My first career

Towards the end of a very happy childhood of carefree summer days playing cricket at every opportunity with my brothers and friends with  the occasional holiday to Bridlington, and in the winter months when snow was the norm, of sledging on the giants bum or down the Chevin fields, an event took place which was to change Britain and her Commonwealth and me also. I was just over 13 when in February 1952 our King, George the 6th died as a relatively young man and his daughter Queen Elizabeth the 2nd came to the Throne.  The whole nation mourned; all flags flew at half-mast; radio programmes broadcasted somber music and my mother cried her eyes out.  At that time I made a scrap book of any newspaper cuttings I could get [my parents didn't read national papers - just the local weekly] so it was a case of beg steal or borrow, and I still have that book to this day.  What changed me was the presence of the sailors of the Royal Navy who were to pull the gun-carriage bearing  The King's coffin.    KG_VI_FUNERAL.jpg (168813 bytes)

Me when aged 13     GODFREY_AT_13.jpg (9431 bytes)

 I saw them as role models depicting the finest of men about to enact an honour without parallel, and almost overnight, I gave up my boyish heroes  and became a young man with ambitions to become a Royal sailor.  The funeral [unlike the Coronation of virtually 18 months later] was not televised, and I recall going to the local cinema, once with school and once with my mother, to watch the Pathe News filmed version.  From that day forward, I thought about nothing else other than going to sea, made the more profound by our visits to Bridlington and Morecambe [where my grandparents lived with my one and only aunt [no uncles or cousins], Aunt Mabel.  Whilst in Morecambe, we would journey to Heysham where many large merchant ships were berthed, and this made me more determined than ever to spend my life at sea.  Also, as a child, I was familiar with the following poem which always, then and now, intrigued me.  It was written by Rudyard Kipling, and you will meet his work again later on in this story.


"Oh, where are you going to, all you Big Steamers,
With England's own coal, up and down the salt seas?"
"We are going to fetch you your bread and your butter,
Your beef, pork, and mutton, eggs, apples, and cheese."

"And where will you fetch it from, all you Big Steamers,
And where shall I write you when you are away?"
"We fetch it from Melbourne, Quebec and Vancouver,
Address us at Hobart, Hong-kong, and Bombay."

"But if anything happened to all you Big Steamers,
And suppose you were wrecked up and down the salt sea?"
"Why, you'd have no coffee or bacon for breakfast,
And you'd have no muffins or toast for your tea."

"Then I'll pray for fine weather for all you Big Steamers,
For little blue billows and breezes so soft."
"Oh, billows and breezes don't bother Big Steamers,
For we're iron below and steel-rigging aloft."

"Then I'll  build a new lighthouse for all you Big Steamer,
With plenty wise pilots to pilot you through."
"Oh, the Channel's as bright as a ball-room already,
And pilots are thicker than pilchards at Looe."

"Then what can I do for you, all you Big Steamers,
Oh, what can I do for your comfort and good?"
"Send out your big warships to watch your big waters,
That no one may stop us from bringing your food."

"For the bread that you eat and the biscuits you nibble,
The sweets that you suck and the joints that you carve,
They are brought to you daily by all us Big Steamers,
And if any one hinders our coming you'll starve!"


Throughout 1952, the new Queen and her husband The Duke of Edinburgh and their children were front page news around the world.  It was a lovely feeling of belonging to a Nation full of love and devotion to this Lady and I was taken along with the tide of  the unfurling events leading towards a magnificent Coronation in the following June. By this time I can truly claim to have given up my desire to pursue early teenage daily wants, and I had my mind set on what I wanted, even though the thought of leaving my mother and father  was unbearable and I would regularly cry when in private space. The winter of 1952/3 had barely gone, when, whilst only 14½ and still at school, I travelled to Leeds unaccompanied: this was considered adventurous in those days. Whilst in Leeds shopping with my mother, I had regularly seen the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Recruiting Office and that was my target on this day of lone adventure.  I remember being treated with respect and some measure of maturity despite my obvious age, but was told to come back in three months time when 14¾ for tests:  the earliest age I could actually join was when I was 15¼.   On my way home I tried to imagine my parents reaction particularly that of my mothers.  What would I say and how would I approach the subject.  Days passed and I could not pluck up the courage to tell my parents.  Opportunities were rare and having so many brothers and sisters didn't always give  enough one -to- one time with mother, and she had to be told first - she would be the go-between for me and my father.  Moreover, I figured that she would take it badly and resort to tears and emotion and therefore my timing had to be geared towards there being no other member of the family around, and when  mothers cleaner,  Mrs Tomlinson, wasn't there cleaning.  I had also continued with my private crying and more than once, realised that I wasn't a man after all but still very much a boy.  I reasoned that they [the Navy] would take no action against a boy if he were to change his mind about joining, and at one point decided that I would put my ambitions behind me because staying  in the family was really what I wanted more than anything else.  At Easter time [and others for that matter] my father would take my mother and some of my siblings to Morecambe to stay with grandma, grandpa and Auntie Mabel and he would return home to continue earning his living as a painter and decorator.  He returned to collect mother and some of the kids but some, particularly Peter and Brenda would stay for a longer period.  The day after my mother arrived home from  Morecambe was a normal school day, and the usual pre-school rising/breakfasting took place without event except that I had feigned a stomach ache and waited until all had left for school before declaring my hand.  I told my mother all, and predictably she was very upset and hurt that I had done such a thing. I left for school  very upset which was noted immediately by the Headmaster, because I, as a prefect and house captain had a supporting roll in the morning assembly and therefore had close contact with the staff. I was almost duty bound to tell him about my intentions so that he got to know before my father.

I always went home for lunch and the journey  took approximately 30 minutes on foot: my father rarely was at home during this period. Mum served lunch to those attending with the minimum of fuss or talk, and on completion, bade us farewell until tea time.  It took her quite some time to regain her normal approach to life, and the stand-off between us grew less and less obvious.  It was now many weeks since my visit to Leeds and mother perhaps hoped or wished that the Navy had forgotten.  For her own reasons she kept the knowledge from my father.  Despite my own misgivings and self pity, I watched the calendar ticking around to late April 1953 when I would be 14¾, and almost on cue, the documents dropped through the front letter box when I was at school.  My lunch time visit was uneventful and this time mother had a secret.  At my tea time home coming the kitchen had been cleared of all and sundry except for me and my parents.  Dad, bless him, could say nothing more than he would not sign the forms, not now or ever so forget about it.  Mum, was in tears, asking me why I wanted to leave home.  Poor mum!  She must have known with her maturity that I was all mixed up and the very last thing I wanted was to leave her and my home.  I was the first of the brood to flex my wings and my premature flight from the nest at so at such a tender young age, was a shock for my dear mother.   Before supper everybody in the family knew and mother was very distressed for which I got the blame by all comers except father, who, true to form sat in his chair in the front room and snored his head off before being ordered to bed by mother. 

As June approached, the Coronation fever grew to encompass all our wakening moments, and my mother and I made plans to go to Leeds where I would undergo my first medical and sit a written exam. I wasn't in the recruiting office for long, and mother and I enjoyed a fish and chip treat at Youngman's - famous in Leeds as a good place to eat. Things changed after that time, and my mother and I grew close, she well knowing that she was about to lose one of her offspring's.

The Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II on the 2nd June 1953   coronation.jpg (19531 bytes)

 was indeed the event all had predicted.  In those days, I earned my pocket money by working as a grocer-boy taking food orders out from our local shop by bicycle to distant clients .  My boss Arthur Clapham had promised my mother a seat in his home to watch the Coronation on TV -the first ever Royal event broadcast in real time - and I was lucky to be invited into a clients house, a Miss Neal who was wheelchair bound, to watch it.  My parents got their first television after I had joined the Navy.  Once again I was full of it!  The Navy or nothing.

In July I left school.  Between then and leaving home, I pottered around working at my fathers business premises, going for long walks with my mother and sometimes Auntie Gertie [my mothers aunt by adoption and  a lovely lady to all us children], and generally helping out here and there. I went to tidy up a garden down East Bus Lane for a few shillings, but it got to my mother who considered it too large a job and therefore, slave labour. I left without completing the task.  In early August I received notification that I had been accepted into the Navy and that I had to report to the Manchester recruiting office by 3pm on the 12th October 1953.

Apart from comments about the weather, "doesn't time fly" must come a close second!  It did, and before I could realise fully the folly of my ways, summer had gone and autumn was beginning.  My parents took me to Manchester by car.  There mum and I  said a very difficult  goodbye amid floods of tears, as my father stood by impassively as the proverbial Victorian/Edwardian father, not even offering his hand for a shake. Dad was brought up by undemonstrative parents and never showed outward emotions, so this was par for the course for me. With many other north country boys we slept the night in Manchester at a youth hostel, and the next day travelled by train to Ipswich via Doncaster to join the Navy arriving in time for a horrible supper on the 13th of October 1953. The train left Manchester with two dozen or so tear stained faces and by the time we arrived in Ipswich that number had expanded into what must have been 200 boys - whether they were all sad at leaving home, I knoweth not. However, I do recall that many were Bernardo boys.  When I joined, I was 5 foot 6½" tall, had a 36½" chest but my records do not show my weight. I grew to be 5 foot 10"tall.

HMS Ganges looking from the tidal river Stour    

aerial1.jpg (82366 bytes)  

HMS Ganges was built in 1905 for boys training and before that time all training was done afloat  on rotting hulks of 19th century warships long since de-commissioned from the Fleet.  It was built at Shotley Gate near Ipswich Suffolk on the tip of an isthmus, with the river Orwell running to the open North Sea on the northerly side  and the river Stour on the southerly side also tidal.  Across the Stour was Harwich, Parkeston Quay and the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook each of which had something to do with our training or sporting activities. Across the Orwell was Felixstowe to  which  we were occasionally allowed a visit for Sunday afternoon recreation.  Harwich and Dovercoat were other venues for the Sunday break. The East Coast is well known for being cold and dry, and during the period of the late 40's early 50's Britain suffered some severe winter conditions.  With a couple of exceptions [the gymnasium for example] all training rooms had some form of central heating.   The messes in which we lived had two coal burning stoves but they were for polishing and blanko'ing [ a whitener used on gym shoes] and not for lighting:  thus our accommodation was unheated.. Ganges was a hard environment and a shock to my understanding of life up until that point. It was a massive and impersonal place, home to  2000 boys and every month 200 would leave and go to sea and 200 new boys [nozzers] would join up.   Virtually all the officers and rating instructors [Chief and Petty Officer's] had been through the war and each had many medal ribbons.  It was obvious from day one, and inevitable, that these men were not too pleased to have been placed in charge of  new boy recruits.  They were men who had been hardened by historic events, and who much preferred their own peer group company, sailing around the  Mediterranean, the West Indies or the delightful Far East.  Their attitude to us boys was that we had a lot to learn, and were any one of us to fall behind on this learning curve, they would show no mercy.  Moreover, our training was to be necessarily hard because life at sea was excessively hard.  This much repeated foretelling of our ultimate fate fuelled my desire to admit to my folly and to return home with 'my tail between my legs'.   Whilst a few boys 'worked their tickets' and got out of there, I had a dilemma in that my father had said "you have made your bed and now you can lay on it", and after all the heartache I had caused to my mother, he meant it.  There was no going back, and from hereon in I had to 'bite the bullet'.   

