It must be understood that about 1940/41 the whole of Briton was going through an incredible time of change, at home and in the forces. There was evacuation, rationing, which induced the Black Market, bombing, recruitment, and families being split. In the forces, the need to recruit men and women in vast numbers, clothe and train them, move, and temporarily and strategically accommodate them was paramount. The logistics were complicated and enormous, with the result anomalies arose, leading to strange outcomes. Being billeted was one of them.
In Newcastle on Tyne, the Billeting Master-at-arms was overwhelmed by the number of sailors who would shortly descend on Newcastle for specialist training. RDF, Radio Direction Finding, the forerunner of Radar, was being fitted in ships and they urgently needed operators and maintenance staff, and these were arriving in days, me among them. Ferried by train and bus we arrive at a street of three storey Victorian houses and were delivered to the awaiting landlady.
At that time, the U-Boats were in ascendancy and many of the students sent on courses were long serving men who had volunteered, having had enough of the dangers of convoy work. We were given merely a bunk in a room full of cheap, black steel beds and we kept our belongings under the bed. With many of us to a room, there was just enough room to move between the beds. Almost as soon as we were in the room, the older guys, presumably from past experience, knew exactly where we were, in a brothel, and to make the point, pulled back the sheets to reveal stained mattresses. The quiet of that night and those following were broken repeatedly by the stamp of feet on the steps of the house next door, where trade was still in progress.
My nature, and that of most of the men there, was that if you have no solution to a problem, then forget it and get on with life. However, because it was so extraordinary I foolishly wrote and told my mother in humorous vein, but she could not see the funny side. Instead she, innocently, wrote a letter of complaint, to a naval Commander friend she knew. She forgot two things, the Navy is a club, the Commanders are trained in the tactics of war and the best form of defence is attack. They attacked.
The only meal we had on the premises was breakfast, prepared and given by the girls from next door. One day some of the lads were having fun with the girls when a pewter teapot got damaged This was all authority needed, all of us were put on report for riotous behaviour, when there was hardly elbow room for breakfast let alone a riot. For the rest of the time that we were boarded in the brothel, we were forced to scrub out the school rooms when not being taught. After that we were found new individual billets. I never did admit to my mother’s letter, ‘if there is no solution…’