprimand.

His kindred spirit up at the College was Count Paderewski, a Pole, who escaped Poland and fought with The Allies in the war, now a Staff Tutor and, yes, related to the Polish pianist. Ernie frequently invited the Count as his private guest to our weekly Guest-night dinners. And the two of them would be one of our 'cabarets' in the Bar after dinner. They were perfect foils for each other. Ernie's brash Canadian New World style bouncing off the Count's impeccable aristocratic demeanour. The Count was very fond (of course) of fine brandy, which Lourme would ply him with jugfuls, while the Count had a mission to persuade Ernie that vodka would alleviate Lourme's intolerable colonial rawness. And the two of them would play our battered Mess piano with our more than enthusiastic approval, particularly Paderewski's Cossack, leg-kicking dance tunes.

Then there was Benjy Leach. Son of a devout Welsh miner. Physical appearance, short, squat, broad shouldered, large head and big conk, with walking gait consistent with giant springs strapped to his feet. He was an intellect, a radical and permanent humourist. When he got out of hand with drink, which he loved, we literally had to sit on him to stop his execution of pranks dangerous to himself and usually harmful to furnishings and fittings in his vicinity. One Saturday evening, late on in the Dartmouth Arms, we suddenly became aware of his absence and started searching; we found him atop of the statue, centrepiece of Dartmouth's' town fountain in the main Square, talking to the duty policemen, patiently waiting for Ben to climb down. As the policeman transferred the responsibility of Ben's rescue to us, he said, with great conviction: "That gentleman up there is the most interesting person I've ever spoken to.

Gerry Williams, another Welshman, played scrum half for the Navy, renowned for his endless repertoire of very amusing Welsh Rugby songs which he sang with a trained and talented voice.

Bill Thornily, a Cornishman, just 5ft. 6in. but built of reinforced concrete. Played full back and many 6ft. plus giants on the way to score a try against us, with only Bill left between him and our try-line, suffered Bill's crunching tackle and the shock of crashing to the ground, winded. And so on.

Our Final Exams fell in late December 1951, completing the one-year course to become Officers. Serious business this. The exams took the best part of a week and would result in one of three outcomes:

  • Pass Instant Commission to Acting Sub Lieutenant.
  • Borderline Fail Complete one more term and try exam again.
  • Fail Leave the Navy

We had competed seven of the eight Exams by Thursday, with only Navigation left to do on the Friday. But, it had been arranged by us to have a Farewell Party at the home of a local landowner, a friend of ours throughout the year and indeed his family. His Manor Farm was 3½ miles up country from the College. We walked, of course, and had a splendid evening, homemade cider, hams and a baron of beef. Outside, unbeknown to us, a blizzard was raging.

We left after midnight into the teeth of the blizzard at a lively pace since drifts were already building up. It was a difficult walk and the only bloke to lose his sense of humour was Ernie Lourme, who slipped continually in his high fashion poncey shoes bought from Harrods. We laughed. He didn't. His raving was a thesis of 'All Brits were thick as planks, evidenced by their living in the worst climate in the world'.

We lost our way several times as snowdrifts covered the narrow country lanes. But eventually the dim lights of the College appeared below us and we were safe and warm in our beds at 2.30 am We completed the last exam starting at 9 o'clock next morning. A close shave. Most of us passed our Finals. Ernie Lourme was put back one term and then passed.

Now, in the last week of term before Christmas Leave, events moved at lightning speed. Admiralty gave you a lump sum of money to buy Officers' uniforms and you, individually, chose a ceremonial tailor to fit you out. Most of us chose Gieves, the best and most expensive. Gieves and the other Naval tailors had measured us back in mid-term and, of course, had pre-empted our Finals on the gamble that most of us would pass. So, it was no surprise to find that final fittings of uniforms began as soon as results were out. Within three days of passing we were dressed in Sub-Lieutenants' uniform. The full kit was enormous:

  • >3 Day Reefer Uniforms
  • 1 Mess Undress (Evening Kit) + 6 boiled shirts
  • 1 Overcoat
  • 1 Raincoat
  • 3 Action Dress outfits
  • 2 Caps
  • 1 Sword
  • 3 Pairs Shoes
  • 1 Pair Evening Dress Shoes
  • 1 White Waistband for Ball Dress

Tropical Kit:

  • 6 Sets of shirts and shorts and log stockings (Day Dress)
  • 3 Ice-Cream Suits (Best Dress)
  • 3 White Monkey Jackets (Evening Dress)
  • 1 Cumberband
  • 2 Pairs White Buckskin Shoes
  • 6 Sets of Shoulder Epaulettes

And, last of all, a long black metal trunk which would take about 1/3 of the above uniform, designed for sea- cargo, when posted abroad. Minor items, like an Officer's Identity Card, books and manuals, came from the College 'factory'. The very last day of term was the ceremonial 'Passing out' Parade. Parents and families invited, my mother and sister, Jean, came, and an Admiral to officiate.

Thence off home with our mountains of baggage for Christmas Leave and to await our appointments to ships. My appointment came by post at home on 21st December 1952. Their Lordships directed me to join HMS Woodbridge Haven, a frigate, in Portsmouth Dockyard, on the 8th. January 1953. Which I did, leaving all my Tropical Kit in store at home.

HMS Woodbridge Haven
HMS Woodbridge Haven

She was a nice, small class of frigate with a fair bit of deck and accommodation space, built with two reciprocating engines (old fashioned, slow, but immensely reliable) and was based on the Clyde, under the Senior Officer, Clyde. Her duties were to act as 'pretend killer' of submarines for the Clyde Squadron of Submarines to practice against. Her complement was very small while employed on this peacetime training role. Her Captain was Lt Cdr Longbottom; First Lt. was just a junior Lieutenant; Navigator a Sub Lt; a Warrant Officer, Gunner and Engineer, just 5 Ship's Officers plus me for four months' training (ha! ha!); with so few Officers I knew I would be given a share of real duties and that would be my training. In at the deep end again.

We sailed from Portsmouth for the Clyde on 9th. January. Once there it was straight to work, day running in the Clyde approaches for submarines to practice themselves against us and securing to a buoy in Rother Bay every night. Longbottom made me an Officer of the Watch as soon as I joined, as OOW you drove the ship, with the Captain close at hand by bell or voice pipe when emergencies arose.

1953

The Captain taught me, on the Bridge for a few hours that first day, the somewhat complicated rules for manoeuvring as a submarine target/attacker ship.

Ship and submarine were allocated a box area on the chart. Adjacent box areas were allocated to other ships and submarines. You were responsible for your own submarine's navigation once she had dived to make sure she did not collide with the ships and submarines next door. The ship steered complex zigzags set down in the Admiralty Manual.

The submarine had to steer towards you and attack with 'pretend' torpedoes, he fired a red Grenade Flare to simulate firing torpedoes. Then you would both open out to start another Attack Run, about twelve to fifteen runs a day was normal.

To get in position for a torpedo attack the submarine would have to expose his periscopes several times, albeit for just a few seconds. Our job, the OOW and his two lookouts, was to sight that periscope and then the OOW broke away from the zigzag and steered at Full Speed to ram the periscope! It was entirely the submarine's responsibility to go deep before you rammed her! The first time I did this, with Longbottom at my elbow, my nerves were taut as we sped over the patch of water where the periscope had been, praying there would be no grinding collision which meant instant death to the submarine. You got used to it in time, but we later heard of several close shaves when the submarine was late or slow in his act of plunging deep and safe below your keel.

After a couple of Attack Runs, that first day, the Captain said, "Okay, Gerrish, you've got the hang of it. All yours; I'll be in my cabin if you need me".

And so you learned, very fast in the hot seat, so much so that by the end of the my month you were competent in command of the ship involved with Runs of three frigates being attacked by two submarines in the one box at high attack speeds.

