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AND SO ...

3. TO SEA ON A BATTLESHIP ..... and first overseas cruise

Chapter 4. "To War in HMS Repulse"


With training completed and being on draft to a warship, I had to carry out the customary procedure for ratings leaving the Barracks to join a ship: a thorough medical examination, including a visit to the Dental Department, and then a kit muster. At the same time I visited the Barracks tailor to be measured for my third uniform, which would become my best uniform, known as Number One and would display on a sleeve a badge in the form of a propellor, made with gold wire. When all this was completed I was given fourteen days leave, which carried over the Christmas period, and in early January 1938 I joined H.M.S. Revenge, which was berthed in the nearby Dockyard.


There were three of the old 129 Class joining the ship: Wally Osborne, Shepherd and me. We humped our kit bags and hammocks inboard, down ladders and along passage ways until we finally reached the Stokers’ Mess Deck. Here we met the Regulating Chief P.O. Stoker, senior chief amongst the stokers. I was given a Mess number on the Starboard messdeck, a locker for my kit and shown two hooks which would be mine for slinging my hammock, then a place to stow the hammock. Because I was in the Starboard Watch I was given a green Watch and Station card; this was my identity card and breathing licence.

The three of us were taken to the ship’s Sick Bay, the hospital, where we were just looked at by the M.O. then taken to the Pay Office to be given a pay number and two H.M.S. Revenge cap ribbons. On return to my mess I was shown how to stow my kit into what seemed a relatively small kit locker, then told to get out of uniform and don overalls. I had expected to wear the overalls over the uniform, but oh, no; our rig would always be underwear and overalls, black cap and boots.

The furnaces of the boiler had been re-bricked and the job at hand was to stock the firebrick store with a fresh supply. I joined a gang of stokers, going up a number of ladders to the upper deck and out into the dockyard to be given a sack of firebricks to be carried down, down, down into the bowels of the ship. This doesn’t seem to be much of a job, does it? Just a few bricks in a sack, but by dinner-time my legs didn’t belong to me. Up and down ladders, it went on and on and there were truck-loads of bricks waiting to be manhandled! The work ceased at four o’clock for that day and after visiting the bathroom, stowing my overalls in my bathroom locker and donning the serge suit, which was the rig of the day, I finally met the rest of my messmates.

Studio portrait taken in 1937 - Stoker's badge on right arm

Initially their surnames were difficult to remember, but that did not matter too much; very often surnames produced a recognised nickname. Anyone rejoicing in the name of Clarke would carry the handle of ‘Nobby’, a Martin would respond to ‘Pincher’, a White would be ‘Knocker’ or ‘Chalky’. Anybody from Liverpool would be known as ‘Scouse’, Welshmen were called ‘Taffs’ and Westcountry ratings invariably became ‘Jan’. Because I was over six feet tall I became ‘Lofty’, the designated name for all tall ratings who don’t come under a recognised surname handle.

The Port and Starboard Watches of the Engine Room Branch were each divided into the First and the Second part. With one Part being required for duty, the remaining three were at liberty to go ashore. This required a uniform which was spic and span, because going ashore meant being inspected by the Officer of the Day, usually a Lieutenant, handing in the breathing licence and being warned about conduct when ashore and the time to be back on board ship. Collecting the breathing licence was proof of being back on board.

That first evening of liberty saw me going to see Gran, who gave me a hug and ran her hands over me. She said the smell of me reminded her of Uncle John. I suppose it was a shipboard smell, but what a surprise that she could recall the memory of twenty one years ago. Walking out with Mabel became very precious, because H.M.S. Revenge was a member of the Home Fleet and would soon be sailing to meet the Mediterranean Fleet for exercises against each other.

