Training & R.N. Barracks
On a cold but bright Monday morning, my wife Doris and my father came to see me off at New Street Station on my journey into the unknown. This happened to be Harwich on the East Coast and HMS Ganges , a huge naval base where boy seamen were trained in peacetime.
Medicals, uniforms, and strict training were given during a six-week seamanship schedule. This included navigation, knots, and rifle and marching drill, which kept us very busy from 7am to 5pm in classes of 60 men. All this unusual work was achieved successfully, even pulling a 30ft whaler down river from Shotley to Harwich. The Navy swimming test was taken at 7.30am in very cold water in their open-air pool. Dressed only in a damp cold canvas duck suit, which was heavy in the water, I managed to pass this test of three lengths and then three minutes staying afloat in the deep end. Not easy, I nearly gave up after one minute, and only 20 of us passed. The others had to do the same each morning until they passed. They must have thought the Navy had no ships and you had to swim everywhere!
Everything in Ganges was good, concerts every other night, and singing, but new trainees were not allowed outside the perimeter of the establishment, so for extra recreation, I put down to play hockey for the Ganges against a New Zealand Navy XI. Two of us had volunteered and we were ordered to be in football kit on the Parade Ground. We were marched off in our covering oilskins and caps by a Petty Officer in the pouring rain. After about a mile, we reached a lovely sports ground. I asked the Petty Officer if we could go into the pavilion but he said not, and we soon knew why. Because when the rest of our team and the New Zealanders arrived they were all Officers, and they occupied the dressing rooms!
Anyway, the match was soon under way with me playing right halfback, and despite the wet conditions the game was a cracker, 2-2 at half time and a result of 4-4. At the end we went back to the Petty Officer and asked him if we could go and shower in the pavilion, again the answer was no and we were marched straight back, cold and wet to our quarters. The next day I had the worst cold of my life and vowed never to volunteer for anything again.
Training was completed at Ganges, although a few Messerschmitts fired their machine guns at us on the Parade Ground, which we managed to dodge. The last night there we had a grand farewell concert, singing 'The Old Black Magic' with gusto. The next day we were sent off to the main depot of our choice, mine being the Royal Naval barracks at Devonport, near HMS Drake in Plymouth, to be trained as Ship's Writers.