On Sunday we were resting moored to a buoy in Rothesay Bay. HMS Contest, a destroyer, was the only other warship in Rothesay Bay that weekend, similarly moored to a buoy and she happened to be Duty Emergency Ship that day. It was blowing a severe Gale Force 9. At noon we received the first news that the Stranraer to Larne (Scotland to Ireland) Ferry, SS Princess Victoria, was encountering mountainous seas on her short passage to Larne. At about 1 o'clock the Ferry reported 'difficulties' with the stern doors, but repairs progressing.

At three pm the Ferry's Master reported 'more difficulties with the repairs to the stern doors' and asked for a ship to stand by him. HMS Contest was despatched and at 'best speed'. The storm was worsening. At five pm the Ferry reported 'taking in water around the stern doors' and we were ordered to sail as well. Shortly after five pm we got the desperate signal from the ferry 'Am sinking'. Contest was still crashing through the huge seas to get to her and arrived just after the Princess Victoria had sunk, with the seas littered with dozens of wooden life rafts and three hundred and seventy men, women and children floating in life jackets. The Irish Lifeboat at Donaghadee was nearest to the disaster and rescued fourteen souls out of the sea. Contest saved another fourteen. They were the only ones saved out of the three hundred and seventy. It was dark, bitterly cold and icy winds of eighty mph turning the sea into a maelstrom. Most of the passengers died from cold within minutes of entering the sea.

We arrived on the scene at seven pm and joined the frantic rush search of going to every torchlight, attached to the lifejackets, to see if the wearer was still alive. The storm was dispersing the bodies, life rafts and debris over a very large area. The two warships were joined, as the night went on, by merchant ships diverted to the area.

Our sailors had to be roped with lifelines because the seas were rolling in over our decks and you would be swept overboard without a lifeline. The Bridge wasn't much better off, the standard open Bridge design of those days, as seas would break over occasionally, but always drenched with wind-washed spray. Conning the ship was okay since you had the pedestal compass to hang onto but, navigating on the paper chart, waterlogged, in the cupboard at the front of the bridge, was a nightmare. The Captain, of course, was conning the ship and two of us took turns in being OOW to assist him. All four of us took turns in taking charge on deck, ready with scrambling nets and lifelines to rescue survivors, there was no question of lowering a boat. It soon became clear the most important job for the Deck Officer was not to lose any of our own sailors overboard.

By ten pm that foul night we must have brought the ship close alongside over one hundred 'torch lights' and stopped just long enough to examine the 'wearers' very closely under our powerful searchlights for any sign of life. Sometimes it was just one person, dead in the lifejacket, sometimes clusters of two, three or four. And the wooden life rafts had torches too, so we examined those. Sometimes there would be dead people who had tied themselves or been tangled up in the life rafts' ropes.

By now all of us at the scene knew only a miracle would produce even one person alive. The ferry's two big main lifeboats had been found earlier on, upside down. We knew they were empty because the violent seas occasionally rolled them upright for us to look into.

So, we organised a planned search on the chart, allocating the two warships and three merchant ships with boxes on the chart for each of us to search methodically, throughout the night. I took over as OOW for the Middle Watch, midnight to 0400, found things had quietened down and the five ships all steering legs inside their own search boxes. The Captain, exhausted, went to rest in the bunk at the back of the Bridge about 0100.

At about 0300 the merchant ship in the box next to me suddenly turned the wrong way out of her box and right across my bows. She was a big ship too, almost like a liner. No time to wake the Captain, I took violent evasion manoeuvres and we passed safely under her stern. The Captain arrived just as I was manoeuvring clear of the merchant ship. He realised what had happened and said I had acted just as he would have done. I had his complete trust from now on.

The search for anyone still alive was called off next morning and we spent the rest of Monday recovering the dead bodies, gruesome. We landed our 'mortuary', about seventy, in Belfast on the Tuesday and returned to Target Training for submarines in the Clyde areas.

One of my several duties was Boarding and Landing Officer. It was arranged that the Armed Landing Parties of Contest - and ourselves - would carry out an exercise on the remote end of Rothesay Island. Contest's contingent were to act as rebel guerrillas and my Platoon had to land, find them and engage them. The ship's boats landed us as close to the target hills as possible and off we set following compasses and maps on a raw day in February. We tramped for hours through marshland and bogs, ate our meagre rations, lugging our rifles, Brens and radios. Frequently lost on the map and soaked by incessant rain. We never saw a solitary soul, never mind Contest's Platoon. My orders were to return to the jetty in Rothesay town and signal for a boat before 8 pm that night. That was a distance of six miles. Hardly had we started back on the coast road when a bus trundled along so in we piled. It was days later before the Captain learned about our bus 'lift' and was furious! It was having drinks in Contest that the two Captains squeezed all the details from me and my opposite number in Contest (also in the dog-house, they were worse lost than us) and it all simmered down to a big joke. Sailors aren't soldiers!

I enjoyed my four months at Woodbridge Haven and learned a lot and left with a good report to join the RN College, Greenwich, after my Easter Leave.

So, at Greenwich, the twenty of us ex-Upper Yardmen Sub-Lts were re-united and to meet the one hundred or so ex Cadet/Midshipman/Sub-Lts who were to be our term mates for the next two years. Their intake included Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, Indians and Pakistanis, all undergoing British training until joining their own Navies as fully qualified Sub-Lts

We had to complete two terms of 'General Studies' at Greenwich before starting eighteen months of intensive Navy Training, Gunnery, Torpedoes, Navigation etc. at the great Schools spread around Portsmouth.

Greenwich taught nothing Navy. We were allowed to choose some subjects of interest to oneself and all of us studied English History, English Language and Mechanics. I added a study of World War 1 and studies of the British Theatre to this list. The Tutors were mainly civilians, Honours Degree men and a sprinkling of Navy Officer Teachers, plus one Army Major on the teaching staff who was my tutor for World War 1 Studies. Perks of studying theatre were the constant supplies of free tickets to most shows in London! Penalty was being cajoled to join College's Amateur Dramatic Group who put on one blockbuster play each term in the high league groups around London who vied with each other and vied with the pros. This was not my scene at all and skived out by 'achieving' small bit parts. One play was Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 2 which rambled away for three hours. The leading parts took all their spare time for the whole Term, learning their lines and rehearsing.

Sport was predominant. Each Term numbered approximately one hundred and twelve Sub-Lts, making two hundred and twenty-four very fit cookies to make up teams. The College ran a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Rugby team. Similarly, for Hockey. We ran only two Soccer teams.

I graduated from the 4th to the 3rd Rugby team and played in the 2nd Hockey team. The fixtures involved all the top-drawer teams around London, Barts, Guys, London University, Sandhurst etc. and Hockey Fixtures were centred around Tunbridge Wells, the Mecca for English Hockey.

The leagues played away every Wednesday and Saturday and the away games took us to most interesting places with fabulous post-game evening parties.

Living In The College

Allocated three to a room, sparsely furnished, but huge sized rooms, with communal bathrooms spread around the long corridors. All meals in the wonderful Painted Hall, served by ex-Servicemen civilian stewards. Solid silver antique cutlery and tableware and the College's own chinaware. We lived well. The main Bar was underneath the Painted Hall, devoid of anything smacking of modern living comforts. Just about the same as a large 18th Century London tavern, flag stoned floors, dim lighting and very little furniture, but endless space and a very long bar for service. Even the ashtrays were the copper Spit kids salvaged from the old sailing ships, which sat on the flagstones (the spit kids, not the sailing ships!). And we loved the 'Dungeon'. You were not distracted by bric-a-brac and ornaments from the sole object of downing a good pint in very lively company and endless risqué yarning.

The College above ground is built upon a labyrinth of stone walled tunnels and corridors leading to storerooms and the like. When you got to know the geography well, on rainy days, you could get to any College building without getting wet. Except to the WRENS' Quarters, where the underground corridor leading to that tempting sanctuary had been shut off with iron gates which Colditz would have been proud of!

