Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, The Boredom of the watch Aboard

The watch aboard on our destroyer consisted of those men who would normally be on watch at sea. In harbour the rigorous discipline was relaxed and there were hours when one could go ashore; the rest being on leave. Most of the time life was very routine and monotonous. In the first week or so after I had recovered from the seasickness which had put everything else out of my mind, I was a little apprehensive when they battened us down in the bowels of the ship as we sailed through mine- fields, or closed up for Action Stations, but that too became routine, one cannot be apprehensive forever, the stress would be too much to bear.

In harbour, it was a relief to lose about two thirds of the crew and breath once again, with the ship silent and still, one could sleep peacefully on a locker instead of a hammock and the canteen in the dockyard saved any cooking. The monotony though was increased. I was never terribly gregarious so I spent these periods of calm, quietly doing chores which I had no time to do at sea and this included washing the hammock, the bed cover, two blankets and a pillow case, apart from the clothes which were done at the same time. Washing clothes at sea , a necessary evil, was put off as long as supplies of spare garments lasted and then calculations were made to find the minimum requirement to reach harbour.

In contrast, the system in harbour, was most enjoyable, provided no one else wanted to use the shower. There was only one shower tray in each bathroom, or ‘heads’ as they were called, made of fawn ceramic tiles and supporting two or three shower heads.. Needless to say as the toilets had no doors it was unlikely the shower would have a curtain. Privacy was something that simply did not exist, probably for a number of very good reasons. With a bung in the shower plug-hole I would turn on the shower heads until the tray was almost over flowing. Then I would chuck in all the washing at once, copious soap, flaked from the long yellow bars we were issued with every month along with the tobacco. It was the only washing powder available then. With book in hand, I tramped round and round for ages on the washing, reading the while, or with an ear to the BBC forces programme coming over the Tannoy system. Half way through I would rub any dirty bits like the collars and cuffs of shirts, with the remainder of the yellow soap and then tramp again, finally rinsing several times in the same way. I can’t describe how therapeutic that exercise was, even if the soles of my feet were wrinkled with the long immersion. The only ironing I ever did, other than pressing the crease in the trousers, was the collar of my white shirts which were reserved for shore leave, and an area of about six inches round the collar which would be seen below the jacket. Drying took almost no time as the heat of the Boiler Room took care of that.

Another way of remaining sane in that maelstrom of humanity was to take a fish box, set it on deck behind the funnel so I was sheltered from the wind and, with my back absorbing the warmth of the steel heated by the exhaust from the oil burners, I would sit there in the late evening glow as the sun set, and long after, watching the florescence of the bow-waves rush past the ship in their rippling ‘V’ formation and the sluggish merchant men silhouetted in the dying embers of the day. Those minutes and hours were very precious.

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