SHARKY WARD'S RECOLLECTIONS
Read some recollections sent in by Sharky - It may well bring back those lazy, hazy days of your youth !
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19th November 2014
A strange sense of humour ?
Bloody great ship taking up the majority of the dockside even in the dark you could still tell how big it was , I didn’t know at that time that there were much larger ships about but as it was my first ship , to me it was huge.
The first thing that hit me was the noise. What a racket, there were fans sucking air in and fans sucking air out, it was nearly midnight and some wally was banging something and others were walking around the steel decks wearing Hobnail Boots, as I struggled up the gangway with my bag & hammock the question crossed my mind as to whether I was ever going to sleep again !
The ship's name at the top of the gangway proclaimed it was H.M.S Indefatigable and for our class of Ganges boys it was going to be the first ship we were going to serve on, it was an Aircraft Carrier, we didn’t know what the hell it was till we got there, well anyway I didn’t .
There was only one airplane aboard covered in tarpaulins strapped down on the flight deck the rest of the ship having been taken over as a Training Ship so down below, the Hanger Space was divided into mess decks by the liberal use of plywood , Quite snug really, you could hear the bloke 30ft away rummaging in his locker, someone loudly breaking wind someone snoring, probably the same bloke, Real cosy like !
How many were on the ship I don’t know but there was several hundred, lots of them were
“Upper Yardsmen“. They wore a white ribbon under their hat tally to denote they were
“Officers in training“ they were all succumbing to the Royal Navy's art of being a snob and asshole at the same time, all were putting in requests to have a name change by sticking a hyphen to something like (Walker ) they could now be called (Smyth-Walker) or whatever they thought was posh , It didn’t matter to us what they called themselves 'cause we called all officers Pigs.
It wasn’t only that officers treated us as something that was brought in on the sole of a shoe as they were twice as nasty to any of their fellow officers who happened to be slightly junior to them or were a bit hard pushed to pay their mess bills, I supposed it was just one of the less disgusting habits left over from their public school education.
At Ganges we had to get up at some god-forsaken time nearly every morning and queue up outside for a hot mug of Kai ( thick chocolate ) and 3 ships biscuits. The routine on the Carrier was a bit different and after Rounds (evening inspection) one of us would take the mess deck fanny to the Galley for the cooks to fill with Kai.
We had been at sea for a couple of weeks when 2 or 3 bright sparks in the Galley decided to liven things up by putting something in the Kai, the rumour was that it was a chemical that they used to test the salinity in the water supply.
Hammocks get slung pretty high on a carrier and trying to get out of one, keeping your legs tightly together and one of your two hands clamping the cheeks of your backside shut is impossible .
My insides were knotted and the ability to "hold on" was impossibe and I managed to join the queue with the other poor sods dragging their way to the Heads where there were 10 or 15 waiting outside each pen . When I say waiting you don’t wait when the situation's that dire ,
There was devastation everywhere, the spitkids, the showers .... everywhere. Those who
were lucky enough and got to sit on the toilet just couldn’t or wouldn’t get off once they were on. By then the smell was pretty bad and the officer of the watch and others were getting the message .
I had joined about 2 dozen other lads hanging on to the guardrails on the Cable Deck easing and straining over the side ( the lea side ) the wind was blowing hard and you weren’t too sure if some of the spray was seawater !
Rust stains running from where they bring up the anchor are a common sight but I can still muster a smile whenever I see them, the three cooks got caught. They would have got away with it if it wasn't for two or three officers who sadly decided to partake of a nice hot cup of cocoa before they turned in thinking that it would help them to relax, needless to say that because officers were involved the cooks got the book thrown at them and rumour had it that they did some time in that infamous Maltese hell hole, Coradina, it was said that this prison was run by Bootnecks and we all know what a hard bunch of bar stewards they can be. Anyone doing more than a few days in there ended up with the “Thousand Yard Stare“
The rest of the night I spent wrapped in my blanket huddled in the corner trying to keep warm and sleep.
As Boy Seamen we were not allowed to wear shoes so it was them damn hobnail boots that the lads were just slipping their feet into to drag themselves down to the heads making a racket that went on till dawn ,
As you can imagine the next day the bathrooms were full to the brim with blokes trying to Dhobi their bedding and underwear. I suppose that in today’s Navy they would send everything to the laundry , I reckon that if you handed them a dhobi bucket and half a bar of Pussers Hard they would be hard pushed to work out what it was for.
Gibraltar was the next stop to join the Superb, but another little “ mishap” occurred on the way there.
It's A Long Way Down
(or A Sailor's Tale of Woe)
H.M.S Ganges boys were looked on as being somewhat better than the average newcomer in the navy because of the year training they did at “Shotley”. In a lot of situations it made you a 'mark', meaning that there was always someone who was waiting hopefully for you to make a balls up.
I found this out the hard way when I had to do some time sea training on H.M.S. Hedingham Castle, an old frigate chasing our submarines around off Portland.
