Read some recollections sent in by Margaret- It may well bring back those lazy, hazy days of your youth !
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Written in June, 2016
James Owen Norgan - A wife's memories
Jim was born on the 27th May 1927 at Bemberton Street, Islington, North London. His father, Edward, worked on the railway and his mother, Rachel, did a cleaning job. They had six children, of which Jim was the youngest. Their living conditions were crowded and it wasn’t until they moved to Holloway that Jim had a bedroom of his own.
Going to school was not the most exciting part of Jim’s life and didn’t give him any skills other than having attained a good standard in the three R’s. He left at the age of 14.
His first work experience was that of a tea boy which entailed fetching the men mugs of hot steamy tea and dripping sandwiches, plus any other odd job he was called upon to do.
Jim had joined the Sea Cadets earlier on and this led to an interest in the navy.
This is a brief glimpse into Jim’s navy days.
As well as copies of Jim’s progress during his three year service it includes stories told to me and our children, and many friends over the years.
There is no chronological sequence to the anecdotes.
I genuinely believe that some of the happiest times of Jim’s life were those spent in the Royal Navy. Many years after his service he spoke fondly of the experience.
I didn’t know Jim at the time so these are memories of his memories.
Jim’s service in the Royal Navy began in the January of 1945 when, at the age of 17 years, he volunteered for a period of three years or until the emergency ended – the emergency being the Second World War that was still in progress.
He had no particular skills and signed on as an assistant cook. I believe Jim was hoping to see some action but it was not to be for the war ended in May of that same year, the same month that Jim had his 18th birthday.
He had to present himself on the 6th February to the recruiting centre, and on that same day he was assigned to HMS Royal Arthur – a shore based vessel – for his training.
The first talk given to the new recruits was about the ‘Birds and the Bees’. I can just picture the faces of those young men as they waited in eager anticipation for the talk to begin. I can just picture, too, their faces at the end – perhaps wondering why an increased knowledge of the birds and the bees, not forgetting the rabbits, could enhance their future love life! I can imagine how those testosterone-filled young men must have felt.
Ever conscious of the men's welfare, when a ship was about to enter a port a notice was put up warning them of the dangers of sexually transferred diseases in the area.
Without wishing to denigrate Newcastle it was apparently one of the worse places in the British Isles. To help the men even further, as they left the ship for shore leave, they doffed their hats and three condoms were placed inside! Sounds like it was a short leave to me.
Obviously the men had moved on since the ‘Birds and the Bees’.
After training Jim was assigned to the ‘Superb’ in the October of 1945.
One of his tasks was to make the evening mug of cocoa for the officers. This was not made with the normal brown powder such as we use today. Oh! No! This was the genuine McCoy. Pieces were cut from a large slab of chocolate – placed in the mug and hot milk poured over.
Jim seemed to enjoy this as between the galley and the officers he was able to sample some of the softened chocolate lumps. I think the words ‘seemed to enjoy’ are a bit of an understatement!
He often said, in later years, that he wished he could buy the ‘best chocolate in the world’.
There was an occasion when Jim missed the last train back to his ship – called ‘being adrift’. This was a very serious offence because being late, one ran the risk of being left ashore, should the ship have to sail.
He had to sleep on a station bench and wait for the milk train! He was woken by a station guard who wanted to know what he was doing there.
When Jim explained the guard was quite sympathetic and promised to wake Jim as the appropriate time!
When arriving back at the ship the duty Petty Officer and/or Officer of the Watch informed Jim that he was ‘On the Rattle’, which meant he had to present himself the next morning at the Commander’s Table to explain the reason for being late.
Jim’s punishment was to run around the deck a given number of times with a rifle above his head. He told us that ‘This was easy-peasy’. Was he just showing off to his children? On the other hand, he was very young and fit at the time!
This particular punishment was probably called No. 9 and under article of the King’s Regulations & Admiralty Instructions; the punishment for excessive and repeated lateness a man could, in lieu of detention, be sentenced to 7, 14, 21 or 28 days Number 9s.
Jim never did divulge the reason for missing the train – I wouldn’t mind betting it was a girl he met whilst on leave, and being a true sailor, saw her home for a goodnight kiss!
I think Jim learnt his lesson first time round.
My favourite story is about the Rum ration.
I was given to understand that any surplus rum had to be disposed of. Sounds illogical but ........
Jim and his mates devised a scheme whereby the excess rum was not lost. I do not know who, amongst the group was responsible for the idea, but the plan was this: One of the sinks in the galley was sterilised, as was the pipe beneath. So too was a bucket. The bung was removed from the pipe and so the rum would travel into the bucket. I don’t how it was stored, or even if they were ever discovered, but Jim certainly enjoyed the telling of this tale. There must have been some Jolly Jack Tars in the galley.
It has been widely believed that to touch a sailor’s collar brought good luck. I cannot trace where this came from but my daughter read in one book that originally a girl would touch a sailor’s collar to make him stop and turn. The girl would relieve the sailor of all his hard earned cash whilst on board (it doesn’t mention how this was achieved!).
