Lieutenant Brown

 

Back in the Clyde, and then we went on to the Tyne at Newcastle, after rounding John 'O' Groats and through that horrible dreaded rough Pentland Firth, to pick up more war materials, landing craft and troops.  It was good to know that the war was going our way, with the Jerries retreating through Italy, Mussolini, their Dictator and leader, and partner in crime with our arch enemy Adolf Hitler, was strung upside down (without his trousers!) from a lamppost in Milan and the Italians surrendering.  But of course it was not going so well against the Japanese in the Far East.

 

While we were in Newcastle the C in C of that area died, and delightedly our Yeoman lowered our ensign to half-mast. Especially after his snide remarks when he visited us some months before, we had no respect.  But there is always some stupid incident that spoils the run of the mill.

 

The thoughtless, officious action by an executive RN Officer (Lieutenant Brown) on our ship who should have known better, was the cause of the trouble.  He was the witnessing officer at our fortnightly pay routine, which should have been simplicity itself, but not to him!  Every rating not on watch approached the pay table where this officer, and the Petty Officer Writer 'Pincher' Martin sat with the cash and a list of names, with the amounts to be paid to each one.  The rating whose name was called from the list went to the pay table, saluted, put his cap on the table, the amount to be received was called out, put on his cap, picked up, another salute and then the next on the list and so on until all had been paid, except those who were on watch, and they had to attend 'Miss muster' at the end of their watch.  The pay muster had always gone smoothly, except for this payday, due to the aforesaid big head Lieutenant Brown.  He for some reason (only known to himself) thought he was superior to the lower deck ratings.

 

So before this particular pay out he arranged with the Petty Officer Writer (who couldn't argue, because of his rank) that any rating whose pay contained a ten shilling note (50p, a considerable sum in those days) to withhold that note till after, because he (Brown) contended that the ratings were 'dumb' and did not count the amount due to them at the pay table.  This foolish idea of his was to note the discrepancies, reprimand the recipients and pay them afterwards.  When he paid out the shortages, those who had missed out were humbled, while he gloated, about 30 were short changed.

 

You may think all this a bit trivial and it was resolved quickly, but with one exception, 'Nobby' Clark, whose whole life was spoiled by these foolish indiscretions, his Navy career ruined.  'Nobby' was on watch on his anti-aircraft gun at the time of pay out, and he should have attended 'Miss Musters', but he badly wanted the pay due to him (for reasons only known to himself) so he nipped down to the pay table, against all Kings Regulations, collected the money, only to find he was ten bob short!

 

So returning to his mess at 8 bells, the end of his watch, he learned to his dismay about the illegal deduction, but he couldn't make a claim without divulging the fact that he had left his post.  A very punishable offence.  He sat down in the mess with his mates, very disconsolate, thwarted by events, and more so by the probable loss of his money.  But his messmates urged him to do something about it.  "Take some action, Nobby, don't let Brown get away with it!" They were full of real sympathy for him, also indignation, anger, and disgust at this apparent injustice.  "What can I do?" implored Nobby.  "Write to the papers about it," was the popular choice, and no sooner the word than the deed, in a few minutes a pen and paper was set before him.  He then wrote to a popular newspaper telling the editor how he had been wronged and deprived of his hard worked for pay as a seaman, by a Naval Officer who should have known better, very true and most pathetic with all the details, but no mention of leaving his post of duty.  He asked that the powerful press expose this despicable deed to the full.

 

Then suddenly an anti-climax was reached.  It was realised by all concerned that all letters leaving the ship had to be censored by our officers, and surely they would not let Nobby's outburst pass.  One of the lads soon solved that difficulty, "It's easy Nobby.  Post the letter in a pillar box ashore, there will be no censoring then."  This solution was obvious to the relief of himself and his angry colleagues.  It wasn't realised, the seriousness of posting a letter ashore from a sea-going ship, thus giving the location of that ship at that time, to any dubious person wanting that information in wartime.  So without further ado the letter was posted in a pillar-box in Newcastle, which was exactly where HMS Eastway at that precise time was tied up.

 

A few days later 'Nobby' received a reply from the editor, sympathising with his story, and agreeing that it should get full press publicity, if he (Nobby) would give his consent for the letter to be passed to the 'Lords of the Admiralty' for authentification to publish.

