It is true!  We do tend to be bullies, and we do force our misfortunes [now euphemistically called the good old days] of being a Ganges boy on to all who will listen, or not, as is the case. We are too busy with self pity [or giving thanks for the good old days] and we have become self-centred putting ourselves forward as the 'rose' of recruitment.  That has to stop, at least for the next few minutes, during which time I want you to read and understand another man's point of view.  Not all roses in the same bed flourish and very often other beds have specimens which are stronger in growth and more fragrant. Think ye well on this!

Recently I had the privilege of attending the annual Ganges reunion, as a guest, at Pakefield, Suffolk. Although I also served in the Royal Navy I didn’t join through Ganges. The entry and training that I received was very different from that of the younger entrants who entered the Ipswich establishment of HMS Ganges.

There have been a number of books and other publications by various authors describing the differing aspects of Ganges training methods. Those of us who came straight from home to various training establishments depending on the branch of the service we were joining most likely had a much less harsher regime to suffer than the boys passing through Ganges, and most of us would probably, during our time, have heard of the hardships and the joys, because there were some, to be sure.

My own entry in to the Royal Navy was a lot different, and here is a story of such a young 17-year-old entrant.

As a youngster, and for most of my boyhood, I lived in various children's homes until I was 15 years old and then I began my working life. I had a couple of interesting jobs, one as an office boy and messenger in Fleet Street, and one job working for a large property owning company. A couple of nights a week I used to go to the Putney Sea Cadet Corps and although I do not remember a great deal of my eighteen months as a cadet I do recall parade training on the embankment outside the Units building. My elder brother had joined the RN and about a year later I ventured, during my lunch break, down to the recruiting office in Charing Cross Road and enquired about joining up. I was not really aware of what my brother did in the Navy as I didn’t see him very often, except to recall that he had told me he was a “sparker”. This I explained to the Recruiter was what I would also like to be. The Navy was short of sparkers !!! The following day I returned to Charing Cross Road office and underwent a medical, the result of which ensured me of a career in the Royal Navy.

Eventually an envelope arrived, on Christmas Eve, with the usual post of cards etc, but this one addressed to me was the necessary information and railway ticket for me to travel from Putney to Portsmouth and Southsea. I was to report to the Royal Naval establishment, Victoria Barracks, at Southsea on 19th January, 1954, less than two weeks before my 17th birthday. To me this was a Christmas present and Birthday present in one envelope.

I recall making my own way from the station to Victoria Barracks, walking through the pillared gates and being asked by a very nice man, in a blue uniform with brass buttons, and a large red beard if he could help me. Once my name had been ticked off I was invited to join the group of chaps over there outside the office. It so transpired that this Petty Officer was to be our instructor for our induction training, and introduction to the service. Petty Officer Smith. 

For a day or two we were guided around the establishment and shown all the places of interest, the dining room, the room we would be sleeping in, the hairdressers, the Naafi shop. We were also given the basic lessons in marching. For me this was not a problem as I had done this in the Sea Cadets, but for some it was a trauma for the recruit and the instructor. Getting the step right and swinging the arm at the same time, and way as the same-sided leg were a couple of the problems.

On the third morning we were all marched down to the main gate and fell in outside the office and here Petty Office Smith advised us that we would be passing through one door, we would be accepting that we were now going to be enrolled in the RN, and that this was our last chance to change our minds. A couple of the lads had decided that they were not going to stay and they were probably given tickets home and left the barracks. For us who had made the decision that this was to be our life,  we passed through that door, signed and received our Pay Books and came out the other door. It was like entering a new world, our nice Petty Officer Smith was now shouting at us, screaming insults at our slovenly stance and uttering the phrase “your in the Navy now”.

Our time had begun. We were marched to the Slop Room where we were issued with our service kit. With our arms laden we were “guided” back to our mess where we deposited our kit in the lockers. “Fall in outside” was the next order before we were marched to the hairdressers shop where we filed in, sat down, each for less than a couple of minutes before we emerged with very short back and sides. As I recall I’m sure we had to keep our newly issued hats on for the ‘shearing’ and the clippers went up to where the hat fitted.