We stayed as a group of ex-Upper Yardmen for 'pubbing' and did the same for the 'Prospect of Whitby' on the riverfront at Wapping as we had for 'Still and West' in Southsea. Getting there wasn't easy, through the Blackwall road tunnel.

Very few Sub-Lts owned a car. Bill Thornily inherited a stately old Hillman Minx from an aunt. The record for crushing passengers inside and hanging on the outside was a total of twelve. Chris had a Bullnose Morris, an antique even then. And Frank Sprague had a ridiculous sports car with the largest bonnet ever built, leaving two seats for normal passengers. We squeezed in four!

So, this fleet of three weird models somehow got us to and fro the Prospect most evenings. There were no Drink/Drive laws in those days otherwise we would have been imprisoned for life. Travel into and around London was easy and cheap; trains, Tubes or buses.

Our spending money didn't go far in London. We were always skint. Two extra sources of nightlife income we quickly tapped were WRENS or American tourists.

The contracts were very simple:

  • WRENS - we will take you to 'Prospect' if you buy our beer
  • Yanks - we will let you join in with our singing and antics if you keep buying us beer

Most of us went up to London on the night before Coronation Day to enjoy the parties and extra 'buzz' as the crowds poured into London. A few of us returned to the College at about dawn, to bathe, change into dry clothes and breakfast before going 'Up West' again. Unbeknown to me then, Hazel was one of the sightseers and probably we passed very close to each other. We had no special advantages and had to jostle for sites which would give a good view of the Queen and the procession. The end-of-term Ball was always a grand occasion, more so this summer of 1953 with London packed with nobs attending the Coronation.

Summer Leave from Greenwich was ridiculously long, seven weeks, and most of us used the time to earn extra money ready for the next term's demands. I worked with a farm near Walsall and clocked up a little extra cash plus a good workout for flabby muscles.

We said goodbye to Greenwich College in December 1953 and, after Christmas Leave, all of us turned up at Portsmouth. There were nine Schools we all had to pass there, so we were split up into nine Groups, approximately fourteen Sub-Lieutenants to each Group.

1954

My group started at HMS Deadalus, the Fleet Air Arm's HQ at Lee-on-Solent, in January 1954. We had to work now. All nine Courses were towards qualification for the rank of Lieutenant. Examination failures meant back-classing and ultimately sacking.

The four week 'Air' Course was crammed will all aspects of Naval air warfare. From time to time we would break off from classroom studies to grab flights in fighters and helicopters. Hairy times! My worst one was in a Sea Fury (maritime version of the Spitfire) piloted by a bloke demobbed after the war but doing his mandatory few flying hours required by the Reserve regulations. Him in front, me behind and off we go for a training flight over the Channel.

He mistakenly thought we were budding Fleet Air Arm pilots and gave the plane to me for practice and in a short time, with him as Instructor, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, climbing, diving and turning over the Isle of Wight and Solent. Then to my alarm he said over the headset, "Thanks, that gave me time to familiarise these new controls, which have altered considerably since my last flip a year ago". And that he had to complete a set list of manoeuvres - loop the loop, side rolls, max. speed dives etc. He put the Sea Fury to full speed and did all these dreadful things which produced those G-forces that paralyse the body until the plane levels out. We landed easily, switched off, shook hands and off he went back to his solicitor's office in London. I went to my bunk to lie down!

It was a busy Air Station; squadrons from carriers coming and going, training flights all the time for qualifying Pilots and Observers, flights to test new weapons, radars etc. Occasionally our Instructors would take us out for airfield work, pulling chocks away, bat manning planes coming in etc. Once we galloped out to help with an emergency landing of 6 Trainer planes, pilots on the first solos, who had been diverted from their parent Air Station through bad weather. Their first approaches to this (for them) unfamiliar airfields were horrifying. Too high, too low, too fast, too slow, too nose up or completely out of line with the runway. They were 'talked' to open the throttle and go around again several times, until, one by one, they all landed, with bumps, stalls and smoke coming from brakes. Tough little aeroplanes these single-seater Trainers.

Night flying was part of our training. The 'plane, a Sea Prince was used; a twin-engined, 12 passenger, work-horse and this we fitted out as a navigation classroom - cold, dark and bumpy nights, learning air navigation on flights around Biscay.

We enjoyed our four weeks at Lee-on-Solent. It was a friendly and lively Wardroom to live in, quite different from the more strait-laced mainstream Navy, whose nickname for Fleet Air Arm people was "Airy Fairies". They spoke of us a "Fish heads".

HMS Victory. (Not Nelson's preserved Flagship of the same name, but the huge sprawling Barracks next to the Dockyard, right in the centre of Portsmouth).

We moved to the Victorian Wardroom here at the end of January during a very cold snap of ice and snow. We were billeted two to a cabin. These rooms had open coal fires for heat. The Stewards would clean out and lay a fire ready for lighting each day and leave a strict ration of one scuttle of coal. Coming in freezing cold from the day's classes, we lit our fires and piled on the coal which was consumed by early evening. We quickly learned how to rustle from other inmates, public rooms and the outside dump guarded by sailor sentries!

We were here for 3 weeks to learn Naval Administration. The Law of the Navy, embodied in The Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions (QR and AI), had to be learned almost by heart. Also, the multitude of Forms and Documents that had to filter out of your ship to your Squadron Commander, him to his C-in-C and each C-in-C, finally to Admiralty. Some Forms were sent weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, some ½ yearly and a whole batch of annuals! Woe betide any ship which was late with any of these returns. The only relief from days of grinding 'Office' work was an occasional visit to listen-in-to Trials taking place in the Civil Courts or a Court Martial and a visit to the Royal Naval Detention Quarters (Prison), a chilling experience of an Establishment, which, in those days, was always full of inmates, undergoing an extremely harsh punishment routine.

HMS Pheonix. Taught Officers and men how to fight fire, flood and radiation from enemy damage inflicted on your ship. And how to protect your ship's company from attack by gas or germs. We moved to this prefab School for a two-week course, though remained billeted in Victory, bussing daily to and from Pheonix.

During the war there had been an ever-increasing mad rush in gas and germ warfare research by both sides. Fortunately, the war ended before these ghastly killing agents were ready for use. All of it had been top-secret, but now, in 1954, we had to learn how to combat enemy attacks using gas or germ shells or bombs, since Russia had these ready for use in her arsenals. They explained the effect on humans, and it was grisly. The newly invented Nerve Gases were probably the worst out of all these lethal ways to kill people. One shell bursting anywhere near to your ship would have the entire crew dead in six to seven seconds, if you did not protect each individual. The several seconds to die was dreadful!

Almost instant paralysis apart from violent involuntary twitching, until the last spasm when you were dead. And there was no antidote. So, we learned, with very keen interest, about the protective clothing and masks, rapidly becoming available in R.N. ships, to stop this stuff from touching your body. With Nerve Gas it only had to be a microbe touching your skin to kill you.

Germ warfare was mind-boggling. The shell or bomb again to release the Germ cloud which had been made from germs that put The Plague, Black Death, Yellow Fever etc. in the shade. You were given the sentence of an hour or so to die if you ingested one sniff of this stuff. Again, no antidote, only protective clothing and masks.

So, even if you were beautifully dressed in these spaceman suits before the attack came, you still had to clean your entire ship once contaminated after the attack. Admiralty did a rush job to fit all warships with top-to-bottom sprinklers, special hoses and cleaning detergents. The same mammoth water-wash system was needed to get rid of radioactive particles if your ship had been anywhere near, like 1,000 miles, from Atomic Bomb burst!

The ghastly horror of Nerve Gases and Germ Warfare Agents leaves succeeding generations with a nightmare. Those stockpiles are held in all the major countries of the world. Britain's is chiefly at Porton Down (1996). When will they be destroyed? Can they be destroyed? When will there be an accidental leak as we have already experienced with Atomic Power Stations? Nasty thought!

