By the time you have read this you will appreciate that there is more than one meaning to ‘passing out’ and the one in a military sense is not intended. We had suffered more than our fair share of bad weather and our convoy duty had not been so much dangerous as stressful as well as extended, with the result we were ‘chocker’, lower deck slang for disgruntled and fed to the teeth, and when chocker is said with venom, and is preceded by an epithet, it can hold considerably more emphasis, as it did then.
For some reason we dropped anchor at Southend, the only time we ever did, and those off Watch could not wait to belly up to the nearest bar, yours truly included. To get from the ship to the pier we were ferried in small boats we called ‘trot boats’, manned by locals. We then had to take a train, the one mile length of the pier and no sooner had we arrived on the promenade than we surged into the first pub we reached. Because the trot boat’s capacity was small, the number disembarking at any one time was also small, hence, when we reached the pub we found a crowd had already beaten us to it, and this was the story of the whole afternoon. At that time there was a distinct lack of booze available of all descriptions and the landlords of the inns and pubs liked to keep most of it back for their regulars. It was not unheard of for a publican to aver that he had run out of beer or spirits or whatever, which often proved to be a lie, but who could blame him, we were there for a round or two, his regulars were there for life. The first pub where we achieved success said they had no beer, only a limited supply of gin, in the next it was only beer, in some it was even only port, with the result we had a brew swilling about in our stomachs which represented everything in the vintners list, consumed in the shortest possible time because we only had a few hours ashore; this was topped off with a greasy mix of fish and chips; but the real trouble was, we were still all as sober as the moment we had stepped from the train on arrival, and fed up about it, to boot – chocker!
There we were in the rain, waiting for the next train, apparently sober, chocker to the ‘n’th degree, after a shocking time at sea and the worst run ashore imaginable. The grumbling was vicious and the mood bad. If the Skipper had thought to release some of the tension by letting the Off-Watch ashore, it had misfired. In due course the train arrived and we boarded and sat silent through its long slow run to the end of the pier, at which point in the story I have to rely on reports as my memory of what took place is not so much vague as non-existent. Apparently I stepped from the train stone cold sober and then, without a sound, measured my length on the deck of the pier , out for the count, the alcohol fumes and the witches’ brew had caught up with me.
My comrades manhandled me into the trot boat and from the trot boat into the ship and down into our Mess where I was stretched out on a bunk, non compis, but my Samaritans had a problem. Immediately prior to the anchor being raised, it was part of my duty to examine the radar and radio gear and report to the Captain on the bridge. I was in no state to stand up, let alone look intelligent or talk sensibly. They drowned me in black coffee and salt water alternately until I surfaced, at which point it was ‘Show time’, I was due on the bridge. I remember saluting and mumbling something, but my condition must have been patent. The Skipper gave me one chance by asking was everything in order. My reply of “I’m —–ed if I know”, helped my case not one jot and I was dismissed. The fact that I then proceeded to trip over him, he was only about five foot in height, was the last straw. “Get off my bridge,” he shouted. “Clap that man in irons”, he roared, and they did. That is to say, I was not handcuffed, instead I was unceremoniously dropped through the hatch of the tiller flat on to a greasy steel deck where the chains leading to the tiller were connected to the gearing, and I was left there, in the dark, in the stink of oil and in my best suit – my ‘Tiddly Suit’, my pride and joy, made to measure of the best doeskin and embellished with badges picked out in gold braid and gold wire, while the ship set off on convoy once more.
I have to admit, I slept like a baby and next day appeared before the Officer of The Watch charged with being ‘drunk and incapable, ship under sailing orders’. I received a bit of a rollicking but I suspect the true circumstances had reached the ears of the Wardroom because I was awarded a loss of privileges for a period which meant I would lose one run ashore. I later found that the incident was not recorded on my papers, another sign of leniency.