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Ian's National Service


I graduated frorm Bristol my parents and my sisters came down to my graduation. We then went to Freshwater in the caravan and me in a tent. I had my last summer holiday with the family and waited for my call up. I insisted that if I was called up it must only be to the Royal Navy that or nothing. I received my call up papers a date and a time with a third class rail warrant to Plymouth with orders to join HMS Raleigh in Torpoint over the ferry from Plymouth.
I arrived was given two complete sets of uniform and given a box to put all my civilian clothes to send home. We lived in nissen huts with a coke stove, we had the usual bullshit of scrubbing polishing and buffing our kit with lessons in washing shaving washing and washing of clothes and the care of our uniforms, The routine of shit shave and shampoo before going for a run ashore. I went to see a friend from university whose father was officer commanding the small boat base at Cawsand the special operations training camp. It was difficult for them I was a rating his father was the officer commanding and normally never the twain did meet.
For the first six weeks were confined to camp not allowed "ashore". We had lectures classes in the basic parts of the ship ropework, knots and splices and basic gunnery more or less which end of a gun to put the round in basic recruits were used as loaders.
We had a passing out parade and one run ashore to Plymouth then a draft chit to Portsmouth with a Pompey number PJ 952957. Kit bags full hammocks tightly rolled were taken to Plymouth Railway station in three ton trucks.
At Pompey a night in barracks and a draft chit to HMS Ocean a WW2 aircraft carrier. Berthed alongside the Liver Birds in Liverpool . After a couple of hectic runs ashore we set sail down St Georges Channel around the south coast of Ireland round the North of Scotland down the North Sea back to Pompey where we were sent ashore and she was paid off. We did watch keeping acted as lookouts manned the sea boats the ship maintaining the ships routine scrubbed and painted and stood watches. At dawn we were given a shake and in our bare feet with our trousers rolled up and long handled hand scrubbers washed the wooden quarter deck and scrubbed it clean. By that time there was a hard frost at that time in the morning. Ocean was an empty ship she was used for sea training we were the only trainees on board thirty seamen in a ship built to be crewed by two thousand the hangar deck was completely empty. We drilled and when we marched forward in the hangar deck the bows rose as she drove into the seas and we were left weightless when she pitched down by the head as she was light she was very lively because of her size it was very pronounced when she pitched and rolled, good sea training to discover your sea legs, sea sick ignore it and it will soon go away and it did.
I was rated an NSCW given a white patch to sew to my shoulders and drafted to RNB Portsmouth where we were grooomed as officers, but at the end of the course the Navy did not need National service Midshipmen or Second Lieutenants so we were sent back to sea.
We drilled with cutlasses in the evenings we played darts with them in the Barracks.
Endless marching up and down taking turns to give the parade orders.
In the evenings a run shore to Southsea where we found the better pubs were officers only. When eighteen months later we were discharged with only days notice one day before we qualified for eighteen months back pay, we met in Barracks the night before discharge and thirty of us wrecked these pubs because we felt so badly treated by the admiralty. On discharge my grade was changed from excellent to satis as a punishment. We were given a rail warrant told we were in the reserve and sent on our way. No notice no preparation no jobs.
From Pompey I was drafted to HMS Roebuck, a member of the Dartmouth Training squadron attached to BRNC Dartmouth to give cadets and Midshipmen traing at sea a type 23 WW2 Destroyer refitted with an aluminium superstructure as a Frigate. One four inch gun forward and squid anti submarine charges aft firing forward over the ship to land in the sea in a pattern ahead. The projectiles when fired seemed so slow as the travelled the whole length of the ship and another ships length clear. At speed we felt we would run under them as they fell towards the sea. The ship with HMS Vigilant as Captain D ourselves and HMS Verulam although sisterships were sisters they were very different as each Captain was able to use his own money to make the ship distinctive, One way was to fit as powerful an engine into the Captains Skimming Dish his personal motor boat, ours was fitted with a hotted up Ford V8.
The three ships took a term of cadets from BRNC Britannia Royal Naval College to sea as ordinary seamen on the lower deck they fended for them selves as did all the seamen A rota of cooks for the day bought food to add to the basic stores issued each day and prepared food to be taken to the galley to be cooked. The galley was on the open deck and very dangerous in a seaway. Food was often drenched with seawater in a seaway.
The food was cooked up spirits was piped we had out tots of rum felt completely pissed did another hour until "cooks to the galley" was piped. All the rum had to be drunk by the individual it was forbidden to share it give it away and to bottle it, a tradition before a mess mates birthday. You could give "sippers" or "gulpers" as a reward for help. Some alcoholics would do all your ironing for gulpers.