For the first few weeks we were sent to a small camp some half a mile away from the Main Establishment, called the Annexe. Now, if you think this place looks like a prison somewhere in the outback, you are close to understanding that the Annexe was designed to break a boys [civilian] spirit!   ann.jpg (51842 bytes)

On our very first evening there we were given a small piece of plywood before being led to a desk on which were wooden pegs each with a letter of the alphabet on the top. We would collect the letters [and the full stops] necessary to separate our initials from our surname] and slide them onto the piece of plywood so that [in my case]  'S' would be first on and 'G' the last peg on. This finished article was a device to stamp your claim of ownership to each and every piece of kit to be issued to you both then and [technically at least] throughout ones career - I still have mine.   I always felt sorry for J.W.W.Butterworth whose bed was next to mine, for having such a long name. We were then issued with the uniform we would wear the next morning on the first proper day, and two sets of pyjamas. Under supervision we dipped our wooden name plate into a shallow tray of black paint and then stamped G.DYKES  on the shirt [above the left pocket and across the tail]: behind the collar  of one pyjama top and on the right hand buttock  of one pyjama bottom.  The wooden stamp was then cleaned, dipped into white paint to mark the uniform trousers to be worn the next morning. We were then told to hang up our marked articles of kit which would dry overnight, and to wear our unmarked pyjamas to sleep in for the first night.

For some inexplicable reason, I hung up my unmarked pyjamas, and had no sooner donned my marked pyjama bottoms than a thunderous roar brought the first fears of harsh discipline to every boy in Beatty Two Mess. "You ...yes you boy.  Stand on that table". I had a feeling that something was badly wrong and already not far from tears and distraught with home-sickness, I feared that I would lose my composure!  Petty Officer Carpenter was his name [and we all grew to fear and hate him for his bullying ways]. 


The_Annex_HMS_Ganger_1953.jpg (26402 bytes)

Me, seated front rank far right with my classmates of Beatty Two Mess, The Annexe , HMS Ganges, with our instructor Petty Officer  Carpenter seated middle front rank.  Taken in October 1953.

" What's your name lad"?  Godfrey, I said very near to a nervous breakdown.  "Ah!  And what is your Christian name? - we were all Christians in those days!  Again but at a much lower level I uttered Godfrey. "Oh clever bastard eh! 'Er we have Godfrey Godfrey" he announced to the unamused audience.  "Did you hear what I said about black wet paint not being suited to clean crisp white sheets, or was your mind on mummy and daddy"?  There was a deep and prolonged silence broken by PO Carpenter asking the rest of the boys if they had heard. The boys nodded but  the PO encouraged a shout, a repeat shout and a shout for good luck to the affirmative.  "Godfrey didn't hear did you"?  No Sir!.  Getting closer to my position to read my surname the PO continued......"well DYKES let this be a lesson.  Take your trousers off and be careful not to smudge the paint."  This done, he made me stand there in the nude in front of my mates as a cruel punishment and it seemed a lifetime before he contemptuously threw my unmarked trousers up to me from my bed.  "Now Godfrey Godfrey, get turned in and don't let me hear one muff from this mess or you will spend your first night on the parade ground". 

Whilst I have no doubts that many in the mess felt profound sorrow for me and my vulgar experience, none expressed their feelings.  When the lights went out  I got underneath  my sheet, used part of it to plug my mouth and cried myself to sleep. I cried many times but always kept it secret and thus my composure was in tact.  Later on, I learned from my friends that they too had cried themselves to sleep.  Whilst desperately homesick for many months and certainly after every leave for years and years afterwards, the burden was eased by talking to other boys who felt the same - there were many of them I can assure you.  It was at this time whilst still in the Annex that I decided that Godfrey had to go and a new name had to be found which would have to begin with the letter G.  My mother always used to say that she named me Godfrey as a jerk-reaction because when confronted by the Minister in the front room of 5 Park Terrace and asked.......and what do you name this child........,she, in the absence of a well thought out plan thought of Godfrey Winn a famous war correspondent and at that time a popular writer, and responded by saying Godfrey. Evidently, my mother had been under pressure from my paternal grandma, Florence [nee Cartwright] to include grandpas Christian name as the second name of my two elder brothers Brian and Gordon.  His name was Bennett [!]  and he took it from his father, Arthur Bennett Dykes, so we  have a Gordon Bennett in the family. By the time I arrived, mother was having none of it and, according to her stood her ground by choosing just the one Christian name, repeated for my two younger brothers Vernon and Peter.  However, had my mother been truly courageous she would have chosen second names for her three youngest sons as indeed she did do for my two younger sisters Susan and Brenda where even grandma wouldn't insist on Bennett as a girls Christian name. Notwithstanding that my action might hurt my mother, I decided that Geoff [or Jeff] was a more fitting name given my circumstances, and I knew that on leaving the Annexe to go to the Main Establishment [Ganges proper] I would be with boys who had not been in Beatty Two Mess and I would start with a 'clean slate' as it were.  Whatever, the new name became the norm and Godfrey was used for official purposes only.  It wasn't until 1985,  over thirty years later, and now back as a civilian, that I started using Godfrey again.  I don't think mother liked the idea, but it was never an issue between us.

The next day after what seemed a middle of the night early morning call, a foul breakfast and some instructions on how to wear our No8's [working shirt and trousers], we mustered to receive the rest of our kit  [minus tropical kit].  Every single piece of kit had to marked with ones own name using the wooden name stamp from the night before. We were formed into three columns and at the head of each column was a trestle table on which stood a tray of black paint.  At the order 'take up.........proceed',  we would each pick up the named article, say a No8 working shirt, and as we got to the front of the column we would dip our wooden name plate into the paint and then stamp the shirt where told, always across the top of the left shirt pocket and in the centre of the tail.  We would then return to our beds and lay the newly marked articles in such a position so as not to smudge the paint.  There it would soon dry.  We continued doing this until every piece of our kit which wasn't a dark colour was marked with our name, which included the pyjamas we had slept in the night before. Then we marked our dark coloured kit using white paint.  Over the remaining weeks in the Annexe we had to stitch around our paint names using red thread following every outline of every letter - poor old Butterworth!.  The reason for this was that after many washes the paint would fade and then be lost, whereas the red thread would always remain    I have still got at least one article of kit marked and sewn in this manner.  After lunch [ha!.] we parceled up our civilian joining up clothes, wrote a letter to our parents to tell them that we were safe and sound and marched with the parcel under our arms to the Naval Post Office.    For the rest of our stay in the Annexe we were taught how to march; how to wash our clothes and keep our bodies clean; how to iron, fold and present our kit for inspection, polish, Blanco and  bull our boots ; how to clean-ship [dusting, sweeping, cleaning windows] and perhaps the most important Naval thing possible, if it moves salute it, if it doesn't paint it.  We were taught saluting and who to salute; who to call Sir which included many senior boys who effectively were our peers; what the Captain looked like and his name medals and titles [the latter important because he was The Earl of Cairns - a kindly man as I recall].  Physical exercise was the top of the list and we were told that most of the boys left Ganges for sea in good shape physically and fine specimens of young men.  It certainly was true for me and when I consider before and after photographs I was a different person to look at and certainly different inside. On the left is me in November 1953 after 1 month in the Navy and before brain washing.  On the right is me in late September 1954 after nearly a year in the Navy and now aged 16 years and 2 months.  The right hand side picture takes into account hundreds of hours of everything physical.   Don't forget I am also now brain washed in the picture to the right!

 Note on the left,  the blue woolen jersey front and black hat.  This was a sailor's winter dress between the months of October and March.  Between April and September, a sailor wore a white cotton front edged at the top with blue cotton,  and a white hat [picture on right - hat's behind me!]. This was the norm no matter where stationed although the actual time period differed depending upon what part of the world one was in.  In Gibraltar; the West Indies; the Middle East; the Mediterranean and Hong Kong,  black caps and sea jersey's [as they were called] were worn in the Winter months.  Only in places like Singapore, just 60 miles north of the Equator were whites [tropical uniform] worn all year round.  The cap tally you see at the bottom of the left picture is still wrapped around this photograph.

Godfrey_before_Brainwashing_November_1953.jpg (18600 bytes)       godfrey_two.jpg (19849 bytes)

They were many things I hated, as did many of my class mates.  Communal washing was the worst.  Whilst in our mess some 50 yards from the wash house we would strip, collect all our dirty clothes including towels, pillow cases, bottom sheet only which was used to wrap around the dirty washing pile [top sheet became bottom and so on], handkerchiefs etc, and wearing our clean towel around our waist and brown canvas shoes on our feet we would march to the wash house.  Once there we put our pile on the deck in front of us, hang up our clean towel on the exit side of the shower room and placed our shoes underneath it.  The wash house was a square room and in the middle were two large square tubs separated by a walkway so that we boys could get to all sides of each tub. One tub had hot/tepid water for washing and the other cold water for rinsing. Around the walls of the room there were  shelves below which were individual butler type sinks.  On the order GO, the pile would be revealed by pulling on the surrounding sheet.  The orders were barked out "socks and soap on the ledge, handkerchiefs, vest, underpants, in the sink, sheets, pillow cases, white sports shirts, towels in the washing tub". The Instructor Nobby Clarke [this is a picture of the instructional staff at the Annexe and Clarke is standing on the right in the rear row annexe.jpg (11330 bytes)] a civilian and ex Royal Marine who was fully dressed, then picked a boy at a sink and demonstrated how to soap and hand wash a piece of kit.  We would follow his instructions at our own sinks and he would walk around observing. Woe betide anyone who didn't do it properly because they would get a gentle tap [!] on their buttocks with a thin piece  of wet wood .  The sink articles would then be rinsed in the cold water central tub, wrung out and put aside.  Into the sink then went whites which would run, typical of which  was the white-front [the proverbial sailors white vest with a blue surround on the top]. After them, came the blue sports shirt and the socks.  Then the boys would turn about to face the washing tub and do the large white objects, two boys working together to act as wringers for  the sheets.  Every now and again, Nobby Clarke would fish out an article supposedly washed to inspect it and if not clean to his standard, the defaulter would end up wearing it as a sarong. The washing and rinsing took place until all the articles were shook out, folded and neatly piled for transportation to the drying room.  Once hung up for drying, the boys then went through the showers.  These were nearly always cold and with an inadequate flow.  Upon leaving the shower, each boy would be inspected by a Petty Officer Instructor.  The inspection involved looking up the anus, checking the foreskin, checking for crabs in the genitals and under the arms, checking for spuds in the ears,  for dirty necks and for athletes  foot, or, as it is colloquially known in the Navy as 'choagy [or chinky, slang for Chinese] foot rot.  It wouldn't be allowed today in the 21st century but in those days it was the norm and we accepted it without complaint.  We were going to spend the rest of our Naval career showering in public and washing our clothes in communal areas so it was deemed to be good and necessary training.

