Royal Navy, 1941 – 46, First Day in the the Navy

The Chameleon Theory Seven years old, now inured to Africa, I adopted a chameleon. We watched one another, daily, although it mostly watched insects – as dinner – from a bush beside the front door. I was enthralled by the stillness of this ugly creature, its strange jerky movements, and the speed of the rapier-like thrust of its long tongue. It was probably there because the door had an insect screen and at nightfall the light from inside attracted insects, an electric larder. My father kept repeating that old clichĂ©. “Do you want to know how to drive a chameleon mad? Set it on a tartan rug’. I spent some part of every day watching the mostly motionless, bulky body supported on its spindly legs, change hue as the sun moved round, wondering if it really could assume the pattern of a tartan. Years later I devised the Chameleon Theory which states that an individual, in the presence of strangers and acquaintances, changes his identity by an amount proportional to his degree of insecurity. The ‘telephone voice’ is a common example. where the accent changes as soon as the instrument is lifted.

The theory was formulated on that horrendous ‘first day’ as a sailor. I was instructed to report to the recruiting office and there joined about five other sheepish youngsters with a general air of quiet trepidation and no idea what awaited them. I remember we hung about quite a lot, a foretaste of long periods of hanging about to come. We did some form filling, were sworn in, given travel warrants and some documentation, and then were sent on our way to Skegness via Victoria. The change in one of our number as soon as we were clear of the recruiting office was amazing.

Another chap and I chatted quietly. One man was quiet to the point of being stolid and kept himself to himself, but there was one, Smith, who made the trip a real event. The further the train went the further from home we all were, which seemed irrelevant to the rest of us, but it was having a marked effect on the man in question. I would guess he had a Chameleon Factor of about 90%. He started by making a great play of offering cigarettes and lighting up with a great flourish. This he followed with expletives interspersed with bawdy comments and by the time we reached Victoria, no real distance, his language was appalling, and he was beginning to assume what he believed were the attributes of Jolly Jack Tar, I had the impression that even his gait had a roll to it, but that was only the curtain raiser.

We crossed London to Liverpool Street Station and a long delay. Smith insisted we should all adjourn to the Salvation Army canteen supplying tea and food on one of the platforms, for servicemen passing through, Smith by now was convinced he was a sailor through and through even in civvies. Servicemen rarely wore civvies in early 1941, they would have been excess baggage we could all do without, our issued kit was more than enough when it included a hammock and bedding. We were stupid enough, or too reticent to object when this idiot over-ruled us. We felt extremely self-conscious at presenting ourselves for free meals when we still thought of ourselves as civilians. We wanted to go to the buffet but apathy and his persistence won the day. I can still feel the embarrassment as this idiot sat shouting his bragging, implying we were all well seasoned sailors on leave, fooling no one but himself, but including us by implication in his shoddy fantasy world. Even when later he was in uniform and went ‘ashore’, (the Navy’s name for leave from any base be it afloat or concrete) he implied he was always just back off convoy with tales of derring-do. No one believed him as the people of Skegness would know he was from the Butlin’s camp, Life in the services, and especially the Navy is a very intimate experience and tolerance is paramount for the general good .

17.05.08, Changes to the Class System

In doing a revamp to the blog, and in recent years hearing officers of the rank of colonel talking with regional accidents, made me evaluate the vast changes in our class system in the services, since 1914. These changes have mainly been brought about by the First World War, World War II, technology and growing ambition.

Before 1914 the officer class in the Army and the Navy was recruited from the ranks of the titled, the very rich and in some cases as a matter of purchase, and rarely by promotion. I may be wrong, but I think suitability was low down on the requirement list. The stupidity of the approach to battle of the senior officers in WW1, sending huge waves of troops ‘over the top’ to face snipers and machine guns, cleared away a vast swathe of those officers who were educated, and came from wealthy backgrounds. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that if you want to cause disruption in an attacking army, have a few strategically placed snipers and machine gunners with instructions to kill the officers and non-commissioned officers. It was this fact that changed the cap badges of many of the Rifle Brigades from being polished brass to dull black. The phrase ‘an Officer and a gentleman’ came down to us from this period.