On the appointed day the ships left port and I was on my way to Gibraltar. Being a trainee stoker, my first shipboard duty at sea was in a boiler room, tending sprayers which sprayed hot oil into a furnace. The hot oil immediately burned and air, under pressure, completed a perfect combustion so that the flame gave off no smoke. The furnace cones, through which the oil was sprayed, soon collected a ring of carbon and one of my jobs was to prevent the ring from building. It had to be scraped off with a long metal rod with a chisel end. Mirrors allowed the watchkeeper to see into the boiler uptakes, so that a light could be seen. No light meant that smoke was being generated and this had to be avoided at all costs. Firstly, the fuel was being incorrectly burned and, secondly, smoke could be seen by the enemy in the event of hostilities. I could well understand why overalls were not worn over a uniform; the heat in the boiler room took some getting used to. There was no hope of sitting whilst on watch, and four hours does seem endless at times. Thankfully, on my first cruise the Bay of Biscay was reasonably calm and in that battleship all I felt was like being in a swing, which rose and fell very slowly. As was usual, the battleships were escorted by destroyers, and from the upper deck of the Revenge these escorts seemed to disappear periodically in the rolling swell of the sea. When nearly through the Bay of Biscay the air temperature rose significantly and the bluejackets’ rig of the day changed from wool jersey and blue cap to white shirt and white cap. After four days the fleet arrived at Gibraltar, and what a sight the eyes beheld!

"R" class battleship HMS Revenge in 1939

The ships of the Home Fleet were painted dark grey, whereas the ships of the Mediterranean Fleet, already gathered there, were a lighter grey. That first evening I went ashore with Wally Osborne. We were transported from the outer mole or breakwater in a converted fishing trawler, named Fumerole; she was attached to the Revenge as a liberty boat - more about that later. On landing, one was literally in another world. The air seemed so warm, and in its way soft to breathe. The main street was lined with shops and stores, each a proverbial Ali Babba’s cave. In addition there were two large beer halls, one called Trocadero and the other the Continental. In one was a Ladies’ Orchestra, which made the beer taste much better and I remember a street vendor coming in with paper cones filled with prawns, well salted of course, for about three pence. Ossie and I wandered in and out of the stores, each of which seemed to be staffed by people from India. No obligation to buy and almost anything and everything was on offer. It was about that period that a perfume named 4711 was popular, and the whole of Main Street seemed to reek of it. Darkness fell quickly and everywhere was lit up, just like Christmas at home. We did not have too much money to spend and the old-timers on board had warned us not to accept the stated price for any article; the game was to haggle. In one store I had seen a Chinese dressing gown, complete with pyjamas, and this was the present I intended to take home to Mabel. The back of the gown was richly decorated with an enormous dragon, made with gold wire and coloured silks, the pyjama suit made of a soft black and red material.

The annual meeting of the two fleets saw plenty of competitions between them: football matches, tug-of-war, a regatta, boxing, to name but a few. One of the highlights was on the evening of pay day, when Tombola - known as Bingo - was played in the Fleet Canteen. With such a huge collection of players from the two fleets, the money prizes were something to be desired. When the Tombola caller called "Eyes Down", the silence became momentarily overwhelming. Concentration honed to a fine pitch, pencils at the ready and the first number called in naval jargon was comparable to the "They’re Off" at Derby Day. The last house of the evening was always called a ‘doubler’, which meant that the price of a ticket was doubled. Just imagine the value of the ‘House’ and the anticipation of the crowd! With the game being drawn out there would be frequent shouts of "Shake ‘em up", as frustrated punters waited for that certain number. When that certain number was called, the cry of "Here you are" rang out and an almighty groan would come from the remainder of the hopefuls. When the winner went up to collect his cash a number of appellations of doubtful origin would be rendered with good humour, but ‘twould be like water off a duck’s back.

This meeting would be a one-off affair, for soon after the fleets split up for individual visits to show the flag. The Revenge went to Corsica, where the highlight of the visit was Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon. I can say that I went there, but I don’t remember much about the visit. I can remember my first experience of Action Stations, when the fifteen inch guns were fired at targets for exercise. The ditty boxes were regimentally stacked on the tops of the lockers and the reverberations throughout the ship when those guns were fired caused some of the ditty boxes to leap from the lockers - mine amongst them. It sustained a fair crack on one corner, there to this day for one and all to see. How’s that for history created fifty five years ago?