HMS Pheonix also taught us how to keep your warship afloat after-action damage, flood and fire. This subject was an antidote after the grisly subject of Atomic, Gas and Nerve Contamination and we threw ourselves enthusiastically into the practical job of putting out fires in warships, pumping out flooded compartments, making temporary repairs to holes letting in seawater etc.

On 8th October we left the signallers of Mercury to join HMS Vernon situated in Portsmouth Harbour just inside the entrance of the harbour and opposite the submarines on the Gosport side, at HMS Dolphin. So, back to learn more of my former 'trade' of warfare underwater. The official title of this 'trade' was Torpedo and Sonar, TAS for short, previously the TAS had stood for Torpedo and Anti-Submarine; much the same thing really.

Vernon had a much friendlier Wardroom Mess than "Whaley" (their arch-rivals, the Gunners) and, added to this, Vernon was right in the heart of Portsmouth where it was only a short walk to the Officers' Club and to the liveliest pubs and restaurants. So, we took to Vernon very kindly.

The subjects we had to get through were:

  • SONAR - foremost in the RN's battle against submarines
  • SUBMARINE KILLING WEAPONS - the faithful old depth charge had been superseded by mortar barrels firing patterns of six huge bombs at any angle from the hunting warship.
  • MINES - how to lay ours against the enemy and how to sweep or render harmless the mines the enemy laid against us. This subject, like Sonar, was racing ahead with new technology demanded to keep up against Russia in the Cold War. Mines were becoming very clever killers; some to blow up on hearing the noise of the ship's propellers; some to blow up when the magnetic field of a ship approached it; some to fire when the wave pressure of a ship came near. Mines were fitted with combinations of these 'brains', as well as booby traps to kill minesweepers.
  • DIVING - we had to learn frogman diving to be able to search the underside of your ship against enemy divers who stuck limpet mines on your hull.
  • TORPEDOES - destroyers still had 10 torpedo tubes, so we had to learn the destroyer torpedo fairly thoroughly. We were briefly taught submarine torpedoes, particularly the electric ones which had a crude 'brain' to steer for your propeller noise and how you could decoy them with a 'noise' machine towed astern.

We had a very pleasant 2 weeks based at HMS Osprey, the practical Sonar School belonging to Vernon, in Portland. A couple of squadrons of destroyers and a small group of submarines were based at Portland for the specific purpose of training people on how to detect a submarine in real life. So, we went to sea daily and all took turns in operating the sonar machines, steering the ship for dummy attacks etc. Back at Vernon we had other exercises to sea; with submarines to fire their torpedoes; with minelayers to lay dummy mines and with minesweepers to sweep the dummy mines.

Mastery of Under-Sea Warfare was currently the chief property of Admiralty, so it was no surprise to us to find that Vernon hummed with excitement and was staffed with the cream of Officers, fresh from their Victory over the U-Boat, the German magnetic mine and defeat of German battleships with our destroyers firing torpedoes. And it remained my favourite subject.

Exam marks, common to all Courses we did, were out of a total of 1000.

  • 500 to 600 was a THIRD-CLASS PASS
  • 600 to 800 was a SECOND-CLASS PASS
  • 800 plus was a FIRST-CLASS PASS

If a bloke was brilliant enough to get all nine Firsts, he would be promoted Lieutenant one year earlier than another who got nine Seconds and two years earlier that the poor fellow who scored nine Thirds. Most of us aimed at Seconds and fought hard to avoid the dreaded Third. I had got close to scoring a First at Gunnery though Vernon TAS was obviously my best chance to get a First and one First anywhere we looked upon as good insurance against the pit-fall, ever present in the hurly burly of high technology exams, of slipping by one mark only into the Third trap.

I missed my Vernon 'First' by eight measly marks. I scored a total of 792 and you needed 800 for that elusive 'First'. Slightly surprising that Vernon didn't fudge the extra eight marks, since headhunting was actively carried out by Vernon and Whaley (Guns) to grab the best Sub-Lts. with a gentleman's agreement of: 'This Establishment will favourably endorse your future request to Admiralty to specialise in TAS once you become a qualified Lieutenant'. This headhunting was completely unofficial of course, but both Vernon and Whaley had told me 'off the record' that they would support my application to specialise with them.

But specialisation in any of the five Executive Branches, TAS, Guns, Comms, Nav, Air, was four to five years away for us qualifying Sub-Lts.; and anyway, a Lieutenant could still choose not to specialise at all and simply go on to Admiralty with brilliant careers.

December 1954

We left Vernon with fond memories of a good place staffed with good 'blokes' and moved to HMS Collingwood in Fareham for our last Course. This was to learn the technical aspects of Electrical Machinery in Warships and the Electronics of Radar, Sonar, Gun Computers etc.

We knew this was going to be an abrasive affair since Electrical Officers (the Greenies) like Engineer Officers (the Plumbers) were in effect subservient to us Exec.'s who would be their bosses as First Lieutenants and Commanding Officers (i.e. Captains of ships). So, we were their fledging 'bosses' and they had to teach us the secrets of their trade.

The advance and expansion of all things Electrical during the war carried on apace post war, as the Electrical Scientists and Engineers of the major powers were pushed by the militaries to give us more lethal means of defeating opponents. Collingwood was a mirror image of this Electrical War Revolution and had rapidly expanded to become the RNs largest Training Centre.

So, we reluctantly learned the complexities of all things electrical in modern warships and continually objected to learning the inevitable complex circuit diagrams of Radars, Sonars, Radios, Gun Computers etc. by saying that it was the responsibility of all Electrical Officers and Ratings to know all this in our warships and not ours as Seaman Officers.

Halfway through the Course our Officer Instructor panicked and persuaded the Captain of Collingwood to give us a pep talk on the importance of this electrical knowledge, which he did, laced with dire threats of what would happen to our careers if we failed the Exams. By now we knew we had the upper hand, because of the storm which Admiralty would direct at Collingwood if we failed our exams en-masse. So, the day before our exams, the Senior Course Officer took us through previous exam papers and by us saying we hadn't a clue if this or that question turned up in our Exam. We frightened him enough into telling us what questions had been set for us! That evening we all swatted the known questions and achieved the best overall results out of all our Courses. Collingwood's Training Staff was so relieved we hadn't embarrassed them with shockingly low-grade results that they gave a Farewell Party for us.

Which partly made up for the earlier injustice of the Night of the Pigs. It was one of the weekly Guest Nights, when halfway through dinner, the Commander banged his gavel and ordered our Group to leave the Mess. Mystified, we shambled into the anteroom where the Duty Officer was waiting.

"Okay" he said, "Your pathetic prank of unbolting all the doors to our piggery has backfired and now you are going to round them all up in the rain". It wasn't us, but our reputation earned us the blame and we willingly enjoyed the sport of chasing pigs in our boiled shirt, stiff wing collar Mess Undress Uniform. We chased them up and down the many roads that criss-crossed this mini town of dormitories, classrooms, Mess Halls etc. with all the whoops and noise of a Wild West Show. Delighted when a dozen or so of the faster porkers got into the garden of the Captain's house and another batch into the grounds of the Married Quarters. By 1 o'clock in the morning we still hadn't secured a single pig back to its pen, but we had woken the 3,000 inhabitants of Collingwood. Then came the news from a mightily harassed Duty Officer that one of the Electrical Officers Courses had finally owned up to the prank and that we may go to bed.

We consolidated out victory by turning up late for the first lecture next day, saying we had all caught colds from the several hours endured in the pouring rain last night. Great lark all round.