In 1939, in the officers’ messes and the wardrooms were people who still came from the wealthy classes, and it particularly applied to the Royal Navy, the Household Cavalry, the Blues and Royals, and the Guards. There might have been a slight touch of regional accident, but the overall was the speech of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Even today in some areas there is still this class selection. The effect of the incredible race to build up the war machine meant that, in the selection of officer material, education was more important but not dominant to the class system. In my school we had elocution on inception and our accents were thought of as BBC, and would have been acceptable in most officers’ messes, but that wasn’t the only yardstick. In the 40s, there was still, in the wardrooms of the Navy, that discrepancy between the products of Dartmouth, and those who had risen from the ranks, and the latter were never allowed to forget it. The Port Wireless Officer in Belfast with whom I worked, was a ‘thin ringer’, a Warrant Officer, who was entitled to all the privileges of the wardroom, but was also looked upon by the lower deck and the rest of the wardroom as a fish out of water. On the destroyer, when I joined it, we had a Commander RN, as skipper, and flotilla leader. When he was promoted the new skipper was RNR, Royal Naval Reserve, which generally meant he was a maritime captain, and in consequence our ship got all the dirty jobs. Both the wardroom and the lower deck felt downgraded, the class system was so imbued.

I never had ambitions to be an officer, while quite a few of those I joined up with had. In retrospect I think that my life, a bit tough at times, was far more interesting and rewarding than it would have been if I had been an officer. At the end of the war they tried to persuade me, with a place at Dartmouth, to stay on and become commissioned, but I had had enough, In the 50s, with a university degree, and being well up the professional ladder working for the Admiralty, I had a rank equivalent to Commander, and was entitled to the privileges of the wardroom. I kept my lower deck rank of Chief Petty Officer to myself on these occasions. At the time of Suez, because of my training as a frogman, I was informed that I should be prepared go into the uniform of a Commander to be sent to the Middle East. Fortunately it never happened. I quote this to show the change that had taken place by the 1950s, where it was what you knew, not who your parents were, that counted.

Since then the tremendous increase in the amount of, the complexity of and the workforce needed to operate all the technology that we have today, has meant a total change in the conception of what makes an officer, thank God. Even in 1941 when I joined my ship as a radar technician, and through the period that I was on it, the size of the crew steadily grew to accommodate the appetite of technology to the extent that the ship was heavily overcrowded.

Royal navy 1941 to 46 in order, Hypnotism

Since my Naval days I have never been remotely interested in hypnotism as entertainment. I would go so far as to say that I disapprove of the practice. When my daughters were young and we were on holiday, on more than one occasion they and Sophie went to the theatre to see a hypnotist and, while I did not openly object, I refused to go with them. I did though warn them not to go on the stage as subjects.

At Leydene, there was a theatre where films were shown in the evenings and occasionally ENSA would put on a show. Sometimes the Entertainment’s Officer would call on talent within the camp and we would have an amateur show, although to use the word amateur is unfair as many of the men and women who performed had been professionals before joining up.

One such was a hypnotist. We had first come across him on the Isle of Man where he had performed there in a similar type of concert made up of Naval and RAF talent. I attended the show and found him very competent. It was the first time I had ever seen hypnotism demonstrated and somehow even at the show I had misgivings. I disliked the idea of needles being pushed into people without their knowledge or permission, and I was always suspicious of what effect the process would have on the brain long term, I have a thing about the amount of respect which should be attendant on the brain. The hypnotist was on another course running parallel with ours and therefore several weeks after we arrived at Leydene he turned up.

By the time he arrived I was an instructor, but did not teach his class, and as he was below the rank of Petty Officer our paths never crossed, so for some time the stories I heard of him were gossip, unsubstantiated. It was said that he held court each evening in his Nissan hut and using anyone who was there, including a resident of the hut, he would practice his skills to entertain those who packed the hut to the doors. Then the rumour became rife, which worried some of us on the staff,. It was purported that there was one man the hypnotist could put under at a distance of a hundred feet, just by clapping his hands.