During this time in the Annexe we had full and detailed medical examination and dental inspections which for me resulted in a few fillings. The Navy is not known for affording privacy to anyone let alone mere boys and the medical involved a long line of nude boys queuing to see one of three doctors and a couple of Sick Berth Attendants [SBA's] who would administer a jab [inoculation] whilst passing their position. These group medicals took place every now and again and nearly always to that most famous of all orders "standby your beds".  Occasionally we would have an outbreak of nits or crabs, and I remember that some skin diseases were quite common such as dermatitis and impetigo.  One boy in our class was isolated in sickbay with impetigo contagiosa which spreads like wildfire. Other common complaints were soap-rash where boys had not rinsed their bodies properly, blisters on feet from ill fitting boots, warts, in-growing toe nails, boils and sties, not often seen today.

The thing I liked best was school which we visited every day between 2pm and 4pm after which we played organised sport designed to develop us and not to encourage super stars. I liked school because I could do most of the things covered whilst many of the other boys struggled and complained that they had left school and didn't expect this.  Little did they know that a great deal of the training to come in the Main Establishment involved academic subjects necessary to understand how the Navy ticked; navigation, maths and physics etc.  school_work.jpg (17005 bytes) In school learning navigation. Note the sea chart, the parallel rule and the compasses.

 That aside, the Annexe was also a sorting-house, although that process was not explicit.  Suitability, adaptability, behavioral patterns, emotional stamina and physical stamina were continually monitored and the vast majority met the average result of these criteria.  As a job lot, we were ready to be trained for what became known as the Operations Branch, the men who actually FIGHT the ship to kill the enemy.  The few who failed this assessment were either UFFT'ed [Unfit For Further Training] to civilian life or transferred to the Army boys training programmes: at 15 or 16 they were too young to be transferred to other non-combatant branches like chef, sickbay attendant, clerk [Writer] etc.  Of much greater importance was the academic assessment.  Those who scored well in written, oral and practical work became AC boys [Advanced Class] and wore a star on the right sleeve of their uniform just like the Jews did a few years earlier! Those who did less well became GC boys [General Class].  The AC boys were trained for the Communications Branch and spent 15 months in all at Ganges and the GC boys were trained for the Seaman Branch and [lucky devils] spent only 12 months at Ganges - the 3 months difference was used for academic training.

On completion of our induction training and 'baptism of fire' we left the Annexe for The Main - the dreaded HMS Ganges.  I remember well upon vacating my bed space in Beatty Two Mess thinking about the poor boy who was about to leave his family for the first time to take over my bed, and thought of the thousands of boys who had gone before me over many long years since the Annexe was built [it was long after 1905 when the Main Establishment was first commissioned].  If all the tears shed had been collected, there would be enough water to float our biggest battleship HMS Vanguard.  Those caring thoughts were soon forgotten and the trauma of joining Ganges proper was now foremost in all our minds.  

To set the scene!  gate2.jpg (64275 bytes)

 Can you imagine a short narrow road connecting the Shotley Gate village post office to the fearsome main gates of HMS Ganges around which are positioned a phalanx of eagle-eyed, war affected, over critical officers and senior ratings all waiting for the slightest imperfection in Naval drill and ceremony to pounce on, hell bent on creating such a situation were one not to be forthcoming.  Now along this road comes a group of 15 year olds with a 6 week understanding of the Royal Navy, with predictable results.  I can't recall the actual number of times that we were turned about for a re-approach, but our treatment was such that had it been meted out to them in a prisoner of war camp, the red cross would have intervened. You have to remember that we ran [doubled] everywhere, in step, in line abreast correctly and in line astern correctly with the instructor calling out "left ,left ,left right left, left, left, left right left" etc.  I reckon that we ran for 20 minutes solid just trying to get through the bloody gates, and  when you take into account that we didn't want to go there anyway, it gives you some idea about our to be pitied overall situation.  This introduction did not auger well for the rest of our stay which in the main, was to be as petty, harsh and often  incomprehensible.  Even an automaton has self movement, but we were denied that.  Under the guise that a sailor with a brain is a dangerous creature, they took it upon themselves to completely de-programme us and then to re-programme our every thought, function, response and utterance to create a wire-guided robot which could and would respond to their every whim no matter what the cost to our discarded human feelings: succinctly, the proverbial Field Marshall's baton, should that be our intention, could be sought after we had left Ganges!. Incidentally, this is me standing at the old Ganges main gates in 1979, my only return visit [took my kids to see where I suffered].   godfrey_at_ganges_gates.jpg (10260 bytes)

At this point I digress to focus the reader's mind on an important comparison with modern life.  Give or take things like diets, there would be little difference between the physical development of a 15 year old boy of 1950 to that of a 15 year old boy in 2002 other than fitness where the 1950 boy would have been fitter by comparison.  However the difference between perceptions, knowledge and experiences between these same two boys is strikingly different, so much so, that today's 15 year old is the equivalent to an 10 year old of 1950, or put another way,  a 15 year old of my time would be a man [in thinking terms] of 20 by today's standards!

HMS Ganges had eight Divisions and each Division had six messes into which they packed two numbered classes each class having approximately 20 boys.  Here is a little plan to show you where the messes were and who occupied them at the start of 1954.  Whilst each division had 6 messes for its use [some, like Rodney had a bit more] not all were filled with boys under training.  Some were used for other divisional reasons or for lay-apart stores etc. Had they been filled, then the number of boys under training at Ganges at any one time would have been 52 [messes] x 40 boys [2 classes per mess] = 2080 + 250 boys in the Annexe = 2330 boys.  In actual fact, in the Easter term of 1954 assuming the 250 boys in the Annexe were static figures, Drake had 12 classes using all 6 of its messes; Blake had 8 classes using 4 of its 6 messes; Rodney had 11 classes [10 really, but for the first time ever, 57A class was created to train all the back-classed seaman GC boys in Ganges at that time - 13 of them] using all 7 of its messes; all remaining divisions namely Grenville, Anson, Benbow, Hawke and Collingwood each used just 5 of their 6 messes. Thus, the total was 42 [messes used] x 39.52 [average number of boys in each mess, there being 40 boys in 41 messes and only 20 boys in 1 mess] + 250 = 1909.84 boys including me in Ganges. Looking at the 'old' buildings and specifically at the Long Covered Way, I wonder why they never made purchase out of using the word BRAG, as in boasting that Ganges boy's were the best. Instead of what was in 1953/54 below, the should have had in order, quarterdeck to foreshore, Blake Rodney Anson and Grenville.  Just a thought!

2 mess



1 mess



40 mess


36 mess
built outside
the old 


6 messes

New Block
built outside
the old mess

6 messes

4 mess
3 mess
39 mess
35 mess
6 mess
5 mess
38 mess
34 mess
8 mess
7 mess
37 mess
33 mess
10 mess 
9 mess
not assigned
  32 mess
12 mess
11 mess
31 mess
14 mess
13 mess
30 mess
not assigned
16 mess
15 mess
29 mess
not assigned
18 mess
17 mess
20 mess
19 mess
22 mess
21 mess
24 mess
23 mess
26 mess
25 mess
28 mess
27 mess

I went to Rodney Division [named after the great Admiral Lord Rodney - just like my mess in the Annexe had been named after Admiral Beatty], into 12 mess which was the home to 352 class [my class and the senior of the two in terms of joining date] and 361 class.  352 class were training to be telegraphists and 361, signalmen. Our instructors were respectively Petty Officer Telegraphist Stan Sydes and Chief Yeoman Pattison - the former a decent and sympathetic man in his late 20's early 30's, and the latter, older and by his medals more exposed to the war years who was bitter and regularly smelled of alcohol.  He, I think, was totally unsuited to being a boys instructor, and I was pleased that my only contact with him was  in the mess, he taking it in turns with Stan Sydes to supervise cleaning etc., but not instructional periods. 

  Just as a matter of interest and to prove that people actually do read websites, I have added the following email which came from a man who shared my fate 50 long years ago.  Because of history alone [50 years is a long time in anybody's reckoning} it is worthy of printing here.  I have actioned his comments about the number of the class which shared my mess - 361 not 362, as I originally published. Thank you Alan for your contact - it all helps to pump life into my story. 

"Hi Godfrey......just been reading about you on your certainly have had a fulfilling career. I remember you well in Ganges. I was in 14 mess next door....392 class Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist Raven. You may not remember but I played rugby for the division and Ganges along with Bradshaw who was in 361 class in your mess. Incidentally you stated that the sig boys were 362 class. If you remember all buntings were 1 and sparkers 2.
Were u on Tintagel Castle in July 1955 because I was on the Flint first ship.
Absolutely wonderful to see how well you have u remember Gordon Perry from my class? He also did very well in the RN....I believe he was a Lt Cdr when he retired.
I have only browsed thru your website but I'm sure I will spend a lot of time there reminiscing. Thanks mate
All the best
Alan (Taff) Johns"

Alan's email is

  This revolving screen  shows the Ganges of  1953/1954 that I knew.  If you were there at that time and can see any glaring errors in it, please let me know and I will correct it.  I have allowed 20 seconds for each frame and the frames together should tell the story. I borrowed the plan from the Ganges website, with the webmaster's permission [Clive Watts] , then took off all the written data because it was relevant to 1972, 20 years on from me.  However, there may be some buildings and roads on it that were not there in the early 50's, for example a road south of the school block just near the gates which led to the signal school, is shown connecting school lane to the main Shotley high street.  I apologise for the 'clutter' but equally, I hope that by presenting it this way it is less cluttered overall and despite the changing pictures, is easier to read.  Hope that it brings back memories. If you prefer an all-in-one view of the slides used above, CLICK HERE

  BELOW is a photograph of RODNEY DIVISION. Our Divisional Officer Captain Roberts, the one with a cane and his dog, is a Royal Marine. Stan Sydes is the 6th man from the left on the front seated row [he was my instructor]. CPO Pattison is not in the photograph. I am arrowed in blue. Because our divisional officer was a Royal Marine, we were called "the Royal Rodneys".  

rodney.jpg (107925 bytes)

This is 352 class, my long suffering peers. It was taken in November 1953 and we are dressed in standard recreational rig/gymnasium kit [uniform].  We regularly changed into different uniforms for different training sessions many times per day.  We were together for nearly 14 months.  I am standing at the back on the right hand side.

