Introduction / My Thoughts on the Royal Navy / Chapter 1 - Early Navy Days / Chapter 2 - H.M.S. Hood / Chapter 3 - Portsmouth Barracks / Chapter 4 - H.M.S Cossack / Chapter 5 - Coastal Forces / Chapter 6 - H.M.S. Skate / Chapter 7 - H.M.S. Tarbert / Chapter 8 - H.M.S. Concord
Chapter 1 - Early Navy Days
In 1935 I decided that I would like to join the Royal Navy and on January 20th 1936 I attended the recruiting office in Queen’s Park Terrace, Southampton.
Early on that Monday morning I went by train to Southampton, travelling in the carriage was a Police Officer and during conversation it came out were I was going, this Officer said to me that I should try to go to the toilet before entering into the exam, I am still not sure if this helped or not but I took his advice.
From the station it was only a short walk to the recruiting office but I did have varied thoughts on what might happen, several of my friends had applied and failed the test, it was over four years since my last school exams. Anyhow I duly arrived at the office presented myself to the man in charge, gave him my details and he took me to a room were there were other candidates to take the test there was no time to get acquainted.
On my application form, I had stated that I would like to enter the Royal Navy as a second class Stoker and on being interviewed on that day the recruiting officer tried to get me to join the Royal Marines, but following my step fathers advice to avoid soldiering I remained adamant to being a stoker.
I was then given a personal interview as to my reason for wanting to join the navy. I cannot remember what answer I gave but I was then sent to another room where sat other youngsters waiting to take the entrance exam
The first steps were to sit the education exam which when finished we were then taken to the sailors mission for lunch. I was very surprised at the attitude of some of the other candidates in that they threw food at each other this was something I had not encountered before. After lunch we returned to the recruiting office to see if we had failed or passed the exam. One or two had not achieved the standard required and were given leave to depart, which the remainder of us where then given a medical, this was very thorough and at the end of the day all but one taking the medical passed.
Those of us who had passed were then sent away being told that we would be sent for at a later date.
Shortly after visiting the recruiting office I received notification to return there on the 10th February to enter into H.M.S. Victory the Royal Navy Barracks at Portsmouth for entry as a second class Stoker for an engagement period of twelve years
From Southampton a group of about six of us were put on the train to Portsmouth and then escorted from the station through the Park to the barracks. On passing through the barrack gates I was astounded to see sailors marching around the parade ground some with rifles some without rifles but solo sailors running across the parade ground, on asking why this was, we were told that all persons crossing the parade ground to get from one side to the other had to double across. This had to be carried out in working hours, because years ago there had been a mutiny at the barracks and from that time all persons not under training had to double across the parade ground or walk around.
We were then presented to the Duty officer who in turn handed us to a Petty officer who led us to the new entry block. We were given lunch and then assembled at the new entry office for further instructions.
Our first destination was to attend an introduction to the Royal Navy by the Lieut Commander in charge of new entry training; this consisted of a brief history of the Navy, what was required of us, what was expected of us. We were also given an insight into the various punishments that could be given against breaking the rules, these could be anything from extra kit inspections, (muster bag) stoppage of leave with extra duties for disobeying orders, stoppage of leave and pay for being late from returning off leave, - one days stoppage of leave and pay for every three hours or parts of late returning- further punishments for more serious offences could result in imprisonment and if considered necessary discharge from the Navy in disgrace. We were then told that we would return to the new entry block, which would be our mess for a week while we were being inducted into the Navy. The training officer then stated that we could go out that evening and should we have changed our minds about the Navy we need not return the next morning, but on the morrow we would sign up for our chosen spell and would then come under Navy discipline and its regulations.
On the Tuesday 11th February all the new entrants turned up, I would say about 24 – 30 divided into two classes, half to the seaman branch and the others to the stoker’s branch. The seamen who were on a seven-year engagement plus five years on the reserve had a minimum starting age of seventeen and a half years, while the stokers were in for twelve years continuous with a minimum starting age of eighteen years.
