Royal Navy, The Golden River

If the wide screen is to be believed, in the days of the great railroad expansion in the USA, there was a tradition that on the completion of a section of track, a golden spike was ceremoniously driven into the last tie. In the Navy there was a legend that every wooden warship had a golden spike driven into the keel for luck during construction. This yarn was then perpetuated in steel ships as a ruse to inveigle the young, the unsophisticated and the unwary into the darker corners of the hull for nefarious purposes. The cry on the Mess-decks when a new recruit came aboard was often, ‘Take him to see the golden rivet!’

At the end of one convoy we arrived at Rosyth to find cardboard boxes of knitted articles, most of which were in an unsuitable khaki. There were long scarves which seemed to go on for ever, pullovers, roll-necked sweaters and even long-johns, and many were the epitome of clich├ęs which often accompanies amateur knitting. The articles had been made by the WRACS manning, (if that’s the right word), an Ack Ack battery on the outskirts of Edinburgh. They had asked the Commodore for permission to adopt a ship and we were it. What followed would have made an Oscar Hammerstein musical, it was that predictable.

An invitation to visit was sent by the Captain to the Commanding Officer and it was arranged that at the end of our next trip the WRACs would come aboard. From that point until we next docked there was only one topic of conversation and one outcome. Every section of the ship spent its off-duty hours preparing The place had never been cleaner and tidier. In my section we had a few advantages and we made good use of them. The screen of the radar display tube was a brilliant blue, while the warning lights throughout the small office were a bright red and green. Overhead was a white light. With our resident artist on hand we made a drawing of a voluptuous woman fully clothed in red, green and blue garments. The effect was that, without the overhead light, when we doused the screen or changed the lights, she lost some of the garments in each transformation. After some trial and error it was a great success, well we thought so and the girls were polite enough to applaud.

The crew had organised a meal in the canteen in the dockyard accompanied by a hogshead of beer (54 gallons). In due course a lorry arrived and the ship was inundated with khaki. It was interesting to see how polite the sailors were in allowing the girls to precede them up ladders. Couples and groups were everywhere, in the engine-room, the boiler-room, our wireless offices. They turned the gun turrets, stood on the bridge and conned the ship from the Coxswain’s wheel. And all the time as one sailor passed another, each guiding his bevy of beauties, the question was always asked, “Have they seen the Golden Rivet yet?” followed by a dirty laugh.

The girls were finally dispatched back to camp and the ship got back to normal until it was time, on the following day, for ‘Liberty Men’ being piped and the ‘Off Watch’ to line up for inspection to go ashore. Then the fun started, lies were bandied about with all the sincerity of a politician on the stump. No one was going anywhere near the gun battery, some were going for a walk, some to the cinema in Dunfermline, but there must have been a considerable change of heart because, when it was time for the WRACS to come off duty, there was half our crew lined up at the gate, looking sheepish.

When I left the ship some of the men were still making pilgrimages to Edinburgh and the gun battery. It is amazing what can result from the kind act of presenting sailors with badly knitted woollens in the wrong colour

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