IT'S TRUE !

Times are no worse today than they were 50 years ago, although we adults would have our children believe that.

IN FACT, IT COULD BE ARGUED THAT OUR ARMED FORCES OF TODAY, BEHAVE A WHOLE LOT BETTER THAN SOLDIERS, SAILORS AND AIRMEN DID IN 1955.

In telling this story, I want you to try and imagine my position in October 1953 when I was a boy in a large and loving family living in a Yorkshire market town in the lower Dales.  We were brought up as strict Methodists, which to my shame rather lapsed after I joined the navy, where swear words were never used, and angry words rarely uttered, and despite having sisters and fellow female pupils at school, my experience of dating [apart from my thoughts] was a kiss and a walk hand in hand.  We had a wireless receiver a telephone and a car but no television, so we were quite well off.  With the exception of the occasional visit to the local cinema, we quite literally entertained ourselves.

Just a few years later, three in fact, I was wandering down the gangway of HMS TYNE newly arrived back in Portsmouth having been the flagship for the Suez War of 1956.  In that time, I had survived fifteen months at HMS Ganges, an initiation into the mans world which could have been catastrophic had it not been for high morals of the men into whose company I was placed, and had the first of my several medals swinging on my chest.  Additionally, throughout this period the Korean War [1950-54] was going on which recorded a death/missing list of over one million men and in June 1955 I had been part of the funeral procession for the men of Submarine SIDON which blew-up and sank in Portland harbour alongside her 'mother' ship HMS Maidstone. A whirlwind of a challenging and often uncertain times in a hectic and demanding 36 months

However, I want to return to that mans world, to my initiation on joining my very first ship which was the frigate [sometime called a sloop or a corvette] HMS Tintagel Castle based on Portland as the half-leader <second in command> of TS2, the Second Training Squadron, commanded by one of natures gentlemen [born and bred] called Commander Carrington Royal Navy.

This snapshot of my SC [Service Certificate] shows that I joined HMS Tintagel Castle on the 16th February 1955.

I REMEMBER THIS DAY SO VIVIDLY THAT IT IS FOREVER ETCHED ON MY MIND FOR VERY SERIOUS REASONS !

Like so many of our warships at this time, messdecks were spread across the ship [broadside fashion] so one could see the port holes [scuttles] on both sides of the ship from one's space [eating, sleeping, leisure] and an imaginary line separated one mess from the other.  That line ran through the centre of the ship fore to aft [bow to stern] and if your mess was on the port side [left, looking forward] you were given an EVEN number and if on the right side, an ODD number.  All decks in a warship are given a numerical number from the upper deck down, and from the upper deck upwards, a numerical number preceded by the figure zero.  The upper deck is deck 1 and the decks down to the keel are 2,3,4 etc.  Decks above the upper deck are decks 01, 02, 03 etc. For my story, Tintagel Castle was a small ship <flat bottom and one screw> [bad for sea sickness if one suffered such a malaise] and within two ladders going down at most, I was onto the deck which would become my home for the next year.  At the bottom of this ladder I was greeted by a member of the Comm's Mess [Communicators Mess] and was shown to the port side of the ship.  I was later to know that directly opposite was the starboard broadside mess, which was inhabited by the S&S Branch, the most affable and endearing bunch one could ever meet. In their mess, they had the cooks <ships company and officers>; the stores accountants; the officers stewards, the clerks [writers] and we were indebted to them to produce from our humble canteen messing wonderful meals, and privileges [pay, slops] that the other broadside messes didn't have, namely the seamen and stokers broadside messes aft of our compartment.

On the messdeck table were several letters just delivered by the ships postman [postie] and I was told that one of them was for me. How, I wondered, could such a letter for me coincide with me arriving at the ship, courtesy of naval transport and various railway companies, one of which was Southern Railway.

I sought permission, as one of such a lowly status would do, to read my letter, full well knowing that it was from my mother - she had written many letters to me at HMS Ganges.

I opened the letter for it would convey warm greetings and love which helped my day along, but as I read it, I was disturbed at the content therein.  In effect, my mother was telling me that just opposite my mess-space was the scene of a most grotesque and recent murder imaginable, where, a drunken man had forced a knife into the heart of a fellow sailor, whereupon, he bled to death.  She of course had seen this in the national press, and knowing of my draft from Ganges to Tintagel Castle, had hurriedly mailed the cut-out article to make me aware of the 'fearsome' environment into which I was shortly to enter.  Had she known just how accurate she was in pin-pointing the exact mess, she would have been very concerned about my future in the Royal Navy.

