Morris. Beacon Hill. 838162
|Mrs Valentine's article on war service reminded me of my
own, very different experience. In 1943, when I was nearly eighteen applied for an
Admiralty short course. This gave you a six-month short academic course at either Oxford
or Cambridge during which time you joined the OTC. You then went into the Navy as a
sub-lieutenant, and returned to finish your degree after the war if you were still alive.
I was called for interview at a vast sprawl of Nissen huts thirty miles south of London.
It was not signposted in order not to help the Germans but eventually I found the
reception centre, I was ticked off and told to reach N27. I was completely baffled by the
instructions, and reckoned it must be a test to show initiative. I did.
I went to the exit where a commissionaire was standing. Gold braid, peaked cap, the lot
asked him where N27 was and his directions were equally mystifying. I was getting fed up
with Reception and I didn't feel like searching around in the rain, so I gave him a nasty
look. ' Don't you think you should take me there?' I asked. He seemed a little startled
but we set off. We took ten minutes to find it and he showed me into the sub-lieutenant
who was to interview me. A few days later I received a letter of acceptance.
I realise now how odd it was that a candidate from Hackney with a lousy academic record
and no influence should be accepted for Cambridge, but at the time I took it for granted.
Later I realised my 'commissionaire' had been an Admiral, and when I had been brought in
personally by him it had been assumed by my interviewer that I was someone of importance.
Possibly the Admiral's bastard. I was not accepted for training as an executive officer,
but as an engineering officer and I turned it down. There is a deity who looks after
fools. Had I accepted I would probably have ended up on the Murmansk run. A very high
casualty rate, two minutes in the water and you were dead.
Later in 43 I was called up in the normal way and was selected for training as a radio
officer. Our group of twenty went as a group to HMS Royal Arthur (Butlin's Camp, Skegness)
for a couple of weeks squad bashing. This was to show you, especially if you were likely
to be commissioned, that you were the scum of the earth. I remember our CPO Dusty Miller
telling us, with expletives, that we didn't know that we were sane. He had a certificate
to prove it and he waved it at us. That was also in the raine. However, the Admiralty must
have lost our papers and after we had done this squad bashing course four times I was made
Captain of the Heads (Lavatory Attendant). The toilet blocks were permanently blacked out
and the ratings stole the light bulbs. Worse things happen at sea and cleaning up toilets
in pitch darkness by the light of a torch was something you got used to after a month or
two. However, after nine months as Captain of the Heads, I volunteered to go coal mining,
which I did, lucratively for the rest of the war, and at a thousand yards underground, you
didn't have to worry about bombs. I would be glad to hear from any other naval recruits.
Charles Morris, Beacon Hill, 01263 838162