352.jpg (18521 bytes)

The training year was split into three parts, Easter, Summer and Winter, names given to the break-up event rather than to the seasons of the year. Easter for  example covered  from post Christmas leave until Easter leave {very much winter!}; Summer from post Easter leave until summer leave and Winter, up to Christmas leave.  Each leave period was for three weeks, and I remember that the first and second weeks  were  idyllic,  but the third for the most part subdued and sad because as each precious moment ticked by  heralding the return to 'Belsen' I became more and more depressed. As if to balance my emotions, as each term passed and my leaving date approached, I grew ever more confident than normal life would resume - eventually! This finishing and leaving date was so important, that fearing back-classing [which would lead to extra time in Ganges]  because of illness, accident, under achievement, compassionate leave [what the hell does compassionate mean - is there such a thing?] was enough to spur me on  to achieving at all costs, to stay well clear of the sick-bay and to hope and pray that despite me wanting desperately to be with my family, I wasn't called home because there had been a life threatening illness or a death.  During a Divisional cross country run I had climbed a locked gate topped with barbed wire, and slipped cutting the back of my knee quite badly - still have the scar.  I was given first aid - a knotted handkerchief - and taken to sick-bay in a Naval Land Rover, in the vicinity for emergency purposes.  You have no idea how great my anxiety was during the period detained in sick-bay. Fortunately, the wound which had to be treated daily, did not justify a back-classing, and for some days I rather enjoyed missing gym classes and other strenuous events sitting on the sidelines watching my class mates suffer. 

BELOW, our mess - 12 mess.  No words can adequately describe this scene. It was our home; our heartbreak; a place with an insatiable appetite for polish, brasso, dusters, buckets of water,  and polishing wax by the ton; a place to keep my mothers food parcels secret, to write letters home and to read and re-read mums letters from  home over and over again desperately wanting to reach into the letters to touch the things she wrote about. It was a refuge from the strict discipline of everyday life, but, for some boys, it was also a place to be cornered by bullies who added to the loneliness and sadness which hung above like low black angry clouds.  I was never singled out for bullying and I have a theory for that.  As part of Annexe training, we had a boxing tournament - one can't be in the Forces and not have a senseless knock-about. It is never personal, but it can be cruel, as it was for me, not because I took a beating for the 1 minute duration, but because inch by inch I shuffled ever nearer to the point where gloves are donned, sat opposite and a few feet from  my executioner, who clearly was a bare knuckle street fighter!  The Annexe was more subtle than I give it credit for.  Its whole purpose was to prepare us for survival in the Main Establishment, and I promised myself that the next time such a tournament took place [and there were many of them in the next 14 months] I would belt the living shit out of my opponent. Surprisingly, I did just that, and I came out fighting like a Catherine-wheel which had lost it centre holding pin with my arms flaying like a high speed windmill. It wasn't personal, indeed we became as  good a friend to each other as Ganges would allow, but it did send some kind of a signal to would be bullies. 352_CLASS.jpg (73181 bytes) This is page 44 from the Shotley Magazine term ending Easter 1954.  Everything in the mess was IMMACULATE and even the shoes laces in the shoes placed on the floor at the end ones locker were cleaned and neatly tied as though one were wearing them.  My bed was towards the bottom on the right hand side.  The tables in the middle are where we wrote our letters. Note a black circular object attached to the roof rafters on the left hand side.  This bloody awful device was a loudspeaker. At all times except for 1 hour in the evening, it blurted out bugle calls for waking up, going to bed, food times, sick bay times, parade times, you name it, there was a bloody bugler who could blow it.  When we were not being tortured by this, we were tortured by having to listening to Ganges's one and only gramophone record , Oh mine papa by Eddy Calvert [another cretin trumpet player - buglers, trumpeters they are all the same].  It was known that some boys did a runner away from Ganges not because of its harsh environment but to escape the nightly rendition of this 'water-drip' torture. One record!  I ask you - what might we have had had we lost the war?

12_mess.jpg (20815 bytes)The food was not good and there wasn't enough of it - if that is an accepted paradox!. We ate a lot of bread which we smuggled out of the central dining hall, where, back in our mess, we would use the iron and ironing board to make toast.  In the winter months, they placed braziers in the outside toilets to keep the pipes warm so that they would not freeze up and subsequently burst whilst thawing.  These  were used when the mess iron was in great demand.  Food parcels from home were one way to supplement the food ration.  Before telling you about them, you have to remember that many food items were still rationed because of the shortages caused by the war which had been over for 8 years. I joined the Navy with my ration book but my mother had carefully removed the coupons most important to her and the family table. I believe that all rationing ceased in late 1954/early 1955.  When a parcel arrived we were notified by  being given a slip of paper tucked in with the mess's letter mail.  A parcel was important simply because it had goodies and a letter inside.  The way one handled the collection of the parcel from the mail office was an art in itself.  The mail office was only open outside instructional time at lunch and at tea, and knowing that there would be food in the parcel one would not join the lunch queue like all the other boys, but the relatively short queue outside the mail office.  The parcel would be hastily carried to one of many brick outside toilets known to have an inside locking device - the majority didn't have such a luxury - which were also used by boys who needed privacy to do what boys need to do when there are no girls around!  There, after ensuring that no one had followed, the parcel was ripped open and the contents revealed - the letter was read later.  After eating a selection of the heaven sent sustenance the next stage was to get back to the mess and ones locker to hide the rest of the goodies before the hordes returned from their daily feast on scraps.  That was usually easy, but what was not easy was the subsequent action of eating out of ones underpants drawer without the starving masses observing your greed. At any stage one could be torn to shreds and the parcel devoured by scores of vandals, who five minutes earlier had been your good buddies.  Getting that slip of paper to say that a parcel awaited could also mean that the queue outside the mail office was as long as the lunch queue outside the dining hall because you would be frog-marched there by your so called mates, all of whom would benefit from my mothers generosity and excellent parkin squares - yum yum!  Food, or rather the lack of it, caused problems daily.  One daily routine was for the class leader to dispatch two boys to a central pick-up place to collect a tray of buns, sometimes iced buns, and a fanny of tea spiked with the usual bromide.  The remainder of the class hung about with great expectation often unfulfilled because the boy with the tray would be intercepted and robbed of his buns by other classes- the most one could hope for was a large crumb and a cup of tepid stewed tea.  We became leaner and fitter by default, deprivation and a non-stop routine of physical exercise. Below are a few venue's in which we trained or relaxed! 

morse_code.jpg (11773 bytes)gunnery.jpg (8895 bytes)

As main leave time approached [we were allowed the occasional local leave on a Sunday afternoon to local spots such as Dovercoat, Harwich and Felixstowe depending upon the weather] there was great excitement amongst the boys many of whom had started to receive letters from girl church.jpg (12358 bytes)  nelson_hall.jpg (13810 bytes)friends who had not written since the last leave.  We all went home in our best dress uniforms and these were  lovingly prepared the night before and then hung on the metal ceiling rafters above our beds.  On the morning leave started, there was great industry harnessed by an organisation the likes of which have been seldom repeated, and of which my mind still wonders. Each boy, and there were 2000 of us, had to be given  naafi.jpg (8808 bytes)  sailing.jpg (8599 bytes)a railway pass to be converted to a ticket for a return journey to every conceivable place in the UK.  Those boys who lived great distances away [northern Scotland and Northern Ireland] were granted extra leave to take into account their travelling time. In those day there were plenty of trains but all very slow with many platform changes - today, the trains are faster but fewer of them!  Then each received a leave pass given details of the allocation and the time on which to return.  A sick note for each boy with explicit instructions for the family doctor not to grant a 'swinging of the lead' type leave, as so many boys used this as an excuse for not returning on time. The following document was sent to my parents concerning pay etc.  Take note that I made an allotment to my mother of 5 shillings per week = 25p

ganges2.jpg (84723 bytes)

1 shilling = 5p therefore an ADULT [over 17½ but under 18] earned 49 shillings = £2.45 per week. I was a Boy 2nd class, a Boy 1st class and a Boy Telegraphist whilst at Ganges.  My pocket money [and that is what mattered then as it does now] was 37½p per week. When I left HMS GANGES to join my first ship, I received the full amount as shown above for a boy under 17½, namely 24 shillings and 6 pence per week = £1.22 per week.  

Also note the 4/4 [four shillings and four pence] for daily ration allowance whilst on leave. This equates to 21½p.

  I can't swear to it, but I do remember being in Otley {my home town} and closing my POSB account with £1-7-11¾ in it: virtually a whole £1.40 - what a spendthrift!

Photographs above Left - Top - Learning gunnery, big guns and small arms [doubling with them, marching with them and as a punishment tool]. Middle - HMS Ganges Church. C of E but used as an ecumenical meeting place. I came under the Church of Scotland banner because I was a non conformist -  a Methodist.  Church parade, as you can guess, was compulsory. It had its good points though.  I was confirmed twice whilst at Ganges because whilst the classes took place in a room within, the confirmation proper was conducted without, that being in an Ipswich Methodist Church, where, upon completion we scoffed enough sticky buns and glasses of lemonade to equate with a months food rations back at Ganges. How twice?  The Padre changed and the new one was short of recruits!  confirmation.jpg (267490 bytes)      This was my second confirmation certificate.  Bottom - the NAAFI, but why? We weren't allowed in until closing time [?], they had nothing to sell , although just like the television programme Porridge, snout, or tobacco was a currency in Ganges, and the one thing they always seemed to have plenty of, was the then proverbial open paper packet of 5 Woodbines [a trade name], and our pocket money [see above] didn't go very far, even in those days. Right - Top - Learning to read received morse code direct onto a typewriter [we had previously learnt to type professionally using the Pitman programme and in time to Winifred Atwell who was a rather large coloured lady who used to belt out the 'modern' tunes of those days on a piano].  In those days of almost total morse code communications, Fleet requirements dictated high speeds.  We used a pencil and longhand up to 18 words per minute [WPM] and a typewriter for 22 WPM building up to 25 WPM before joining our ships. Middle - Nelson's Hall, an indoor drill shed and recreational hall.  It also contained class pictures and other interesting artefact. Bottom - Sailing on the Stour.  Very nice and enjoyable in nice warm calm weather, but we did it when the end of the world was known to be happening.


