If you went to Ganges in the 1960's and 1970's, you may have seen where the modus operandi  for the food side of motorway stations came from.  Cafeteria is what I am suggesting, which comes with quality of food, hygiene of the total eating environment,  the orderliness of the food queue,  and the ready choice of cold or piping hot food, the latter a personal choice chosen by the eater of the victuals.  Add to those civilities that the diner then walked to a table with a seat without 'aggro' or competition from other diners,  at which the food was consumed in a civilised manner.  That said and without contradicting myself, I have in my possession an Archival Document called CAB 124/1921 which covers the major and serious outbreak of FOOD POISONING {1961-62} ever recorded at the Establishment.  I will be publishing this Document in the weeks/months ahead: <this was written January 31st 2009>.

What is that I hear ?  No way, you say !

Well ok, perhaps not at every meal, and since you have doubted me, I am willing to take the red underlining away from the above attributes thus lessening their impact on my story, but, I am not prepared to take the attributes down - they stand.

There is much evidence, both anecdotal and recorded that the 'feeding machine' of these times ran smoothly to accommodate, on average 1750 boys, who, certainly in the 60's, were fed two divisions at a time for each and every main meal served.  There is also much evidence that the age old practice of Ganges boys {well before our time frame}  to take [or manipulate] as much free time as possible for themselves, meant that they would gulp down their meals as quickly as possible and leave the CMG [Central Mess Galley] at their earliest convenience.  Thus, whilst I am open to criticism about my claim, the feeding conditions at HMS Ganges was GROSSLY SUPERIOR to that of the period post war resumption, i.e., 1946, to 1952. 

My story is about the transition to the CMG [and its many problems] from the system in being pre 1952, but concentrated on the period from 1946.

You will recall that the Long Covered Way [LCW] was laid out with the quarterdeck as the bow and the River Stour end as the stern of the 'ship'.  As naval tradition dictate, all messes on the left hand side looking up the slope [port side] were even numbered and those on the right [starboard], odd numbered.  The galley was roughly halfway down the LCW on the crossroad which cut across the LCW from the Library in the east to the Laundry in the west, on the port side with my mess, Rodney 12 mess, immediately adjacent.  Also, immediately opposite was the dreaded shower block.  It was very different from the 'G' in CMG,  because boys didn't go there to eat their food:  it was merely cooked in that building. The system used, which was also used in the fleet [my first ship for example HMS Tintagel Castle] was called CANTEEN MESSING.  Canteen messing at sea was really controlled by the mess members where each man was given a cash allowance [by the navy] to buy basic food items, some from naval victualling yards and some from commercial sources.  If the combined sum of money from all mess members purchased food for a staple diet, the money was adequate and not ungenerous. However, if sirloin steaks and other luxuries were purchased, then the mess total would clearly soon become over-spent, and a debt situation would arise.  One of the duties of the messdeck officer was to keep his eye on the cash sums spent.  The debt could be written off the next week by reducing the food available to each member, or, under supervision, a quick whip-round would resolve the crisis.  When alongside in harbour, a shrewd mess manager usually the killick of the mess] could save money on those victualled members who had gone ashore nearly always for a few wets and 'big eats' thereby clawing back money to offset debts.  In the case of Ganges, Canteen Messing was centralised by Divisions but still a cash sum for each boy in training.  Luxuries could not be purchased, although very occasionally they were supplied by the navy, and debt/credit fluctuations were non-starters. The food supplied came from the Supply Department in Ganges who supplied the necessary victuals on a daily basis to each mess.  What was common to both ships and Ganges was the relationship between the galley and food consumption.  The food was prepared to the greater extend in the mess itself [potatoes peeled, carrots scraped, cabbage washed etc etc] but tined items and most meat dishes would be opened/prepared by the cooks [clacker-bashers] in the galley.  Once prepared, the trays of raw food plus associated food items would then be taken to the galley where the cooks would 'finish off' the meal and then cook it. 