The first day proper consisted of medical examinations and an education exam following which we were then assembled to be given our official numbers and pay numbers, mine were P/KX 88114 and 7227 and then we had to sign for our term of engagement. It was then stated that we were officially in the Navy and would be subject to the ‘Kings Rules and Admiralty Instructions’ KR & AIs, the governing principals of the Royal Navy.
The group of us then assembled in the New Entry block to be presented to our instructors for the next eight weeks, our class of stokers were placed under the control of Seaman Petty Officer Brown, who was in my opinion an exceptional person in that being a Seaman’s Gunnery rating, he did not follow the standard for normal Gunnery ratings in that he was not all Gate and Gaiter, an expression used to define the loud shouting of gunnery instructors. I would say that PO Brown did a very good job with us youngsters in that there were no major punishments meted out through him or his reports. At the end of our eight weeks with him there was no dissension about the Navy from any one of the class, he gave us an insight to the Navy of obedience to orders, comradeship, understanding of each other’s problems and that we must have trust and faith in each other to fulfil our duties.
The group I had entered the Navy with were split in two classes as I have mentioned before, one of seamen and and one of stokers, the class of seamen were under the instructions of a Chief Petty Officer who was senior to our Petty Officer in normal seaman’s duties but was junior to PO Brown when it came to gunnery as PO Brown had obtained a higher gunnery rate, this was a problem that the Navy resolved in later years when it was decided that all Chief & Petty Officers must hold a first class non substance rate, i.e. their main rate would be as a seaman and their qualifying rate gunnery, torpedo or PT training must be first rate or more.
This may have digressed away from my early days of training but that can be rectified from now on. As mentioned before, our first week was in the New Entry Block and under the watchful eye of PO Brown, we were duly kitted out with our Navy uniform, taken to various corners of Victory for the marking of kit, this entailed a wooded stamp with our name carved on it, this stamp when dipped in black paint would be pressed on to our light clothing and would leave our name imprinted likewise white paint would be used on our dark clothing. One had to be careful when the paint was wet that it did not get smudged.
One pair of our issue of boots was taken to the cobblers to be fitted with studs for our forthcoming parade drills; we were also issued with gas masks and taken through the gas chamber for testing. This was a simple exercise the class were taken into a room and told to put on their gas masks, tear gas was then discharged into the room, and the instructors then checked all mask straps to ensure that there was no leak of gas into the mask. When it was sure that the masks fitted correctly and were gas tight, the class were told to remove the masks, this gave us all a smell of the gas and we were sent on our way, that was the only time I went through the gas chamber
Provision of hammocks and bedding were issued along with the necessary nettles, lanyards and lashing, the former were used for slinging the hammock from the bars or hooks provided to present a very comfortable sleeping place. In my time at sea I would prefer a hammock to sleep in as to a bunk. The lashing was used to contain the hammock into a tidy shape when not in use for placing in the hammock rack. These neatly rolled hammocks could be used for damage control if the ship was holed from either collision damage or if enemy gunfire they could be used to plug the holes.
We were supplied with washing gear and soap; the soap we paid for was used for toiletry and general cloths washing. During this first week of being formed into class we were called DRAKE and this name we retained for the whole period of training. It was also our privilege to have a free haircut, which did not turn out to be as drastic as our imaginations. At the end of this week we had been taught how to assemble for parades, how to form fours and simple marching exercises in preparation for the oncoming weeks.
Every morning at nine all training classes were assembled on the parade ground to march past the Commodore, though on some mornings we all had to double past, this to the Blue Jacket band playing “All the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men”, it was a great relief from marching. The Barrack Guard were always part of the march past, looking splendid and marching with fixed bayonets, it was surprising that as the guard marched away as they went under the arch between two mess blocks their bayonets scrapped the bottom of the curve, the marks left over many years were numerous.
Monday of the second week found DRAKE class on the main parade ground at the start of intensive training, which consisted of many operations in marching orders. How to take off one’s cap correctly; this common exercise was to enable one’s self to present one’s self at the pay table, as pay was always placed on the cap; to take off the cap if cheering the King; and if standing in front of an officer taking defaulters. Beside this exercise marching drills were accomplished such as forming fours, right or left wheeling in columns of two, double marching and numerous basic marching drills.
