Royal Navy – Training

At the age of 16 I joined the Royal Navy at HMS Ganges, Shotley, Ipswich. I had always said I would join up. I am unsure if this was due to my brother John being in the Navy. He was in the Engineering branch – known then as the stokers.

On arriving at HMS Ganges we were taken to a separate block for new entries where all of your details were given to the block instructors. They would instruct you on routines and procedures. First there were haircuts – all cuts were short back and sides. Once this was over we were taken to the kit area where you were measured up for your first suit (off the peg) and also issued with 2 pairs of boots – one pair for general use, and one for best – 4 shirts, one night dress (pyjamas were issued upon leaving), socks and underwear. Next were the delousing stages. The following day all of your personal gear was boxed and sent home.

Next we were all assembled and broken into groups. You were issued with a “ditty box” for personal effects and letters, a metal hat box for your best cap and a sewing kit containing needles and thread. Each group was given a stamp with your name carved into the wood. You had to stamp your name on every article of clothing – for dark clothing a white colour, and for your “duck suit”, black. The reason for the stamp was that as you would be in the entry block for a month to adjust. In that month you would stitch your name into every article of clothing and your boots would be metal name stamped. During this period you would be assessed for class structure and you would be taught discipline and sewing. You would also be assessed on swimming. You would have to swim 2 lengths of the pool with your duck suit on (which is like a canvas material). Well after we had completed all of our drills we passed out. We were affectionately still known as a bunch of “nozzers”. After inspection all of your clothing, with your name stitched inside, was properly rolled into lengths the width of the seamanship manual with ties the distance apart of one seamanship manual. Everything was displayed so you could see you name clearly stitched on. We were then given our class. I was placed into Advanced Class (A/C) 148. We were shown how to place all of our gear into a kit bag (which had your name on). During the time in new entry we were assessed for a sport, where one instructor built like a battleship, said “well a rugger player, left wing, three quarter” and that’s where I played all of my time at Shotley. We where then marched outside in classes with our kit bags and introduced to our instructors for the next 12 – 15 months. One was Angus Walker (parade instructor) and the other was CPO Tas Torpedos (Seamanship). They marched us down to the long covered way and to what they called the short covered way with the announcement that “this will be your home for next few months”. It will be kept in tip top condition – and spotless. You will now be allocated your bed number and locker. When we went in the floor was so highly polished with the instructions “No Boots are ever to mark this floor!” You had to take off your boots and place them on your locker floor. When they had explained how to stow your locker they showed us how they wanted all beds to be made up. All of the beds had to conform to each other, including the correct folding of the blankets etc.

We had to take a cold shower every morning, and in the evening it was always cocoa and a hard tack biscuit. This biscuit was so hard you had to soak it in your cocoa to soften it

Both instructors were very fair but very strict. After about a week we were gathered up with a little bit of soft soap (tact) they said that now we had all settled down we would commence our training. Like a ship, a certain rating had control when they were not present, so 4 leading boys, and one head boy had been selected by them. They had all of the instructors authority when they were not present. He then named the boys. I was not one of them. They then told us that after a week we could stitch on our A/C badge – a red star. This would allow us to visit the canteen. The canteen was by the mast in the parade ground, and we were only allowed there after being given the following instruction “You know where the quarter deck is so DO NOT forget to salute on crossing it. Away you go and don’t spend all of your sixpence at once.” Whilst on introduction training we were bound to send money home, which was sent to whoever was your guardian. The amount was 2/6d (2 shillings and 6 pence).

We had to learn to climb the mast. The mast was very frightening – it was very high. In due course we all overcame the fear and it was normal to go and climb up the mast, the rigging and the rattlings. The main climb was over the devils elbow. This was an angled out part of the rigging between the lower and the middle mast. From there you then proceeded up the rigging to the top mast where a single Jacobs Ladder led to where you could stand on top of the mast and become a “button boy”. I think the mast was about 160ft tall.

