New York and Asbury Park
Our contingent (the future crew of the Battleaxe) was entrained with equipment for a 60-mile journey to a beautiful seaside resort South of New York, known as Asbury Park, New Jersey, the training place of the Yankee's Baseball Team. The Royal Navy had been allocated two very large (200 bedrooms) hotels on the seafront of this lovely resort, which had golden sands, and a pier, like Bournemouth. British sailors who had come to take back ships built in USA shipyards were accommodated in these two hotels (stripped of carpets and furniture of course), The Berkeley and The Monterey.
I was put in The Berkeley Hotel, and the complex was named HMS Asbury Park. There were four of us to a room with iron bedsteads and chairs and a table. But the really remarkable thing was that none of knew what or where the Battleaxe was. Rumours (or buzzes, as they were known in the Navy) were usually true, and the buzz was that it was a welded liberty ship. We heard that the US shipyards were turning out hundreds, and with about a third of our contingent being Merchant Navy men transferred over to Royal Navy that seemed feasible. But why so many engineers?
It was quite good in Asbury Park but the R.N. cooks spoilt the food that was liberally supplied, so I took to having a quart bottle of creamy 'Bordens' milk a day. Oh boy did I put on weight, my 'Tiddley' suit got very tight! Nights out in Asbury were expensive to us on our pay. I had already made friends who I went ashore with, the blonde Shipwright, John Coan (Chippie) with 10 years already served, P.O. Joiner Frank Rumney, and also Chief P.O. Jim Smith (Coxswain) who, being the only 'Chief' didn't seem to have many friends, and I had been in his company on the long train journey from Portsmouth to Scotland. He was very quiet, and after the Coxswain on the Express who didn't like me it was a nice change.
There were cinemas and 'Dime a Dance' places in the town and on the seafront and the girls hung round them, like us listening to the music for free. At that time the girls were all mad on the new star Frank Sinatra, who was born in Hoboken, New Jersey nearby. They would faint at the mere mention of this name, and when we said he was only skin and bone and not a patch on our favourite Bing Crosby they didn't like it. We got free tickets to Lawrence Tibbet (a Tenor) in a massive auditorium nearby, and to see Grace Kelly, the beautiful film star who became a Princess.
We saved up our train fare to visit New York as soon as we could. What a revelation! Skyscrapers galore, we went to the top of the Empire State Building in a 70 MPH lift, 112 stories! The view over New York was fantastic, I went into Macey's famous store underneath, and bought Doris some silks, called in to Tiffanys, and marvelled at the sights of Broadway and Times Square and even Wall Street. We were like a dog with two dicks and with our mouths agape at all these sights all ablaze with light. After poor old Britain facing the horrors of war, it seemed sacrilege, and was an unforgettable day.
Back in Asbury I was annoyed that us sailors weren't allowed on the beach, which was well patrolled by Yankee GI's, so on enquiry I discovered that if you passed the US Navy swimming test you could go on the beach as a lifeguard. So I was directed to another posh hotel on the seafront, where they had a large swimming pool.
In a deck chair beside a bottle of gin lazed a Royal Navy Lieutenant and I approached him and asked about the test. He said "Yes, do it now by all means, and if you can swim 20 lengths of the pool I will stamp your pay book". I literally jumped in at the chance, after about 12 lengths I saw he was fast asleep, the gin no doubt, so I gently woke him up, and he put the Pass Certificate in my pay book, glad I'd finished and back to his nap, some people get wonderful jobs!
Our trips to New York got more frequent and by going to the 'Stage Door Canteen' all service men in uniform could get tickets for the top shows. We saw the Andrews Sisters, Gypsy Rose Lee, Radio Music Hall, Music Box, and went to Madison Square Garden to a wonderful live rodeo, with Roy Rogers and Trigger, that lasted all one afternoon. We all tramped cheekily into the exclusive Jack Dempsey's Bar, but alas he personally told us that there was a $25 (£4) a table cover charge to keep the exclusive restaurant elite.
The next time we queued fortickets to see the world championship fight at Madison Square Garden, between Henry Armstrong (three times World Champion) and Corporal (Sugar) Ray Robinson, but by the time we got there all the free tickets had gone, so we went to the 'Garden' to see if there were any cheap tickets. No, none, so we had to be content watching the crowds going in especially the blacks in their Zoot suits and walking sticks, but not us.
Luna Park, Coney Island, New York
Entrance to Luna Park,
Coney Island, New York
Times Square, New York City
Aerial view of Empire State Building, New York City