Now we had completed the quite gruelling nine different Courses of Naval Warfare to become 'qualified', as opposed to 'Acting' Sub-Lieutenants and off home for leave and to await our appointments to ships of the Fleets. Mine was to join HMS Aisne, a big modern Battle Class Destroyer. Even better, she was one of the four Battles that made up the 4th Destroyer Squadron in the Mediterranean Fleet, based at Malta. The other three were: Agincourt (the Leader), Barossa and Corunna

HMS Asine
HMS Asine

The whole Squadron was changing crews, the previous ones having finished their two-and-a-half-year Commission abroad. I had to join Aisne in Chatham Dockyard on 1st December 1954 and duly turned up to meet the newly joined Captain and Officers, I was the last to arrive.

  • The Captain Archie Grey, a Commander and Comms specialist
  • First Lieutenant Mike Mcguire, a Senior Lt. Cdr. and Salthorse!
  • Gunnery Officer - Dennis Hannay - Lt.
  • Navigating Officer Alan Geidt - Lt.
  • Comms. Officer - Brian Gallagher - S/Lt. (SD)
  • Warrant Gunner - Smithy Smithers - S/Lt. (SD)
  • Engineer Officer George Wood - Lt.
  • Electrical Officer ** Pike - Lt.
  • Supply Officer ** Benny - Lt. (SD)
  • Additional for Training 'Duffy' Duval - a Fleet Air Arm Pilot finished flying Warrant TAS 'Buster' Brown - S/Lt. (SD)
  • Additional for Training ** Kite - Electrical S/Lt.
  • Squadron Staff Officer Lt. Cdr (Ordnance)

That evening, at pre-Dinner drinks in the comfortable Wardroom, I realised the unspoken fact that they expected me to be the 'life and soul' of the Mess for the next 2½ years we would be together. And by the end of that evening I knew my close cronies would be Mike McGuire, Dennis Hannay and Smithy. The others were going to be great friends but did not have the chemistry to set the world on fire. They were the perfectly reasonable conformers. Our smaller gang was the radicals!

The ship had just finished a good overhaul and renewal by Chatham Dockyard. The Wardroom furniture and fittings were spanking new and the Officers' cabins had been similarly refurbished. The cabin layout in the Battle Class was eight single cabins under the Bridge and, quite separately, three double cabins near the stern. I shared one with Duffy. Advantage of living in the 'Casbah' was being out of sight of Captain, 1st Lt. etc. The disadvantage was journeying to the Bridge to keep Watches in bad weather along catwalks and up vertical ladders. Very dangerous at night in severe gales with heavy seas breaking over the catwalks. The few days left in Chatham before sailing to join up with the other two destroyers at Portland allowed me to acquaint myself with my responsibilities.

These were:

Ship's TAS Officer, with 'Buster' Brown under me as the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine Mortar Bombs Warrant Officer. I was in sole charge of the Ship's sonars. My Action Station was in the Sonar room under the Bridge, from where I was kitted up with the machinery to control the sonars, the torpedoes and the mortars.

No other Officer in the ship had any knowledge of how to use the anti-submarine armament, other than the Captain, whom Vernon had briefed on how to handle the ship while me and 'Buster' 'found' the submarine and attacked it.

Of course, I had experienced Senior Ratings to operate the sonars for me and 'Buster' had come up the ranks as a Torpedoman and had a squad of experienced Torpedo Mechanics. Finally, there was a Specialist TAS Officer on the staff in Agincourt who helped and guided us Sub-Lieutenants in the other three destroyers with our awesome responsibilities.

Another of my jobs was that of Fo'c'stle Officer. You worked the ship's anchors and cables. I had a Division of forty sailors and two Petty Officers to do the work, including the daily upkeep of all the front end of the ship. And, of course, the welfare and good being of these sailors was my prime responsibility.

Yet another job, the worst and most hated by all Seaman Sub-Lieutenants, was to run the ship's Admin. Office. The 'Office' itself was a cramped little steel room in the bowels of the ship. The records of the Crew, hundreds of forms for regular reports to Admiralty, pay documents for the Crew, ledgers and stationery, were all crammed in iron filing cabinets. One typewriter and one hideous duplicating roller machine worked by hand and flooded with ink. Fortunately, my Leading Writer, a rating trained in secretarial and accounting work, was a gem. He would spend long hours stuck in this ghastly office typing, accounting and sorting without complaint. He would sort out incoming bags of official business mail for me, ready for me to present the important papers to the Captain. The replies to letters and reports to Admiralty drafted by the Captain would have to be immaculately typed, duplicated and despatched by the Writer and myself.

The galling part of having to be immersed in the burden of paperwork was that we had a Supply Officer onboard, 'Benny' Benson, who lived a quiet life simply attending to the food and stores of the ship and handling the cash part of the fortnightly pay system to the Crew. Admiralty had ordained this state of affairs after the war, so that Seaman Sub-Lieutenants would gain practical experience of Administration before going on to command ships themselves. 'Benny', of course, often helped me and my Writer out when we were in trouble, which was often"!

Apart from your allocated responsibilities, the main demand on any Seaman Officer was driving the ship at sea by the system of keeping Watches day and night. Traditionally, the Navigator and First Lieutenant did not keep Watches, so our roster in Aisne fell to the remaining four of us Seaman Officers, plus rotating 'Duffy' as 2nd Officer of the Watch for him to gain experience. The Squadron was often at sea for three or four weeks at a time. For the four of us OOWs it meant keeping a four hour Watch every twelve hours and in bad weather with the open Bridges of ships in those days, this life style became quite wearing as you struggled to do your other work as well when not on Watch. The Watches themselves were exhilarating and always packed with action, as the Squadron moved at high speed in close formation, barely a ship's length apart, whenever at sea. So, you steered your 3,500-ton monster at these fast speeds exceedingly careful in this very close formation, always alert to avoiding catastrophic collisions should the slightest thing go wrong!

Wardroom Mess

Because the 4th Destroyer Squadron was part of the Med. Fleet, our Wardroom Stewards and Cooks were Maltese, the best at this trade in the world. And part of their contract was that they only served in Med. Fleet ships. Another part of the same RN contract ensured their pay was only ½ that of equivalent RN Ratings. But they were eternally cheerful and 'mothered' us with genuine concern for our everyday well-being.

Financial costs of living in the Mess (a high spending Club) were most fairly apportioned by Admiralty Law. The hefty bills the Mess incurred from parties, dinners and entertaining locals at our ports of call were apportioned to us on a stripe basis, the stripes referring to the number of stripes on your uniform equivalent to your rank. So, at the end of each month, when Dennis Hannay, the Mess Secretary had balanced his books, he divided the amount owed by the total of stripes in the Mess, viz:

  • Captain 3 stripes
  • First Lt. 2½ stripes
  • All Lieutenants 2 stripes
  • Sub.Lts. 1 stripe
  • Warrant officers ½ stripe

A fair system where the higher paid members subsidized the lower paid ones. One's personal expenditure at the Mess Bar or buying one's own visiting friends drinks was also governed by Admiralty Laws which limited the amount of alcohol you could purchase on a daily basis. We frequently had to fiddle the books to smooth out over-runs!

HMS Agincourt (the "Gin Yard") Squadron Leader Commanded by a senior Captain destined to promotion to Admiral if he didn't make a mess of the post, in this case, Nick Copeland, with a superb war career and destined for the Board of Admiralty. Hearty sense of humour and physically a tough nut, with no inhibitions about hard drinking at the right times. We all liked him. His Staff were:

  • STASO, Guns and Navigator specialist Lt. Cdrs.
  • Engineer and Electrical both Commanders
  • Supply Lt. Cdr.
  • Secretary Lt.

Because staffs in Squadrons and capital ships were invariably referred to in common parlance as their trade and Squadron Number our lot came out as jokes:

  • TASFOUR
  • GOFA
  • SOFA
  • EFOR
  • LFOR

Both high and low used these subjects quite politely. So, my Captain would say to me, "Go over to Agincourt and ask SOFA's advice on this matter". In Agincourt, should I bump into Captain D. you would explain, "Just going to see SOFA, Sir!".