I arrived on board, duly paid my respects to the quarterdeck and was then told where my mess was. I hauled my kit bag and hammock down the ladder and just as I was asking one of the men which locker I was to use, The Leading Hand above shouted “Ward Ward –up top NOW !” Whereupon I was informed that I was in the “Rattle”. It appears that in my absence I had been appointed Cook of the Mess and the first duty to be performed when my feet touched the deck was to scour the notice board.
What a lousy trick to play on a 16 year old kid, I should have known there was something in the wind because the Leading Hand was a shifty looking Rat and others in the mess deck didn’t seem to want eye contact.
At “Defaulters” next day I was awarded seven days punishment for my crime. it became obvious that they laid this little trap for every novice. I suppose it was their quaint way of acquiring someone to peel the spuds for a week.
At Ganges we did sea boat drill aplenty from Whalers to the big Cutters and the Gunnery Instructors who took us out into the Harwich harbour mouth in all weathers were completely “nuts”. The instructor we always had had the apt name Chief Petty Officer Merryweather!! A very descriptive title that said it all.
When the boat heeled over so much that the water was coming over the bulwarks he made you shin up the mast to “Dip the Stick” when going about. Perhaps someone can put me right, but I can’t ever recall wearing a life jacket.
On the Carrier H.M.S. Indefatigable we were on, when screwing it across the Bay of Biscay, I said screwing because anyone who’s done time on the wheel trying to keep on course knows that Carriers don’t just pitch and roll, some bright spark up there in the Wardroom thought to himself, with the sea being a bit lively would be ideal for those little sailor boys who were fully trained up in seamanship to give a demonstration of how to launch a boat from and Aircraft Carrier.
So there we were, us little boys, sitting in our appointed places in the boats hanging onto the Davits over a sea that was looking decidedly angry. The event was being watched by all on the ship as well being broadcast over the Tannoy that this is a Training Demo.
On the order “Lower Away” we were eased downwards by the officer in charge of the Boat Deck. Now, whether this officer was new to the game or had just been celebrating some event in the wardroom I don’t know, but it soon turned out, to our peril, that he weren’t too hot on boat drill.
He should have looked down making sure everything was as it should be, then give the order “Out Pins”. The Bowman, who was me, and the man in the stern sheets would take off the mousing wire securing the pins, remove the pins from the Robinson’s Disengaging gear then hold your arm straight up denoting that your pin was out, waiting the next order “Slip”.
The officer was probably concentrating more on dropping the boat cleanly on the next wave that he forgot the sequence of orders, should, of course, have shouted to the Coxswain asking “All ready in the boat?”. He never got round to asking the Coxswain and just shouted “Slip”.
We shot down at a fair old pace, me with my hand still held high and the bloke in the stern still trying to take the mousings that were still holding his pin in place.
With the boat still being attached at the stern meant the bows were going to hit the water first, and as I saw that wall of crystal cold water coming for me I thought, this ain’t going to be pleasant! So, leaping up and managing to grab hold of the boat’s “falls” started to haul myself up the ship's side. The next wave tried to drag me off but my head and shoulders still dry, I was getting up those ropes like a young monkey. Most of the crew were now splashing about in the sea, three or four lads thinking they were safer staying in the boat, hung there clinging to the thwarts, a stupid move as waves were rinsing bottom boards, oars and everyone else out of the boat now hanging perpendicular from then ship’s falls.
I think they had an Admiral on board and it was rumoured there was a bit of a panic on the Bridge, probably due to the young age of the crew and the chance the Daily Mirror might be getting a good story.
Four of the lads, meanwhile, had drifted way out clinging to some debris from the accident and were picked up later by a couple of escorting Destroyers.
With the best will in the world someone on board thought that by lowering heaving lines down to those in the drink they would have something to hold on to, but could have serious consequences.
One minute those floating would be four foot above the boot-topping and the next, five feet below it. Getting hold of the rope would leave you dangling with the pull of water trying to wrench your arm from its socket, or with it wrapped round your neck and you would have ended up like Captain Ahab strapped to Moby Dick.
All this was going on below me ’cause I was level with the boat deck, somewhat knackered and the davits wound out leaving me three foot away. The Commander who had rushed from the Bridge was trying to haul me in.
The lads were slowly recovering; all bar me had been given a good soaking. Today, with Elf and Safety we would be putting in claims and receiving counselling!!
Two hours later the laughs began. The four who drifted away clinging to bottom boards were harangued as to why they chose to have this ‘certain person’ included with them? After an hour of questioning three started to get bloody angry and this ‘certain person’ they referred to happened to have the largest cupped ears ever seen, with that the jokers reckoned that with his “Lugs” they would been off the Azores by morning!!
Another rather chubby lad from Southern Ireland, who was the last to be pulled out looking like he had been in the sea a fortnight, laid there with water pouring out of his clothing gasped “Don’t mind me! Save the lads”.
Very melodramatic but that little piece of Blarney was to follow him for the rest of his time in the Navy. It was the Matelots opposite equivalent of “Eff you Jack, I’m in board”.
All this occurred in 1953.
I will not admit to what part of my appendage the Commander got hold of me to pull me in off the ropes.