I will begin by telling you that I was 15¼ years old when I became a Navy boy and that was in October 1953. I joined HMS Ganges, a training establishment, sited on terra firma  at Shotley, near Ipswich, Suffolk. I trained there for 15 months and joined my first ship, a frigate cum sloop called HMS Tintagel Castle at Portland, as a Boy Telegraphist aged 16½.  Like so many others, I rightly talk about the hardships we suffered in those days, and whilst we all knew that those who had gone before us had it much tougher than we did and those who came after, much easier, it didn't and doesn't, lessen the severity of the discipline we boys experienced during the early 1950's. Even after a good, lucky, fortunate and happy life, I still, now aged 65 plus, think about those days.

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CLICK HERE to see my HMS GANGES page.

Have a look at this plate    and read it first.  It tells how boys were recruited in the times of Nelson and right up to and including the middle of the 19th century.

Imagine therefore, the almost brutal discipline the men of the pre Shotley HMS Ganges received. Prior to my 'luxurious' training environment at Shotley, all boys were trained afloat in old warships [hulks] and there were many of them.  HMS Ganges was just one hulk and she and her role were moved ashore, to Shotley, in 1905.  Ex-Ganges personnel, with large hearts, memories like elephants and a sense of humour which ridicules the hardships of Shotley, refer to this shore base, colloquially known as a 'stone wall frigate', with profound emotion.  The love-hate relationship is confusing to the outsider, for very rarely does the 'love' win against the 'hate' when the 'hate' is so intrusive, lasting and uncompromising. What the Ganges gentlemen cannot do of course, is to know about the unspeakable hardships of the boys of HMS Ganges, the ship. Click to enlarge 'Ganges' has become a byword for all boys' training in the Navy simply because it was the only hulk which moved its training lock stock and barrel ashore, which made it unique.  Its nearest competitor measured in terms of comparability, was HMS St Vincent located at Gosport Hampshire.  From 1840 onwards, the Royal Marines [in various forms] occupied barracks at Eastney Southsea [Portsmouth] and at Forton Road in Gosport. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, they vacated their Gosport barracks and the Navy took over commissioning St Vincent for boy's too old to go to Ganges. A regularly asked question at get-together's is "are you Ganges?" which evokes a confident "yes", or occasionally a sheepish "no, I went to Vincent" response. No boy at Ganges could leave after training with any other rate than that of BOY Seaman, BOY Telegraphist or BOY Signalman, whereas recruits from St Vincent could be of an age to be an ORDINARY Telegraphist etc., one rate ahead of BOY. I don't know much about HMS St Vincent, but in my research I have come across bits and pieces and I have learnt that their divisions were named after parts of a warship rather than after admirals as was the case in Ganges. Their initial joining division was called The Preliminary Division [P] [Ganges was the Annexe], and after [P] boy's went to either the Forecastle [FX], the Quarterdeck [AX], the Foretop [FT] or the Maintop [MT] divisions where there were trained as seamen. Like Ganges, they had a term magazine and here is an example of the front cover and first page of a 1930 magazine Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge .

In the days of Nelson there three types of boy at sea, 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. Boys 2nd and 3rd class were separated by age only, but both went on to become seamen.  However, 1st class boys were being trained for officer candidates under a scheme known as the upper yardsman system.  They were much better paid even though many of them were younger than 2nd and 3rd class boys. See also The story of the RN Warrant Officer - available by password controlled licence only!

 What follows, are just a few interesting snippets about boys training afloat in the late 19th century, and the best way is to add old photographs, with, where possible, text. SEE ALSO the following page BOYS TRAINING IN 1903

The Navy frequented traditional naval ports, found on the south coast of England, manifest in that our traditional enemies, measured over hundreds of years, France, Spain, Holland, were inclined when war was vogue, to attack nearby English south and southeast coastal areas.   When war was not in vogue, as was more often than not, the Navy dissolved into the background leaving un-commissioned ships in harbour, commissioned officers on half-pay, and warrant officers [full timers, serving for pension] often living in hulks with their wives and families.  Little wonder therefore that the navy gave the job of recruiting men for the Fleet when war-drums were beating, to areas around the UK which were fully manned year round.  Every port around the UK had some kind of involvement with the sea be it fishing, piracy or smuggling. Click to enlarge Every port had a Customs and Excise official and a coastguard representative, and it was to the latter that the navy gave the job of recruiting.   These local coastguard men recruited  the local men and boys to training hulks whether they be in the north, east or west, but mostly in the west country.  The men/boys went from the town/area of recruitment to the nearest hulk, often just a few miles away -the men were separated of course into more centralised hulks.  Each hulk used its former name as a rallying point, and by 1870, there were half a dozen of them of prominence, all vying for the coveted position of 'we are the best.' Admirals paid patronage claiming that boys from their patronised ship were better able to fight than were the upstarts from a more distant and inferior boys training-ship, although as you will read, all boys going to sea went from the boys' depot which was quite separate to their training-ships. Boys of the Ganges were to many in the fleet no better advantaged than were boys, say, from the Formidable etc. Ganges survived [and I use the word advisedly] because all the other afloat hulks used for boys training didn't.  HMS Ganges afloat was the only ship named which was decommissioned and recommissioned simultaneously as a shore establishment.  All of the other boys' training ships were decommissioned, scrapped, and what was left of the boys quota, was moved to the southeast corner of England.  The day of the train had arrived, and all volunteers notwithstanding, could journey south to HMS Ganges at Shotley. Apart from the Ganges, which in common with others was stationed in the West Country [she in Falmouth Bay], other famous training-ships were the Impregnable, Lion,     Formidable and Arethusa.