When at sea, the name of the game was ‘Exercises’ and our particular part in the Engine Room Department was to learn to combat flooding and fire, known as Damage Control. Being on a training battleship, as expected, exercises were frequent, both day and night. On watch in the boiler room, tending to sprayers and learning various pipe systems wasn’t too bad, but at Damage Control stations one had to hop about a bit, shoring up damaged bulkheads, fighting imaginary fires. When the lighting was considered to have failed and the exercises were carried out in darkness - this was a different kettle of fish! Since the war, there have been a number of fictional naval books, where the hero comes from the Upper Deck crowd. None seem to emanate from down below, where all the wheels are made to go ‘round!

Upon our return to Gibraltar, my mission was to purchase the pyjama set for Mabel. Haggle, don’t forget to haggle. The game was to ask about anything but the desired item, and the storekeeper would turn the place upside down to maintain the interest of the potential customer. Eventually I inquired about a pyjama set and several were brought forth for perusal. Not to chose the one you wanted was part of the entertainment; bicker over any but that, until the choice was made and the haggling commenced. That evening saw the beginning of an apprenticeship, because from then on in any foreign port one haggled. The Indian storekeepers were experts, comparable to water from a dripping tap wearing away a stone. A server would break off the negotiations and bring forward other articles. A silk shawl, with a: "Your girl would like this, Sir". The ever-present 4711 perfume with a: "You smell this, Sir". Wall tapestries, ivory paper-knives, families of ebony elephants, wrist watches, boxes of cigars and then, as if to gain breath for another foray, cups of coffee were offered. Then the dressing gown and pyjama set would appear, as if by magic, and a quiet voice would ask, "What would you give, Sir?". When a really unacceptable amount was offered, a painful expression appeared on the face of the assistant; one could almost imagine that he was bleeding inside. So the evening of entertainment progressed. When nearing the amount that was agreeable to the two of us, I had to cry off because of a shortage of funds. The fortnightly pay was due before the ship left Gibraltar, so I knew I could return to the store and complete the deal. And so, on the evening of pay day, I went to the store and finally bought the dressing gown and pyjama set for thirty five shillings. Mabel Sheard liked the gift immensely, but in all our married days I don’t think I ever saw her wear them. The things came in useful once when our daughter, Barbara, used them in one of her school plays. And then they went back into storage together with the moth balls.

Being in the Home Fleet meant that I had fourteen days leave over Easter and of course I had to visit Gran and tell her all about the past three months. How she went back in time to tell me about the times Uncle Jack had had whilst in the Navy. Did I do this or that? No? He did! But the yarns brought a bit of life back into her soul. She told me how Uncle Jack was a Freemason and when visiting foreign places had found himself dining with his Captain in other Lodges. I can hear her now saying: "Never mind, you will have your chance one day." I smile to myself even now, whilst writing. There was Uncle John, a Chief Shipwright in a brass-buttoned uniform and me, a Second Class Stoker, a bilge-rat in comparison. I think of my first Captain, Wake-Walker; the only time I ever saw him was at Sunday Divisions inspections, when he would walk past our ranks and inspect us with x-ray eyes.

South coast cruise 1938

After Easter leave the Home Fleet met in Weymouth Bay and carried out exercises. The Fumerole was the liberty boat for the Revenge. For one of the sets of exercises the Fumerole was to be included. This necessitated additions to her crew and I was detailed to be the extra stoker. What a transition in life-style that turned out to be! To begin with, the Fumerole was a coal-burner, so I became a stoker in every sense of the word. There were two stokers on board, so we worked watch and watch about. Shovelling coal from a bunker into a furnace became a work of art, not just throwing it in ad lib, but placing it with dexterous aim. Easy when the sea was calm, with two furnaces to feed, but in a rough sea and rolling from side to side, plus being seasick into the bargain, my shovels of coal often finished up on the deck plates. Whilst working with the fleet we had destinations to keep; never mind the weather, keep up the steam pressure. At about half past seven each morning a furnace had to be cleaned, which resulted in hefty fire irons being used. One iron, called a ‘slice’, was used to disturb the glowing coals and reveal the fire bars, to which was fused the clinker. Then another tool, called a ‘devil’, was used to free the clinker and finally a large rake pulled the clinker from the bars and out of the furnace onto the deck plates. Hence the old Naval expression: "In rake, up bake, in splice, out spice." The spice, or clinker, was then cooled with sea water and shovelled into containers for later disposal over the side. Comes another saying: "Have a good sweep up, because the steam’s dropping back." This meant cleaning the deck plates to provide a safe footage for replenishing that furnace with coal. Those weeks in the Fumerole were the experience of a lifetime. One bathed in a bucket of hot water in front of a furnace, literally lived in underwear and overalls and the food was plentiful and good. There was no place for niceties; one was required to do a job efficiently. At first I can’t say that life was enjoyable, but when I gained my sea legs and learned to roll with the weather, it became a challenge. Using a shovel was second nature after working on the buildings; learning to direct it into a furnace when rolling in heavy seas was another kettle of fish! In the early days I was often told, "Buck up, Lofty, steam’s dropping back!"

