We know that we can't put old heads on young shoulders, but as we are saturated with news of the 'Conditions of Service' of present day sailors, I often wonder whether these same youngsters bother to find out anything about the 'Conditions' prevailing when we were young and fancy free?
You might be tempted to ask me whether I bothered to find out about the lot of those that went before me, and you might be surprised to learn that I didn't have to, for much of what they tolerated [muck and bullets excluded] was passed onto my generation. Things in those days were more or less 'frozen in time' from the start of WW2 until well late into the 1950's simply because the money available to the country was spent on repairing the infrastructure, making good the promise to the returning soldiers of a home fit for heroes, paying off our huge financial debt to the USA, and nursing through the embryonic days of the fledgling Education Act and the National Health Service.
We would expect that today, 60 odd years down the line with no world wars, that things are incomprehensibly different to the days of 1948, and we are pleased that that is so. However, because of these changes, the Royal Navy of today, bears very little resemblance to the navy I joined in 1953, and some of these difference are marked whilst others are more subtle.
The time we spent away
Our poor pay
Our poor food
Our slow promotion
Our bad living conditions both ashore and afloat
The severe and often needless harsh discipline
The leave restrictions both short and long
The incessant demand to lay ones kit out for inspection for administrative reasons and also as a punishment tool
The denial of civilian clothes when ashore or onboard
The lack of communication with loved ones
and many others
were all relevant to our day, as
Homosexuals in the navy
Wrens at sea
Short periods away from home
Excellent accommodation ashore and in many sea going vessels
Unbelievably liberal leave for all reasons [maternal and paternal ?]
Fair promotion prospects with dramatically increased time in the Service
Fully relaxed dress code both onboard and ashore
Internet facilities and with it email home
Cellnet phones allowed and with it calls home
Gay couple married quarters
and many others
are of your day.
The obvious big difference between the two periods was that in my day, the navy was a closed-shop as far as civilians were concerned and information was never allowed to be put into the public domain. Thus, few if any, of the nations population knew of our plight. Today, we civilians know, or can get to know, everything affecting Conditions of Service in the 2009 navy. Because of the FOI Act, the internet, the navy news, we all know exactly what is going on, even to the point when sailors lose their MP3 Players ! Oh dear - tut tut.
Now whilst I could talk about this subject for hours on end, I have chosen instead to show you a file about SERVICE ACCOMMODATION IN THE UNITED KINGDOM dated March 1949, which caused such an uproar, that it became a CABINET PROBLEM directly under the watchful eye of the Prime Minister. It covered, as the title suggests, all three Armed Forces, but I have only printed the details pertaining to the Royal Navy. Although dated 1948, I can assure you that the conditions the file describes were on-going right up and till the end of the 1950's. I have many papers at my disposal and I have chosen this one, simply in response to the accommodation specifications issued for ratings shore accommodation, and also for the ratings accommodation in the Type 45 destroyers. I do it with courage, remembering my days in diesel electric submarines, broadside messes on surface ships and the crowded conditions in shore barracks, where, in HMS DRAKE at Devonport, always called 'Jagoes' were slept in bunk beds racked-up three high separated by a stack of 3-high kit lockers, manifest in that 3 men slept in an area having a footprint measuring just 2 metres by 3 metres and there were 100 men per mess [200 M²] plus seating/recreational areas dotted here and there.
Here is that file BAD SERVICE ACCOMMODATION 1948.pdf
If you only knew how we lived in ships and submarines without betterment from 1935 until 1955.....well, you just would not believe me. In my first ship as a boy telegraphist I slept in what might be called the Burma Road, the main passageway running from foreward to aft throughout the ship, in my hammock. Every Tom Dick and Harry either by accident [especially in roughers - no stabilisers in those days] or for sheer devilment, bumped into my swinging hammock sometimes giving it a huge thump with a clenched fist. In my second ship I slept in a small broadside mess immediately above the electric fire. Electric fires were notorious for affording homes to the hundreds of cockroaches we had in those days. It wasn't uncommon for some clown to give the fire a good bang [a wakey wakey call for the cockies] who left the fire and ran up the bulkhead directly into my hammock. I could go on but I won't, save to say that you will never have seen a British Type 'U' class submarine, or an 'S' class or an unconverted 'T' class submarine - they were too ashamed to keep them as tourist attractions - and I am pleased....really....because you would not have been able to get your head around bad, nay impossible, living accommodation of the 50's for example, but our stoicism found a way to tolerate the impossible and laugh it as 'possible'!
We are not grumbling, but we just wanted you to know a little of the way we were treated.