Before the start of the Summer Term in 1937, boys at HMS Ganges were all trained in the same place, a place euphemistically  called "The Main". That came about after a move from a totally inadequate move away from the old WW1 Balloon Station. In those days, The Main was sectioned off by iron railings and the part used to train nozzers [young sailors scared, almost petrified, of anybody in authority wearing a blue uniform responded to every question asked by saying "No Sir" {shortened to NoSer and then to Nosser}. Of course, all trainees in Shotley were, fleet-wise, nossers, but those who had just joined-up from civilian life - usually from school - to do their induction training lasting for five to six weeks, were called nossers by those who had started their training proper which was to last from forty six weeks through to fifty two weeks after their PTU depending upon the Branch they had chosen , before leaving to go to sea in their first ship. However, pre-war days attracted many boys who had begun to cut their teeth in the mercantile navy or at nautical schools, and they were quite well versed in climbing masts and not at all freaked or scared by the dizzy heights. These boys were called "ship boys".  The nossers area of the Main was called the Preliminary Training Unit [PTU] and it wasn't always in the same geographical place, although for the most part it did remain stationary. One base was the area largely taken over for the build of Nelson Hall and its associated add-on buildings. One of its big disadvantages was that those who had finished their PTU time gathered at the railings, seeking at attract a 'Prelim' to his side of the railings, and there to put the living fear into the nosser about what as to come when the PTU gave way to the MAIN. Quite understandably, the Prelims were warned-off about the railings, and shouting to attract people's attention was frowned upon, even punishable for persistent offenders.

*Ganges had many acting petty officer instructors, and these men wore blue square rig [bell bottom trousers and round hats] in their first year of probation, which when satisfactorily completed saw them move into fore and aft rig [peaked cap, jacket [with shiny buttons] and trousers. There were of course large numbers of confirmed petty officers, chief petty officers and commissioned officers. Other boys too had authority [Instructor, Petty Officer and Leading boys] who sometimes wore blue suits, but they were not called 'Sir' so nossers do not apply in this case.

In those days, Prelims used the Mast as did 'on course boys' for training purposes. When, at the beginning of the Summer 1937 Term, the word Prelim was dropped and hence also the PTU, and the induction training was shifted from the Main, across the road to a newly revamped area which was knocked down in 1932 having formerly been a Balloon Station for WW1 use, the word Annexe was re-introduced. The Annexe was a near fully independent basic training/induction training camp for all things except a sick bay, a climbing mast and support functions like SNOBS {boot repairer} and some articles of SLOPS {uniform clothing}.  Even though the 'newly joined' now had their own peaceful [compared with being a satellite of the Main] training environment, they still visited the mast on a regular basis and they took pride in competing with on-course boys for the fastest climb times. Surprisingly, the recording of times appears to have ceased [or done so haphazardly] that figures were not taken seriously. The climbing of the Mast for instructional purposes then and sixteen years later when I joined in 1953, was from the deck back to the deck via the lower rigging having gone over the devil's elbow on the way up returning through the lubbers hole [in the top] on the way back down.

If you can remember your days at Ganges and doing Mast training, you may be a little surprised to learn that a record was set in the Easter 1938 Term of SEVENTY EIGHT SECONDS, a term which recorded very few 'ship boy' recruits. If I had been told that my transit over the devils elbow had been in excess of that, I wouldn't, for one moment, have been embarrassed, and average times over the climb must have been in the region of 5 to 6 minutes I would have thought: that is  300 to 360 seconds! This climb of seventy eight seconds is recorded on page 79, last paragraph, of the Shotley Magazine Term Ending Easter 1938. Magazines of those times also talk about the transitional period for the Prelims.

Before the mast was errected and commissioned in late 1907/very early 1908, the challenge for all comers was a massive and fearsome assault course which was always supervised by Royal Marines from the RMLI [Royal Marines Light Infantry] before the days of the start of the naval/RM PTI Branch. It ran from just outside the short covered way, meters only from where the post office was, right through over what became the parade ground, Hawke and Collingwood Blocks, the swimming pool and the CPO's Mess, out to near as far as the boundry road above which, eventually, they built the officers married quarters. The recreational challenge was the GIANTS STRIDE, again, about the biggest errected pole/roping possible - certainly NO TOY, which had to be respected. . If you dont know what a GIANTS STRIDE is, have a look at this picture which is a thumbnail, so click on it to enlarge it, and to continue reading the story, when ready, click on your browser back button. I couldn't find a UK picture so this American picture will have to do. This is a child's playground device, if you want, a May Pole requiring robust and energetic dancing. At Shotley, raised in early 1905, was a dockyard-rigged telegraph/type pole of approximately 25 foot tall above ground [possibly a redundant ships mast] sited to the left of the Mast quite near to the NAFFI shop, topped with a multi-race revolving head, heavily greased for smooth running/articulation.  It, itself,  was said to be a heavy and clumsy chunk of metal with more ball bearings than to be found in an 8" cruiser! Attached to each race was a chain of approximately 10 foot long, and attached to that was a rope ladder of a further 10 foot. Surrounding the centre pole was a running track, of generous width and covered with a coarse sand. The idea was to grab the rope ladder and start one's run in a clockwise direction, and when going at a good speed but in any event at a predetermined point marked on the deck, the runner leaped into the air grabbing the rope ladder higher up and cruised around the pole until unceremoniously dropping to the ground once more: the secret was to curl up on the rope ladder to make one's body as small as possible to reduce drag factor. That distance from the MANDATORY LEAP and return back to running,  was the LENGTH OF THE STRIDE. There were many squabbles about whose turn it was next and the whole exercise had to be "managed", was highly competetive, and above all else, a very good work-out.  It was used for Divisional activity and was also an event for Establishment sports days.  More than one person could 'ride' the Giants Stride simltaneously, using a seperate rope running on it's own race. With a suitable wait period to allow the first person to get ahead, the next user could start their attempt, effectively using all the ropes/races simltaneously. As such, the device could be rotating without stopping for long periods. The safety of the mast and its safety net, meant that the Giants Stride had to be dismantled once the mast was commissioned. Evidently, it was much missed.

 Take care.