A Snippet.

Lower-Deck leadership potential, development and training.

Like always, it's all over the web [but lacking in necessary detail], that there is a naval association between Skegness {Lincolnshire}, Westview Road {Corsham, Wiltshire}, Kingsmoor Camp {Corsham, Wiltshire}, HMS Excellent {Portsmouth, Hampshire} and  HMS Collingwood {Fareham, Hampshire}.   I could take the easy option of dwelling upon the last of those naval connections [HMS Collingwood], but I will choose to follow the Cotswold's route, choosing the Kingsmoor Camp lead which is now part of our naval history and the one I am au fait with. What then, am I talking about?: well - about HMS Royal Arthur, or at least Royal Arthur, because in the latter two establishments, the prefix 'HMS' was and is not used!

Early in WW2, the Butlins holiday camp at Skegness [Lincolnshire] was turned over to the navy as a training establishment for HO's {hostilities only}, it being so conveniently placed adjacent to the sea, the North Sea, with copious accommodation and the ability to feed the incumbents of those billets. Equally, Butlins in the West did not escape, for their Camp at Pwllheli in Wales [also bang on the sea shore] became HMS Glendower.  No big-deal, given that several "camps" were dedicated for the use of these war-call-up guys, and the association is not related in any way to the theme/title of this my story, other than by the name 'Royal Arthur'.  So, a mention only of this HMS Royal Arthur which incidentally closed its doors in 1946 and was de-commissioned.

Built mid-wars for Army use [there have always been many defence establishments in the Cotswolds particularly in and around Corsham] was 'Kingsmoor Camp' so called because it was built in the environs of Kingsmoor Wood, a forest/wood to the southwest of Corsham at a distance [as the crow flies] of approximately 3km = 1.85 miles.  Just a short distance away moving back towards Corsham, is an area called 'Westwells' and specifically  Westwells Road. Even to this day, many civilians work at 'MOD CORSHAM' on this road, a defence establishment which has the ASW {Army Service Welfare}Southwest Headquarters, which looks after all the needs of army personnel and their families posted to the Cotswolds area, but it too, was originally built for main-stream army use, originally as 'Westwells Camp'. Westwells today is also well known for its civilian camp sites, caravan parks, and other accommodation choices.  Back to this part of the story soon!

Now, way before WW2, indeed shortly after WW1, the navy [that's the Admiralty] were troubled at the lack of naval awareness and the overt lack of leadership/power-of-command of the many young naval CPO's/PO's newly promoted into a peace-time navy c.1920.  These ratings were experts branch-wise, but naive [demonstrably so] in the naval management chain of command, so much so, that their lack-lustre "out of branch naval commitment" put an unprecedented load  on the wardroom officer of a comparable age and experience and upon old-and-bold senior rates. Something had to be done to make senior ratings more aware and more integrated into the naval chain of command structure.

Thus, in 1920, or thereabouts, leadership courses were introduced to be the remit of the Depots, {Portsmouth, Chatham, Devonport and Lee-on-the-Solent Barracks {divorced from the RNAS at Lee}, training their own senior rates in the skills of leadership. In truth, this 1920-style training resulted in the "hogging" of available parade-grounds in each geographical depot area, where so-called [but often untested} GI's shouted and bawled drill orders designed to be followed [emulated] by the young and inexperienced senior rates who in turn supplanted their enthusiastic instructors, bawlling and shouting their heads off in front of their peers and subordinates.  It proved absolutely nothing [wasn't that the case in your own time?] resulting in CPO's and PO's bullying their charges without imparting [or developing]  managerial skills, further resulting in knowing  how to "form squad on the right hand marker whilst reversing arms" or how to "at the halt to the quick, right incline then double away, giving an eyes right whilst dressing by the left etc etc". There can be no doubt that the power of command of these young senior rates was greatly improved, but always by the book, verse line and word, with no imagination or initiative allowed which are necessary and pre-requisite tools for leadership.  For many a long year these parade-ground training sessions were seen as an encumbrance, an unnecessary evil, akin to a module in a Gunnery Instructors professional qualifying course which might have proved useful to a prospective GI, but not to the other ninety percent of the navy. The net product was, for example, an expert PO Cook/Chef, who could shout and bawl but not manage the galley staff.

This situation of ill-prepared young senior rates - scattered throughout the fleet - was allowed to fester for near-on twenty years, and had not been rectified when war came in 1939. The war changed nothing in this respect, job expertise being a product of formally acquired academic or vocational knowledge, on job training and self pride in deliverable job-skills, with leadership [and therefore man management] something done by officers by virtue of their natural abilities formal training and application, and by the senior senior rates based on maturity, experience and empiric knowledge.

Now back to the story about former Army Camps.

At the beginning of WW2, Kingsmoor Camp,  was turned-over to the navy and was used as a holding depot for naval ratings awaiting drafts to sea and to foreign stations.  After WW2 in 1946, the camp, now no longer required, remained the property of the Admiralty.  However it was used as a commnications hub manned on a tri-service basis plus a quasisigint station -see this http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/content/image_galleries/area_21_teleprinter_room_burlington_site3_gallery.shtml  In 1947 Westwells Camp was taken over by the Admiralty and given a dual role.  Its primary task was to train junior rates in leadership whilst at the same time it was a 'joining-up' establishment  for naval National Servicemen, who were kitted-out and documented before going off to their training establishments.  In 1949, the functions of Westwells Camp were no longer required, and the Admiralty transferred it back to the War Office. Its tasks were given over to other establishments not in the Cotswolds, and it came about that the junior rates leadership function was transferred to parent Part II training establishments with of course Part I training establishments looking after basic 'square-bashing' training. Simultaneously, Lord Mountbatten had conceived a much overdue plan to train petty officers in Leadership with a meaningful capital 'L'. Since the old Kingsmoor Camp was available and close by, the Admiralty commissioned the establishment as HMS Royal Arthur and in 1950, the training of petty officers began at Corsham. I did my course there in 1961 and this is my class photograph



Me on the left, from H.M. SUBMARINES [the TURPIN] modified and stretched 'T' Class
One badge killick passed for Radio Supervisor [HMS MERCURY June 1960] wearing a telegraphists badge with a crown over.
D.O. was a Schoolie and the Class Instructor [CI] a RM Colour Sergeant

 

This is a picture of one of the pedestrian entrances into HMS Royal Arthur, Corsham. It was taken in 2011. Sad but inevitable end to a derelict and unused establishment.  The vehicular entrance to the establishment is just ahead in this picture.