Leydene had been a large country house, before being taken over by the Admiralty and had a huge stable complex with stalls and a saddling area the size of any which could be seen at the best horse trainer’s yard. The area had been converted into small demonstration rooms. The hypnotist and his acolytes and the subject all arrived at the same time. My colleague and I were standing talking in the yard when we saw the hypnotist walking towards us with a group surrounding him, and in the distance was the man whom we had heard could be hypnotised at long range. As Arthur Askey of Radio, film and TV fame used to say, ‘Before our very eyes’, and so it was, the hypnotist clapped his hands, the man in the distance stopped and seemed to become trance-like, another clap and he was on his way as if nothing had happened. It was frightening.

Apparently we were not the only ones to have seen the demonstration. We heard that next day the two men, the hypnotist and his main subject left the camp. What happened to them was never divulged, but the Navy was no place for a man with those skills, who used them for his own aggrandisement, with such irresponsibility and inhumanity. I have been left with the conviction that hypnotism is never a plaything to be used just to amuse, amaze and titillate.

Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, Living Ashore

I don’t think I ever entirely accepted the Navy philosophy of calling any accommodation, be it a house or a concrete bottomed wreck, a ship. I could never thought of myself as being ashore when I went out the gate. In fact I thought the whole concept childish and foolish, but it was surprising how simply it rolled off the tongue without thinking, and does even now when talking how the Naval Instructors and senior staff at Leydene were allowed to live ‘ashore’. This gave the married men the opportunity to have their families with them, which I think was at the back of the privilege, but the single men also profited. I was not at Leydene long before I was introduced to Madam Spirella and her concentration camp. Although we were given a living allowance and still enjoyed all the facilities of Leydene, including retaining our bunks and being fed, living ‘ashore’ was inevitably dearer, added to which there were the local attractions in the form of the pub, The Jolly Sailor, the cinema and Portsmouth just down the road, all were a drain on an insubstantial income.

My mate Frank had suggested Madam Spirella’s as a suitable pied a terre and I was duly ensconced. I rented a single room on the first floor, furnished with a narrow, single steel-framed hospital bed, a card table, two cane dining chairs, a dressing table and a wardrobe which trebled as a food cupboard cum cleaning store. With linoleum on the floor and a worn mat in front of the fireplace which contained a 500 watt cooking ring that doubled as a heater, for which we paid some extortionate sum – this was to be home for quite some time. It was bleak, inhospitable, but a relief from the years of communal living, the claustrophobic atmosphere of mass humanity, repeated expletives, noise, perpetual noise, the constant demands of the public address system and Vera Lynn at every hour of the day from the wake-up call to lights out. Don’t believe all they tell you about the popularity of the Stars of the past, even they had a sell-by date and constant repetition can pall Madam Spirella was our name for the woman who ran the house. I say ran, that is an overstatement because all she did was collect the rent, the tenants had days when they were responsible for the cleanliness of the hall and stairs and they were totally responsible for their own rooms. On the front of the house was a brass plate which said ‘Madam XXX, Corsetier and Spirella Specialist’, or words to that effect. She was not unlike Madam Arcarti in the film Blithe Spirit, detached from reality, on a higher plane of artistic genius, but that didn’t stop her coming down to earth with a thump if anyone digressed from the list of do’s and don’ts pinned up everywhere, or on rent day. We were a happy band of refugees from authority. One of our number played the trumpet in a dance band at a nearby seaside town on the weekends when he was not on duty. He constantly amazed me how every night he would take out the sheet music of the latest tune to hit the streets and proceed to orchestrate all the parts for the band, without playing a single note. Frank and a one-time school teacher from Huddersfield called Don, also had rooms and the three of us would sometimes eat together, generally on the first day of the weekly ration. At that time, 1944, with the Second Front in full swing, rations were fairly strict and only those in the know could take advantage of the black market, with the result that on Monday of every week we had a blow-out of almost all the week’s ration at one go, and then ate in the local Salvation Army canteen for the rest of the week.