The cadets were treated with derision, the coloured cadets be they members of foreign royal families were treated particularly badly. The cadets were often sea sick and were kept on the run day and night. Black cadets could not cope with the cold and seasickness.
We went cruising. showing the flag to the North of Europe in the Spring up North the Baltic and Near Arctic in spring with winter in the West Indies or the Mediteranean. The West Indies were cancelled and we had two winters in Malta. One long stay as the ship was drydocked after storm damage in the Gulf of Lyons we spent three weeks ashore in an ex RAF Camp at the airfield at Hal Far.
We were routinely stoned by local men and boys then in the evening we walked down to the bar at Ghar Lapsi and drank am bit or am tut with them.
We were trained in riot control armed with dust bin lids and pick axe handles we were trained to disperse rioters, as at that time Dom Mintoff was fighting to throw the British out.
As a fellow socialist I was much in favour and made friends with Maltese I later met similar people when we went back to Malta in the nineties.
We went alongside in Grand Harbour, but mostly moored off in Sliema creek.
The ship flew the flag, held receptions wherever we went the Royal Marines Beat the Retreat and played us in and out of harbour. We painted ship constantly and every piece of brasswork was polished until it shone.
We went to St Malo and toured the coast of Britanny and had a civic reception in Concarneau. I explored the German fortifications on the Cotentin Peninsula, and did expedition training. We went to Lisbon and went to a reception held by Salazar I made friends with a group of students from Coimbra. In Cascais there were still the very large rowing boats used for fishing launched off the beach through the surf. I ate fresh boiled Cod and boiled potatoes. After a period in Gibraltar we circled the Atlantic Islands for a Nato exercise, battered and bent USA ships broke off and returned to Gibraltar we did not finish the exercise. Then to Livorno where we had two days in Rome Florence and Pisa as guests of the British Embassy, Naples with visits to Pompei and Etna to look down into the crater. Sicily the Straits of Messina then Malta. Mooring in Sliema Creek, or in Grand Harbour when we were drydocked in the drydocks. The ship was leaking , when the rust was chipped off the bottom there were hundreds of holes which had to be covered in welded patches. We thought then that we were being patched up to get us home so that she could be scrapped.
The aluminium superstructure was separated from the steel hull by a layer of roofing felt and bitumen, but electrolysis parted the fastenings, in the Bay of Lyons in a force eleven the superstructure began to part from the hull and waggled back and fore several inches in a seaway. During the annual full speed trials the jackstaff moved six feet from side to side as the bows began to hunt and set up a standing wave oscillation. No wonder these war time built ships were a nightmare to maintain, no wonder they were to be scrapped.
Once we had a breakdown in Plymouth the rest of the squadron sailed without us we took a day and a half to Gibraltar but used all the fuel oil which made the ship very tender as stability was maintained by full oil tanks.
Life on the lower deck was hard asbestos lined steel deck heads and ships sides bare steel deck a space seven feet by three feet to hang a hammock, always more men that hanging spaces so the favoured slept on vinyl covered horse hair cushions on top of and under the tables. When we fired the four inch the air was dense with a fog of asbestos, most of us will die of asbestosis if we live long enough, not a present though I have had chest X rays to check but so far so good.
We had a system of central messing food was issued daily, a rota made everyone take turns as cook of the day, Food was the bare ingredients if any ingredients were missing these had to be bought from the NAAFI canteen a small cubicle in the eyes of the ship manned by a Maltese who made their money in all sorts of ways to retire and buy land on Malta. Some were good cooks some could not care less. Breakfast did not need preparation but was collected from the Galley by the Cooks of the Day. Dinner was prepared by the Cooks of the Day before turning to to day work. It had to be cooked in large aluminium fannies ,with limited space on or in the range in the galley so recipes were limited to a dozen or so dishes.
Hot water for tea making for washing up had to be fetched in a fanny from the galley, not easy in a sea way. The washing up water was ditched down the gash shute slung over the ships rail on the quarter deck aft, the rhyme " tinkle tinkle little spoon, knife and fork will follow soon " was used when someone had left them in the murky water and the first sign was too late as they hit the sides of the metal gash shute.
The heads were forward, they were not fitted with doors the showeres were oposite. Everyone at the end of work was expected to shit shave and shampoo and change into clean "Rig of the Day", usually a white front and no 3 serge bell bottom trousers with the high waist, flap front, ironed with seven horizontal creases to commemorate Nelson's seven victories.