To return to the end of the first week we were transferred from the New Entry block to a block, which would be our training block for the next seven weeks. In this block we had a mess of our own and came under the control of an able seaman who had come from the “Victoria and Albert” the Royal yacht, which was having an extensive refit in a Portsmouth dock.
These Royal Yacht seamen were all volunteers from the seamen’s branch and had to have over two years service in the navy. There uniform though on a similar style to the normal sailors was different in that the tunic was made of doe skin material, where as the regular sailor’s tunic was made of serge. Two other distinctive features being that the tunic was always worn inside the trousers and the tape at the back of the trousers was of silk material also the cap band was of silk with a coloured crown between the Victoria &Albert.
The duties of these seamen were to see that we kept the mess and surrounding areas clean and tidy. When the Royal yacht had completed the refit they would return aboard. These seaman were very helpful to us youngsters and had to be called Sir by all trainees, a title that some of them did not like as most of them, would have preferred to be called by their christian name or nick name. I would say that most of the Royal Yacht’s men were nearing there full engagement period of twenty two years pension time.
Apart from our daily training we would have one hour’s work before breakfast, normally cleaning up the surrounding areas, the mess area would be kept clean during meal breaks. Dinnertime was noon to 1pm, breakfast 7am to 8am, supper 6:30pm. Provision of food was excellent, the meals being cooked by personal that had joined as cooks and provided an excellent service throughout the Navy.
DRAKE class itself was divided into four groups, naval watches, and every fourth day one watch would be on duty. It was this duty watch that collected the meals from the kitchen, galley, saw that the meal was equally distributed and cleaned up after the meal and all cooking dishes returned to the galley. However, it became a habit, thanks to the influence of our Royal yacht seaman that all hands helped out at meal times.
It must be said that the meals provided was a good wholesome quality and I cannot remember any complaints even though some trainees were unaccustomed to the meals provided. Never the less we were always hungry and fortunately we were near to the messes of personnel of long service who never ate all their meals provided and would bring them to us hungry lot.
During the days of training we had a break in the morning, forenoon and a break in the afternoon, 15 minutes of which was generally a rush to the NAAFI kiosk for tea and doughnuts, which during those first seven weeks cost us a fortune.
On our duty days the watch would also be required for extra duties after training, which would be to assist in the running of the barracks out of normal hours, many of these duties would be cleaning of areas where it was not possible during working hours, also cleaning the NAAFI canteen after closing time 10 PM. On duty weekends there were cleaning tasks such as cleaning the swimming pool, this entailed draining the pool and about twenty of us new entrants washing out the pool this was a long tedious task. At times the gymnasium floor had to be scrubbed to do this about thirty of us would start at one end of the gym and on our hands and knees scrub to the other end or the gym under the watchful eyes of the Chief PT I.
One duty that we did enjoy was helping in the galleys, these tasks could be such as washing the cooking pots and pans, washing the floors or taking the eyes out of the many hundred potatoes after they had been through the peeling machine. The pleasure of working in the galley was that the Chief chef gave us plates of pudding, which we hungry youngsters welcomed.
There was nearly always spare food in the galley, because the Chief chef would be given a certain number to cook for, but with the movement of sailors to ships there was on many days food not collected, it was that there was always an uncertain numbers of sailors at noon in the barracks, as men would be on there way to ships. Us new members on training we relished the situation.
On our three days off watch we were able to do our own thing and I never found a dull moment during my training period we had our clothes to keep clean and tidy, something new and with the help of older personnel a system of washing underwear, socks, towels and blankets was soon achieved, it was possible to have items laundered but the pride one had for the cleanliness and smartness of one’s uniform a preference for self service prevailed.
It was possible on off duty days to go to the barrack cinema, the 22 rifle ranges, the canteen, and various sport activities and if one wanted to go out of barracks for the evening. Evening leave was available to all off duty ratings, such as we were called, on an age limitation; ratings 20 years of age or over were entitled to all night leave, all ratings under 20 were required to return to barracks by 10pm, 2200 hours. This limitation to under 20s was rescinded on behalf of ratings living in Portsmouth with their parents.