Sophie, coming from Ireland, when she came over to stay at Christmas, she brought a good deal of food she had gathered up, for the two of us, or so she thought. What she had not realised was that we, at Madam Spirella’s, tended to share and share alike and so her precious butter and eggs were destined not only for us, but my mates. It was more than a shock to her, I think it took her a day or two to get over it, especially as in our chauvinist society she was expected to cook her provender as well. It was the first morning after Sophie had arrived in Madam Spirella’s prison camp when, as I knew the ropes, I decided I would make the breakfast. Staying there were two Wrens and one was in the kitchen when I arrived downstairs. It was clear she was not in the best of form by her posture, from the way her dressing gown was holding her up rather than the reverse, and by her reaction to my breezy ‘good morning’. When I asked her what was the matter
she looked at me with the most jaundiced look I have ever seen and said, ‘I hate this place,’ meaning Petersfield, ‘its full of Irish and Plymouth Brethren.’ For a moment there was silence, but she was totally unaware of her gaff. For me, there was no way I could let that go, it was too good an opportunity to be a chauvinist, so I made her bad day even worse, I told her my wife was Irish. The size of the hole which opened at her feet and into which she disappeared was just enough to accommodate her and make my day.

Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, Teaching Navy Style

The examination techniques we adopted at the Royal Naval Signal School should have been the norm for the Country’s education system in genera . Education is not a case of knowing information, but knowing where to find it and how to apply it. The Leydene examination organisers had obviously taken this theory to heart. We, the students, were a mixed lot. If we qualified we were going to be far from land and advice for weeks on end and solely dependent upon our own resources, so while we were thoroughly taught how to carry out repairs and the basic fundamentals of radio technology, the course was based around the fact that the Mechanic would have a text book at his elbow. The examiners also knew that cheating had to be lived with as, for the students, passing the exam was the aim, how was secondary. To combat cheating, talking during exams was forbidden, but any written matter was allowed in with us to the examination, on the principal that if we had to look anything up it would waste valuable time, compared with those who knew it all. As the students ranged from the school-leaver to the hardened telegraphist, with a few university graduates thrown in to make the life of the instructor that little bit more difficult, they designed the papers with the questions graded, starting easily and then progressing in difficulty with each question. They tried to maintain a fair balance between pure knowledge and a sensible amount of referral. The person who knew the answers would have the advantage while a reasonable referral would not place a person beyond passing. The marking system was equally advanced The lecturers had a good idea who would come out on top, and the general quality of his work. Having marked all the papers they examined the top three of four, first to make sure there was no doubt of reaching the standard expected, then they took the highest mark and proportioned it to receive between 90 – 95 percent, depending on the candidate’s ability and the quality of his paper. They then graded all the papers by the same factor. Someone hopeless who spent much time referring to cogs and text books would fail miserably.

The Vagaries Of Teaching At Leydene It is one thing to sit in a classroom and criticise the poor devil standing in front trying to teach and another thing entirely being that poor devil, especially if it is what the Navy terms a ‘pier-head jump’, being volunteered without a word to say about it. Some of the instructors had been teachers in civvy life, but I was chucked in at the deep end to make the best of it. We had a day’s instruction which I totally forget, but one little jewel did stick. They told us that students learned one third through what they heard, one third through touch and one third through what they saw, and we were to instruct accordingly.

I was teaching people to be practical technicians, not theorists and if truth be known, when I started, my theoretical knowledge was a lot more sketchy than my grasp of the innards of the great many sets I was teaching. Initially this left me open to attack from men who had just come down from university with bright shiny degrees and who proposed to run rings round me for the aggrandisement of their own egos and the delectation of the rest of the class, a not uncommon syndrome, especially among university students.

