16 The Royal Navy

I don’t want to sound rotten about this, but in my opinion, having mixed with all parts of the other services, I would say the comradeship is highest in the navy

London Dockers’ Son   Around about the time of the bombing in London, 1940 or so, or a little later, they were putting dockers into an organisation known as the Millionaires Navy,  which was a Reserve Navy that went on active service.  They wore the Royal Navy uniform but they got civilian pay, hence the name.  They also got called the Golden Navy, as well, and they were resented by the regular Navy.  They got jobs like moving ammunition at Portsmouth.  The rest of the shipping was diverted outside of London.  Practically the entire docks area was razed to the ground.   Where I lived the docks was alight for about four days.  It’s just as well they did divert shipping.  Dockers were drafted into this Millionaires Navy.

Chief Petty Officer  I was on most boats, including submarines, but oh jeez – I hated submarines.  Oh, when that bloody hatch was closed – Christ.  It’s deadly on a submarine.  Bloody deadly it is.  Though you don’t pay much attention to it, you’ve always this fear in your belly.  When was war broke out, was I bloody glad I got transferred!  I didn’t ask to get transferred, but was I glad.  I got down and kissed terra firm, when I got out.  I think everybody was the same.  In those days you didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of getting up.  That was it.  It was curtains.  They were so obsolete.  Christ, everything you touched fell to pieces, for lack of maintenance.  Everything had been let slide.  They hadn’t kept up with the modern idiom as regards anything – guns, weaponry – anything.  I’m not going to blame the Conservatives, even though they were in power at the time.  It would be wrong to blame any government.  It was the thing of the age.  They thought the 1914 – 1918 war was the war to end wars, like the last one was.

The Navy was extremely strict on discipline.  I think more strict than the other forces

But not with the brutality that you got in the army, although brutality came into to it on a lot of different ships.  Don’t forget, there’s no back doors in the navy.  You can’t run into the next field.  This is the difference between the navy and all the other forces.  You had to work together, your lives depended on it, so you had to be strict.

Normally the discipline was left to the PO, and you could get some wicked PO’s.  But in a way I suppose – and I came more or less up from the bottom – although I was subjected to  all this treatment, I think it did you a lot of good in some respects.  In some cases, when the war broke out the old-timers had got that bloody fed-up at getting new recruits who didn’t know the first thing about seamanship, that they had to be bullies to make sure you learned the right way.  But some PO’s I’ve seen knock AB’s down gang-plank with their fists. (1)

One of the worst, one of the noxious jankers jobs was you got put on painting.  Oh bloody hell!  You had to go round with a chipping hammer.  That and in the galley – mountains of rotten greasy stinking pans.  They were the worst.  You had to be a very bad, very bad lad if you got the brig, and if you got the brig for more than forty-eight hours you’ve done something exceedingly bad, and usually it was something to do with the safety of the ship.  You very rarely, on the ships I was on, got put in the brig for ordinary acts of foolishness, or pissing about.  It was for smoking in forbidden quarters, which is a great hazard aboard a ship.  It’s stupid but you got blokes doing it.  Or later on, when we were in action, and we was in the Atlantic, and we were searching for the big ones, I caught one bloke lighting a match – of all things – on deck.  A lit match, even a glow of a cigarette is visible for several miles at sea, and don’t forget, we was after the Graf Spee.  These were the things were discipline was cracked down on.  I myself was very, very strong about this.

I don’t want to sound rotten about this, but in my opinion, having mixed with all parts of the other services, I would say the comradeship is highest in the navy.   It’s because it is the navy that the comradeship is the highest.  It has to be.  You have to trust one another. You usually sorted the bad ones out and they usually asked for a transfer or got transferred.  The brotherhood was tightly knit.  Obviously at times tempers got frayed – boredom, etcetera.  Fights occurred, especially when you weren’t in action, but after a bit you was all the best of mates.   There was very few grudges carried.  I carried one against an officer  – I must admit this – because he was a homo.  It wasn’t being a homo that upset me so much but the fact he took advantage of very young ratings.  I made his life such bloody hell because I caught him red-handed.  I had an idea what was going on.  He got transferred in the end.

But you have to trust one another.  I mean, I’ve seen lads like in submarines, in the old days you had to close them by hand (now they’re sealed automatically) – all hatches are sealed in times of action.  If you’re in the part’s that flooded it’s just too bloody bad.  You drown, that’s all there is to it.  I’ve seen blokes go down hatches, like they did on the Ajax, and other boats where we’ve been in action, into hatches where the hatch had to be sealed after them, and they’ve known it’s ten to one against them coming out of the hatch alive, and yet they’ve done it without flinching.  I don’t think it’s bravery.  It wasn’t bravery – it was just that they knew it was their job to do this, and the ship, and the rest of the men depended on them obeying their orders.  I think a lot of them should have got V.C’s.  A lot of them never got mentioned – but it was this comradeship – you never hesitated, never mind how frightened you was, you never hesitated to obey the command.

There was no running to get into a bloody do that you had no chance of coming out of – let’s get that right straight away

I was always afraid and I think everybody would admit the truth – there wasn’t such a word as cowardice – you was just shit scared of being the next one to cop it.  The Ajax was the flagship of the flotilla.  It was supposed to be  an attack flotilla because of all the torpedo tubes we were fitted with.  But you’ve got to get bloody near to a boat to fire these things – too bloody near, I’ll tell you.  And when you think we were being hit at twelve miles before we was anywhere near in range, and it wasn’t shells they were firing, it was houses.  Don’t you believe that our navy had the edge on the German navy.  Don’t you believe it.  Oh jeez – we had nothing to compare with.  Even the very latest battleships – King George Fifth, Prince of Wales – they had 14″ guns, but their 14″ guns couldn’t compare with 15″ guns of the Tirpitz and the 11″ guns of the Graf Spee.  No, we had nothing.

1.  PO – Petty Officer;  AB – Able Seaman.

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