The day to day chores

The day came when more of the new breed of craftsmen were sent to the ship to supplement the work normally done by the regulars and to carry out duties which were occasioned by the advent of more and more new technology. For example, at night, E’ Boats were wont to tie up to the buoys along the swept channel running from the Thames Estuary to past the Humber and even nearly as far as South Shields. They would sow mines then lie there in the dark waiting for the convoys heading North and then to the Atlantic or returning from America. The radar operator would record a signal and shout up the voice pipe that he had “Echo bearing Green 30”, or whatever. The Navigator or the Officer of the Watch would consult the chart and, in the early days would shout back, “Disregard, buoy Number so and so.” and that would be that for a little while until a ship in the middle of the convoy would burst into flames followed by another and maybe more.

The Admiralty then sent us men whose sole purpose was to listen through the hours of darkness for the officers on the ‘E’ Boats communicating in German with one another in plain language, the specialists would then try to obtain a bearing on the ‘E’ Boats and we would be off in pursuit, irrespective of mines. These specialists had to be housed somewhere and as my accommodation in the PO’s Mess had met with such resentment the Skipper decided to start another Mess. To it were added the ERA, the Engine room Artificer, the Gunnery Artificer and a couple of other stray bodies. A small compartment about twelve feet by twelve, became home to us, it was cramped and uncomfortable, especially at night when most of the hammocks were slung, but we melded and that was the main thing.
The two specialists were German speakers, both straight from University with little or no training in the ways of the sea, even their dress, and their lack of interest in improving it, proclaimed them to be fish out of water. One was a lecturer and the other an Estonian who was a perennial student and had attended a number of colleges both in Britain and on the Continent. We were not resented by the rest of the crew, just treated as one would expect Martians to be treated if they were found to be benign. We would get visits reminiscent of those of children at the zoo seeing Orang-utang for the first time, with similarly inane comments. Slowly the novelty wore off and then we became the focus of attention for a different reason. We were all avid readers and our combined tastes were as catholic as a public library. Slowly, round the tops of the lockers the collection of books grew, and as it grew so men from all parts of the ship came to borrow. We had become a voluntary lending library. Even the Officers came and it was interesting to find that among the crew, the more uneducated the men were, the greater the number of the classical or informative books they borrowed.

Small ships, like destroyers, frigates, corvettes and mine sweepers had relatively so few crew in each Mess and the Messes were so scattered throughout the ship, that with watch keeping duties it was difficult to feed them in the way big ships did with what was called ‘central Messing’. In the latter case there were chefs and a dining area where the men were fed on the cafeteria system. On the small ships we had what was called ‘canteen Messing’ which would appear a strange name when we had no canteen in the accepted sense. In fact we had a little tiny cubicle about the size of the average bathroom which formed a shop, where the cigarettes, sweets and food stuffs were sold over a stable-door counter and which was run by the NAAFI. It was called the Canteen.

Each Mess was provided periodically with an amount of credit for the number of men to be fed, calculated on a daily basis, and it was up to the Mess to make up its own menus, buy the raw materials either from the little NAAFI shop or the supply Tiffy, or both, and prepare the food. You can imagine that at the end of a period there was either a surplus or more likely a deficit, and so budgeting was a vital art, as was the design of the menus for such small numbers of men. My job on the ship was almost unique because I was in charge of so little equipment that, providing it did not break down, I had hours on my hands with nothing to do. It was inevitable therefore that I was nominated as cook and Mess caterer. The system was fairly uncomplicated. I prepared the food, took it up to the cook, told him when it was wanted by, he cooked it and then I collected it and served it. If the preparation was arduous then others helped and there were occasions when others took over my duties, especially if I had work to do.

Our staple was roast beef and roast potatoes and sometimes I would make Yorkshire pudding. Therefore Toad in the Hole was an obvious choice, we also had stews and fries. I think breakfast was the inevitable bacon and eggs prepared and provided by the cook himself, so long as there were supplies of bacon and eggs on board. When the money or the stores ran low so the meals became more simple, but we managed to keep a high standard most of the time, even to the extent of having jam tart with four types of jam in the quarters to please all tastes.

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