When one looks at ones early days of entry into the Navy it must be realised that the Navy was rebuilding its fleet. It was so very vital that numbers for recruitment were attained. H.M.S. Victory was taking new ratings every week and this caused a problem with getting instructors and providing accommodation to train the new recruits. In this respect I would say that training classes were not getting the full instructions required or attained by earlier new entrants.
Two instances bring this to mind in my training, one day we were taken into the dockyard for boat training, we were allocated a cutter for rowing instruction and our PO neglected to get us to take off our webbing belt which had two buckles on the back which caused us to have bruised knuckles before we achieved some sort of cohesion in rowing because if one oarsman went forward as the oarsman in front went back, the man at the back ran his knuckles down the belt of the rower in front causing severe pain to the rear oarsman. But this is not the point in question, before our instruction could be completed our class was called away to attend H.M.S. Iron Duke, a World War 1 battleship, where leading seamen were taking their PO exams and our class were required for the leading seamen to use in their power of command tests, this was the first and only time I was given any instruction about boat drill.
The other example of negative instruction was when the class was nearing its final weeks we were being taken for fix bayonets drill, our PO Brown on demonstrating how to fix bayonets then took us in the drill he said ‘squad will fix bayonets but on the order fix the right hand man will take a three short sharp paces to the fore at the word bayonets the’ thus ended the drill that was never completed as a messenger called for PO Brown to be somewhere else and from that day through my time in the Navy I never ever handled a bayonet.
A problem I did have was changing step on the march in the carrying out of this step I nearly brought the class to its knees no matter how PO Brown explained and demonstrated this step to me I could not change step. PO Brown for all his patience then took the squad onto the small parade ground and stood them to rest, he then gave the order calling the squad to attention on reaching attention he then ordered No 3 front rank one pace forward march, this No 3 was me, left turn quick march and away I went, the squad were then stood easy and PO Browns attention was focussed on me, the order came change step, change step, right turn, change step, change step, over and over again, right turn, change step repeatedly, right turn, change step over and over again moving round the small parade ground for about 20 minutes at the end of which I could change step.
In our final week with PO Brown we went to Tipner Rifle range and were given instruction in rifle shooting, this I think culminated in 5 rounds of 303 at 500 yards and 5 rounds at 1,000 yards both in the prone position. I think my score was 17 out of a hundred and I never handled a rifle during the rest of my service.
On the final day with PO Brown we were given a questionnaire about topical subjects from the media, I excelled in this in that I scored 0 out of 10, the lowest known points.
Any way we were all passed over for mechanical training and we thought so much of the patience and understanding of PO Brown that we presented him with a wrist watch, from that day I only met PO Brown once and that was during my final eight week training.
Two important facts I had omitted in my previous chapters; one is that a main subject in the initial training was we were taught how to salute correctly and it was said that you always saluted an officer not because of the man in the uniform but the King’s uniform.
The other subject was my fellow classmates, we were from all over the British Isles. Just to mention a few who were personal friends of mine. There was Taffy Thomas from Mountain Ash in Wales who was about 25 years old and had worked in the coal mines, he was a very happy and jovial man and easy to get on with. He had worked in the pits and his body was streaked with many coal veins obtained from scratches at work, we were together for just over three years living in the same mess on HOOD.
There was Bill Blondall from the Channel Isles. We were at the recruiting office in the beginning and on the HOOD, though he did transfer to the Writers Branch.
From Scotland was Jock McGinley, he had been a naval sea cadet, similar to the boy scouts, he and I had many a pleasant evening out while serving on the HOOD.
Charlie Camel came from Somerset and was an easy chap to be with.
My friend Hubbard; we served together on the HOOD and he is the only one of Drake class that I met in later years.
These I have mentioned, as we were real mates, though we did have other classmates from Durham, Hartlepool, Aylesbury and other areas who made Drake class a very enjoyable and enthusiastic group of provisional stokers.
After our eight weeks initial training we were taken for engineering instruction by a Chief Petty Officer Stoker over a further eight weeks. This was not in my considered opinion a really successful eight weeks. When we were doing practical work the instruction was being given by civil and naval engineers, who were very informative, but when we were on classroom studies it was a damp squid, our Chief would give us pen and paper, he would then dictate to us the Stoker’s Manual which we had alongside on our desks and would not define what he was dictating.
