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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

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!

The Miracle Year of HMS SleuthWartime Memoirs of Coxn Oscar Moth