As I say, it was a challenge, but I was soon accepted. I remember we had to call into Portsmouth to coal ship and the Chief gave me a pint bottle of rum together with the requisition chit to go to the chap in charge of the coal jetty. I eventually found this official and presented the chit and the bottle of rum, whereupon he told me to berth under number so-and-so coal hoist. Back on board I told the Chief and we moved the Fumerole under the hoist. Green as grass, I asked him why I had taken the bottle of rum. "You’ll learn," he replied, "that a bottle of rum ensures good coal; without it we would have finished up with mostly coal dust." And so it was. Down onto the deck came the coal, to be shovelled into the bunkers. Then we two stokers had to go into the bunkers to trim the coal: that is to spread it evenly and avoid blockages, which could prevent us from receiving all the tonnage demanded on the chit. The old Chief would regularly come into the bunkers with a large crow-bar, levering at the coal to ensure that there was no blockage, despite our efforts to keep a steady flow of coal. When coaling was completed and the bunker covers replaced, the seamen would hose down the upper deck whilst down below we cleaned the gauges and pipework, a good sweep-up ‘cos "the steam is dropping back!" Then the two of us would strip off, fill a large metal drum with hot water, dhobey the filthy shifts of underwear and overalls and have a luxurious bath, out of buckets of hot water, turns about washing each other’s back, because we were as black as chimney sweeps. Dhobeying hung up on the lines, on clean clothing and, on that special coal-ship day, when completed, we were given a tot of neat rum, instead of the diluted rum which was the general issue to all below the rate of Petty Officer. The dinner always tasted good that day. Understandably, everybody moaned when ‘coal ship’ time arrived; coal dust found its way everywhere, but when completed the recompense was good. I remember once, after coaling, I heard the Skipper say, "I even found the damned stuff in my belly button!" He should have been in the bunker, trimming the ‘damned stuff’.

The exercises ended and the Revenge was destined to visit Margate on a showing the flag goodwill trip; this meant fairly easy times for us on the Fumerole. We steamed round to Margate, where the Revenge was at anchor, just in time to see a light aeroplane crash into the water as we were adjacent to it. The plane was nose-down in the water; in no time we were alongside it and the pilot was pulled out, dead. He had been giving the local Carnival Queen a flight over the bay, but there was no sign of her in the plane as it slowly sank. The pilot was laid out on the upper deck and we took him ashore. The upper deck crew gave statements to the police and then the Fumerole returned to the duties of being a tender to the Revenge. We took liberty men ashore, collected stores, brought liberty men back to the ship and became a general dogsbody. Now this life became a bit of a doddle; normally only one stoker was required to carry out the duties, but here we were, two of us, sharing the duties; we were on easy street. When the coxswain went to the Revenge to draw victuals and rum, the extra number was queried and so I was told to go inboard - services no longer required. When I reported to the ship’s Regulating Office I was told about the wonderful time I had had, just swanning around the ocean with nothing to do. At least I learned that for the month I had been on board the Fumerole I would be credited with an extra sixpence a day for what was termed ‘hard layers’ pay. Better than a kick up the backside. Once back at my mess I was met with: "It’s all right for some, Lofty. How did you get a number like that?" But I had been a pressed man; nobody had volunteered.

