The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

The pit could not hold Jimmy and eighteen months on, with his mother’s help, Jimmy’s dad finally relented and signed the papers that would allow his son to enter boy service with the Royal Navy.

They were given a thorough medical and other examinations when they made an appearance at the recruiting office, being one of only six boys out of the thirty or so to pass, Jimmy was give 1/6d travelling money to see him on his journey south to HMS Ganges. Sixpence of which was given to The Royal Marine Recruiting Sergeant, for his part in getting him into the Royal Navy. he gladly handed over the sixpence and considered it a small price to pay.

HMS Ganges was one of her majesties training ship situated at the point of a peninsular formed by the Rivers Orwell and River Stour, near to Shotley. The train that carried the new recruits from London’s Liverpool Station was lively with excited young men, many like Jimmy leaving home for the very first time. The young lads chatted and fooled around, Smithy, a rather shy lad, had a large fruitcake, baked for the journey by his mother, which we soon devoured by his new shipmates, Smithy would go down with the Goliath.

Disembarking and stepped onto the dimly lit station platform of Harwich. They were greeted by a voice like a foghorn, this would be the voice they would come to know and obey, for the remainder of our stay at Ganges, leaving them in no doubt, they we’re now in the ‘Royal Navy’.

“On the double you shower of idle bugger”. The instructors doubled his charges down to a waiting steam Pinnace that transported them across the estuary from Harwich to Shortly. It was fascinated to the lads, many seeing the sea for the first time, the Pinnace, with its tall funnel, banded with shining brass rings, soon they would know how it maintained its gleaming appearance. The Pinnace docked alongside flights of well-worn stairs they would become to know as Faith, Hope and Charity which in turn lead them into the stone frigate Ganges. There mood sombre and subdued with anticipation they now found ourselves in an austere bathhouse.

“Come! Come! Lads don’t be shy we are all boys together here, ‘Get them off!’ into the baths, on the double!”

Some were clearly finding the stream of orders difficult to live with. Jimmy had no such problem being in the Royal Navy was all he had ever dreamed of doing form early schooldays.

After a bath, the boys were doubled to the mess for a late supper of bully beef and Kye, (a bowl of cocoa layered with grease).

‘Eave-o! Eave-o! Eave-o! Lash up and stow! Rise and shine, the morning’s fine the sun’ll burn yer bleedin’ eyes out! Was their early alarm call. In the classrooms, they would learned knots and splices, shipboard duties, signals and flags and general seamanship, and on Ganges’s parade ground, that seemed to stretch forever squad and rifle drill. To all of these places, they would double. Worm and wrap with the lay, turn her around and serve the other way. Green to Green and Red to Red, means perfect safety, go ahead. When all lights are seen ahead, starboard wheel and show your red. These were the calls that would be repeated a thousand times during there stay at HMS Ganges, and the way they would learned all the rules that would be required onboard ship.

Ganges was built on the lines of a Nelsonian three-decker. Dominating each and every day was ‘The Mast’.

A replica of those found aboard the old square-riggers, ever visible, with its three long yardarms and high top, symbolic of the time of ‘tall wooden ships and men of iron’. When aloft on those yardarms you came to realise just how true that must have been. Even on the calmest of days, it was hard enough ‘Manning the Mast’ standing hand in hand along the yards ratlines, with the button boy perched on top 150 feet above the parade ground. What must it have been like in a wild sea when a body was wet, cold and tired and you could no longer feel the ropes in hand or beneath bare feet?

Mother’s letter had found young Jimmy on board my first ship, they were on route for Turkey in support of the armies of the Gallipoli campaign. Jimmy read her words as I hung in my hammock. ‘John will not be coming home’, she wrote, ‘for he lies with his comrades the glorious fallen’.

Although Jock and Jimmy had been lifelong friends Jimmy could find no remorse or sadness at his fiends parting; it all seemed to have happened so very long ago in some other lifetime.

They hit heavy weather going down the channel; the ship danced merrily to a lively tune of wind and tide the sea frothed at cresting waves, Jimmy found it hard to keep his balance and was glad of the safety line that held him fast to the rail as he stood his watch as look-out-duty, standing near to the bridge scanning the horizon through a pair of powerful binoculars set atop their plinth. “A light, Sir, there’s a light out there!” he cried, out. “Aye lad, that will be the coast of France, you see”. the officer’s reply was kindly, he had seen so many young lads, keen as mustard, aboard their first ship.

“France?” Jimmy said softly to himself, his mother’s words came flooding back once more, ‘John will not be coming home, for he lies with his comrades the glorious fallen’, tears now rolled fat and heavy down his cheeks. Jimmy buried his face in his binoculars desperate to masked his embarrassment.

To be continued

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