I know that when Jim was out and about in town he would often get someone touching his collar. Initially he felt quite chuffed at this but it became a nuisance after a while. Who knows, I might have been one of those who touched his collar for luck!
AMSTERDAM. ....................... Like many of the European countries, Holland was occupied by the Germans during the war and, like other countries, the population suffered a great deal.
‘HMS Superb’ paid a goodwill visit and the sailors were made very welcome. There were invites to homes, parties and dances.
I think the Dutch wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to England for their efforts in freeing them from the Nazi Regime.
The island of Malta was an important strategic place during the war and the Germans were very anxious to have it for themselves. Malta was part of English territory. Due to its importance, the Germans put Malta under constant attack. As a consequence the citizens were under bombardment on a daily basis. At the end of the hostilities the Island was awarded the George Cross by King George V1
Valetta the main port was full of English ships.
Jim always said he didn’t like Malta but it was one of the first places we visited, at his suggestion.
By that time Malta had gained its independence from England. I was treated to a tour of Valetta, and to one place in particular – a very narrow street called ‘The Gut’. This was a notorious place where the sex trade was prevalent. The girls would stand in doorways plying for trade and one way they did this was to try and grab a sailor’s hat to get his attention. Losing one’s hat was one of the worst offences – I’m sure the punishment for this was severe.
The men were made very welcome by the population – dances and invites were abundant. Not much chance of chatting up the girls at the dances as they were always accompanied by a chaperone.
Italy was on the opposing side during the war until almost the end when the population rose up against their involvement with Germany.
Again, the ship’s company was made very welcome with the usual dances and tea parties. They were warned not to take advantage of the generosity of the people as they had so little, but were anxious to share and also, in a way, to say ‘Thank-you’.
This was not a goodwill visit by the ‘Superb’ as Israel was in turmoil at that time. I’m not sure of its role in being there but it centred round the number of Jewish refugees from Germany and other parts of the world who wanted a State of their own.
The ship was fired on and, because of the concern for the sailors’ safety, they were only allowed to swim near the ship and were guarded by two or more small boats with armed sailors on board.
These boats were also used for ferrying men ashore, or bringing guests for cocktails with the captain.
In the beginning the Jews were not allowed to land as the world was not happy with the situation. However, Israel eventually gained their longed for State.
The first visit here was to accompany King George V1. He came aboard the ‘Superb’ to thank them for the escort.
To Jim it looked as if the King was wearing make-up. He found this to be true, as most of the Royals, including the men had to be clearly seen by the people.
The second trip was to take Princess Elizabeth to Belfast.
There were visits to ports around the British Isles, including Newcastle and Southend-on-Sea with its famous Kursaal, where the sailors enjoyed many an evening.
This country was also invaded by the Germans and suffered much devastation. The usual warm welcome awaited the ship and its crew and the usual entertainment was laid on.
During all the fun, and not so fun, times of Jim’s service, his ‘partner in crime ‘was Norman Newman.
Norman came from Dudley – had a girlfriend to whom he wrote every night but that didn’t stop him from enjoying the dances and entertainment during their foreign trips.
After their service they lost touch. I guess it was difficult as they lived quite a few miles apart.
FIFTY YEARS LATER.
I had written a letter to a magazine and by happy chance Norman read that magazine and recognised the unusual surname. He contacted the magazine to ask to be put in touch. A letter arrived!
Norman and his wife were off to Eastbourne for a holiday so we decided to go to Eastbourne for a weekend to meet up and so began a wonderful friendship. We would visit them and they would visit us. Such happy times – Norman was a wit and he tried to teach me to speak with a Northern accent! He always had a camera to hand.
Sadly Norman died around 2006/7. I know men are not supposed to cry but it was so sad a time, for Jim in particular. I still treasure those memories.
Within a year or so of leaving the Navy, Jim contracted tuberculosis. His condition was very serious and an operation was the only way to move forward. He was 23 yrs. old.
Tuberculosis was rife at the time – his brother had died during a similar operation and Jim’s mother did all she could to persuade Jim against it. Jim decided he would take the 50-50 chance that was offered, rather than remain an invalid with a short life expectancy. He had two ribs removed for the operation and a collapsed lung.
He was extremely lucky in that he came through the operation thanks to the surgeon and his team, but also to the fact the Royal Navy Benevolent Fund paid for him to recuperate in Switzerland where he would sleep on the veranda to benefit from the fresh mountain air.
His mother died whilst he was there but he was not allowed home.
On return to this country, the fear of tuberculosis was great and many previous friends crossed the road, rather than speak to him.
Not a good experience for a young man.
It all turned out all right in the end, he met ME and there begins another story.
The writing of this booklet has been a labour of love for me and I’d like to express my thanks to:-
First of all, my daughter Gillian who is a ‘Google’ expert.
Brian Saunders of the ‘Superb Association’ for help with the Royal Navy procedures and for his interest and encouragement.
John Miller, a photographic wizard for help with some tidying up of 70 year old photographs.