A letter from the Captain to my parents telling them of my safe arrival at HMS Ganges   ganges1.jpg (139840 bytes)  This is a picture of my first Captain. capt_cairns.jpg (19125 bytes)

It is not very clear and this is because it is printed on yellow paper which tends to turn a darker shade of colour when scanned.  Here it is again retyped 

H.M.S. GANGES  Ipswich   Suffolk   Tel: - Shotley 244

Dear Sir/Madam
Your boy has now arrived safely at Shotley.
He will spend the first five weeks among boys who have joined with him in a separate  part of the establishment known as the  Annexe, in order to get him used to naval routine and give him time to settle down.  Here he is put into the class for which he is best suited, is introduced to naval discipline, has a full medical and dental examination, and is vaccinated.
When this preliminary period is completed he will join the main establishment, where he will receive instruction in subjects which includes school work, seamanship or communications, gunnery, physical and recreational training, and religious knowledge.  He will be able to play games most afternoons.
Each term in H.M.S. GANGES normally lasts for fourteen or fifteen weeks, and while your boy is serving here he will be granted 21 days long leave at the end of each term.
Local leave is granted from 1.15 p.m. to 8.45 p.m. to a boy when he is visited by his relations.  Such visits should be confined to Saturday and Sunday, and should not be made for six weeks after your boy has joined, as this initial period is a particularly busy and important one for him.
A self explanatory consent form to the Mantoux Test is enclosed for your completion and return.  A sheet giving details of boy's pay is also enclosed.
If you are visiting this district you are welcome to come and see the establishment; the afternoon is the most suitable time if you come on a weekday.  If you come on a Sunday, any time after 9 a.m. is convenient.  Sleeping accommodation for parents is not available in the establishment, although it can be arranged in emergency.  Your boy can however always obtain from his divisional officer a list of suitable hotels and boarding houses in Ipswich.
Should you find it necessary to write about your boy at any time, your letter should be addressed to the Captain H.M.S. GANGES and not to me by name.
Yours faithfully, CAIRNS, [Captain The Earl Cairns, Royal Navy]


me_and_my_mates.jpg (8593 bytes)

Me in centre with Michael Kirk [L] and Gerald Horton [R]. Playing [hats on back of heads etc] at being sailors whilst still at HMS Ganges.

  Punishments were real but didn't always meet the crime.  Indeed, in some cases we were punished even though innocent. Worst of all, group punishment was King and sustained until the guilty person owned up and the non guilty parties were freed.  One could be stopped in ones tracks, interrogated, and punished on the spot.  Below I have listed some of these punishments but the list is not exhausted.

Event leading to being accused Interrogation and Pronouncement Punishment
Not marching or  doubling [running] properly i.e., SLOVENLY ATTITUDE.  Note: Walking was only allowed when not under instruction i.e., a couple of hours per day and on  weekend afternoons. Stopped and stood to attention. Visual inspection of uniform, sports gear, working clothes, best suit, assault course dress, whatever and a check to see that your name was marked on the uniform pieces. Bodily cleanliness inspection including ears, neck, finger nails, beard [if it was showing when so young]. An inspection of the shoulder straps of your vest - no vest was a crime - and the blue top inside of the white front was a collector of  accumulated dirt. Even if everything was perfect [and it seldom was] you were punished because you had been stopped. "You are a disgrace you dirty little horror.  Kit muster.  What class are you in and who is your instructor?" If very horrible, two or more kit musters could be ordered. A kit muster was a nasty punishment because if it was not clean, in good repair and complete, you could win a higher punishment as well as being made to spend that POSB on new kit.  It involved laying out the full kit washed, ironed, marked, sewn-in and taped with white one inch tape all in an absolutely perfect line.  This would usually take place in ones mess next to ones bed but could be ordered to be shown at a venue some distance away - very inconvenient.  The kit had an exact number of pieces so that clean items were shown as above, and dirty items put at one corner of the kit. You had to have a good excuse as to why articles were dirty.  Naturally, the kit muster was always in your leisure period. Underwear was picked on the most!!!! We were issued with Navy standard white underwear which was a vest and long'ish underpants.  Many boys would keep their Navy issue in tip top condition by not wearing it thereby not having to wash and iron it for times like these.  Instead they would wear civilian pants and no vest.  If during any inspection the inspecting officer thought your Navy underwear was in too good a condition [especially having had it for many months] you would be ordered to bear all to check your under garments. Tut tut!  You didn't stand a chance!

This is what a Ganges kit muster is all about - it is a work of art, takes time to construct and more time to maintain!

kit.jpg (248986 bytes)

Every boy lays his kit out routinely at various stages of his training.  Remember, one can be back-classed for failing kit inspections and that mean staying at Ganges longer than one needs to do.

As stated above, a kit muster can be an individual or a group punishment where the laying out of kit is done nightly over the course of a week.

To inspect this kit would involve two or more officers or senior rating a full half day.

In this case, they have used an empty mess where there are no beds or lockers.

A kit muster can cost you some of your precious pocket money if the instructor thinks a piece has been wrongly maintained!

For many years after leaving Ganges, and certainly up to me attaining the age of 21, kit muster were regularly ordered when passing through shore barracks on  leaving one ship to join a new ship at a later stage.   They were not carried out at sea.

            Here the kit demonstrates the constituent parts which are all named.

            Normally the markings would show the boy's name stamped in either black or

            white  paint and over sewn with red thread cotton. In my day, the bottom

           cover on which everything is laid was our opened out hammock.

           Uniforms are known by number. On the right hand side you will see No 8's 

           [working gear] towards the top, No1  best ceremonial blue sailor suit, and No2, second

           best blue sailor suit for wearing on leave/on liberty. We also had a No3 blue sailors suit 

           which was worn when on duty, and is being worn by the boys above.

           Now to resume the punishments.           

Being late for almost anything except for things like sick quarters muster. Depended upon how late you were and your excuse for being late.  Every possible excuse was known to these instructors and it wasn't worth trying it on with them. First time lateness or lateness involving 5 minutes or so would be dealt with by the instructor.  More severe cases would involve you being punished officially by the Divisional Officer. The instructor's punishment would involved the latecomer in doubling around the parade ground, up and down a road, or better still a road with a hill, in all weathers, until the instructor remembers that he sent you away for a punishment and ordered you back to instruction.  Apart from the fatigue you suffered, you also had to catch up on missed instructions by asking your class mates for their notes to copy.
Being continually dirty and unkempt This would be obvious from the state of your bedding, the lack of presence in the washroom [showers were always group events], the smell of your body etc. The punishment nearly always came from your peers with a nod from the instructor first. Your punishment would involve you being  forcibly stripped and put in something that holds water - usually a dustbin with all your dirty clothes[ those you had been  wearing and those in your locker]. Your body would be washed with deck scrubbing brushes and long handled yard brushes, both of which could cut your skin and certainly cause much pain.  On completion, you would be paraded through  your own mess and possibly other messes within your own Division. This poor soul would almost certainly be back-classed and the news as to why, would be jungle-drummed to his new classmates quicker than you could say Jack Frost!
Fighting. Fighting was not common, but when it occurred you naturally took sides.  It resulted in bruising and sometimes cuts.  The fighters would never reveal to authority the co fighter's name, nor indeed that a fight had taken place. However, were the fight made known to the authorities and subsequently judged 'personal' [e.g. you hadn't beaten somebody up because you caught them stealing from your locker] a case was made to resolve the issues leading up to the punch- up. Your punishment - a witnessed 'grudge' fight. The pair would be referred to the gymnasium and to the Divisional Physical Training Instructor [PTI] - you can see him in the Rodney photograph wearing a white cricket style top. He would organise a boxing match usually of 3 one minute rounds which would take place in the gym with the class or the classes of the pugilist's acting as an audience. There the PTI would encourage the adversaries to 'clear the air' once and for all, although the rules of boxing would be upheld and brawling was out.
Crimes punishable by the Divisional Officer which 'broke the rules, written and unwritten" and which were outside the scope of instructor punishment. A visit to the Divisional Officer of more that three times on petty charges was an automatic referral to the Captains DEFAULTERS. The tradition in the Navy is that there is a multi tiered structure through which one must go to be 'praised' or 'punished'. The praise part is called REQUESTMEN and the punish part is called DEFAULTERS, and each officer in the structure can grant wishes or punish up to his level. In the Fleet, you first see the First Lieutenant [Jimmy] or in a large ship, the Commander, and if the reason for seeing them is beyond their powers, they will pass the case to the Captain of the ship.  Likewise, if the Captain cannot deal with the case [it would have to be very serious indeed] he would pass it on to an Admiral.  If necessary [though rarely if ever done] a non commissioned officer can go all the way to seek a judgment from the Minister of Defence, and a commissioned officer, all the way to The Queen. However, in Ganges, the Divisional Officer was the first stage of authority and he could handle most of the cases brought before him. He would order a so-called punishment to fit the crime which would be [guess what?] a numbered punishment, either No 14's, No 10's or No 11's. The D.O., would bark " 5 days No10's" or " 1 day No14's". I was once punished with 3 days No14's for using the back of my training journal to conduct a noughts and crosses competition. The charge - defacing a Crown document in contradiction of rule....................of the Naval discipline Act. All of these numbered punishments, which unlike instructor punishments, were recorded on your record. Each involved getting up very early in the morning [without an associated bugle call - you were woken up personally!!] dressing in the ordered uniform and mustering to have your name checked. For lesser punishments, No14's for example, you would then report to the galley to be employed on washing dishes or preparing food for an hour before returning to your mess to prepare for the day of instructions. This would be repeated in the evening et seq until your number of days had expired. For more severe punishments like No10's and 11's you would be given a rifle, a back pack and your very own personal punishment instructor [who had to get out of his bed at some awful god damn hour to punish you] and he would keep you doubling for a full hour in the early morning and again in the evening.  At lunch time you could be told to lay your kit out or join up with the pig-swill party filling and loading dustbins with our food [sorry, out left over food - same thing] and then lifting them on to lorries for the local farms.  Whatever, you were kept at it for 24 hours a day [minus your few hours in bed] and it was very stressful. I experienced just 2 days of this barbaric treatment when, after a day's sailing/rowing [or pulling as it is known in the Navy] in terrible weather, cold wet through and with blistered hands, I accidentally let an oar slip off it rowlock [often pronounced rollock which rhymed with bollock] which went into the sea and was carried away on a flood tide deep into Suffolk. My charge revolved around being disobedient, mitigated by the adverse sea conditions.  Soon afterwards, I had blisters on my shoulders as well, when the .303 rifle I was carrying at the slope whilst doubling bounced off my body hundreds of times during those two dreadful days. 
Crimes punishable by the Commander or the Captain.  As explained, seeing these GOD's [they were held in great awe and fear] as a REQUESTMEN was good news because it usually meant you was near the end of your training and you were being promoted from Boy 1st Class to Boy Telegraphist, or, that you had achieved some outstanding sporting goal and you were been given a cup in recognition. To see them as a DEFAULTER was unimaginable, though several did. Naturally the top management controlled the lives of erring boys, but they were also the sole judges on severe remedial group punishments. The ultimate crime whilst at Ganges was to run away - desert, and it was not uncommon though I know of nobody who attempted it.  Once the boy was declared as having 'done a bunk' the wheels were set in motion to inform parents/next of kin [Dr Barnardo boys for example] and the local area authorities to be on the look out.  Although we hadn't signed-on for service in the Navy [as adult men did] it was implicit that being there amounted to the same thing.  When the boys were captured or returned voluntarily with their 'tails between their legs', they were treated harshly and kept away from other boys incarcerated in the administration block. Boys who had had enough or who were unable to cope with the harsh discipline had ample opportunity to consult the Padre, and if their situation was genuine [albeit, it took a long time to assess that] they would be treated with compassion and discharged to civil life as not suited.  Therefore, to circumvent that procedure and desert was a heinous crime.  Other heinous crimes were repeat thieving cases, recalcitrance,  and striking a superior Officer [that is anybody who is senior to you notwithstanding their rank vis a vis yours - a fellow boy who is given some level of authority above you, is your superior Officer. The usual punishment for such crimes was to be caned [ a type of birching] and the Captain would order "6 cuts" or a number commensurate to the crime he was trying. For other severe crimes a dishonourable discharge was a rather nasty tag to have. It is the practice in the Navy that when a rating has been found guilty of a serious offence and his punishment confirmed, all the lower deck ship's company gathers to witness the public reading of the charge and the punishment to be given:   in years gone by, they  witnessed the actual punishment as well. The reason for this is not macabre for its own sake, but to forewarn against crime per se, so that all present are aware of their own fate should they too 'rock the boat'.