At a predetermined time, 'cooks of the mess' would be piped and they would go directly to the galley, retrieve the trays, and take them to the mess.  Here it would be 'dished out' on the mess table and consumed.  Afterwards, the cooks of the mess [a rotating duty] would dish the dishes, clean down the table and the deck.  Each main meal would be prepared in the same way. Ganges/Suffolk weather was very often freezing cold and known to be draughty, so can you imagine just how hot the food would be at the top and bottom of the LCW [Drake/Blake/Anson] when their messmen arrived back home, not to mention those messes which were outside the protection of the LCW, Benbow etc ?

If you remember the mess square and the labour you put into cleaning and shining it, think now about doing the same pre 1952 when because of all that eating, food smells, shuffling of chairs [if only sitting down and getting up], soiled deck, the task would be infinitely harder but also soul destroying. 

By 1949, the idea of canteen messing at Ganges was challenged, when it was recognised that it put an enormous amount of unnecessary stress of the boys themselves.  General messing, the same as that on large ships in the fleet and all Depots [plus many of the other shore stations] was on the way out to be replaced by cafeteria messing, but it was considered that it could be the way ahead [in a centralised non-mess building] to feed so many boys without imposing on their precious little living space - God knows they had little enough as it was !  It wasn't all 'sorry for the boys bit' though because once the 'alternative', whatever it was to be, had been paid for and cost recouped,  there was an economy to be had.

The building of the CMG for a form of 'General Messing' started in 1950 and was completed in early spring 1952 - a very large building for that time and in that Establishment with enough glass to put the Crystal Palace in the shade.  It opened to much in-camp excitement and not without a little ceremony in May 1952, but, without HATS and SATS before that event.  To remind you, after a post-build or a long refit, a ship has Harbour Acceptance Trials and then Sea Acceptance Trials before it is signed off to [or back to] the navy. In June 1952 [see GANGES TRAINING WITHOUT THE MYTHS !] the Establishment was inspected by the Ministry of Education and the CMG failed miserably coming in for much adverse criticism, and none of these directed towards the builders - just towards the navy ! It also should be mentioned that there was trepidation because although not ideal, dining in a mess was "cosy" whereas dining in a huge soulless building was "threatening". 

It was intended that the boys would enjoy a peaceful and orderly transition, enhancing the feeding experience , but sadly it went the other way leading to disorganisation, long waits for food, and cold food when it did come.

 The Supply Department were really ill-prepared to manage this new concept in-situ [although there were no problems with supplying the victuals, crockery, cutlery/utensils, condiments etc etc] and the Executive Department had an ambiguous role in the building. A goodly amount of money had been spent on procuring items like 'plate rings' and 'plate carriers' as well as other culinary products which were to prove useless.  Even though the CMG organisation was well established by the mid-1960's, my good friend John Eilbeck who was a CPO Instructor at that time, tells me that being duty in the CMG [two CPO's at a time] was an onerous task and much disliked.  I would have thought that it wasn't a good draft either for members of the S & S Branch, and I myself am grateful to Drafty for not taking me away from the fleet which used my talents in a more productive way than Ganges would have done.

Almost as soon as the Ministry of Education had left, Ganges called in the NMSU, the Naval Motion Study Unit, later known as Work Study [and other things].

In a moment, their report, and in it they propose a remedy with the proviso that it is not a panacea to all the problems, but if adopted, it could go some way to resolving some of the dissatisfaction, and disappointments  of a new venture failed. Whilst the important points cover food, they highlight the serious concerns of missing or broken/cracked crockery and cutlery/utensils.