 In this series of six pictures, some with supporting text, we see a little bit about  life on the Ganges when afloat in Falmouth Bay. They are delightful pictures.  The BIG picture [most dynamic] is in the RED box - if your machine/connection allows, use your scroll bars inside this stunning picture. If you experience difficulty in opening the red box pictures [you see nothing, or you get gaps or streaks of white lines in the picture], you have insufficient memory/or your resources are exhausted. You can either close down unwanted programmes and applications or do a restart [reboot], or look at the next four pictures shown in the GREEN boxes which are individual scenes taken from the big picture. Remember to click in the magnifying glass.

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   You should have no trouble with the next two pictures   Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  I am not going to fragment this amazing picture which hangs on my study wall, so I fear a restart if you experience problems and are interested enough! This is pre Shotley Ganges at its very best  Click to enlarge.  The next pictures are of other boys from different training-ships. Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge This last picture shows boys from the training ship Lion based on Devonport at the Hamoze. They are practicing the procedure for landing a naval battalion to support shore based troops. Rather ironic really when considering at the same time 1902, sailors from HMS Powerful in South Africa had not only landed a battalion but its own ships guns to support the British Army fighting in the Boer War.  This super-human feat of the Powerful was commemorated for many many years at the old Royal Tournament, held at Earls Court London, until the Navy could no longer afford to fund it: it ceased being an event in the 1980's.  For those of you who didn't witness the event, it took the form of four crews, each with a gun, overcoming obstacles set in its way, just like in real life the Powerful had to overcome many obstacles to achieve its aim at the beginning of the century. The four Navy crews, came from Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport and the Fleet Air Arm, and raced each other against the clock to see which gun could circumvent the obstacles the quickest, finishing with the firing of thee rounds of practice ammunition.  Not all four raced together, but two teams at a time, and the event was a big success with the crowds as it was with the Navy.


However, of those major boys' training ships  none supplied the fleet direct with trained boys.  When boys had fully completed their training they were drafted to the hulk Agincourt to await a position on a ship, and this old ship became known as the Boys' Depot. 

Naturally, one of the things the boys learnt to do from day one of their training, was to salute.  All wardroom officers were saluted which included warrant officers.  Now I am not going to teach you to suck eggs, but I'll wager that few of you know how saluting was carried out in those days!  The proverbial RIGHT HAND salute was used exactly the same as today,  for all occasions except a couple, when sailors saluted with their LEFT HAND.  Any ideas? No, I guessed right! If an officer and a sailor were marching and approaching each other, the sailor saluted the officer with which ever hand was the furthest from the officer [the off-hand], thereby reducing the chances of hitting the officers arm on the upward movement of the arm. So, if the sailor was passing the officer right arm to right arm [opposite to the rule of the road which dictates that ships pass each other left side to left side {port to port - red to red}, the sailor uses his LEFT hand to salute.  If passing on the rule of the road side he uses his RIGHT hand; the officer always uses his right hand when being passed by all subordinates to his own rank, but applies the LEFT and RIGHT hand rule when he himself is passing an officer of superior rank. Bet you didn't know that, eh? Take a look at this and in particular, saluting Click to enlarge and at the next plate which I am showing you in full to keep the context. It comes from QR and AI - Queens Regulations and Admiralty Instructions - [the 'Q' being Victoria of course] Click to enlarge. Read the whole thing if you want, but look specifically at the bottom of the page for saluting. The 1880 Boys Training Manual, from which these saluting instructions are taken , tells us that the boys learnt modules, which included seamanship, sailing, pulling boats, gunnery, drill, kit and signalling, amongst other things, and signalling was the FOURTH INSTRUCTION. Telegraphy was a foreign word in the 1880's but just about everybody onboard had some understanding of visual signalling which kept the Yeoman of Signals and his staff on their toes lest they be up-staged by some 'clever' able seaman shouting out the letters made by flashing light whilst leaning over the guard-rail. This then is the boys Signalling Module from 124 years ago. Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge   Click to enlarge. Note the third panel [picture] and the morse symbols for FULL STOP  and COMMA. Today of course, it is the full stop which is AAA and there is no such group as III - the comma being MIM, the opposite of repeat = IMI.  Then the UNION JACK but NOT like we learnt it! Look at this Click to enlarge. All you see, including the drawing of the picture of the Union Jack  dates from 1883.   We had  but to  remember the Jack on the Jack Staff, which we only saw when afloat;  when stationed ashore, we never saw the Union Jack, except for funerals.

When the Naval training Services began in 1853 which heralded in boys' training-ships, boys were issued with free bedding plus some free pieces of kit; the rest had to be bought.  Thereafter, all kit, whether bought or given had to be replaced at the boys own expense, just as it was in the Navy proper. Also like sea-going sailors, they had to learn about tailoring because the major part of their kit/uniform would be self made.  Click on the following link to take you to a page which describes  THE NAVAL UNIFORM and how the regulations affected boys.