[More notes scribbled at the time.] The preceding blog can be read here
On arrival in the Royal Naval training camp, we were informed we’d be staying in the New Entry Block for a week; virtual isolation.
New Entry consisted of a row of connecting huts (or messes, as we learned later), a dining hall, and a NAAFI hut out the back of the mess. Firstly, we were led into the kitting-room and were confronted by Mr Marney, who seemed to have adorned New Entry since time immemorial. Set out on metal counters were neat piles of bedding, with the respective cards for same. Mr Marney was Irish and spoke rapidly, and every word seemed to be learned off pat (no pun intended), for he frequently repeated himself word-for-word for the benefit of any inattentive listener: a human record which in that week we desired to be turned off many times. In fairness, it was the only way to process the new recruits – a kind of mass production line.
Outside our hut:
Mick, me, Wyatt and (foreground) Taff
We were all issued with a wooden block, letters of our name glued together to form a name-stamp. In one of Mr Marney’s ‘classes’ we stamped our names on all our items of clothing and bedding, using black paint. My stamp read R.W.N-MORTON, as Nicholson-Morton was a bit too long! We were also issued with a ‘housewife’, a small cloth bag, which contained cotton thread, sewing needles, pins, scissors, and darning wool. The scissors were inscribed with our names – I’ve still got mine, a blade incised in script R. Nicholson-Morton.
By coincidence Mick Siddle’s gear was next to mine. Having been instructed to carry our stuff and follow Mr Marney, we carried the gear and followed the man: we were learning fast.
The hut next door (down a small flight of five steps and along the connecting corridor) was Mess 11; a number of us were escorted within its hallowed walls, yet another contingent of prospective matelots. [Some 49 years later, my house number is... 11...]
Apparently, this was a bad week for recruiting numbers; only 87 had joined up. We filled three messes. I don't know what constitutes a good week these days, but I suspect that the numbers are quite low, thanks to political meddling.
If you want to read more about the joining process, try the book Odd Shoes and Medals. This is the memoire of Ron Hudson, who joined the RN a over decade earlier than me, but the process was very much the same.
Non-fiction from Manatee Books. “War broke out when I was eight. My short pants had holes in the backside, which was doubly embarrassing because I didn’t have any underwear and anyone could see my bum. So I used to walk sideways to school if any other kids or grown-ups came by. Miss Grafton, the teacher, let me stay at my desk during playtime to avoid embarrassing exposure. She liked me a lot and I used to take love letters for her to an American soldier. “
These reminiscences cover a span of over seventy years and will jog several memories and remind people that the so-called poverty of present times is nothing compared to the 1940s and 1950s.
Young Ron and his sister Audrey were shunted from one home to another, in excess of a dozen, ‘fostered’ by ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, and indeed for many years the pair of them didn’t know where the other sibling lived! His absentee father barely gave him a thought – though he did present him with ill-fitting clogs, once…
Occasionally, he was bestowed with kindness and, despite moments of great despair, he carried on and eventually joined the Royal Navy. Ironically, for the first time he found a place he could call his home: the navy. He travelled the world, saw the sights, and ‘learned a trade’. When he was demobbed prematurely by politicians, he embarked on a career in British Gas, and has a few amusing tales to tell about (nameless) customers! He set up his own business and became the oldest registered gas fitter in the country, until he retired at age eighty.
As told to Nik Morton
Paperback available from Amazon.co.uk here
Paperback available from Amazon.com here