After reading the letter, I looked upon all present [that is all except another boy, Bungy Williams from Chester] who had also joined the ship from HMS Ganges <ex Benbow Division> and since nothing was said or alluded to, I continued to hump my baggage [case, hammock, kitbag and trimmings] into the mess and into the my allocated locker space. Bungy did the same.  At no time did any member of the broadside messes offer less than a warm welcome with no hint of what had just occurred five days ago in this very space.

What had happened, which caused my mother so much concern, was that a Cook, in the opposite mess, a national serviceman called of all things DUFF <in the navy Duff is a pudding made by a Chef, or a defective piece of equipment, the former explanation relevant] had returned to the ship berthed on ICP [Inner Coaling Pier] at Portland much the worse for excessive alcohol consumption.  In those days, a system called CANTEEN MESSING was vogue, where sailors on each mess would provide basic food including meats, and after preparation <peeling potatoes, scrapping carrots, washing greens etc etc> take their uncooked trays of food and unopened tins of meats, beans etc, to the ships galley, where professional cooks would cook the contents to order. It was then collected from the galley at meal times and consumed on the messdeck table, thereafter, everything being cleaned and washed-up by the cooks-of-the-mess. The cooks-of-the-mess were usually the junior members of each mess, or, flunkies, and they were the go-betweens from mess to galley. Sometime just before the 15th of February 1955, one such go-between from the seaman's mess had seemingly upset the galley and in particular one of the chefs, viz, Cook DUFF. For reasons not quite understood, a cook-of-the-mess [not necessarily the one who allegedly upset the galley staff] called Ordinary Seaman MANWARING  had been visiting [or socialising] in the S&S Mess opposite my mess, when Cook DUFF return onboard well and truly drunk. There was an mess altercation involving several mess members, then a fight which culminated in Cook DUFF ramming a kitchen knife directly into the heart of Ordinary Seaman MANWARING, who died instantly, turning, with his loss of blood, the messdeck into a slaughter house and place of gore.

As I joined that messdeck, the word was MUM: all observed the silent mode for most were witnesses, and the event was new and raw.  Had it not been for my mothers letter I would not have had an inkling as to what was going on, and I do know that poor Bungy Williams was left in the dark for the first full week onboard. Thus, in my case, from day one, I had entered a mans world and was afraid at what I witnessed.  On a personal basis, I have never come to terms with blood, especially blood that squirts out of ones body leading to death - this to me, is gross. At sea, on the worst days, and believe me, Portland often had adverse weather conditions, I often thought about what happened in my own messdeck just a few days before I joined, and this quite quickly led to me feeling less than well. This scene of gore [although I didn't actually see it] never left me and I will forever associate my time in Tintagel Castle with murder and death.

It transpired that Cook DUFF was of the aggressive Scottish type and that Ordinary Seaman MANWARING had just recently joined from Victoria Barracks in Southsea, Portsmouth.  He was still 'finding his feet' in the ship and was naturally wary of his strange environment.  MANWARING had joined the navy <as an adult>  after me [his number was J936156 as mine was J930735] but his training in Vicky Barracks was minimal compared to Ganges [Communicators trained for fifteen months].  It is difficult to take in, but Duff's drunken state saved him from the gallows, for had he been found guilty of murder, he would have been hanged. As it was, he was found guilty of manslaughter.

Almost one month after joining my first ship, a leading seaman called JAN TRIGG, threw a 'wobbly' having had too much rum, entered the tiller flat aft, and set fire to the compartment.  The fire was dowsed by the Portland civilian Fire Brigade, and left me wondering at my choice of career. Also around this time, the ship next door to us caught fire which was a major incident.

This cutting come from The Times newspaper of February 1955.

Wanting to tell you this story, and its profound effect upon me, I decided to look at a small time frame, just a few months either side of December 31st 1954, to look for equally horrific events in the Armed Forces.  What better place to look than to The Times newspaper, doyen of all newspaper stories. I was amazed, and what follows is JUST A SAMPLE of the murderous behaviour of some of our Armed Forces.  I am sure that after you have read this sample, you will readily agree, that in an age [today] when we have an over-kill of news stories, we seldom hear of such dreadful behaviour  conducted by our twenty first century sailors, soldiers and airmen.  That, surely, demands a redress for our biased and bigotry mannerisms  which we fortuitously direct towards the youth of today.

Here are just a few examples of murder and mayhem as practiced in the first half of 1955 and remember if you can, this was well inside HANGING TERRITORY, a time when Ruth Ellis was hanged for murdering her racing driver boyfriend !

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Thank God, I say, for the by and large DECENT YOUTH of today and may God bless you all.