That I was at a disadvantage was patent, what I was to do about it was more difficult and gave me hours of discomfort in the beginning. I had two aspects in my favour, the classes ran only for a matter of weeks, or a couple of months at the most, and then my tormentors would have left and any reputation I had created left with them and I started with a clean slate. The other plus was that I am a quick study and with every encounter I learned – oh how I bloody well learned! The one stance I had to avoid was the Uriah Heap affliction, the ‘I’m not as well educated as you’ ploy, seeking sympathy. I soon discovered that the best method of defence is attack and I also learned how to dig a hole and then lead the charging bull elephants into it. I had the advantage of knowing the sets inside out and soon discovered the difficulties the students were finding. Sympathy with the difficulties the class was encountering and a feigned amusement when I might be tripped up by a brain-box, tended to balance the class attitude in my favour and as time elapsed I was very often able to impart what these university graduates had taught me as if I had known it all along. One situation did frighten me, though. We were not supplied with duplicated notes, we spent hours dictating. The routine was such, we could predict what we’d be teaching at any time weeks or months ahead and the same was true of the dictation. It was so repetitive I was able to talk and think of something entirely different, my brain on auto-pilot. So that I had to lift an exercise book from time to time to see exactly what I had been saying. I never remember having to alter a word, but, it says something about the loss of spontaneity short repetitive courses can produce in the teaching staff if it is not watched.

Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, The Chief’s Course and After

Isle Of Man, Two – A careless death The second visit to the Isle of Man was an entirely different experience, we were now Petty Officers with the privileges that entailed. The work if anything was harder, and the sets we were learning much more sophisticated and in some cases as big as a small kitchen. When one can walk into a large high-voltage transmitter, it seems to have less threat than putting one’s hand within a small one. Hence, when a Radio Mechanic left the door of a set open while functioning on full power, an operator, who regularly dried his clothes inside the set ‘On Standby’ – the heat of the huge valves would dry his clothes in an hour – walked in and was electrocuted. This act was analogous to throwing an electric fire into a bath. I’m sure the practice of hanging washing in a dangerous area went on, long after I left the Service, you see, we all, by necessity, had the philosophy that ‘it could never happen to us’.

The Italian Prisoners Several blocks further along the front at Douglas, in a loose compound, surrounded by a barbed wire fence nothing more than a gesture to security, the Italian internees were still housed, but when we arrived they were about to be moved out, block by block and we were instructed to supervise the clearing out of the hotels and boarding houses they had been occupying. These men were prisoners, in spite of the fact that they had held jobs at every level in British society, and one can but guess at the trauma incarceration had caused them and their families. The one aspect which pervaded all these lodgings was the way these prisoners had decorated their prison. There were murals on walls, pictures on windows giving a stained glass effect and the quality of the work, in many cases was breath taking. I have often wondered if the returning occupants retained those works of art, as many had a religious flavour, it is possible that they might not have been acceptable, but the quality was irrefutable.

Leydene, The Cabooshes
The fact that we were Petty Officers had no effect on our accommodation at Leydene – a top bunk, on a tier of two, in a row of twenty, on each side of a standard Nissan hut, with a coke burning, fat bellied stove and steel chimney set in the centre, and one chair each. That was home. The top bunk was just below the shelf running the length of the hut on which stood the small suitcases and hat boxes, safes where anything valuable or of a deeply personal nature was stored, and that was the limit of privacy. At night rats would sometimes run along the shelf above our heads looking for food and cats would produce kittens on the beds of the lower bunks. We had a cat called Vera frequenting our hut, a strange creature, with hind quarters like a rabbit, she could jump prodigious heights with ease. Vera adopted me. I would wake up to find a furry creature snuggled down under the blanket, face on the pillow, purring like a Morris 8 going up hill. So it would be no surprise that the instructors organised alternative accommodation, away from the Tannoy system and Vera Lynn, where one could relax, sleep read and write. The cabooshes were small brick huts which housed machinery for the sets we were teaching and, because we serviced them, we had the keys, and so our irregular behaviour was unlikely to be discovered.. Occasionally we had to make them shipshape for some inspection, but as we generally scheduled these as well, we were never caught on the hop. We were the men in charge, the officers were merely there to make up the numbers

The Silly Side Of Leydene A student, on a long course, had built up a relationship with one of the Wrens billeted in Leydene. She slept in a dormitory high in the main building, overlooking a flat roof. He was in the habit of climbing onto the roof, entering the room through one of the windows, and getting into bed with her, quietly, and leaving before the others woke. If the others were aware of what was going on it was never divulged, but in the end they were rudely awakened. The Wren was suddenly taken ill, and her replacement in her bed, was a woman in her forties, stern and prudish. You’ve guessed it! The sailor got in beside her. The rest was pure Ealing comedy.

