Strangely, my initial training period at HMS Collingwood seems extremely vague. I seem to recall that we were first billeted in wooden huts, then moved to the other side of the establishment into brick buildings, then into the new (ish) 4 story buidings.
Our training started with very general electrics and then after a period of time we had to decide which of the three available options we wanted to apply for. There seemed to be some ‘pecking order’ to these at the time which was not really evident once you got out into the fleet.
First (top) option was ‘Radio’ electrical. Pretty obvious what this one was all about. Radio transmitters, radar etc. In my later years when I was on submarines, it was the radio guys who ran the navigation centre onboard as well as the radio shack.
Second (Middle) option was ‘Control’ electrical. This was a little more difficult to fathom as it dealt with gun directing equipment, sonar, telephones and exchanges, amplification gear etc.
Third (last) option was ‘Ordnance’ electrical. A little more obvious this one as it was dealing with weapon electrics, but also any heavy electrics, such as fans, pumps, most things in engine rooms and boiler rooms really.
I opted for Control as it sounded like the best option for me. I was lucky and got my first choice. I was now a JCEM2 (Junior Control Electrical Mechanic second class) and a member of ‘C’ school. Those of us who were control electricians now moved into Plate block. I can remember that I was in P4B mess. This was quite luxurious as it was all 4 man spaces. Not really cabins as such as they were open to the passageway, but mostly screened from it by the lockers of the beds closest to that area. LUXURY!!
One strange thing that used to occur at the time was that once per week, all juniors got a fruit issue. Once per week, on return from instruction, four pieces of fruit would have been placed on each juniors bed. Nice touch that.
Wherever you go in the Royal Navy, indeed in any service I guess, there is always duty watch to contend with. I think it may have been one in six during this period so on every sixth day each individual was duty. Weekends were worked out differently so you either had Friday and Sunday or Saturday, so you got two one weekend off in three…..I think. Duties were such things as manning the gate, fire party, emergency party (having to sleep in boots and gaitors!) and loads of other delights I’m sure.
All junior rates had a ‘station card’. These looked a little like monopoly cards with a green or red strip about a third of the way down. All your details were written on the front. Name rate official number etc. The colour of the stripe told if you were Port or Starboard watch and the legend below told exactly whether part 1,2 or 3. If you were a junior (below seventeen and a half years of age) the top right had corner was removed. This also meant that you were only entitled to ‘cinderella leave’, having to be back ‘onboard’ before 2359 (midnight).
If you were guilty of some misdemeanour, such as ‘slack hammocks’, (being in bed after you were supposed to be up) the senior rate would very likely relieve you of your station card. This meant that he now had ALL your details on one easy card to report them to the regulators if he deemed it necessary. It also meant you could not go ashore until the station card was returned. I wonder how its all achieved these days. If its still allowed to be done. Probably against the poor ratings human rights or something!
Whatever the duty watch frequency was, it was all a bit of a nuisance and if some way out of it could be found, it was. For me I followed the example of a friend and joined the church choir of all things. I couldn’t really sing a note and was not at all religeous, but it entitled you to a coveted ‘blue card’. This meant that you did no other duties. There was a port and a starboard choir one of which was duty on alternate Sundays. After doing whatever, the ‘bible bosun’ (vicar) needed of you, you were then free to do whatever you wanted. One practice per week and that was it. That will do for me!
I also wangled my way onto the Collingwood club (junior rates club) committee somehow. Not quite sure how I managed this one as I was still only 16. This entailed helping out at all functions at the club, manning the door, collecting glasses etc. On dance nights we were entitled to FOUR free pints of beer. Really good news especially being a ‘blue carder’ and always available on function nights.
Despite the fact that it was more usually known as ‘CollinGRAD’, I enjoyed my time during my initial training. There was still the daily and more major, weekly parades to endure. The assult courses and the occasional kit musters to endure, but on the whole life was pretty good.
Most people at that time were still paid fortnightly in their hand. This involved everyone mustering in the dining hall, lining up in alphabetical order at their designated pay station with caps on. When your name was called you marched smartly up in front of the paying officer, saluted, held out your left hand with your ID card on it facing the paying officer. You had to announce your official number and then the amount of pay you were due was announced for all to hear, the money was placed in your hand over your ID card. After saluting again, you thanked the paying officer, left turned and marched away…………….straight into a member of the regulating branch (Naval policemen) who took great delight in informing you if you needed a haircut or if there was anything else wrong with your appearance. They then gave you a (very short) deadline to sort it out and report to them in the dreaded regulating office! I opted out of fortnightly pay and got mine sent directly to the bank as soon as I possibly could.
I found the training really intersting. Sooo different from my school days. It all seemed relevant and worthwhile learning. I was never going to be a genius in any way shape or form, but I never failed anything. I remember to this day, the sonar training and I could probably still make a good attempt at the 50/500 telephone exchange diagram.
Once all the training was complete it was then time to join the fleet and we all had to wait for our ‘drafts’ (postings). Now we were no longer trainees but ships company we had to have some form of employment within the establishment. There was all sorts of different jobs, from office runner to working on the pig farm! Yes, believe it or not we had our own pig farm. Some of the jobs had some perks with them, such as no duties (blue card), some were just awful but the main thing was that we were now Ships Company and not students any more! This meant that you paid either a reduced rate or no charges at all for food and accomodation. This made a really big difference to the pay that was received. I cant remember where I was employed, but I think was one of the lucky ones and did not have to wait long for my draft. I had hoped for a small ship, minesweeper or survey vessel, but the Navy sense of humour kicked in and I got a commando carrier, HMS Bulwark (The Rusty ‘B’) They don’t come much bigger than that! Oh well, its a ship and it was all exciting stuff for a young matelot’s first ship.
The kit bag was again packed and shouldered and it was onto the train for the journey to (Guzz) Plymouth, changing at Bristol (nightmare with all the kit), eventually arriving at the dockyard to find and join my ship.