The next day I had to sit an examination to rise from the status of Second Class Stoker to the dizzy heights of First Class Stoker. The questions were about working in the boiler room, watchkeeping duties, names of valves and fittings on boilers; and this particular time, the exam included a question on coaling and the duties of bunkering, of which I had had my share. That afternoon I was told I had passed the examination and was being given four months’ seniority. Being a First Class Stoker meant an extra shilling a day and the right to wear a star above my propellor on the arm badge. Now I had passed from a trainee to become a regular member of the ship’s company.

Whilst under training the cap ribbon had to be tied in such a manner that the knot in the form of a bow was exactly over the left ear, so that the name of the establishment was exactly over the forehead. Once a member of the ship’s company, one tied the cap ribbon so the bow came over the left eye and the cap was worn with a slight cant, instead of all-square. All was well when going ashore wearing a tiddly cap, light blue collar and a stretched lanyard, very thin and snow-white, until one met an Officer of the Day and, on being inspected as a liberty man, told to return inboard for not being correctly dressed. Change cap ribbon, light blue collar for a dark blue collar and a lanyard which had not been stretched. The following inspection would mean having to show items of uniform to ascertain that one’s name was stamped in the required places. This was followed by a lecture before being allowed to proceed ashore.

Writing this reminds me of the first time I was a ‘liberty man’ when under training. Together with other bodies I was marched to the Quarter Deck in the barracks and there paraded to be inspected. It is the custom that the Officer of the Day always carries a telescope - something to do with Nelson and his "I see no signal" when he put his telescope to his blind eye, I presume. Anyhow, on this particular occasion the officer used the end of his telescope to lift the bottom of the leg of my trousers to check that my boots were gleaming. He noticed that the laces were tied in a crossed pattern. Horror of horrors! The laces should be tied in a bar pattern. Go back and retie the laces and report again. Such was uniform drill for men under training!

Towards the end of the Spring cruise the Home Fleet once more gathered in Weymouth Bay to hold the Fleet Regatta. A date was fixed for this event, giving plenty of time for ships’ companies to put together crews to row together in the various types of boats. It fell to the Stokers to pull a ‘cutter’. This was a large, heavy boat, with six thwarts, or seats, accommodating two rowers to a thwart, thus propelled by twelve oars. Being a ‘Lofty’ I was automatically chosen to become a member of the Stokers’ crew, not volunteered mark you, but chosen, and in the dog watches we were excused all duties to practise, coxswained by the senior Chief Stoker. This was damned hard work and time was of the utmost importance. As we slowly became a rowing crew, after much chopping and changing of positions, the distances increased until we were finally rowing the course of the race. A battleship like the Revenge carried two cutters, so the seamen also had a crew. Rowing times were compared and I suspect that these were shaved to increase the competition. On the day of the regatta the ships were moored bow and stern in two lines, such that the course was between the warships, giving the ships’ companies the chance to watch the racing and cheer on their crews. A regatta was the only event in the Royal Navy where betting was officially allowed, and on that day the flagship would signal the odds of each race and each ship would carry a tote to handle the betting. On the day each ship would be known by a colour; that for the Revenge was light blue. Each member of the race crew wore a light blue vest and a small flag of that colour was fitted to the bow of our boats. In that year of 1938 the battleship squadron consisted of H.M.Ships Ramilies, Resolution, Revenge, Royal Oak and Royal Sovereign. Each ship supplied Stokers and Seamen crews for racing, and final placings were awarded points. At the end of the day the ship with the most points was awarded the prize in the form of a large metallic cockerel, and the ship became known as the ‘Cock of the Fleet’. And so Stokers raced against Stokers and Seamen raced against Seamen and the Revenge did not finish as the Cock; my memory will not let me remember who did.

With that period over, the Fleet once more put to sea and, as usual, it was exercises followed by exercises, but this time it was the turn of somebody else to be back-up crew on the Fumerole. My watchkeeping station had been changed from a boiler room to one of the wing engine rooms, where I recorded various bearing temperatures and was able to watch Leading Stokers who operated an evaporating and distilling plant, known as ‘evaps’, where salt water was converted into distilled water, for use in the boilers and for domestic water. This was my first step up the ladder towards advancement. In July the Fleet dispersed to its home ports and the Revenge returned to Devonport for Summer Leave. One day, together with several other ratings, I had to report to the school in the Naval Barracks and as a squad we marched there from the Dockyard. There we sat an examination in Maths and English for the Educational Test that was essential for the right to become a Leading Hand and wear a badge in the form of an anchor.

