Brian Keeler's RECOLLECTIONS
Read some recollections sent in by Brian - It may well bring back those lazy, hazy days of your youth !
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By Brian Keeler written under the nom de plume
(Two characters from our training ship days)
Having spent four and a half years in the Hornchurch Unit No: 184 (T.S. Hurricane) of the Sea Cadet Corps, I had spent quite a few trips to our local Navy Day at Chatham, plus various spells aboard warships, or stone frigates, whilst learning various subjects and helping to train Boy Cadets when they were started.
When March the 29th 1954 arrived, I presented myself as requested for National Service at Victoria Barracks at Portsmouth for initial training and kitting out. This barracks had been built in Napoleonic times for the army, who then moved out and the navy it took over, in a life expired condition, to train National Servicemen.
My time in the Sea Cadets had prepared me for the initial training, which a mixture of Petty Officers and Chiefs had a short time to knock us into shape for our two years. The barracks was notable for having beds and lockers which were badly knocked about, and bathrooms with plumbing problems, usually causing flooding to occur when you tried to use them.
During the time we spent there, friendships were made and I found that my oppo. Ken Taylor, plus Mike Hufton and Johnny Lewis, managed a few runs ashore, but there was a name which came to be heard on many occasions. The Tannoy would very often crackle and an announcement: “Ordinary Seaman Cashman report to the Regulating Office”, which could vary with the Divisional Office, Stores or any other mysterious area of the barracks.
It seemed as if this guy either had bad hearing or chose not to respond, as repeat messages would ring out ”Ordinary Seaman Cashman report at the double” to whichever area requested his pleasure.
Strangely, we never came across this character who seemed to be sought by many persons there in command, but when we transferred on 8th April to Portland, to join the two old fleet carriers, H.M.S. Indefatigable and H.M.S. Implacable, which were now the Training Squadron, who should appear in our mess deck, but one Ordinary Seaman Cashman.
At last we were to meet and greet the most sought after person in Victoria Barracks and as we were to shortly find out, his name became a legend on the good ship Implacable.
We discovered he was about ten years older than us (we were all around 18) as he had been trying to avoid National Service, as he quite a good job with a newspaper in Reading and had almost managed to accomplish his dream, when he was picked up at the latest age for entry. He was incredibly well informed, no doubt due to his job as a senior reporter on the newspaper, and we discovered he was a devout Catholic.
When he finally dropped out of his hammock, he would drop to his knees on the deck and say prayers for some time, a routine which he also carried out at night before clambering into it. We were to discover that, once again, his name would be heard being required to report somewhere, which inevitably would become more urgent and sometimes discovered why he had not been fell in with the rest of us.
One of the favourite pastimes on board, used to be an early morning sweep of the Flight Deck, which I think was often futile, as any breeze would have carried out the task. As had been the case at barracks, was repeated on Implacable as the Tannoy howled for Cashman, who would very often saunter up to the Chief or Petty Officer in charge to report why he had not been in attendance earlier.
Very often his excuse would be that he was praying, which he felt was more important than sweeping the Flight Deck! This was received by various incredulous personages, who could not quite understand why this very polite person had such an excuse. He would very often argue his case with such clever wording that everyone was to get the idea that national Service was something he felt unimportant. He held down a very important job on his newspaper and felt that his ability in an office type environment would be much better suited to him rather than sweeping up and various other menial tasks, carried out by other trainee Seamen!
Very often the Chiefs and P.Os were dumbfounded by his arguments and, a short time after, he was transferred to the Supplies and Secretariat Division where he exchanged his Square Rig uniform for a Fore and Aft variety.
We then discovered he had another particular talent, as he was able to play most brass instruments and he received yet another uniform, as a Royal Marine, who were keen to have him in Ship’s band.
Gradually he seemed to disappear from our area of operations, unless we saw him going about the ship in one of his other uniforms, depending on which role he was playing. I must admit that after we left Implacable, we lost contact with him.
The other character was Mike Hufton, who found the various requirements quite difficult as we discovered that he had received a private school education and had led quite a sheltered life with his parents. His father had a business in Solihull, which manufactured real Needle and Pins (not those sung about by the Searchers in 1964).
It was useful how my time in the Sea Cadets had meant that I found out how you dhobi your gear, iron the same, bull your boots, tie a cap tally etc., which information was much sought after by the other recruits, especially Mike.
When we had our first kit inspection at the barracks most of us had to hunt down cardboard, cut to the size of the Seamanship Manual, and this meant Stores there were very often out of stock, due to the demand, so local supermarkets often supplied the need.
It had been noticed that Mike did not seem to be making the efforts to obtain cardboard and we warned him of the possible consequences if he didn’t have his kit laid out on the day. However, before the day he received a big parcel and everyone was eager to know what was in it, which seemed to cause Mike some embarrassment, as when he opened it we saw a large quantity of machine cut cardboard, all the size of the Seamanship Manual. I must say that, after sorting out his requirements, he passed on the remainder to others who still needed it.
On 09.06.1954 the Training Squad hoisted anchors and moved off to drop anchor again off Torquay. Food on board the Implacable was pretty disgusting and, if you fancied it, the portions were rather small ans when young Michael went ashore he came back struggling with a large suitcase which, of course, caused his nosey messmates to ask what was inside.
Blushing with embarrassment he opened it up to show vast quantities of cake, sausage rolls etc., which he kindly shared with his messmates until it was all gone. We anchored off Greenock on 11th June and young Michael went off ashore with the empty suitcase and was seen getting into a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, which drove off. When he returned on board another suitcase came with him, revealing further food supplies which his Mum and Dad had brought in the Roller!
After leaving Greenock on the 15th, the two carriers moved up through the Western Isles and anchored at Loch Ewe, where we to participate in the Training Squadron Regatta on the 17th to 18th, when Indefatigable won by 107.5 points to 104.5 of the Implacable. It was a shame that no one in high authority had thought fit to advise the few residents on the local hamlet, Aultbea, of the imminent arrival of the two mighty carriers, carrying 12,000 crew and trainees.
This consisted of a small general store, a pub and a few cottages at that time, and by the time we left, the pub and store had been emptied, but, luckily for us the messmates of Mike, the Roller had turned up, as usual, with Mum and Dad, who kept up their “Supply Train”.
The two carriers left of the 21st and passed through the Pentland Firth and whilst we out of sight of land, carried out manoeuvres, which included the Indefatigable leaving for Aarhus in Denmark, whilst we headed southward to Rotterdam where we arrived on the 24th and left on the 30th.
Mum and Dad Hufton did not arrive at Rotterdam (much to our surprise), but we found many of the local population eager to take a Matelot under their wing and ply him with food and drink, which was most acceptable! We left Rotterdam then headed northward carrying out evolutions on the way to Rosyth on 2nd July, where, besides meeting up with Indefatigable once more, we were pleased to find the Hufton Supply Roller as well.
We stayed here for a week before returning to Portland on the 11th and, discovered we were to transfer to our home depots the following day. We said our farewells to our messmates and thanked Mike for sharing the contents of his case so readily.
Ken Taylor and I were to become Chatham Gentlemen and, after our leave, headed for dry dock off 1 Basin to join the Superb, which was to provide lots of hard work before we left for the America and West Indies, which is another story.
Written in October. 2011