 

No sweat, another letter posted ashore giving full permission (enthusiastically endorsed) by the now elated 'oppos' on his mess deck.  "We will make Brown sit up!"  was the unanimous cry.  A week or so later, HMS Eastway entertained a lot of gold braid on board, Flag Officers from Northern Command for a Court Martial to decide the expected punishment of Lieutenant Brown, much to the delight of Nobby and the 'Lower Deck'.

 

It didn't take long for a verdict.  Guilty as charged,  And the offending Lieutenant was dismissed his ship, demoted to Sub. Lieutenant, and ordered to leave the Eastway immediately to join a boom ship at the entrance to the River Clyde (not at all a bad number).  To conclude this sad saga, some months later on our last trip to the Mediterranean, Nobby had his trial. For leaving his post of duty, posting two letters ashore uncensored, divulging a King's Warship's location, he was sentenced to several months detention to be served in a North African Army Glasshouse (a nasty twist of the screw), deprived of all long service and good conduct badges, and reduced to ordinary seaman, together with loss of pay.  That's what fighting a losing battle for a mere 'ten bob' had cost him.

 

When Nobby was collected from the ship by Naval Police to be taken to the place of imprisonment in the North African hot desert, as he went over the side of our ship, he got one of the loudest cheers I've ever heard from 200 men on the lower deck.  We all knew we would miss him!  These voyages to Naples, Gibraltar, Algiers, etc. were very good and we got to know and like the places very well.  But we were all glad to return and tie up in the Clyde or the Tyne again.  And sometimes a spot of leave to my very favourite place, Birmingham, at home with my wife.  'Geordie land' was good, Newcastle or Hebburn-on-Tyne, but my boss the Electrical Officer Lieutenant Finlay had some pals he met in a pub ashore who told him their vacuum wanted repairing.  So he sent me out to their house like a journeyman electrician.

 

Of course I had to go and repair it and the 'Geordies' were very grateful.  They gave me a drink and some eats, and even offered me cash, which I could not accept.  Back on the ship to report that the 'job' had been done satisfactorily, then in the Wardroom bar he told the Steward to give me a whisky (4p), not a beer, as it would have cost him 6p!

 

He wasn't so bad though, he arranged cricket matches with shipbuilders, Swan Hunters and Reyrolles, the big electrical firm, on their fine grounds, which I enjoyed.  We found we had two Lancashire 2nd teamers on the ship who were very good, but my pet aversion was when some of our chaps started smoking when fielding, not etiquette in cricket you know!

 

During our stay in the Tyne we had a surprise visit from a Vice-Admiral of Northern Command.  Lower decks were cleared and we all listened to what he had to say, not very complimentary to say the least.  A very interesting ship he said, but he thought the ship's company were a ragged lot, some dressed in lumber jackets and woolly hats, they of course were our T124X Merchant Seamen (all good lads) but his parting words were the most cruel, that our ensign on the stern of the Eastway was at half-mast!  Our Yeoman Andrew Wartha was mad at this jibe, as the flag was only about an inch from the top of its pole.  Our Skipper was annoyed at the criticism of his crew and told us in no quiet terms, "Get dressed properly" at which a voice from the assembled men shouted back at him, "You get back to your pork sausages!"  (The Captain was known to own four butcher's shops in Liverpool)  At this he got really mad, and ordered "Get that man Petty Officer, and bring him to me!" But he had already dodged away in the crowd.

 

Into Scotland again, passing Ailsa Craig, an island sticking up like a signpost, and then the 'Tail of the Bank' to our spot in the Gareloch.  Another time when we went up to Loch Linnie in the Western Highlands to Fort William (Ben Nevis and Glen Coe), our Pilot (Navigation Officer) asked me on the radar to be exceptionally accurate (I didn't say we always were) in the Loch.  After about 8 miles the radar's plan position indicator showed land ahead, which was duly reported to the bridge, but it transpired that it was a narrow channel connecting the Northern end of the loch.  You can't win 'em all.  What we had gone all the way up there for, I shall never know, but we spent a lovely evening in a pub in Fort William, and the views were fantastic.

 

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