The cane, which was colloquially known as 'cuts' was in keeping with the way seniors punished juniors at all walks of life whether  civil or military.  Every member of my class had been brought up where a parental good hiding was always a possibility, and a good smack common place.  We didn't like it, of course, but we expected it when we knew that we had pushed our luck just that little bit too far. Parents were not bad because they smacked their children.  Every parent did.  Moreover, the Headmaster of a school caned erring students [with parents knowledge], and it was even known for a policeman to give you a clout around the ears for transgressing.  Other punishments like standing in the corner as a dunce, being kept behind after school in detention and writing out lines a hundred times that 'I must listen to teacher' were the norm in the 40's and 50's - perhaps longer.  So to cane a boy in the Navy was not the Dickensian mal- treatment of latter day work- house orphans, but an extension of the punishment policy of the country. Roughly, the procedure was as follows. The boy would be given a medical and upon a satisfactory completion, he would dress in white duck trousers [no underpants] and a loose top [no tuck-in into trouser top].  He would then be stretched over the back of a chair and witnessed by a Medical Officer, an Executive Officer representing the Captain and possibly the Padre, the Master at Arms [the Navy's chief of police] would then administer one heavy stroke of the cane/rod across the boys buttocks. The boys buttocks would then be inspected to ascertain damage, and all the while the doctor is satisfied, one by one the cuts are delivered.  Necessary medication is applied and the boy is rested.  If he stayed in the Navy,  back-classing would be automatic as would his fame but his newly erected pedestal would soon be crushed by the new instructor who would see him as an undesirable and misfit. Subsequent poor behaviour would result in being discharged SNLR - the dishonourable tag mentioned in the middle column.
Severe remedial group punishments [see above]. A 'shake-up' in the Navy means roughly the same as 'pull your finger out'. The US Armed Forces use the expression shape-up . It can apply to an individual and any of the above punishments could be said to be a 'shake-up'. A class of boys  is the sum of it's members, and if, as occasionally happened, a class had a high proportion of 'skates' [an idle slouch] and the class performed badly, letting down the Division and the Ganges modus operandi personified by John Cornwell, Victoria Cross, an ex Ganges boy who had died whilst keeping his gun firing during the 1st world war, when all around him lay dead men. Rudyard Kipling's poem IF was also part of the modus operandi. Such 'rotten' classes were rare, and class members who were not skates were in for a very rough time. There was only one punishment for a class as a whole and that was SHOTLEY ROUTINE. It was aptly called a routine because the normal  time table for instructions, geared to a conveyor belt designed to churn boy's out to fill sea billets had to be put on hold for a week and be replaced by something else. Shotley Routine had a fixed time frame - one week - nothing more and nothing less.  Fortunately, my class was never punished in this way although the threat was ever present.  However, everybody in Ganges witnessed their punishment when going about their daily routine. Shotley Routine was designed to deliver the ultimate shake-up. From day one they went and moved everywhere as a group and always at the full double [a gallop]. They changed uniforms several times a day and spent as little time as deemed necessary in their beds.  Where we cleaned our mess twice a day, they did theirs four times a day. Their mail and parcel slips were stopped. They ate their meals in double quick time and alone. They laid out their kits every day. No recreation or relaxation was allowed, and any boy who failed the routine was subjected to many more days of personal No 10 or No 11 punishment. Freezing cold showers were ordered daily at 5.30am. When not interfering with normal boys training, they would run around the Ganges roads and playing fields, not just in a forward direction, but backwards as well, double marking time for 10 minutes at a time followed by 25 press-up's in mud. When inconvenient, they returned to a venue where most of their time was spent on laundry hill - the infamous punishment area. The hill was quite steep and at the top was an instructional block and the bottom, the sea. With a broom stick across their backs poking out left and right through their arms positioned like mug- handles, they were made to bunny-hop up and down this hill forwards the backwards, bunny-hopping on the spot, and in all weathers. The broom stick would be replaced for the heavy .303 rifle with which they would perform all kinds of torturous movements.  Every now and again, a Senior Officer would visit the class to observe their routine.  He would stand on the pavement and give his implicit approval that the aim was being achieved...."Carry on Petty Officer".  "Aye aye sir" and the seal of approval had been given to keep the pressure on until the boys were broken.  As a change of venue, they were taken to a less infamous place but nonetheless a place of torture, to Faith, Hope and Charity. These were three flight of stone/brick steps on a slope of perhaps 1 in 5. Here, one boy, a boy known to be fit and macho, would be ordered from bottom to top  timed on a stop watch.  One by one the other boys followed and as they arrived at the top of these 66 or so steps they were made to do press-up's if they had not met or bettered the first boy. The cycle continued to the point of exhaustion, but since John  Cornwell had done it to the point of death, they had some way to go! That week must have seemed like eternity and at the end of it, those boys were broken.  No class ever had a repeat Shotley Routine.  On a less severe  matter, laundry hill/faith hope and charity were temporary punishment areas for all boys

fhandc.jpg (98383 bytes)FAITH HOPE AND CHARITY

At a certain point in our training we would have programmed breaks.  None was longer than one week but some lasted for just a couple of days.  Anchored mid stream in the Stour opposite Parkeston Quay, was the depot ship HMS Mull of Galloway, a very long name for a ship but not the longest in the Royal Navy, that being HMS Knaresborough Castle. We would spend the odd day visiting.  Of much greater interest was the occasional visit of a destroyer or frigate to Harwich.  We would embark and actually go to sea in a real live warship. For one full week we would become the coal-ship party, filling coal bags down near the fore shore, loading them onto naval lorries for transportation to the central boiler house which provided heating to all place in Ganges except our accommodation messes.  We looked like black and white minstrels and getting ourselves and our overalls clean was no easy task at the end of each day.  Another week was spent as galley party.  Apart from the drudgery of washing up, cleaning tables, peeling spuds etc, there were perks and during that week we were never better fed and grateful for it.

Looking back, the daily time table was well thought out and every one of the 2000 boys knew where they were to be and what they were about to study. The school block could accommodate 150 boys covering many subjects, academic as well as naval. We had an enormous gymnasium and swimming pool block, which could be split into three separate gyms.  At any one time, a further 100 or so were being put through their paces of body/over mind development. Classes were in the country lanes a few miles from Ganges taking part in cross country training, whilst others were down on the foreshore at the assault course. Boys were sailing on the Stour; undergoing seamanship training; learning morse code and semaphore; shooting with small arms; marching; climbing the mast; tug-of-war pulling and a multiplicity of indoor and outdoor sporting activities.  Ganges was a big place and therefore boys were out sweeping up leaves, collecting litter [I can't believe that!] painting curb stones, and another weeks break, doing the dustbin emptying rounds. We had religious studies which for me were of some comfort when the Rev Leslie Truelove was the instructing Padre.  Before leaving home and at the time my mothers greatest anxiety [mine also but I was too young to know it] our next door neighbour [Louie Raines - we called her Auntie Louie] was dragged into the drama.  She was a self opinionated spinster and a civil servant at the local labour exchange who put herself forward as an oracle, and always seemed to have an answer, invited or not.  However, also at this time, our local Minister, the Rev Lionel J Maw [who lived opposite my house] was very helpful to us all, and offered pragmatic advice on how I should conduct myself when completing my teenage years away from home. He knew Leslie Truelove and sent him  a letter of introduction which told him of my parents and my up bringing.  When I met the Padre he would ask about my parents and that warmed my heart. We also learnt about sex. Now whilst I cannot believe that a 15 year old, from any place in any century hadn't by that age got a pretty good idea about the birds and the bees, I can believe that most 15 year olds of my day had fantasies but no actual scores! What I [we] did know we had learnt from smutty talk amongst peers and friends and the subject was never touched upon either in school or in the family home. They was no television and the 'U' certificate at a cinema meant just that.  Dirty books and magazine were not overtly displayed for purchased or titillation browsing nor were ladies scantily dressed reclining in sexy poses on just about every bill board. Sea side postcards showing busty women was the nearest we got to 'porn.  To be promiscuous as a boy meant that a girl also had to be promiscuous, and the brake on the knowledge of sex for boys, really came from the girls of our time, who generally speaking, were the very opposite.  Certainly, the girls liked boys and liked fun and parties, but AT THAT TIME, as a general rule, their attitude was summed up as by my little ditty which goes :-

girls won't and don't do it and that is clear to see,

they are saving themselves for a day yet to be,

for the man who they corner  and get to  agree,

that   marriage is first before a sex spree. 