Taking a pee was "shedding a tear for Nelson" or "pumping ship" a fancy bird was "I would crawl a mile over broken glass to yaffle her shit", 69 was a " yodel in the canyon". "get you feet under the table" was to get intimate with someone.
Officers were pigs, the wardroom the pigstye. Ratings and officers rarely met a sociable word was unheard of.
This made us university graduates anomilous.
The regular officers were left over from the war, of aristocratic origins or pretensions and of varying degrees of competence ranging from,mad to barely competent.
Life was in their hands certain jobs were inherently dangerious and you got away with it if you were given a dangerous un thought order and you told the to "fuck off", when it was actually life threatening. With cadets aboard they were trained in seamanship, they all took their turn in taking charge.
A potentially nasty job was of "buoy jumper" being landed on a mooring buoy to receive the strop and later to shackle the cable to the buoy. If the ship was not stopped in time the buoy was run down under the fore foot and the jumper literaly had to jump for his life into the sea and swim clear to be picked up by the whaler. Once the strop was attached the ship went astern to clear the buoy, if too far the buoy was dragged under water, everyone ran as when the strain was relieved as the buoy shot to the surface, several tons of metal could damage anything in range.
The semi drowned buoy jumper was issued with a tot and screamed a storm of abuse to the bridge.
Another dangerous evolution was seaboats crew, sitting in a whaler slung out on davits over the sea as the ship went at full speed the boat was lowered away until just above the crest of the waves, the order to slip should be given just as a wave crest was under the whaler too early a drop of many feet too late fell down the back of the wave to be dragged through the crest. The bowman pulled out a pin through the eye of the boat line his was the final decision. If the Officer in Charge got it wrong particularly if we were acting as a plane guard for an aircraft carrier flying off at night it was a terrifying experience to be dragged at thirty knots through a rough sea and having to cut the boat line with an axe, with the boat half full of water.
Activities using wire hawsers were dangerous if you ever heard a wire "sing" everyone dived for cover behind the nearest solid object until the wire went slack or parted
I was a Quartermaster and Bosuns Mate, my job was to man the wheelhouse, to run the ships routine by making pipes with a Bosuns call at sea and manning the gangway in port. This meant logging everybody going ashore and returning to ship, and reporting all those who overstayed their run ashore. We let our mess mates slip on and off and relied on their ability not to be caught.
At night we did rounds of the ship checking everything, adjusting the lines if we were tied up alongside in a tidal area, otherwise the ship could be "hung up to dry" until the lines parted as the tide went out.
At anchor we took bearings on the hour to check that the ship was not dragging her anchor. These we took from the bridge wing.
In dry dock all the services were turned off and the crew were sent to barracks, we were left as night watchmen, in a deserted ship in a silent dockyard, charged with preventing fire and running the pumps to pump out any seepage into the dry dock.
For fifteen months I worked twenty four ours on twenty four hours off in four hour watches with a "Make and Mend" every second afternoon.
I joined the Royal Naval Sailing Association a normal for a rating, this brought several benefits, I could take away any of the ships boats, we had an RNSA 14 aboard you had to be qualified to use it I had it launched and used it whenever I could getting out of normal routine as a rating if anyone wanted to use it, if they were not qualified my job was to teach them and pass them as competent.
I took the ships whaler and sailed it between Gibraltar and Malta, the ship rendezvoused with us once a day.
Each year we had Captain D's inspections where every part of the ship was exercised. We thought our first lieutenant was a bit of a dick When I piped for him I said " First Lieutenant lay aft" normally used for a rating not " the First Lieutenant please report to the quarterdeck". A puce and purple First Lieutenant berated me but in my most refined accent I said "most awfully sorry sir" he did not know how to deal with this as the crew who heard the pipe all cheered.
During Captain D's inspection in the Solent we had run for an hour under full
power, carried out evolutions. The first lieutenant was ordered to berth alongside between an aircraft carrier and another ship. He conned the ship into Pompey Harbour, this he did at speed with considerable brio, brushing ferries and small ships aside.
He shot ahead into the space not noticing that aircraft carriers bows have a considerable overhang nobody said a word as he took off our mast, top of the funnel, radars, ariels etc as we all ran for cover under the rain of debris.