From the very beginning the 'launch' concept was flawed.  The brand new 'vehicle' relied on 'old parts' because the age old duty of 'cooks of the mess' was retained, only instead of it being mess orientated as for the LCW Galley, it was Divisionally orientated.  Each division supplied a number of "table boys/plate carriers {server boys}" to the CMG.  At meal times, the other boys [non-servers] would rush into the CMG [division by division] led by their hunger and empty bellies, virtually sidelining the authority of the hapless PO Instructors whose job was supposed to be marshalling the hordes. The boys rushed to their [divisional] tables, eight per table, and waited for their division table boy/plate carrier to bring their food to the table.  These 'poor' table or server boys were under such peer pressure as well as CMG pressure [S&S plus Executive] that many plates slid out of the plate carrier smashing on the deck, and the whole feeding scene was frenetic, chaotic and in just about every sense akin to feeding time at a zoo - big cats of course ! Once the main course had been devoured [or more correctly dumped down their throats] the table boys/plate carriers had to return the empty [and as often, the half empty] plates to the scullery, and then dash across the counter to the servery to reload the plate carrier with the puddings.  The plate carriers were of a wire cage design and were large enough to carry nine plates each separated by a metal plate ring of about two inches depth: however, they usually carried eight plates/rings leaving sufficient room for manoeuvre when putting in and taking out the plates.  The spillage and slopping effect of main meals and puddings left mixed residues on the wire cage which solidified over time, and these cages, unlike the crockery, were infrequently cleaned and even then in the most cursory of manner.  Hygiene, played little part in all of this.  Indeed, there were many toilet blocks throughout the camp but none had wash basins or if they did, water was denied to them.  This was not something which had been overlooked in Ganges; it was the National norm.  Regular washing of hands was not thought necessary and bathing, well that was for a Friday night, if at all.

For these table boys/plate carriers to be effective, obviously the plate of food loaded into the plate carrier, had to be pre-loaded. The pre-loading was done by the cooks and it could take hours to do it for so many mouths to feed.  This meant that the food had to be cooked many many hours before the boys actually got it, often three hours or more beforehand.  It also meant wysiwyg [what you see is what you get] both for main meal and pudding so the choice was take it or leave it - Hobson's choice.  Since the boys were almost always hungry [what young boys are not ?] they chose to eat it, but truly, it was poor food.  In those days [prior to 1955] food was still rationed under War Edicts issued by the Government,  even ten years after the war had finished.  The quality of raw food, particularly meat was, by today's standards, appalling, often containing as much fat/bone/gristle as edible flesh, and what was plated-up [pre-loading] was directly related to what went into the cooking pot.  Vegetables were always over cooked, not like today, and the copious amount of liquid from this process [cabbage water etc] mixed in the gravy [it too, of dubious source] resulting in a disgusting pool of slop.  But above all else, an hour or so after the pre-loading process had been completed, the food was cold and the slop congealed.  As the meal time approached and the table boys/plate carriers mustered to prepare to run the gauntlet, the cooks offered these plates, stacked in threes with two plate rings, into a hot cupboard which rapidly heated the cold meal until they were just the top side of warm.  However, sometimes the heater would burn the meal onto the plate making that congealed slop into a toffee-like substance, impossible to eat and near impossible to clean the plate when back in the scullery.   Before the plates were offered to the pre-meal heater, the plates had been handled many times by a phalanx of cooks each pre-loading a constituent part of the meal e.g., cook 1 potatoes, cook 2 meat, cook 3 vegetables etc, each transmitting his bacteria to the food and the plate: the food was often loading with the cooks fingers and not by a culinary tool. Instead of the heater zapping these vile additions to each plate, the inadequate overall heat warmed the vile additions up and they mated - they multiplied [some, you will recall actually died when the plate and its contents were incinerated].

To summarise this part, we have poor quality meat, over stewed/over cooked potatoes and vegetables [that is excepting the caterpillars, grubs and slugs which always seem to escape the ravages of hot water and survive as living creatures on ones plate], pre-cooked, pre-plated, pre-heated, no choice food, poor hygiene, mayhem, disgusting food, which hinders [to say the least] the encouragement of healthy growth for these young bodies, and torments their minds feeding the fire of their hate for Ganges, where good food might, just might, have dowsed some of the embers.  

 The hive of industry in the CMG for breakfast alone, represented the total amount of effort put in by the civilian population of south east Suffolk between sunrise and lunch - at least that is what it appeared to do. Multiply this for the full range of daily meals and we could probably change that to read the County of Suffolk.

