Royal Navy, 1941-46, Butlins

The New Boys We spent the first month at Butlins Holiday camp at Skegness which had been renamed HMS Royal Arthur and sounded in our ears like an aircraft carrier. Inevitably the result was that Smith and some others were able to give rein to their fantasies in the local pubs, not realising that the girls of Skegness had heard it all before as each new batch of amateurs arrived and was put through the mincer – within the proscribed month of basic training – so that we came out marching, thinking and looking alike, transformed in to automata, or so the Navy vainly hoped.

At the holiday camp we occupied the made over chalets, two to a chalet, ate in the dining halls and relaxed in other parts of the buildings, Once again the Navy showed the English lack of appreciation of Irish traditions. Two men from Belfast, one Catholic and one Protestant, were put together because they were Irish. I occupied the next chalet and the fights which went on inside the Irish domain were often fierce to the point of becoming bloody, but make some derogatory remark against the Irish and they were both at you.

The first week passed on wings, there was so much to learn both about being a sailor – with knots, lashing ropes, boxing a compass and so on. Then there were the traditions of the Navy, the reasons for the ridiculous uniform, as we were decked out in ‘square rig’, called that because the whole uniform was square, presumably because sailors in the time of Nelson were expected to ‘make and mend’ their own clothes and the design had therefore to be simple. Even the term, ‘make and mend’, had come down to us for ‘free time’. The collar was square, the tunic jersey was square, even the trousers were square and made wide enough to be kicked off in the sea if the need arose. The front was designed with a quick-release system, in that there was a huge flap which dropped down to reveal two side flaps crossing the lower abdomen as well as one’s underpants – a quick flip of the buttons and the trousers would be off in moments. Nelson was never recorded as having made any comment on any of the other advantages of his design, or, on second thoughts perhaps he did..

When the sailors got hold of the uniform there had to be further amendments to show that they were sons of the sea and not civvies dressed up. The tunic was altered from a ‘V’ in the front to be squarer showing more of the shirt, and the blue edging to the shirt. The whole collar were scrubbed and washed with all sorts of prescriptions to bring the colour out, with exactly that intent, if a sailor had been serving for years his collar would have been washed hundreds of times in sea water and would therefore be faded. Ergo, all new entrants wanted to appear anything but a novice. Some were persuaded, by ruthless shopkeepers to buy collars of a light colour, but they soon realised the synthetic colour was an even bigger badge that they were initiates, rather than an indication of long service. The washing never gave an even colour change, there were always corners where, because the ribbon over-lapped, the colour was stronger. Such vanity did not stop there, the trousers had to have gussets set in to make them even wider, and a silver three-penny piece had to be sewn into the centre of the bow on the hat ribbon, an accomplishment I was good at which augmented my ten shillings a fortnight with the sale of my services in this regard.

Categorized as General

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