[Poet Laureate - watch your back!]

The task of our sex instructors,   young male doctors, was therefore easy.  All they had to do is concentrate on the few who did , and because they did, they were defined as scrubbers, sluts, slags, whores, prostitutes, not nice girls, whatever. Since they formed a tiny minority of the female gender, the problems of an association with such under-classes were of little consequence.  Crabs were easily understood, and standing on the loo seat [or more correctly where the seat had once been] to do a pooh was common place. Less well understood was what  venereal disease in all its forms did to your penis which sailors called knob-rot.  In the late 40's and early 50's syphilis was wide spread in foreign stations but not in Britain, although most big civilian hospitals had a VD clinic which addressed such matters.  We were made aware of it simply because we would very soon be stationed in those foreign ports. Gonorrhea was a common disease at home as was NSU [non specific urinary] disease, caused by too much sex in a short period of time or by excessive masturbation - in short, a strain.. Sailors called this one 'squeezing-up'.  After these lectures I viewed  lavatories per se as places where I exercised total circumspection, even when at home, after all, I had brothers!! . I still am over cautious even today when I am out and about. We were officially introduced to the durex and taught how to use it properly and the offence it caused to others if it was not disposed of correctly.  With some humour aforethought, hundreds of Ganges boys must have had wet dreams each night, and we had to remember that we needed a few extra minutes in the morning to clean up the mess!  I think that is why cleanliness inspections always targeted foreskins. In addition to learning about our own bodies, we learnt about female bodies, after which we viewed the civilian ladies who worked in such places as the Naafi, in a new light.  Quite unfairly, we were more or less taught that a young lass who liked the jolly old thing, was a walking bag of pox, and since we boys did not have the wherewithal to expand and dispel the myth, the doctor made his point. Before and after such lectures we had experience of some of the girls of Dovercoat, Felixstowe and Harwich who, for a packet of cigarettes or a small bottle of Mackerson stout, would perform sexual favours on boys as long as it didn't involve them being groped let along shagged.  Some of them earned enough to set up their own breweries not to mentioned put the local tobacco retailers out of business. Since VD cannot be carried on the hands or in finger nails, the girls of Suffolk posed no problems to the boys of Ganges! As a sign of the times, homosexuality was never on the agenda - it just was never mentioned.  However, we were heterosexually aware, and had there being a deviant in our midst I am sure that he would have been sorted out.  The danger, if at all, would have come from the instructors, but even here, had there been such a case it would have been common news to all at Shotley.

Ganges was intense for most of the time, but every now and again although not routinely, we would have a film in the large cinema, the seating being reserved [!] for a Division or perhaps two at any one time.  The winter term was always ended by a pantomime of sorts where Ganges personnel of all kinds would take part. In the Navy, we generally call such an event a SOD's [ship's operatic department] OPERA.  I was at Ganges for two Christmases.  On each side of the cinema screen, displayed on  huge boards, was half of the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling.  It wasn't compulsory, but we frequented that place so regularly that by default, we learnt it by heart. Just in case you do not know this very famous poem, here it is.


IF you can keep your head when all about you                          
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;


If you can make one heap of all your winnings, 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings, 
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"


If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools; 


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son! 


The cinema had other uses about which we were less enthusiastic! Here we were shown films about sailors drowning under the heading of 'Pull your weight, don't rely on your messmates to save your life. Learn to swim'.  'Don't let him die' was another, with blood and gore all over the place; know your first aid and how to call for help.  'Walls have ears - don't talk about the countries secrets' told us about spies, 5th columnists and the dreaded German.  Virtually all of our instructional material was still war orientated and designed  to show to personnel between the years of 1939 and 1945. Eight years on it was still being shown and still relevant. Moreover, right up to the late 1970's we were still shooting our small arms on the ranges at targets wearing the proverbial and infamous German helmet.

We always enjoyed the celebration of  bonfire night and the Navy were generous with the fireworks and the size of the fire.  There was a library and a reading room which was controlled by a national serviceman  who worked for the school master's department. It wasn't very inspiring being biased toward navy reference books, and any way, there just wasn't time!

Ganges had its own blue-jacket band, the bandsmen coming from able boy musicians who volunteered.  They got several perks, one of which was to leave Ganges to play at local events especially in the summer months.  When required, which was weekly for Sunday morning ceremonial divisions plus other times of ceremony, the Royal Marine band would come from its base in Chatham Kent.  To this day, they are rated as one of the best military bands in the world, and they added a sense of pride when we were marching to their beat.

I have mentioned the amounts of pocket money we were paid weekly.  Payment parade was as stressful as all the other events of our training. The massive parade ground was used in dry weather and Nelson's Hall in wet weather.  Most of the 2000 boys were paid on the same parade. Lots of   trestle tables were set up with the mast to the rear of them. The supply and secretarial branch [known as Writers - not clerks] would bring out the money which would consist of thousands of silver coloured half-a-crown pieces [2 shillings and sixpence - 12½p]. When we joined the Navy we were given our Official Number - mine was 930735 with a  prefix which denoted your branch and home based depot, either Chatham in Kent, Portsmouth in Hampshire,  Devonport in Devon  or Rosyth in Fifeshire Scotland - mine became PJX 930735, the P for Portsmouth, and the JX for executive branch as opposed to being a stoker or a cook for example. That number stayed with you throughout your career as a rating. As you joined each ship you were given a Ship's Book  Number which changed on each new ship you joined.  In Ganges mine was 3152.  We fell in in ship's company number order, one boy behind the other in long thin columns stretched across the length of the parade ground in all directions.  It was your responsibility to make sure that the boy in front of you was 3151 and you hoped to hell that he had checked the guy in front of him as being 3150 and all had to be done at the rush.  Whilst this was happening, tens of pounds of soap bars had been placed next to each trestle table and with it a couple of postage stamps for letters home.  Now came the problem.  It was the only event, except for Sunday morning ceremonial divisions that we saw all the officers at Ganges out together and in one place. The place buzzed with Officers and instructors all out scanning boys for any fault in their uniform, which was working shirt, trousers, boots, gaiters, hat and gas mask.  This was the barbers dream as hundreds would be told to report to.......and get a haircut by.......[and given a time].  When the order was given, the columns shuffled forward and payment began. The paying officer looked at his ledger and shouted out "Dykes". I would step smartly to the trestle table and shout "3152 Sir", whilst removing my cap and slapping it down on the table. On to the cap top would be placed 2 half crown pieces [3 later on] a bar of washing soap and two postage stamps and I would retrieve my cap, turn smartly to my right and walk [yes walk] away to pocket the goodies before returning my hat to my head, and all the while being eyed for defects!  Pay day was also a good time to test that your gas mask was air tight and that your reactions were quick, and without warning or in any preferred place on the parade ground, a gas was created which affected all comers, boys and staff alike. It was a pretty nasty reaction if you were unlucky!

All other parades were different for one very obvious reasons, namely for religion. Every morning before going off to instructions in the class rooms we would parade in our working gear [uniform] on the main parade ground being inspected by our instructors first and then by our Divisional Officer. On completion, The Padre, a CofE man, or a Free Church Padre, would step up on the dais and a Church service would follow.  However, before that could happen the order "Fall out Roman Catholics" was barked by the parade commander, and all the RC's, or left footers as we called them because they were out of step [!] ran to the back of a nearby building where the senior RC amongst them took charge of their prayers.  When the protestant Padre had finished and the parade commander had taken his place, he barked "Roman Catholics fall in". It always struck me as being funny that this regular group of RC's  were the Irish element in Ganges followed by the one or two Maltese boys present and it was a tiny group of boys at best. Incidentally, this was a Fleet practice and not unique to Ganges. Because all the officers spoke good English; the instructors all appeared to have strong accents; the Catholics all appeared to be Irish and my peers all seemed to come from inland counties the majority from the north of England and Scotland, my views were polarised into thinking that the Navy was an English Gentlemen's Protestant Club with us as the yeoman stock. I remember well an instructor baiting a Scottish boy by telling him that our flag, the White Ensign, was the English flag of St George with the British Union flag put into the top corner as an after thought.   On Sundays, the falling-in and falling-out of the RC's was not necessary, because after the Sunday parade all dressed in our best uniforms, we would disperse to specific areas for our denominational service some to Church proper [there was only the one] some to the gymnasium and others to large indoor areas such as the library/reading room or an instructional block etc.

One silly thing played on my mind whilst at Ganges.  Not far from Shotley  was a little place called Otley, and I longed to go there because it was in empathy with me, or so I believed, quite irrationally. I never made it.  However, a few years ago, whilst Beryl and I were holidaying in East Anglia we made it a part of our pilgrimage.  Quite unlike my Otley in Yorkshire, Otley in Suffolk is basically a large Agricultural College and a hamlet type arrangement of a  shops and houses  with  supporting facilities. Had I gone there, it would have been as alien to me as was Shotley itself.