HMS Royal Arthur at Corsham closed down in 1992 having established the six week detailed leadership course.  It moved to HMS Excellent to where the junior rate [Leading Hand] leadership school was already well established*, becoming The Naval Leadership School, called Royal Arthur, giving varying lengths of courses, including the continuation of the six weeks petty officer course.

* In the 1970's naval training went through great changes and for many years was in a state of flux. One of the most important changes was the re-assignment of HMS Excellent which lost its prime task of being the Gunnery School becoming instead the lead-school for all general naval subjects which included a new leadership school for leading hands.  Other subjects taught on Whale Island were IT [Instructional Technique], the Divisional School, Man Management School and Work Study [RNMUU] etc.

The six weeks course stimulated the candidate and took him away from his pre-occupation with his own branch and parochial naval outlook.   It had a very small window of parade-ground training but included daily divisions in full blue suits [No2's] and a weekly ceremonial divisions in full No1's. Each student  had the opportunity to stand in front of his peers to exercise and to develop his power of command. Those who failed to impress the DO or the CI, went around the buoy until confident.  Personal physical fitness was very important expressed through daily outdoor field sports and evening [dog watch] indoor [gymnasium] sports [all of it intensely competitive] designed to develop the body, the willing-flesh and the attitude that one cannot order a subordinate to do a physical task without being able to do it oneself. Physical fitness coupled with leadership, imagination, initiative and innovation were key elements from day one of the course, culminating with ever increasing quicker completion times of obstacle courses. Witten work was important, designed not necessarily to test ones grammar, syntax, spelling or composition [although as always, that was a significant part of man management and divisional records], but to help one express oneself on paper, ergo, to writing orders, instructions and directives for both superiors and subordinates.  Public speaking was a regular feature of the course, delivered to ones peers with the DO, the CI and other staff officers sitting in. It involved the delivery of two speeches [lectures, talks, whatever] the first one picked by oneself and the second on a staff-given subject, and either one could be about the navy or about current affairs. The study of the principle naval books [QRRN, Advancement Regulations, Pay Regulations, Conditions of Service, Drafting and Rosters, etc] were discussed in group participation, with situations to add a little realism to interpretations.  Evening get-togethers were encouraged as were students profiles, usually with a pint in hand and after the evening dhobey sessions post dog-watch indoor games, where a PO Stoker for example, would explain his job and responsibilities to his peers, and over the six week period each and every student would have told of his job at sea or ashore. The early weeks of the course prepared the class and the individuals in it, for the final assault course performed within the Establishment, known in my time as the Cliff and Chasm, and the ultimate physical challenge, which was an orientation around the Black Mountains in groups of three.  A base camp was formed packed full of goodies not to mention  good laughs, and from it, these groups wandered their way around the Mountains to gather focal points [some hard to reach, others easy but of a much lower reward value], armed only with a map, a compass, a whistle, tablets to purify streams for fresh water, but nothing else, including food, first aid or home comforts.  Farmers were warned-off not to give in to our "sissy requests" for aid and sustenance, and we were encouraged, should the occasion arise, to catch, kill and eat the ubiquitous wildlife which frequent the wilds of Wales. The order of merit, assessed on return to the base camp, rewarded those teams who had bothered to go to the highest points of the set and demanding course, say to a stone obelisk or a wooden cross, to collect points which were to be found only by actually visiting the datum point.  Equally, a datum point could be set in lower terrain accessible only through boggy and marsh land leading to virtually two days of being thoroughly wet through, uncomfortable and therefore just not worth the effort. It was really good fun requiring a positive input from each group member to pull together to maximise the overall points score. I will always remember my group members, their wit and fall-about humour and jokes, and many a sheep raised it head at the sound of our distant laughter.

Later on, in the twenty first century, Royal Arthur moved to where it now is, namley, to HMS Collingwood, where it is a part of the Maritime Warfare School, and as I write, is immediately opposite to where the Collingwood Museum is situated with the SCU Leydene School/Block as a next door neighbour. In the ongoing state of flux within Collingwood, that could or might have altered by the time you read this.

Returning to my submarine just emerging from an eight week DED/AMP [Docking Essential Defects/Assisted Maintenance Period] - assisted by the Dockyard, didn't exactly allow me an opportunity to shows off my newly learnt management skills. In fact, my immediate boss, the Chief Sparker [a full WW2 submariner with depth charges and near death situations, the lot] dear old Alec Coe long time deceased, Bless him, reminded me that as a department we were way behind and that the chipping-hammer and long tom - pussers black paint of course - were under-used, the other sparkers already dragged away for part-of-ship duties.  Fortunately for me I was due my rate, my B13 for crossed-hooks, and a draft chit to a new boat just about completing an eighteen month refit in Devonport. This was the 'A Boat "Auriga" [joined early 1962] destined to complete nearly two years on the Canadian Station based on Halifax Nova Scotia. In her, I was at least able to put some of my newly gained knowledge into action which impressed the Navigating Officer [our boss] if nobody else!