Based at Scapa Flow with the Home Fleet

August 1938 was the leave period and early in September the Revenge left Devonport and proceeded to Scotland, to work out of Scapa Flow, which all members of the Navy consider to be the last place the Good Lord made. From Scapa Flow warships could quickly venture into the North Sea; at the same time the islands were considered a safe anchorage from any enemy. Exercises followed exercises and respite from these was given by visiting Rosyth and anchoring in the River Forth. From Rosyth it was a short train ride to Edinburgh. At the beginning of the autumn cruise my job was changed from working in a boiler room to an Upper Deck Stoker, responsible for fuelling the steam picket boats and supplying diesel oil fuel to the motor launches. The steam-driven picket boats, called pinnaces, were fuelled at about five thirty each morning when the ship was in harbour.

One morning in October, clad in all I could wear to keep warm, including heavy overcoat and leather sea boots, which was general in those Scottish waters, I prepared to fuel the duty picket boat. I connected the fuelling hose to a valve fitted in a narrow deck on the forward port side of the ship, accessible by a vertical steel ladder. The drill was to connect the hose, see the other end connected to the picket boat’s fuel tank by the boat’s stoker, then go to the boiler room and start a steam pump to slowly transfer fuel oil to the boat. Retrace steps to the fuelling deck and wait for the stoker to signal enough, then hasten to the boiler room to stop the pump. The residue of oil in the system would drain by gravity to the picket boat, thus ensuring the hose was empty when disconnected. On this particular morning the picket boat’s stoker had shut the valve on his end of the hose without draining down to his fuel tank. By the time I had shut down and returned to my fuelling deck, the picket boat had gone about its duties. Expecting all to be normal and the hose empty of fuel, I proceeded to uncouple it from the deck valve and to my horror oil gushed out onto the fuelling deck. I quickly reconnected the hose and raced down to the boiler room to drain the system into the boiler room tank, then back to the deck to secure everything. Down the vertical ladder to step into a puddle of oil, feet go from under me and down into the fast-flowing river. Down, down I went, all the time kicking off sea boots and overcoat. When I finally broke surface I was adjacent to the well-illuminated quarter-deck ladder. How I swam to it I will never know. I hauled myself to the landing stage and went up the ladder to the Holy of Holies, the quarter-deck. Here I was met by the Officer of the Day, who in amazement at the sight of me could only exclaim: "Where have you come from?" Shivering and spluttering, I did my best to explain what had happened, whereupon I was sent to the Sick Bay for a medical. I could breath and I could move, so I must be fit for duty and was sent to my mess for dry clothing and breakfast. By now the word had reached the mess-deck; kippers were on the menu for breakfast and by the time I reached my mess my plate was piled high with kippers! I had my leg pulled mercilessly by my mess Killick, Wilf Mann. Over the years we became good friends as we advanced up the N.C.O.’s ladder.

I had to draw more clothing and boots, then complete securing the hose and with cotton waste mop up the fuel oil and clean the fuelling deck.. Then followed an enquiry by the Senior Engineer Officer who agreed to dish out a blast to the duty picket boat stoker and, best of all, signed the necessary forms to declare my clothing and boots had been lost in the line of duty, so I would not have to pay for them. That river had been cold, but strangely enough I suffered no ill effects from my immersion, possibly because of the sippers of rum from some of my mess-mates at dinner-time.