With the war ended people were looking to the future. One guy intended setting up his own business in radio repairs, and was collecting stock towards that end. The authorities, aware petty thieving was rife had everyone below Wardroom rank searched before leaving on the bus. I saw the man queued up, searched. tying shoes, while the driver was revving the engine. An accomplice rushed up, a bundle of washing clutched in his arms shouting that the man had forgotten his laundry. It was duly handed in, the bus took off and another load of valves, condensers and a B28 receiver were on their way to his new shop at a certain port in the North of England.

Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, An Unusual Iniative

Once I had found my feet, dancing was the best way of meeting people and filling the long evenings when Belfast City was blacked out. My mate Bunny was keen and we went every night to some dance hall or other. On Sunday nights when all the other halls were closed we went to the Jewish Institute. I often went to a dance hall in the centre of the City where I am convinced they were so keen on looking at the dancer’s feet to see whether the turn was on the heel or the toe, they would have failed to notice if the dancer was totally naked. The conversation might have been one track – no, not that – dancing, – but those visits to the clubs and studios did a lot for my skills on the dance floor.

To relieve the boredom during the interval when the band went off and we were left with soft drinks and a record player I used to practice a parlour game. I have always believed that by studying people, their looks, their body language and their reaction to others around them one can make a shrewd assessment of their character in a broad sense. Someone at our table, in our company, would point to a person across the dance floor whom they knew. I would watch and then give a thumbnail sketch of their character and their reactions in certain circumstances. It seemed at the time that my assessments were reasonable, or else it was a case of who is kidding the kidder? Certainly my companions  seemed to enjoy the game.

In this way I met many good dancers and one in particular who had been a beauty queen, whom I invited to a Christmas dance at the British Legion Hall. The dance went well but when it was over the limited number of taxis had all left and we had the choice of waiting or walking. She lived some four miles away at the posh end of town and was shod only in dance shoes, so walking was out of the question. I had an idea, asked her to wait and then left in search of transport. Just round the corner from the Hall was a police station and in my experience big policemen had big bicycles. Sure enough the RUC did and one of their number was prepared to lend me his. I returned and stated my case. With a little hesitation she mounted the cross bar and we eventually arrived at her house. She never held it against me, but I think she had aspirations higher than a sailor whose only asset was a highly developed initiative.

Royal Navy 1941 to46 in order, The Irish Question,Coincidences.

The Irish Question Take the Irish Question, for an instance, not the Irish question, from where I stand I find nothing amusing in that. No! Just an amusing Irish question. I don’t remember my friend Bunny’s rate of assimilation, certainly I didn’t really find my own feet for about a week and then he and I started visiting dance halls and I became privy to the Irish Question.

The system worked like this. The dance halls had groups of tables and chairs round the walls for couples and parties, the rest of us, loosely termed ‘the talent’, all huddled near the entrance and during the intervals between sets of dances, tried to find a suitable partner, by peering through the throng. The conversation, which took place, after the selection was never sparkling and generally bordered on the banal, except when I was asked the Irish Question. This had a dramatic effect on the relationship until I managed to derive a formula for the answer.

We would be gliding round the hall to the strains of ‘A string of pearls’, or some other Glen Miller hit, when my partner would look up into my face and ask most sweetly, ‘What religion are you?’ You can imagine the look of surprise which spread across the face of a well brought-up boy from the Smoke, (London), when stopped in his tracks by a question the Yanks would refer to as coming from ‘left field’. I was aghast the first time, surprised on a few subsequent occasions and nonchalant for the rest of my stay in Ireland – by then I had found the solution. There was a saying in the Navy which went something like – ‘if it was good enough for Nelson it’s good enough for you’, this was sometimes followed by the words ‘my lad’ and sometimes something a little more earthy, depending on what had sponsored the raising of Nelson and his preferences in the first place. I was of an independent nature and often found the idiosyncrasies of the Naval regime irksome and sometimes even ludicrous. There was no scope, for example, for agnostic or atheistic choice when religion was the subject in question, everyone had to belong to a religious sect, no matter how outre. Later, when I was more guileful I put this facet of Naval life to good effect. Initially I sometimes wondered if it was because Nelson couldn’t spell atheist. At every change of posting and every church parade one was asked what religion one was, it was even written in one’s paybook, which was a constant form of identification; so, having been told I was ‘C of E’, whether I liked it or not, and then having to repeat this falsehood for ever more, it came to my lips like a reflex action, and that was my mistake.