Civilian dignitaries, particularly foreigners, were baffled at this barrage of "Oh, meet our GOFA". Or "I'll introduce myself; I'm SOFA".

They were a good and lively bunch and I got on famously with them. It was no coincidence that, of the 4 destroyers, 3 of 4 Sub-Lieutenants were ex-Upper Yardmen. Benjy Leach in Agincourt, Derek Wallace in Barossa, me in Aisne. Nick Copeland had been able to choose his Officers himself - such was his influence inside Admiralty. Bungy Edwards in Corunna was the only Dartmouth Sub. and him because Nick was a distant relation.

The Squadron had great power and prestige within the sea-going Navy and our compatriots on other ships of the Fleets disparagingly referred to us as the 'Royal Yacht Squadron'. But Nick's standing at Admiralty was not sufficient to overturn Admiralty's decision to sail the Squadron from our home ports for 18 months absence in the Med. just before Christmas. The men, 350 of them in each destroyer, were annoyed that they could not have Christmas with their families for the sake of a few days' delay in our departure. The measure of 2½ years' absence abroad was far too long and outdated in these modern times and during our period abroad it was shortened to 1½ years.

We had trouble in various forms in all 4 ships. Aisne's worst rebel turned out to be a young stoker, who smashed all the gauges in the Engine Room thinking this would delay our departure until well after Christmas. It didn't. And his Court Martial sentenced him to 12 months in prison.

The Squadron met up at Portland for a week's work-up. Firing all weapons at practice targets, practicing Action Stations day and night etc. Then we sailed in close formation for Gib. A few days' shore leave there, then on to Malta for Christmas.

Our berth in Malta was moored to buoys in Sliema Creek, two anchor cables fastened to a buoy at the bow and another 2 to a stern buoy; the next destroyer's bow cables were secured to your stern buoy and so on down the Line. Always a difficult task for me as Fo'c'stle Officer and my men. And, each time we berthed in Sliema Creek, we had to paint these monsters of chain cable a pristine white, as soon as we had secured them.

The Med. Fleet was just as big as it was when I was last here in the Euryalus. Four or five Aircraft Carriers, a Cruiser Squadron, 2 other Destroyer Squadrons beside ours, a Submarine Squadron, Troop Landing Ships, a Fleet Air Arm Aerodrome plus the RAF at two Aerodromes, Royal Marine Commando Brigade and Army Garrison and a host of Troopships, Supply Ships. Fleet Tankers etc. Malta was a bustling place.

A diary of Aisne's eighteen months with the Med. Fleet is written in a booklet I had to publish for the ship. So, I will keep to just a few incidents that were personal to me.

While on a visit to Beirut, I was detached to take a mixed bunch of 40 sailors on a 3-day expedition, camping in the hills and open country north of the city. We had a marvellous time, hobnobbing with the nomad Arabs, with whom we got on famously, swapping our whisky for their Arak around the campfires at night.

Arrived back in Beirut to find Aisne and all the other ships, except HMS Forth, at sea searching for 4 Aisne sailors missing after a sailing accident. We lived on Forth for 2 days until Aisne returned to harbour. I was to live in HMS Forth, a large Submarine Depot Ship, later in my career, as Staff TAS Officer to the 7th Submarine Squadron.

We were at sea in July when my promotion to Lieutenant came through by signal from Admiralty. I had known the approximate date but forgotten Aisne would be at sea. So, I hadn't bought Lieutenant stripes before we left Malta on this occasion. Any other Captain would be relaxed about this. Not Archie Grey though, punctilious to a tee, he read the signal out to me, congratulated me and said, "No doubt I shall see you properly dressed on the Bridge in the morning". Meaning turn up in Lieutenants' stripes!

That evening, my last day as a Sub-Lieutenant, I grovelled, beseeched and cajoled Dennis, Alan and Duffy to loan me a pair of their shoulder epaulettes. They were my only source. George the Engineer had purple between his stripes. Benny, the Supply colour, white. Pile was an Electrical Lieutenant so had green. In those days only the ruling executive Seaman Branch had no colour inserted between the gold rings. My 3 Seaman Lieutenant colleagues were determined to enjoy the spectacle of me turning up at 8 o'clock in the morning to keep my Forenoon Watch on the Bridge still wearing Sub-Lieutenant's stripes and listen to the tirade from the Captain. It was a conspiracy! Later that evening, when the 3 Seamen had gone to bed, George, the Engineer, newly promoted to Lt. Cdr., said he had plenty of Lieutenant epaulettes and that all I needed to do was to obliterate the purple cloth with black ink. Brilliant! I was saved.

We wore tropical uniform in the Med. summer-white shoes, stockings, shorts and shirt. The shirt had shoulder systems for you to attach your rank in the form of shoulder epaulettes. So, I appeared prompt at 8 o'clock on the Bridge, immaculately dressed as a Seaman Lieutenant. The Captain was pleasantly surprised, the 3 conspirators were crest fallen and slunk away.

At 3 minutes past 11 o'clock that morning the ship ran into a Sliema shower. The Captain watched in horror as the black ink spread in an ever-increasing stain down my white shirt, over my white shorts and revealed the glowing purple between the stripes. Archie Grey would have happily ordered my execution, but, restrained by modern Admiralty Law, the worst he could legally come up with was to stop my leave and bar allowance for 30 days!

The 3 conspirators, over-the-moon with this unexpected source of my disgrace, had had their laugh and then loaned me several pairs of brand-new epaulettes quite surplus to their needs. We were in port in Athens several days later and Agincourt invited the other 3 Wardrooms for a drink. My absence was quickly spotted, and the tale of woe was greeted with great laughs. Nick Copeland, obviously, told Archie privately, that it was just the sort of wheeze he expected from his Sub-Lieutenants and to rescind the punishment forthwith!

1955

Fun Visits

Rome

The whole Squadron went there for a week's visit. Rome city was an ½ hour train ride from the port of Civitavecchia and the Squadron gave 3 days' leave to half of the Crew alternately to stay in Rome. The Officers had a surfeit of invitations of people to stay with and I chose one of the house-sit flats in the British Embassy Complex. Amongst other social events, the Squadron fielded a Rugby team to play Rome at their National Stadiums. The game followed a very alcoholic lunch at the British Embassy, so ½ our team were seeing double as the game began. At one stage I made a great sprint to reach a ball kicked over to my wing and got it at full speed with only 2 Italians between me and a Try. I knew I couldn't get past both of them, so tried to kick the ball over their heads while still sprinting. Unfortunately, the running kick went backwards over my head and the chance to score was gone! Otherwise, Rome was a sightseer's paradise, since modern tourism hadn't begun and our Italian hosts took us round the magnificent ruins, which were deserted and open to any casual visitors.

Mike McGuire, as 1st Lt., was always busy in his job and gave his 3 day leave ration to me, with the usual frown of disapproval from our starchy Captain. Worse, in my gratis 3 days, we junior Officers gave a Party in the Embassy flats for the Captains, Staff and 1st Lts. of all 4 ships. I predicted Archie would decline, not his scene, I nearly fainted when he was one of the first to turn up. He nearly fainted to find me one of his hosts in the heart of Rome. Brownie points were thin on the ground for me. And then non-existent, as Archie was about to take his leave, with his usual well-mannered charm, thanking each host in turn, when he finally spotted the bottles of gin, brandy, whisky and Pimms, all patently duty-free, smuggled out of the 4 destroyers! But again, as Captain D4 had turned a blind eye to this triviality, Archie had to dismiss the attractive thought of Court Martialling me for my part in this. And the British Ambassador had complimented us on providing the most excellent drinks, so much better than what could be bought in Rome!

Game, Set and Match again, but the tournament of Cdr. Grey v. Sub. Lt. Gerrish had a long way to run yet. And rank was on his side.