This is the time when I nearly came to being a defaulter. I had realised what the Chief was doing so I just carried on copying from the Manual; the Chief noticed this and said that he would report me for dumb insolence as I was not paying attention to him, fortunately nothing came from this. The eight weeks were very informative when we were with other instructors and I did very well in the exams.
During the entire beginning to the end of our training it is surprising that we did very little Physical Instruction and thinking back this was perhaps that recruitment was increasing so fast that there were not enough PI instructors to cope.
One of the tests we had to do in our first weeks was the swimming test; this consisted of swimming three lengths of the baths and keeping afloat for three minutes in the deep end whilst wearing a canvas suit. It was necessary to pass this test if promotion was wanted in the navy. On my first attempt I failed on my third swim up the baths and for this I was classed as a backward swimmer and if I wanted to pass this test I would have to do it in my own time in the evenings. On my first evening in the baths I did manage to pass and subsequently I passed my deep-sea test on my first ship.
During these early weeks we had been measured for a tailor made suit with a gold 2nd class stoker’s badge. At the end of our training period we were issue with this suit, classed as No 1’s and with our tropical whites also the studs were removed from our parade boots.
In January King George V had died, I hope that this was not because I was entering into the Navy, and Edward VIII had become King, though he did abdicate later in the year. It was decided that Edward would make an inspection of the new entrants one morning and in the afternoon would tour around Portsmouth.
In the morning we were paraded and the rain just poured down. For about two hours we were alternated to various areas of the parade ground, probably to get us wet on all sides, however it was decided for us to march through the gymnasium in single file past the King. On entering the gym we marched towards the dais that had been erected and at a certain point we had to eyes left salute and at the next point eyes front and drop the salute after that we went to lunch to prepare for the afternoon.
Before we went on parade in the morning we did get a good piece of advice from a Royal Yachtsman to wear a towel around our neck under our oilskin coat, this would save the rain entering around the collar from penetrating our under clothes; this was excellent advice. In the afternoon the rain had stopped and we were paraded without our oilskins; we then marched out to line the streets of the King’s tour to suppress any surge of persons towards the King; this did not happen and we were marched back to R.N.B. and everything returned to normal.
On reflection to the first sixteen weeks in the Navy no one of our class was put on defaulters and not one wanted to leave the Navy.
Probably in that period many things happened that I do not recall but as it was I enjoyed it. Our pay was 2s 6d a day, paid for seven days a week as we could always be called for duty. This gave us 17s 6d a week plus our full keep and when we were on leave we were also paid for food maintenance, on top of this we were paid 1s 6d a week for the continual upkeep of our uniform. It was a great increase to my 15s I was earning with my previous employer and I had to pay mum for keep and clothing.
A point I do remember about my first week was that my shoes had just worn through to my socks when I was issued with my first pair of boots.
At one time during our training one of our seaman friends died and we attended his funeral at Gosport. This entailed several classes going to the ferry to Gosport, we were marched from R.N.B. at a slow march to the ferry lead by the R.N.B. Band across to the cemetery and after the internment we were marched back to R.N.B. with the band playing very lively music. Some time during the early weeks we were visited by agents of shops that catered for naval tailoring on a private basis, These agents would if you wanted them to provide any kind of kit you required, The system was that from your pay 2/6 a month was allotted to the tailor and he would provide any items you required. This was a sort of tally man system, most of us joined up as we knew that the articles provided were of a better style than the could be purchased from naval stores.
I joined up with Billy Coopers and purchased a pair of regulation walking out shoes and was measured for a No 1 suit, these I received before I joined the HOOD they were for use when on leave. Coopers and other tailors had provided sailors with clothing for many years and had establishments in many foreign ports giving a very good service, I stayed with them until I left the navy.
One problem we did have was with our sailors’ collars, these were blue in colour with three white strips and when washed the blue ran so much that it was a job to distinguish the white strips, It was possible to purchase a better class collar from our tailors that did not run
We had now reached the end of our training from that period on there was to be a complete change in our lives. We were no longer New Entrants but Stokers Second Class awaiting their first ship.