Each time I answered the Irish Question with the phrase ‘C of E’, at once a change came over the relationship and the face of the girl. It wasn’t exactly a tick, merely the expression some people evince when they have bitten into a particularly sour lemon. For the poor Catholic girl the dance could not end quickly enough – it could of course have been my aftershave, but in 1942 only the officers even knew such things existed. Bunny had the same experiences but a young woman of indeterminate religion explained the phenomenon to him and he passed on the intelligence, it was quasi political, what else in Belfast? I then devised a solution. When asked, I replied that I was a Buddhist and had a prayer mat up my shirt if they would like to see it. Each interpreted this from whatever experience they had of sailors, and life became more amenable after that. It took a stupid answer to solve a ridiculous question.

Coincidences Everyone has unexplained coincidences, so why write about them? These I believe were extraordinary. Remember! I was English born and educated, knew roughly where Ireland was but little more, and was never likely to go there, even on holiday. Few people apart from my Aunt ever did. Reg, the lecturer in our Mess came from Liverpool and taught there. He and I became close friends while I was on the ship but I never heard of him again. Later I came to Ireland, met Soph, married, and at the end of the war settled down. Two strange coincidence were brought to my attention. Sophie had an Irish cousin who, as a young woman left Ireland and moved to live in Liverpool. She went to Liverpool University where she met Reg and was friendly with him for some time.

Sophie taught modern languages and one day she said, “I’ve invited a colleague round for a drink and she’s bringing her husband. I opened the door and introduce myself. The husband said, “I know you, you shared a room with me when we were on course in the Isle of Man. Those I believe are strange coincidences.

Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, Belfast Shipyard Part 2.

Shipbuilding is probably the most complicated and detailed engineering exercise, outside aeroplane design. The size of a ship, various hull designs, its use, all give multitudes of options from the thickness of the plates, to the design of door handles. All the equipment has to be installed which involves designing the positioning, the fixings and the power. Multiply this throughout the ship and the complexity of design is mind boggling, and is transferred to construction on the day the contract is signed It is therefore no wonder that in 1943, Belfast shipyard, Harland and Wolf, among others in Britain was working flat out with an enormous workforce.

Our job was to inspect all the radio wiring and installations, make sure the equipment was in order, sail on the first trial and approve the work, – all this was on ships as large as the cruiser The Black Prince, and as small as landing craft. Sometimes I would also have to go to places like Greencastle, County Down, to repair sets for the Coastguard.

A Stupid Ritual, A Near Disaster
It was just before the Italian landings that several Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) were brought into Belfast to be fitted out as Landing Craft Guns (LCG’S). They were in several of the dry-docks, and the work was so urgent all the trades were working together, so there was controlled chaos, which meant that I had to work at night when thing had quietened down. The modifications to the LCGs consisted of making living quarters in the centre of the ships which would house the gun crews of Royal Marines and would also act as the support for the 4 inch guns they proposed to use for shelling the shore before the landings.

To enter the dry-dock one passed through huge wrought iron gates, at least twelve feet high, supported on Gargantuan pillars. The gates were most impressive and were opened every morning and closed and locked every night. When I had finished work at two one morning, I found the gates were closed. It was dark, and no street lights due to the blackout. With a torch I managed to see enough to tie all my tools, meters and equipment, together with a length of flex. Wrapping the flex round my wrist I climbed to the top of the gate, hauled the gear up one side and down the other, and finally clambered down the gate, safe and sound – just – it had been a hazardous experience. The jolt came later. As I was walking back to the hut I found the walls on either side of the gate had been blasted away in the Blitz – I could have walked round the pillars and out of the dry-dock. I was l told the unions insisted the gate keeper was an essential part of security and he was to be retained. to continue opening and locking the gates morning and night. Such are the rocks of precedent upon which our war effort was built. When I arrived back at the hut I was too tired to put up the blackout, instead I put on the electric fire and crashed out on the couch. After a while I woke thinking I was taking the flu, coughed, turned over and went to sleep again. I awoke twice more, but on the third occasion I lifted my torch to see the time only to find the beam of the torch was no longer than two feet, the room was filled with a white choking smoke. Immediately I went to the door, I was both sick and dizzy. It transpired that someone had leaned a coil of rubber-covered telcathene cable against the fire and it was burning. I am convinced if I had gone to sleep just once more I would never have awakened.

Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order, Belfast Shipyard Part 1.

To those who hate technicalities I apologise for this entry, For me it records something gone and lost never to be recovered. Whether that is good is debateable. In ’43, I was drafted to Belfast to supervise the radio installations on the warships being built there. The shipyard was vast, there were at least six dry-docks functioning concurrently and ships of every size were issuing continuously. Today the area is almost a wasteland. Then, no sooner was a ship off the slipway than the keel plates of the next were down. The noise was deafening and vibrant. The very place itself seemed to be alive. One could see it transforming day by day, ships grew, they changed colour, they left, others were planted, while the men, tens of thousand of them, were like insects, dwarfed by the ships, the cranes and gantries which they served and which served the ships.

The men were working round the clock on some contracts, so it was only at the end of a shift that one realised the size of the workforce when the men issued in their hordes from every gate, running for the trams which were lined up along the Queen’s Road. Every day, at knocking-off time, it was like the end of the match at Wembley on Cup Day. The trams were old, many with no cover to the top deck. As they gathered speed men came from everywhere along the road, from design offices, accounts, drillers, platers, electricians, joiners, rivet boys and me, jumping onto the running board, and when the inside of the tram was full, which included the stairs and standing on the upper storey, we would then stand on the heavy steel bumper round the back and hang on as the tram swayed and rattled over the tracks set in the granite blocks. This was all standard practice and just to show there was no favouritism, the conductor would collect the fares of those hanging on as well as those impeding his ascent of the stairs.

Many would have a small haversack slung over one shoulder carrying the remnants of their ‘piece’, the midday snack, the little tin for sugar and tea, and, perhaps, something which should have remained in the shipyard or been shown to the Customs Man at the gate. I was advised to get the little tin. It consisted of two of the small size, oval Coleman’s mustard tins, soldered together by their bottoms to form two compartments, one for sugar the other for tea. Most people also had a can – a tea can. I had a tea can, a disused food tin, blackened by use and with a wire handle – an essential piece of equipment as necessary as my Avometer with which I tested the radio sets. Holding just over a pint of water, managed by the rivet boys when they were not heating or throwing rivets, they would take the cans at break time, fill them with water and put them on the rivet brazier. When boiling they would bring them to the men who would stand, hold the tin by the wire-loop handle, put the tea and sugar in and then, with a back-and-forth swinging motion start the build up of momentum and finally complete the ritual by swinging the tin in a vertical circle, described by their arm fully rotating round their shoulder, so the ingredients went to the bottom – the principle of the centrifuge. The tea ceremony was then complete and all that remained was to drink it out of a stained enamel mug.

The skill of the rivet boys had to be seen to be appreciated. They were apprentice riveters. One would heat the rivets to orange heat and then grasping one with long tongs, hurl it up to another boy, the catcher, standing precariously high on the scaffolding, who would catch it in a bucket, remove it with tongs and fit it into holes in the two plates which were to be riveted, so the riveter and the holder could then together hammer it to a tight fit. Targets aren’t new. Men, although officially on the workforce of the yard, worked in gangs selling their combined services to the Company, contracting the work and being paid as a group. A man was paid a rate for producing a product in an agreed time, based on a Rate Fixer’s assessment having watched the man work, and the man under scrutiny was very particular to cut no corners. Once the rate had been agreed the man upped productivity to get a comfortable wage and set aside enough products to go to a Wednesday match without being missed, while a mate was handing in his work.