During my teenage years I remember going to and from art and other
evening classes and visiting friends. The town was some times overrun
with drunken sailors pouring out of the pubs and wreaking havoc in the
town. They used to anchor off in Torbay and come ashore in small boats.
I had special places to hide and quiet ways to get home through all the
mayhem. Ian remembers being part of this mayhem in Malta and Italy!

Also when Ian had his National service medical they found he had Scoliosis.
(See the genetics page ). His father's sister Nancy had it badly.


HMS Buttington Bristol RNVR Coastal minesweeper (mickey mouse)
HMS Maidstone sea time annual training, Sidon disaster
HMS Teazer annual training, filming the Yangtse Incident.
HMS Victory Pompey barracks.
HMS Raleigh Torpoint seaman entry training establishment.
HMS Ocean Aircraft carrier empty ship cruise around the British Isles with the final class of thirty National Servicemen for sea training
HMS Victory NSCW no one selected as the admiralty did not know what to do with us.
HMS Submarines to experience submariners life.
HMS Roebuck frigate with the Dartmouth Training Squadron. Training officer cadets from Dartmouth.

A bedspread from the Naval Barracks in Portsmouth

A bedspread from the Naval Barracks in Portsmouth

wooden stamp for clothing and possessions

wooden stamp for clothing and possessions

Reserve training RNVR
I chose a university w hich had an RNVR University Contingent as if I had to do National Service I wanted to go to sea and gain a Masters Ticket.
The choice was between Bristol London or Liverpool I was only sixteen and Cambridge would not take me until I was eighteen.
London was too confusing as the College was out of London
Liverpool was almost derelict and closed down,I had relations there but the surroundings were deeply depressing.
Bristol the University was in Clifton with parks magnificent buildings and easy access to the countryside , I chose Bristol as at that time my old boys association had a grand house in a crescent to use as a clubhouse.
At the freshers fair I signed up for the Spaeleological Society and the RNVR
Our headquarters was HMS Flying Fox moored in the floating harbour with a coastal minesweeper HMS Buttington for sea training
we trained on thursday nights, and were offered week end training sometimes at sea sometimes with the royal marine reserve.
We were kitted out in square rig and issued with kitbags and a ditty box
Two weeks annual training for sea time,living on the lower deck as a OD ordinary seaman.
Officer Cadets in the Territorial Army and RAFVR were officers
HMS Teazer as the destroyer Concord and gunnery shots in the film the Yangtse Incident a baptism of fire albeit with blanks but complete with chaos and realistic explosions.
At high water we were filmed at full speed, the water level with the saltings with the chinese guns and cameras, we dragged a massive wash which broke over the saltings and washed everything away
The trainer on B turret was a three badge AB it was his birthday and his messmates gave him gulpers so he was totally pissed. He trained the guns as far aft as possible and shouted each shell with got you you bastards to those on the bridge.
I was a loader on turret 4 inch gun boats crew gash seaman etc
I joined her on the Orwell at the end of filming we set off to a showing the flag in Dundee causing chaos to every ship we passed to starboard the side with all the painted damage as Amethyst ,Into the estuary starboard side to the city people thronged the waterside until we turned to come alongside and showed a completely normal ship.
HMS Maidstone after HM Submarine Sidon a High Test peroxide experimental torpedo captured from the Germans had blown up,( same as Kursk) the damaged submarine was beached in Portland Harbour
Thrown into manning the ships boats then reached by a boom at deck level thirty feet or so above the sea.
I was given a picket boat with no questions asked about whether I knew what I was doing.
First task was to tow a gash barge to sea and dump the garbage off Portland Bill.
I set to with enthusiasm tied the tow line around the stem piece and went full ahead the stempost pulled out the planking opened and the sea alongside the ship was covered in floating rubbish,the barge sank it only took a moment. I not know how they covered up the missing sunken barge.
Nothing said job done
On the day of the funeral we sewed remains in canvas covered new buckets with iron bars for weight to sink them and in the captains skimming dish set of to sea and threw them overboard off Portland Bill, and came back around the mist covered bill to the sound of the bugles and the gunshots of the salute,at the end of the funeral I had several days on submarine carrying out exercises at sea on the range in Lyme Bay submerged I remember hearing the splash of depth charges and being hit by one with a very loud clang.
Not very reassuring.
The third annual training was on a frigate based in the Solent in Cowes Roads surrounded by ships loaded with sand coloured lorries and tanks.
We set off to sea at speed until someone remembered I was on board I was transferred at sea and returned to Portsmouth
The fleet was going to invade Suez.
Week ends training on Buttington being alone in command on the bridge, look out, seaman manning the boats navigating and acting quartermaster.
Life was a bit chaotic the ship was very much daddies yacht with a run shore on the Saturday night.
The favoured destination was Tenby we anchored in the bay and landed for a run shore on the lifeboat slip.
We had to leave at high water to go through the locks at Hotwells.
Once we left late on a falling tide and bounced or propellors over the dock cill
The RMVR was expedition training in reality to act as hidden stay behind agents to live wild in hiding on capture we were subject to training to resist torture very realisticaly.
We used an estate in the Cotswolds which had a folly with a very large Van De Graaf Generator with large glass sphere condensers to store the charge and the tremendous noise when they discharged artificial lightning.
We used the Chatsworth Estate and climbed on the grit stone edges, we had an escape and evasion exercise to climb Snowdon at night
,This later was followed up in Borth in the 80s under the lunatic Thatcher when I was sworn to secrecy by the County Emergency Planning officer and asked if I would kill ten people in the three weeks build up before a Nuclear War.