During our six weeks at Victoria Barracks our training was solely in the seamanship, parade ground, firefighting and damage control and anti-gas procedures. I do not recall much of my Victoria Barracks experiences, oh there was the typical Chief G.I. at each corner of the parade ground as we marched on divisions, usually singing their little ditties, such as, ‘We’re a shower of bastards, Bastards are we... etc. etc. The long periods of standing on the parade ground whilst inspections went on. I recall on one occasion I feinted. It was after that episode when the instructor advised us to wiggle our toes, or rock on our heels, when we had to stand still for long periods of time. Whilst running across the parade ground one evening, heading for the Dining Room, with my enamel mug firmly gripped in my hand, I fell over, concertinad my mug, but got up and ran on to get in the supper queue. Hoping to get a replacement mug, I showed my crushed mug to a Duty Dining Hall PO. His response to my predicament was “you’ll still get some tea in that, you won’t be able to get a new one from the Slop Room until tomorrow”. Our six weeks of Basic Training now over, we were bussed up to HMS Mercury, the Signal School of the Royal Navy, which appeared to be miles from anywhere, stuck in the Hampshire countryside.

We were met on arrival at Mercury by Petty Officer Telegraphist Blackwell, he was to be our Instructor through out remaining time in training to be ‘sparkers’. Our accommodation at Mercury was single story brick built units where we had beds and lockers and a coal fire in the centre of the room. The classrooms were Nissen huts. These were very cold, particularly as it was now the middle of winter. But first, before training began, we were all marched down to the New Entry Training office and waited for a greeting from the Training Officer, Lt Plimmer. Before this happened though, PO Tel Blackwell had taken the list of class names into the office. Alarm must have been raised in NETO’s office, and after a few minutes the New Entry Chief, CPO Tel. Noyes,  appeared and called my name and I doubled into the office and stood before Lt Plimmer’s desk. Having saluted him, he asked for my cap. He placed the cap on his desk, upper side down, and commented that the hat didn't have bent sides and toss and roll like a destroyer. He  hoped it would stay that way. Why did he pick on me? He had spotted on the list the way my surname was spelt was the very same as a earlier entrant of fifteen months previous. I was warned not to follow in his footsteps.

Our class of entry was given the nomenclature of JE22. A very special class this would be because we would also be known as Strikers Class. The powers that be had decided to see how fast they could produce Radio Operators in time for war. Throughout the rest of our training at HMS Mercury we would be spared the task of doing any duties, but after tea we would return to the classroom until supper time, and after supper time we would continue training for an hour or two. We would still have kit musters, we would still have to double round Crescent Road and Droxford Road for punishments as a class if, for example, we were still lying-in when the Duty PO returned after Call the Hands. On some occasions when members of our class done a misdemeanor, were adrift maybe, or something else, at the Commanders table it would arise that the offender was a member of The Strikers Class, and this, more often than not, after a verbal blast, one got away with no punishment.

After seven and a half months, our training was complete and the class members were split up and we all received drafts to our first ships.

This was written by  a good pal of mine, one Tugg Willson {initials P.E.} ex Chief Radio Supervisor

tugg always liked  the sea and boats he was always at sea he read lots of books about the navy kept himself fit doubly fit in fact loved mucking about with radio's and became a sparker BUT. Most of all joined for a uniform which fitted him!


{WHERE WERE THE VICTORIA BARRACKS?  It was part of  a huge complex which shared its grounds with the Duchess of Kent barracks [the WRNS accommodation] which is now the main Portsmouth Museum situated in Museum Road. Opposite the DofK barracks, in Museum Road, was the Portsmouth NAAFI club [now just a deserted piece of grassland awaiting redevelopment] which 'throbbed' on weekend nights and was a great meeting place for sailors and WRNS. Here is a picture of the area to help you remember these happy days. Click to enlarge The entrances to Victoria Barracks [three in number] all had splendid wrought iron gates with large tall angular stone posts of grey stone, and they are all that is left of the barracks.  Two are in Victoria Avenue and one in Pembroke Road opposite the Garrison Church, famous for hosting the wedding of King Charles II.   The areas inside the gates/gate posts are all now developed mainly into town houses and flats. Here are a few photographs. Two views of one of the entrance gateways sited on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Pembroke Road Click to enlarge Click to enlarge.  View showing the waste ground where the NAAFI once stood Click to enlarge.  The gates leading to the NAAFI Click to enlarge<<the next two pictures show what the last two pictures have become in 2005

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

The main gates of the D of K WRNS Barracks Click to enlarge }   Click to enlarge This picture shows Victoria Barracks in 1892. The Barracks were built in 1880 and occupied by the King's Own Scottish Borderers until 1939.  At the beginning of WW2, the navy took it over as a going concern.  It was demolished in the 1960's.