The effort probably achieved its aims, namely to fill the stomachs of 1800 boys [or so] and in fairness, food generally in the country in this post war period was nothing to write home about no matter where you dined. By the time I joined on the 13th October 1953, had completed my six weeks in the Annexe [eating more disgusting food but at a different restaurant than the CMG], had joined the 'Main' [Establishment], I sat and ate my first meal in the CMG round about the beginning of December 1953.  The food was still disgusting [but possibly because my mothers cooking was much better] and rationing was still extant, but, the mayhem had gone and by then a cafeteria system had been adopted.  The table boys/plate carriers had long gone, and one queued at a counter to be served hot food by a cook.  Still no choice [no real choice] and the plates were probably still as crabby as before, but the ethos was right and the feeding experience not too unpleasant.  Additionally, we had been issued with white tin mugs, which, if taken to the CMG, circumvented the need to use the still heavily stained CMG cups which you will shortly read about.  That I was always hungry is sadly true, and like others, joined in the 'scrumping' of bread from the CMG which we toasted with the mess iron, or when in winter, on a brazier placed in a toilet block outside 12 Mess to stop the pipes from freezing up. See the story of my time at Ganges here HMS Ganges - my first career and after!

Now to the nitty gritty of the time Ganges more or less admitted defeat and called in a third party for their professional organisational advice.

Introduction and scope of study.pdf

PRE PLATING AND THE SERVING OF MEALS.pdf - Cooks inadequate at putting food onto plates.  Culinary tools inadequate; poor hygiene [using fingers to serve]. Took three hours after it was cooked to plate-up.  Meals are always cold; waits for 240 plates before entering cold food into hot lockers. Heated up food is what is always served. Note para 6 for mention of poor hygiene.  The preferred way is cafeteria service.

Disposal of dirty crockery and cutlery.pdf - everybody is in a rush and far too many damages are occurring. Boys need to be calmed down and more accountability is required.

Breakages of Crockery.pdf - note reference to "a serious breakage rate....." Note in para 12 the heavy staining of cups because of over-stewed over strong, and, bromide laced tea [no coffee in those days].  Now imagine what that staining did to our teeth and gums ? The final sentence is naive in the extreme - some of these boys did all kinds of things with their hands {?} and hardly ever washed them afterwards, so no wonder the handles of cups were so badly stained. To use a cup a boy had to be circumspect because some boys had oral problems, some had cold sores, peculiar looking chapped lips and other facial problems. Para 14 states a sad case of punishment meted out to hard pressed boys.  This was Ganges at its worst in the early 1950's see THE DARKER SIDE OF HMS GANGES and this was a particularly cruel and totally unnecessary.

Cutlery Losses.pdf - one can understand serious losses of crockery through breakages, but a serious loss of 'ironware' ?     Naive again! Every boy in my mess [Rodney 12] had at least one piece of CMG cutlery in his locker - how else would you eat Mums food sent in food parcels designed to supplement the lack of luxuries in a Ganges diet ?

Organisation of Traffic.pdf - para 17 well illustrated my mention of poor marshalling by the PO Instructors.  Mayhem is apparent and don't you feel for those poor table boys/plate carriers [server boys] ?  Para 19 plugs the cafeteria as being the preferred way of doing things.

Project Discussion.pdf - Para 22 points out a contradiction, a bewilderment.  Surely the canteen messing [dining in ones own mess] which was supplanted by the CMG, did the encouragement of belonging to a family ?

Recommendations and Acknowledgments.pdf - Para 27 last sentence says it all only I would drop the word 'comparatively' !  As far as I can remember they forgot to implement para 29 - just as bad in 1953.

Methods.pdf -a comprehensive guide to the processes involved in serving food at Ganges with the current method winning no 'granny' points, general messing just a few, but the overall winner is cafeteria  messing - will Ganges accept it? - YES they did.

Route of Cafeteria File.pdf - in this picture which your can rotate to landscape by right clicking and choosing 'ROTATE' you will see the NMSU suggestion of two Divisions entering the CMG from each side [end]. The pattern to the right shown coloured orange is a mirror image of what is shown in red and blue. At the top of the landscape page are shown four serveries each manned by several cooks. In the picture the red queue uses servery one, the blue two, the orange three and the black, four.  Although not to scale or plan, each queue, as an example only, has been assigned three rows of tables, with one row missing for the orange queue and none of the associated tables for the black queue are shown.

Finally, I have to ask whether you would have considered dining in this 'restaurant' in 1952 ? I can predict your answer.

Thanks for bothering to read yet another of my GANGES HARD STORIES.

 

 

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