In the Engine Room Branch life was scrupulously clean. With a plentiful supply of hot water cleanliness was paramount, and above a steaming boiler a natural hot drying ground was available for dhobeying. The mess tables and stools were scrubbed every morning by the duty cooks, then the area of corticened deck was scrubbed. During working hours we lived and worked in our overalls, so that they quickly became soiled. A couple of the married leading stokers would start up a ‘dhobeying firm’ and wash and scrub overalls for sixpence a time, all dues to be collected fortnightly after pay day. Stokers who formed the boiler cleaning party, whose job it was to clean boilers internally and then sweep down the boiler uptakes to remove and collect the soot, would be glad to hand over their overalls to the ‘dhobeying firm’. In my early days as a sprog stoker I had experienced life in a boiler party. The external group would scrape off and sweep down the soot from the boiler uptakes which led into the funnel; sometimes the inside of the funnel had to be scraped and swept. Meanwhile the internal party would be inside the steam and water drums, wire scrubbing the interior surfaces and cleaning the connecting tubes with rotary wire scrubbers, pushing and pulling the scrubbers through the tubes, which were numbered in their hundreds. When this was completed, to ensure there was no obstruction in any tube, each one was sighted by having a steel ball dropped through it, from the steam drum into the water drum. A hundred steel balls were used and when the sighting was completed one hundred steel balls had to be accounted for. Anything less than one hundred would cause a massive search in the boiler room, the supposition being that the ball could be held by an obstruction in a tube. Failure to find that missing steel sphere would mean the tubes being searched again, resulting in red faces for the unfortunate group employed in that particular duty.

A Leading Stoker was in charge of the diesel fuel, stored in five gallon containers in a rack on the funnel deck. His job was to ensure that the drums were full, ready to be transported to any launch. Early one Friday forenoon I was called to take a drum of diesel fuel to a launch waiting at the quarter-deck gangway. I was told which numbered drum to take and I hurried with it down the ladders and along the quarter-deck, down to the launch to refuel it and return the empty drum to its place in the rack. Another job done - or so I thought. Ten thirty was ‘Stand Easy’ time, when one could repair to one’s mess for a cup of tea. Whilst drinking my cup of tea I was called for by the quarter-deck messenger. I was to report immediately to the Officer of the Day. When I arrived I was met by an R.P.O., nick-named a ‘crusher’ and the officer asked me if I had carried diesel fuel to a motor launch. When I replied in the affirmative he showed me to a dark brown line on the Holy of Holies - the near-white planking of the quarter-deck. "Off cap", which was the drill when being charged. "What have you to say to the charge?" And he, calling no-one on his behalf, and all the same if he had done, was put in the Commander’s report, to take place next day. The Leading Stoker had neglected to put a sealing ring on the stopper of that particular drum of fuel and as I hurried along with it diesel fuel had leaked from the ill-fitting plug. "Hurry", or "at the rush", means just that in the Andrew, so I had hurried with just one objective in view: to supply the waiting launch with its fuel, and I did not notice the leak.

To be accused of something not of one’s making is called a ‘Green Rub’ in the Andrew, and on our mess deck this was a ‘Green Rub’. I had to see the Senior Engineer, who hummed and hawed, but I was still in the Commander’s report. On the Saturday forenoon I mustered together with other criminals on the quarter-deck to be arraigned in front of the Upper-Deck Commander, this time by the Master-at-Arms, the Jaunty, the Chief Constable - all titles which go with other appellations provided by the lower deck. Number, rating and name called, step forward in front of the Commander at his desk, hear the charge read out by the Jaunty, followed by "Off cap". No doubt the Commander in his time had heard all the charges and all the feeble excuses which have been pleaded, but he listened to my tale, which was backed up by my Divisional Officer. The Commander judged that I had caused a lot of hard work to be done in restoring the Holy of Holies to its pristine state, so I must be given extra work. I was awarded two days ‘Ten A’. This meant mustering several times in the rig of the day and being required for extra work. Saturday afternoon in harbour is ‘Make and Mend’ time, but criminals are required to work. The duty Stoker P.O. would be required to oversee my labours, but because of the ‘Green Rub’ I was told to go into the Engine-Room and lose myself on top of a steam pipe and then report to him at tea-time. I mustered at the required times in the evening and again next day when, being Sunday, no work was required. So my two days of punishment passed. But you can be sure that I always checked the stoppers on fuel drums prior to fuelling a motor launch after that.


on to Chapter 4. "To War in HMS Repulse"
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revised 27/9/11