By staying in Rome for 6 days, I avoided the daily misery of those left onboard, since the 4 destroyers were open to the Italian public daily. Huge crowds every day, long queues of Italian families with picnic hampers making a day out of it and, all of them, in search of any loose fitting to be taken home as a souvenir!

Naples

This huge port and rambling overcrowded city was still recovering from war damage and lawlessness. Poverty reigned throughout. Crowds of small boys would hustle you in the streets and their skill as pick pockets was famed. Smithy, our veteran Gunner, who had survived the worst ports and back streets of all the Mediterranean, didn't even know they had taken his wristwatch until going to bed that night! Naples was the NATO H.Q. for the Med. Area and predominantly American. They gave a lavish Fancy Dress Party to welcome our 4 destroyers and Mike McGuire won 1st Prize, a live sheep. It lived onboard Aisne as the ship's mascot to the delight of the Crew, until the inevitable broken leg from falling down ship's ladders meant it had to be shot. For weeks after the sailors refused to eat any lamb dishes appearing on the menu in case it was their friend, Larry. We spent a day at the ongoing excavations of the Roman city that Vesuvius had buried in volcanic ash, a thousand years ago. Whole streets of houses were being revealed in perfect condition and, inside the houses, meals still on tables etc. Fascinating

May: Port Said

The act of Jews returning illegally to British governed Palestine suddenly flared up. The European Jews ran an organisation of hiring passenger ships to take thousands of Jewish families, landing along the Lebanese coast. Aisne was sailed in a hurry from Malta to Port Said, to be available to the Palestine Police, if they needed extra help in preventing the landing of illegal immigrant Jews. We spent 10 days idling in Port Said, which was, for us, a pleasant holiday. My brother, Roy, was stationed at an Army post down the Suez Canal and arranged a few days' leave to stay with me in Port Said. We rigged up a camp bed in the cabin I shared with Duffy and Roy enjoyed several days being shown the sights and nightclubs of Port Said. Finally, we were sailed to Cyprus and left there to intercept a Merchant Ship suspected of carrying illegal Jew immigrants or arms. The intercept would occur in the middle of the night and I would have to board her with my armed Boarding Platoon. Previous boarding's carried out by RN Commandos had an ugly history. The Jewish women would rip off your steel helmet as you approached their level up the scrambling nets we used to climb up the side of the ship and pull your hair, while others stabbed at your eyes with knitting needles. If you let go the scrambling net you fell - to be crushed by your own ship lying alongside the immigrant-runner. We quickly realised shaved heads were the order of the day for boarding parties. The first encounters were carried out using only blank ammo in our guns. When 2 Royal Marines were killed, their friends loaded live ammo in their guns ready for the next boarding, but this was discovered by their Officers and Royal Marines were withdrawn from boarding duties.

Nevertheless, lives were lost on both sides and the Jewish organisers agreed to cease this method of planting Jewish people in Palestine. The ship we stalked that night was suspected of carrying supplies of weapons for the Stern Gang terrorists fighting the British inside Palestine, but that she might have small numbers of illegals as well. We were closing to go alongside her, me and my men ready on the Forecastle, nowadays armed with live ammo, ready to leap aboard, when a signal from Admiralty rescinded the order to board. The ship's owners had agreed to divert the suspect out of the Med. We sighed with relief and went to bed.

Beirut

I had previously visited this very popular city as a sailor in HMS Euryalus. Visiting this time as an Officer opened more doors, like Embassies, Corporations and wealthy locals. Beirut was part of the Western world, so again, I wangled a trip to Damascus, across the Lebanese border into the country of Syria, where you were back in the old Arab world. was always quite happy drinking arak with Arabs and found their way of life more civilised than drinking cocktails in westernised Beirut.

Taormina

I'd never heard of this small port on the eastern coast of Sicily, lying on the coastal slopes of Mt. Etna. Aisne was sent there alone as a reward for some hard work we had done. Other people knew what I found on arrival, it was a honeymooners' paradise spot for the rich, a bit like Nice. An American millionaire invited the Captain and all Officers to his luxury mansion on the slopes of Etna, which still rumbles and burps as a semi-dormant volcano. The place was staffed and run like a private hotel. So, we swam in the pool, served drinks by his red-coated staff, watching the smoke puffing out of Etna, before a sumptuous dinner party, which went on until the early hours. The retired millionaire thoroughly enjoyed our carefree attitude to life, and we enjoyed the ambience of that fact of life where money was of no consequence! Archie, our stiff Captain, spent the whole evening and night drinking the finest French champagne, which suited his image of what life should be and actually, became tidily, and me and the boys for a change. It did him good!

Ceuta

A Spanish port in North Africa right opposite of Gibraltar. We were sent on a 'Let's be friends with the Spaniards to cool the row about Gibraltar', i.e. a diplomatic visit. The Spanish Foreign Legion, which had spawned General Franco, President of Spain, had obviously been told, by Franco, to put out the red carpet for us. Their HQ Garrison Fort was in the hills just inland from the port. Once there, you were back in Beau Geste days and they entertained us royally. We declined their offer for us to ride their stallions armed with lances to play sticking the pig. The pigs used in this game were the menu for the soldiers' evening meal! We also declined their offer of a bit of marksman practice, shooting at the occasional Tureq rebel who ineptly exposed himself to fleeting views from the Fort's ramparts. On our side, we gave the Grade 'A' CTP and informal parties in the Wardroom. It was late in the evening during one of these parties that a storm broke without warning and we had to put to sea to avoid damaging the ship alongside the concrete jetty. Getting the quite inebriated Spanish men and women ashore over bucking gangplanks in a screaming wind amused the Crew no end!

Dry Dock, Malta

For a couple of weeks for repairs. The Crew moved ashore to the very comfortable Barracks at Riscasli and worked on the ship during the day. A skeleton duty-watch camped on the ship overnight, stifling hot and smelly. The night I was Duty Officer terminated at 6am with me dressed in Ice Cream Suit and Sword, embarked in the C-in-C's barge (the Green Parrot) to act as his representative to welcome the Crown Prince of Spain and his wife to Malta as they arrived in their private yacht for an informal holiday. Archie Grey had kittens when this signalled duty was bounced on me and fussed about reminding about protocol, getting his steward to press and polish my Ice Cream Suit and Sword, detailing his steward to spend the night onboard with the dire duty of wakening me in plenty of time for this little bit of Fleet protocol. All went like clockwork and I found the Prince and Princess most charming and friendly to the extent of their insisting I join them for breakfast as an apology for having caused me to rise so early. In the same vein, the Prince said why not take my straitjacket off and relax. If Archie could have seen me, breakfasting with the Royal couple, naked to the waist except for a pair of Marks and Spencer's braces, while the C-in-C's barge, with a crew of 8, hung about waiting for me, he would have had a fit! As it was, he immediately de-briefed me, on my return, to ascertain all went well and his relief was apparent until upon leaving his cabin. I casually remarked "Oh, by the way Sir, the Prince and Princess will be coming onboard on Saturday as my private guests for a drink!". I knew his dilemma. On the one hand he would have a sleepless night worrying about the protocol of this, should my invitation have been passed through C-in-C's office etc. While, on the other hand, the very attractive thought of him being able to meet the Royal couple onboard his own ship, with all the kudos this would gain him with Captain D. and his fellow COs was enough to risk any Foreign Office rebuke which might arise. Poor Archie, I really was a thorn in his side and I never wanted to be. It was just that our personalities were so different. Dry dock in Malta's summer gave the whole Crew a wonderful break living ashore, working Tropical Routine. 6.30am to 12.30, which gave the best hours of the day to ourselves. We played a lot of tennis followed by swimming in the sea. Then drank Pimms as pre-dinner drinks and off ashore after dinner. Life of Riley really. One evening, we organised a Barbecue at Malta's only beach. By late evening there was only one other massive bonfire of driftwood blazing in the darkness, when we decided to swim, in the nuddy, we hadn't brought swim trunks with us. Buster Brown, well merry from the evening's drinks, came out of the sea in the darkness and galloped starkers to the light of the wrong bonfire! The beach party of refined people was flabbergasted at the sight of this lanky lunatic, naked, dancing up and down!

