The Library and PT

The Library I have already described the way we lived in general, with me doing most of the catering for our mess and the E Boat problems. How we were provided with German speakers 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, so 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 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, even their dress, and their lack of interest in improving it, proclaimed them to be fish out of water. One was a lecturer, the other an Estonian who was a perennial student and had attended a number of colleges in Britain and abroad. We were not resented by 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-utan for the first time, with similarly inane comments. Slowly the novelty wore off we became the focus of attention for a different reason. Avid readers all, our combined tastes were as catholic as a public library. Slowly, on the tops of the lockers grew a collection of books, 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.

Pt Shipboard Style The Navy was never renowned for its physical training, except for the famous gun crews at the Royal Tattoo every year, taking a gun to pieces, carting it from one end of an arena to the other, and firing blanks when it is assembled once more. Also young Boy Sailors run up a rigging and perform feats of daring miles in the air on a replica of a square-rigged sailing ship’s mainmast. But in my experience those were for show, generally there was little in the way of physical jerks in the accepted sense.

It was summer, the sun at its height, we were off to fetch a convoy and so action stations were unlikely to be called. The crew were hot and tired, or perhaps bored would be a better term, so someone, probably Jimmy The One, thought up the idea of something physical for the good of our health. Try to imagine a ship some 250 feet long and some 26 feet wide, with superstructures astern and foreword, guns, a funnel, depth charges, life boats and Carley floats to contend with. What was left was a sort of gangway past all these obstacles where two men could barely pass one another. There was no point then, in having any sort of exercise unless it could be of real interest, not just a matter of expending energy and oozing perspiration – another incentive. You’ve got it! Money, cash had to be brought into the equation and that was what the Bosun and the Gunner’s Mate organised.

Firstly there was a shooting gallery at the bow. Everyone paid so much a shot with a rifle at objects thrown into the sea, the person to hit the most took all or nearly all, some of the money went into the ship’s funds. Clearly the more one spent on shots the greater chance there was on winning, it was a bit like ‘Scratch cards, it had that same compulsive element. The other competition was much more physical and weighted against the more sedentary of us, the deck hands and the gun crews were odds on favourites. We were ‘handicapped’, and, like the shooting there was an entrance fee – it was possible to have more than one go. Someone ran a book so we could bet on the favourites and perhaps recoup that way. One started beside the funnel on the port side, and then ran round the ship twice, which entailed rushing up or sliding down ladders, finally climbing, only using the arms, up a mast-stay to collect a piece of paper from a bundle tied about 12 – 14 feet from the deck, returning to the deck and running over a chalk line drawn there. The ship was still steaming and rolling while the sports were on, so the race round and the climb up the stay were a severe test on the muscles of the chest and arms and on the skin on the hands, especially in the descent. It was unbelievable what that simple competition did for moral, if nothing else it gave us a topic of conversation for days after, as we tended our wounds and ridiculed the more incompetent.

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