We were transferred to the Engine Room block which consisted of other new entrants, Stokers First Class awaiting another appointment and Leading Stokers also awaiting appointments, which were always called drafts.
It is now about the end of June and it was not until September before I joined my first ship. In the interim we were employed on various duties around the barracks and on ships in the docks. One such task was to polish the floors of our messes; these floors were of varnished timbers and if on this duty we had to march up and down the floor pushing heavy polishers buffing up the polish that was put down in front, what a waste of energy as at the start of the war it was realised that this was a fire hazard and the floor had to be scrapped.
Two episodes I distinctly remember in this period were involved on ships in the docks, the first being that on falling in outside the regulating office the Chief Stoker detailing duties gave myself and another an order to get our overalls and report to transport for loan to a destroyer for the day.
On reaching the ship H.M.S. Amazon, a destroyer being used for torpedo exercises for the torpedo-training establishment, I was told by the destroyer’s Chief Stoker to report to No 3 Boiler Room for the rest of the watch. I presented myself to the PO in charge and he asked me what knowledge I had? To this I had to reply that this was my first experience. The PO was very understanding and showed me what to do and after leaving harbour I was able to follow his instructions and carry out my duties. At noon the PO and myself were relieved and he did congratulate me on my performance. This highlighted how our training had been inadequate.
After a meal in the Stokers mess deck I was told that the destroyer would be soon in harbour and I would be returned to RNB; this did not materialise as planned but I did get back in time for supper. While on the destroyer I did enjoy the experience and had no problems with sea sickness, butit was different while at supper, I had helped to serve the meal and I sat down to eat my meal when the table appeared to float towards me, it was a very strange experience, seasick in barracks, though in all my sea times I was never seasick and in fact was an excellent sailor in all weathers.
Later when being sent on loan to another destroyer, H.M.S. Ambuscade, this was for about two weeks to help in cleaning duties, fate looked after me. One night one of the first class stokers asked me if I would like to go out that evening with him as his girlfriend was in Portsmouth on holiday and he wanted a partner for her friend. Having nothing to do, I went along; it was an enjoyable evening but being under age I had to be on board for midnight, ten o’clock in R.N.B., we had finished up on the beach alongside the pier far away from the docks and as time was running out the two girls and my friend left leaving me to fine my way back to the ship. This in itself was no problem except that I was in strange territory and took the wrong turning. After walking down various streets I found that midnight was there and I had a long way to go. Anyway I duly arrived late back at the ship, I reported to the quartermaster and he said carry on, which I certainly did.
The next morning I told my friend all about it and he said that he would look into it by making a few discrete enquiries. This he did and came back to say that the coxswain, Senior Chief PO on the ship, had put me down as “T” for temperance instead of underage. The system was that anyone 20 or over was entitled to draw rum or grog at 11am, anyone drawing rum was entered on the register as “G” and non rum drinkers as “T”, it would appear that to the coxswain one was either “G” or “T”. My fears, therefore, were unfounded as I had been entered as “T” and therefore on his books I was 20.
On one occasion a party of us were taken to the sports field as a cleaning party, on arrival we were detailed for various tasks I was sent as messenger to a Lieutenant finding that he was an expert javelin thrower and my duty was to bring the javelin back to him after every throw.
During one of my excursions across the parade ground I watched a squad of Petty Officers doing drills with small flags and one PO I noticed in particular, now this was 1936, and in 1952 I met a chap in Southampton Docks who looked familiar. We got into conversation and I mentioned the likeness, it then turned out that he was that PO and had served on the HOOD the same time as me, yet we never once met, mind there were over 1200 ships company on the Hood, there were many I did not know.
Introduction / My Thoughts on the Royal Navy / Chapter 1 - Early Navy Days / Chapter 2 - H.M.S. Hood / Chapter 3 - Portsmouth Barracks / Chapter 4 - H.M.S Cossack / Chapter 5 - Coastal Forces / Chapter 6 - H.M.S. Skate / Chapter 7 - H.M.S. Tarbert / Chapter 8 - H.M.S. Concord