Not surprisingly  I left the mast at Ganges until the end.  Ganges is the mast, as the tens of thousands of boys who were made to climb over it will testify to.  It was [and is - it is still there although Ganges which shut down in 1976, has long had other uses; currently a police training establishment] omnipotent and was visible from every part of Ganges and familiar to tens of thousands of indigenous families brought up on or near the isthmus. From the peak of the  gaff flew the largest sized White Ensign, the size worn by a battleship or a fleet aircraft carrier, and the ceremony of 'colours' [at 0800 or 0900 summer/winter respectively] and 'sunset' on a seasonal time sliding scale until the shortest day in December, getting later each day when approaching the longest day in June, until at plateau is reached in mid summer when daylight continues up to 2200, where a fixed time of 2100 is used, was conduct twice a day with great pomp and circumstance.  This ceremony was broadcast on the tannoy system so everybody could hear its beginning and end and dutifully stand  rigidly to  attention and salute [if wearing a hat] no matter where you were.  In good old American cavalry movies, you rallied to the flag [ensign].  The mast was the epicenter of our world and we held it in awe. mast.jpg (56360 bytes)

 It a Herculean edifice, a giant wooden and iron obelisk stretching to the clouds and underneath, about ten foot above ground level was stretched a rope and steel bound safety net.  This was often referred to as the 'chipping machine' because it was suggested that if you fell off that mast, especially from the upper parts, you would pass through the net ready to cook as sauté potato. It was a fearsome place to be if you didn't like heights or suffered from vertigo,  and neither had been registered in the training manual as known human adverse shortcomings!  Every boy had to climb to reach the small platform just above the main yard arm [the fist and longest spar from deck level], and if you study the mast, this is approximately half way up, in itself, quite a height especially if you don't like being away from terra firma. Looking at the mast at this mandatory height platform, you will see that it forms the base of an equilateral triangle where the apex underneath joins the mast  at the point of intersection with the main yard arm - an up side down triangle if you like. The sides leading from the base to the apex were climbing nets on a 45 degree outward angle, and after you had climbed from the deck, through the safety net and were just above the main yardarm, you changed direction and began a 45 degree, virtually upside down climb,  to gain access onto the platform from the outer edge.  This is the 'devils elbow' and all boys were encouraged to use this route.  For those absolutely petrified and daunted by the experience, a way to the platform was to stay on the first climbing net and go through the trap-door onto the platform.  Many did so but were not ridiculed by either staff or peers. This official mast climbing was a one off event and once done you could spend the rest of your time in Ganges at ease and free from fear of the mast.  However it was part of the activities offered during the afternoon recreation sessions, and many boys would climb to this position repeatedly for pleasure.  To go above this 'devils elbow' platform was not allowed unless under supervised instruction.  For formal ceremonial events which took place to an audience of VIP's and   parents just before we broke-up for the annual Easter and summer leaves [indeed parents were allowed to take their boys home after the event] classes were earmarked to man-the-mast as you see here in these pictures.  Where necessary, volunteer dare-devils were co-opted into these classes as the button-boy [one boy], royal yard arm [two boys] and the top gallant yard [10 boys], and all positions on the mast could be reached by netting climbing frames or Jacob's ladder except for the button boy. mast_2.jpg (11464 bytes)

He had to chin-up the top pole monkey style and then pull himself onto the button using the lightening conductor which is a substantial piece of copper. Once in position, the drum roll's of the Royal Marine band - see bottom left [red stripes up side of trousers] - would control the movements of the boys and their feet and arms would be in time each with the other, the exception being that the button boy would stand to attention and salute.  The boys are wearing white duck trousers and blue serge tops with summer rig [white fronts and white hats] but the event is a rehearsal only as the famous flags are not flying.  The second picture is also of a rehearsal this time in winter rig [black hat and blue woolen sea jersey's, because although the flags are flying, the guard of honour below are wearing khaki coloured gaiters instead of white.  Also note that unlike the top picture, there is some confusion [allowed in training only] about their stances, because the button boy appears to be sitting down and some have outstretched arms whilst the majority have not.   Like all ceremonial events, there is an emergency backup programme and the Navy is famous for this. Each of those boys had a stand-in should sickness [or accident] strike and I, plus several other boys, was a trained stand-in for any of the boys above, on or above the top gallant yard, namely the top 13 boys.  Regrettably, my parents could not make the trip to Ganges, but had they done so, I might have been the main player and the main player the stand-in.  Being up there is exhilarating and dangerous, but many many boys have done it and there are no recorded deaths from falling from the very top. The mast taught me not to be afraid of heights but it also taught me to single minded, to keep my mind on the job and to always see the job through even though I often didn't like the task on hand. It also taught me not to rely on  or trust others implicitly  but to be a team member with a spare pair of reins tucked away.

The day we finished our formal training in Ganges a great cloud was lifted off our shoulders and for the first time in nearly 15 long and difficult months we were treated like human beings.  We still called everybody sir and we had [as it turned out] yet another three weeks at Shotley before leaving to join our first ship.  However, as a badge of office, we were allowed to dress differently in a uniform style which commanded respect from boys who were still under training, and of course much envy.  We wore our branch badges and moved up a grade from Boy 1st class to Boy Telegraphist and we were allowed greater access to the Naafi and could push-in at the cinema without fear from other boys  Our kit issue was upgraded and we received our first proper hammocks and other sea going necessities. We were allowed to walk the short distance to Shotley Gate and without fear of being reported, we could make reverse charge calls to our parents.  Our mail could be collected personally within a given time frame, and stealing buns from trays destined to hungry boys was par for the course.  Washing, drying, airing, ironing and bathing privileges were introduced to prepare us for the real navy we were about to join.  In that three weeks or so we learned  about the ship we were going to join, our role in it and the relevance of our training to fulfill that role. Boys in other Divisions who had come to the end of the conveyor-belt who were going to the same ship made their acquaintance and we engaged in enthusiastic small talk.  Lectures were given on promotion and when our first opportunity would be for leaving the Navy.  As a boy, the first three years of service counted for nothing and your time starts at aged 18 when you actually appended your name to the bottom line as an adult. [The official age of adulthood was 21 when you 'got the key of the door' and your independence]. From that time I was a 12-year man, so aged 30 would have been my first opportunity to leave. However, there was an option of serving 7 years on active duty and then 5 years in the Royal Fleet Reserve [RFR] in case of hostilities or war, giving me at best the age of 25 for leaving.  After marrying at 24 [Beryl was 22], being stationed in Canada with Beryl accompanying me, on good money in submarines as a Petty Office and a baby [Steven] on the way, it was not a good time to take my option, and so I signed on the 17 May 1965 to complete 14 years active service. This  brought  my next break date to 1970. Like so many others, I had a love hate relationship with the Navy and was indecisive about my future. However, in 1968 I left submarines for the surface fleet and wanted a special long course for which they required a return on service of 5 years - I had to stay in the Navy as a payback for at least 5 years after the course was completed]. By this time I had a second child [Phillip] and we were wanting to buy our own home. I signed on, got the course, came top of the course, had a new son [Matthew] and Beryl and I were happy in our first home.  That action locked me in until I was 40 in 1978.  Once again fate took over, and in September 1975 I was promoted to Warrant Officer which meant that I had to stay in until I was 45, in 1983. That is when we parted company mutually and I was pensioned off to civilian life.

Before leaving the page, have a look at this HMS GANGES CHRISTMAS 1937 PAGE as well as looking at the main Ganges web site which you can get from my home page.

Sea going. I served in destroyers, frigates, cruisers, aircraft carriers, minesweepers, depot ships and submarines as follows:-

Tintagel Castle, Eagle, Turpin, Auriga, Grampus, Seraph, Rothesay, Tyne, Adamant, Forth, Tiger, Blake, London, Glamorgan, Hare and Stalker,  plus many more short periods at sea in warships of several nations [German, Dutch, French, etc ] as well as British,  whilst serving on the staff's of Flag Officer Sea Training [FOST] and Flag Officer Flotilla 2 [FOF2] as a sea-rider as follows:-

Name of Ship Nationality Name of Ship Nationality
Jupiter UK Schleswig Holstein  West German
Sheffield UK Karlsruhe West German
Norfolk UK Lubeck West German
Antrim UK Z5 West German
Kent UK Z3 West German
Wotton UK Z2 West German
Hecate UK
Londonderry UK Name of Ship Nationality
Beagle UK Rotterdam Dutch
Hecla UK Van Speyk Dutch
Andromeda UK Evertsen Dutch
Bacchante UK Van Galen Dutch
Falmouth UK Van Nes Dutch
Plymouth UK
Diomede UK Name of Ship Nationality
Brighton UK Le Gascon French
Exmouth UK
Salisbury UK Name of Ship Nationality
Argonaut UK Larak Iran
Mermaid UK
Llandaff UK Name of Ship Nationality
Leopard UK Madaraka Kenya
Ariadne UK Jamhuri Kenya
Leander UK
Eskimo UK Name of Ship Nationality
Berwick UK Condell Chile
Galatea UK Lynch Chile
Ashanti UK
Nubian UK Name of Ship Nationality
Gurkha UK Independencia Venezuelan
Tartar UK Constitucion Venezuelan
Danea UK Patria Venezuelan
Ajax UK
Dido UK Name of Ship Nationality
Zulu UK Canterbury New Zealand
Mohawk UK
Cleopatra UK

Shore Stations.

Ganges [Ipswich Suffolk], Drake [Devonport Devon], Whitehall Wireless [London], Phoenicia [Malta] Cochrane [Rosyth Scotland], Dolphin [Gosport Hants], Royal Arthur [Corsham Wiltshire], HMS Ambrose [Halifax Nova Scotia Canada], Terror [Singapore], Tamar [Hong Kong], Mercury [Petersfield Hants], Osprey [Portland Dorset], Nelson [Portsmouth Hants], Rooke [Gibraltar] :  Victory [before it was renamed Nelson] Portsmouth, St Budeaux Signal School Devonport, Excellent Portsmouth, Chelsea Barracks London, Joint HQ Episkopi Cyprus, Lascaris Commcen Malta, HMAS Penguin Sydney NSW,: HMCS Standacona Halifax NS Canada, St Angelo Malta,: Ricasoli Malta,: Forest Moor Harrogate Yorkshire,: Sheba Aden. Joint ASW School Norfolk Virginia. Faslane submarine base Scotland. Joint ADP School Blandford School of Signals Dorset. Vernon for Dunker [helicopter escape training] course.  Lee-on-Solent for Survival Training. Pitreavie Scotland. USN Flushing Street Navy Barracks Brooklyn New York NY.  Remau Singapore submarine mess. Island Island Bermuda. 

Finally, the 'life and times' of my time in the Navy are well summed up in the following site, particularly for SUEZ 1956, ADEN, CYPRUS, and BORNEO. Have a look

This is my  career summed up in one, with 30 consecutive entries from joining on the 13th October 1953 to leaving on the 27th June 1983:- sc1.jpg (189588 bytes)  

I had many interesting times both above and below the waves, and several near misses too.  I served in many conflicts around the world, travelled many hundreds of thousands of miles and spent long periods away from home and family. I was Prince Charles's instructor both ashore and afloat [Mercury and Jupiter] and led the Coffin Bearers at Lord Mountbatten's  Ceremonial Funeral in September 1979 throughout the London ceremonial.

Perhaps understandably, I have too many anecdotal tales to tell and my memories would fill a book.  I have met some wonderful and interesting people in my travels. I have never been tattooed, and I note that in today's society it appears to be very fashionable especially among young women. My experiences in life from an age of understanding to the day I left the navy are, by and large, good experiences in that they have kept me on the straight and narrow, never caused me any lasting harm body or soul, and I have come out of it a better man  with a top degree from the university of life.

Next year, in 2003, I celebrate first my 65 birthday  and then my 50th anniversary on joining the Navy on the 13th October.  I intend to celebrate in style!!

Thanks for reading about my first career.


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Copyright © 1999  [Godfrey Dykes]. All rights reserved.
Revised: December 16, 2003 .