The Captain, Commander Archie Grey, DSO, RN.

This is a suitable point to put the record straight and pen an accurate description of Cdr. Grey as, so far, we have only dwelt on our two contrasting personalities.

Cdr. Grey was a very professional punctilious Naval Officer of the "Old School" who had fought through, and survived, the war. General manners and Naval rank structure were paramount in his life. He was totally and utterly dedicated to his Sovereign and the Royal Navy. I saw and respected the genuine Archie Grey, now getting old, when he remained on the Bridge for 3 days and 3 nights in foul weather during a major Fleet 'War Exercise', without sleep, politely refusing to delegate, even for a couple of hours, to his 2nd–in-Command, the 1st. Lieutenant. At the end of this greatly demanding War Exercise he was near to the end of his strength and very close to serious exhaustion. The whole Crew respected his devotion to duty and were happy to know he had finally gone to his bunk to sleep. He would trust me with the ship when he slept, as he did with the other Seaman Lieutenants and, as the Commission progressed, he went out of his way to teach me the great skills of Warship Command.

His wife, a typical British blue stocking, came out to Malta for a couple of weeks when Aisne was in dry dock and the pair of them, living in a rented house, gave several parties for Aisne's Officers. One such was a swimming picnic off the rocks in the sea. The picnic hamper had been bought in Harrods of course and Mrs Grey had prepared this picnic feast superbly well from the shops in Malta. They were nice people when they entertained.

Archie's failing was being behind the times. He was oblivious to the post-war change where class barriers had been radically altered. Two incidents occurred which sharply revealed his opposition to said change.

All destroyers', frigates' and submarine (small ships) pay ledgers were kept by WRENS in their shore base offices. Every fortnight they sent us the Crew's pay with a slip copying part of the ledger. About every 6 months, the WRENS were sent onboard to audit the ship's ledgers and iron out all the many minor queries that had accrued over 6 months. They worked with my Leading Writer in our cramped, hot, stuffy little office all day, going back to WRENS Barracks for their lunch, except, if problems had arisen, they would forego lunch to help the Leading Writer to get his books straight. Just this had happened, so I took the 2 WRENS up to the Wardroom for a cool beer fully endorsed by Mike McGuire (1st Lt.) who insisted on buying the girls a drink in thanks for their help, when in stepped Archie for his lunchtime drink. He went straight back to his cabin, sent for 1st Lt. and said he was horrified to see 2 Naval Ratings (the WRENS) drinking in one of Her Majesty's Officers' Wardrooms. I made my case to the Captain in a fair old temper, pointing out that the girls work for the ship as their permanent job, do us a lot of favours in ensuring our pay is always bang on time etc. and that 2 very smartly dressed WRENS taking ½ hour off, having foregone their own lunch, were entitled to the minor courtesy of being given a drink! The 1st Lt. cooled me down by pulling rank, reminding he was 2nd-in-Command and President of the Wardroom Mess, and that the issue was between the Captain and himself.

I was re-assured by the 1st Lt. standing upon his principles and taking his total responsibility in this trivial matter, but I was very riled that Archie, the Captain I respected and would remain loyal to, could so seriously react to a simple courtesy because the old rules affected his mind so pitifully.

Six months later the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, a very senior Admiral, made a routine visit to the ship, arrived in his Navy black limo, driven by a WREN. The Captain welcomed C-in-C onboard and introduced him to us ship's Officers, lined up at the gangway. Following this the C-in-C said to Archie "Perhaps one of your Officers could escort my Driver to the Wardroom, while we tour the ship, rather than leave her sitting in the heat on the jetty". Archie had the grace to give this pleasant task to me. So, I was able to take a Naval Rating (WREN) for the second time to the Wardroom, but, this time, at the suggestion of the C-in-C himself! Chatting to the girl over a drink, I found out she was a granddaughter of Admiral ABC Cunningham, one of our very illustrious wartime leaders. The next day, Archie sent for me and very freely admitted that, on the first occasion of me taking WRENS to the Wardroom, he had been wrong in issuing a reprimand. Matter closed.

Sport

Eighteen months away from home and families made all forms of sport important to us as a way of passing time. Rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket were the chief team sports. Hockey and soccer were played most throughout the Med, since they did not need grass pitches (rare in the Med.) and could be played on the hard sand pitches abundant in this hot climate area.

HMS Aisne could put out pretty good teams in all sports, but our better matches were when we turned out 4th Destroyer Squadron teams. I always played for the Squadron at hockey and rugby. At hockey, 3 of the Aisne players were always selected; Archie, the Captain, Smithy the Gunner and an AB. Archie had learned the game on the playing fields of Winchester School, he was good. Smithy and the AB had learned hockey in India, parents were Indian Army; they were very good.

We played a lot of matches whenever in harbour and, at times, Archie and me became good friends, sipping a cool beer and comparing bruises whenever the game finished. Smithy had one of the most powerful hits in hockey and Archie would buy him a beer for every casualty that limped off the field having got in the way of a Smithy-drive! We always fought very hard to win.

Rugby games were less frequent, shortage of grass pitches, but we played a fair number of Squadron games as we roamed across the Med. My shipmates in this game were Dennis Hannay, the Gunnery Officer, the ship's PTI and 2 other CPOs. Officers played a lot of tennis. For our own fun and recreation and, of course, socially, invites to Clubs and mansions etc. It remained in our time a game for upper classes, like Polo, and the snob attitude prevailed. We conformed and always turned out in immaculate whites.

Food

There was a fair old snob connotation within ships of the Fleet as to which Wardrooms dined better than others. Admiralty paid a standard sum for feeding Officers and each ship decided how much they would supplement this fixed sum out of their own pockets for additions and luxuries to be added to the menu. But, like most things in life, money alone was not the whole answer. For Naval Officers' Messes the linchpin was how good your chief chef and caterer were. We were well off in Aisne, having 2 very good Maltese Petty Officers in these 2 key jobs. The absolute best were sent to serve Admirals.

Our daily menus in Aisne were hearty, to say the least:

Breakfast: always a full cooked breakfast and local lovely fruits. Lashings of real coffee.

Lunch: a 4-Course meal at which chef's soup together with his famous croutons would have made a meal in itself. He always baked his own bread too. Delicious.

Tea: quite a substantial snack. Always toast and jams. Often boiled eggs or herrings, or kippers.

Dinner: another 4-Course meal where, because time was not so pressing as at lunch, the quality of the cheese and fruit, taken with port to finish dinner, was an important feature.

Dennis Hannay was the natural to be entrusted with our Mess Food kitty, his wife was French, and he had a most discerning palate from a lifetime of eating the finest foods. His late-night party trick, when all the catering staff were asleep in their bunks, was to produce a snack of toast and boiled eggs. The toast easy enough in the Pantry's toaster, but the eggs he boiled in the Pantry's electric urn which made our tea and coffee during the day. The Catering Staff were always furious next morning and would complain formally to the Captain. Nothing was ever done, since the Captain and his civilian guests also revelled in this late night 'cabaret' snack!

We changed into Evening Dress and bow-tie every night for dinner, even at sea. The only times this formality was skipped had to be storm weather or Exercises which involved Action Stations. Everyone had individual friends scattered throughout ships of The Fleet and on occasions when you met in harbour, it was customary to invite each other for lunch or dinner onboard. This was a pleasant way of eating out, just like going the rounds of restaurants in a city.

Frederick William Simpson, DSMCapt Charles Nixon-Eckersall