Whilst at Shotley, comradeship was installed into us. You all depended on each other. We were also all taught that education was still part of our life as we attended classes each day. The classes included seamanship, parade drill, gunnery, sports, physical education and cross country running. We were instructed in the art of boxing – my fighting weight being Bantam – in which I did fairly god in the competitions. We also learnt to use the Bosons Pipe. This was used to hoist boats in noisy areas, to pipe aboard a ships senior officer, and to draw attention to any order or announcement.

For all of a ships company, swimming was a must. After swimming in the nude you put on your duck suit (canvas suit) and you had to swim 2 lengths of the baths – our second test. Fortunately I was good at swimming and passed my test.

We also had at the bottom of the short covered way, a large dug out ditch, where we carried out a drill called “seamanship rivers”. This was a competition between two teams which consisted of taking a Field Gun across a chasm in pieces and reassembling it on the other side. This was in preparation, as we were told, that if we were sent to a capital ship (Battleship) or cruiser we had to have knowledge of how to land a mobile gun (cannon) by assembly if required. So we were shown with models how to lash two whalers on cutters (boats) to make a platform to take the gun to shore. We were also shown how to get it over any obstacles using sheer legs (posts) to make a bridge and travers.

Many other lessons were given on the sailing of cutters and whalers in the River Orwell. Racing crews were also selected. This was the propelling of either boats by oars. I was selected for a bowman for both crews. We gradually became a very good united Class 148 - in seamanship (Bosons pipe) all the class was awarded their Bosons Call and Chain.

HMS Ganges - Class AC148, 1937

I really liked the physical training. We had a very good team in the Box Horse and Groundwork (summersaults over the box horse), also exercises on the wall bars. In time we graduated to the high bar.

On the parade ground we were gradually whipped into a good marching class. On the gunnery I was not much good as I was left handed. On the sports side we had a very good rugby team. The cricket team was also very good as 3 of my class played for Shotley Rugby team. I also played for the base cricket team. It was great when we played a team away from base.

Education was not forgotten factor. We attended school every day and our subjects were Maths, English, Trigonometry, Naval History, Measurement, Navigation, magnetism and electricity. So as you can see, we were still learning! After 12-18 months of studying we all sat our final examinations which we passed with flying colours.

The whole class was drafted to sea training. Before leaving to join a destroyer for a week we were taught how to sling and lash a hammock. On our return we were drafted to Portsmouth to HMS Iron Duke, an old capital ship. To us it was our first real ship. It was hard for the first month. This is where we were introduced to the “Holy stone” which was nicknamed the Holy Bible. It was an instrument for keeping the wooden decks and the wooden covers for all the capstans and bollards (forewires) scrubbed clean when in harbour.

We had punishment drills for when you got out of line and this was referred to as “Jankers”. Jankers would consist of doubling (running) for about 30 minutes with a Lee Enfield rifle, which in that timescale becomes very heavy indeed. However punishment was accepted as being correct in those days. We joined HMS Iron Duke with pyjamas! The nightdresses had been withdrawn. Our week training in the destroyer came in handy as we were each given our own hammocks on joining the ship. The hammock was always lashed up by seven half loop turns, and had to be secured by an overlap, which made the hammock water tight. We were told they could be used for damage control, in conjunction with damage control mats, to block any hole sustained by a collision, accident or when ships were hit in action. We had been on HMS Iron Duke for about 2 months when most of the class were drafted to capital ship HMS Royal Sovereign. We stayed for a 2 month cruise around Scotland. During this time we were made to take part in a drill which only applied if the height of the ships mast was too tall to go under a bridge. The drill was referred to as “Striking the Top Mast” and was always used for passing under the Forth Bridge. Pulleys and ropes are fitted so that they can be manned by a number of men, and on hauling on the ropes it is possible to lift the top mast out of its housing. A piece called “The FID” is taken out and it allows the mast to be lowered. Reversing the procedure places the topmast back in its original location.

On leaving the Royal Sovereign (which we had nicknamed the Tiddly Quid) we joined HMS Revenge, a battleship, where we cruised around the Scottish Isles and Scapa Flow for around 3 months. After this we rejoined the HMS Iron Duke for our final drafting after our time at sea.