If you have led a sheltered life, in a house full of women, the services will soon change all that. You soon become aware of life as it is lived. My first brush was when we had come in from convoy and repairs had to be carried out to the relief of us all – we would have a couple of days in harbour, instead of refuelling and revictualling to immediately turn round and head off again The Harbour had a Naval canteen where hot food and beer were dispensed at reasonable prices The canteen itself was dark and dingy, about as welcoming as a ward in the workhouse, so I preferred to stay on board and catch up on sleep or walk round the dockyard looking at the other ships. On this occasion I was fast asleep on a row of padded lockers which doubled as seats in the C & POs’ Mess. With my hammock spread out, lying on the palliasse plus the blankets with the ship absolutely still, it was pure bliss indeed – I was off to sleep in a moment. The rest of the Mess was either ashore in or Edinburgh. The sailors’ hammock is made of canvas, tightly held between anchors by ropes attached to steel rings from which spread thinner ropes, called ‘nettles’ which pass through the eyes spaced along the ends of the canvas,. giving great versatility and comfort in all conditions There was no air conditioning so, by the judicious adjustment of the nettles and the use of a ‘hammock stretcher’,. to compensate we shortened the nettles in cold weather so the hammock cocooned us, and in hot weather we lengthened the nettles and forced them wide with a hammock stretcher, so the hammock was flat and open, The stretcher, was a piece of hardwood about eighteen inches long and one inch square with ‘V’ notches cut in each end so it could brace the outer nettles apart, either at the head or at each end, to allow room for a pillow and give ample room for moving one’s head. I was relishing my isolation when suddenly I was woken to find my face enveloped in beer fumes and stubble, I was being kissed awake by one of the Petty Officers. The fact that he was stoned was obvious but I was so surprised I did nothing for a second or two then, finding that pushing him off was too difficult from a prone position, I reached behind me where I knew the hammock stretcher was and clouted him over the head and shoulders until I reached his consciousness, at which point he stood, turned, walked across the Mess and threw himself down onto the lockers and went to sleep. I never told anyone about the incident, I never mentioned it to him, nor he to me. The matter was closed, he knew where we stood. One day I was called to the radar office to find that a pin connecting the aerial turning wheel ultimately to the aerial on the mast, had sheared The Engine room Artificer loaned me the key to his office so I could use his lathe to make a new one. His office was attached to the After Mess-deck, occupied by the deck hands and guns’ crews. When I entered there was hilarity and then, I saw a small girlish figure cavorting between the hammocks dressed in pink bra and pants and the men were leaning out of their hammock either trying to kiss or touch the slim transvestite. It was a member of the Mess, a young seaman. The whole thing was light hearted and I took it as such. Later, I discovered the young seaman was indeed a ‘winger’, a friend, if you like, of one of the Petty Officers., something I would never have heard about either the games or the relationship with the Petty Officer if the pin had not sheared. Every Mess was an entity and what went on within, stayed within.
The third occasion I was to come across homosexuality was when I was teaching. My friend Fred was smitten by one of the Wren pupils in a class we both took. One night, under the influence of a few pints, he said he wanted to meet this girl but as one of her lecturers he thought it placed him in a difficult position. I agreed, and offered to find out what I could of his chances of success. The next time I took the class, during a period of practical fault finding, I drew one of the Wrens to one side and explained that Fred was interested in this woman and wondered whether he had any chance. She burst out laughing. Her friend who was standing nearby wanted to be in on the joke and when the first one explained she too laughed out loud. I quietened things down, although I realised that Fred’s secret ambition would be common currency five minutes after class ended, “Do you see ‘X’ ?” she asked pointing to a big blonde working in a corner with Fred’s light of love. I nodded. “Those two go to Portsmouth together every chance they get.” “So?” I said, not being up to speed on lesbianism. “They sleep together, she wouldn’t be interested in Fred,” the Wren said, talking to me as if I were as thick as two short planks, which in that field I was. Such a pity for Fred, his choice was probably the prettiest member of the class, but then she would have been snapped up long before he had seen her if things had been different, so I suppose it boiled down to the same thing in the long run.