Monday 20th September 1971, my Mum walked with me to the end of the road to see me get on a bus to take me into Plymouth city centre. Ultimately I was only going across the the River Tamar, but she cried anyway of course. I was trying hard to fight the lump in my throat also……………but thats my secret! Once in town I was to make my way to the railway station. I cant remember what luggage I had, not a lot I would think, but it would have included my new writing case, with stamps and reminders to write often. No doubt I would have had a pocketful of coins for the phone and a full dobie (wash) bag at the very least. On previous trips away from home, it was not unknown for my soap to be measured on my return to check usage!
Having found the right place to be, all the new entries that had arrived by then were loaded onto the back of a canvas covered lorry for the journey to Raleigh. It was my first ever exposure to so many different accents and regional songs. I felt rather out of it really but since they were sung at every opportunity, I was soon joining in with songs such as :- ‘In my liverpool home’. ‘Glasgae belongs tae me’ and ‘Wild Rover’ to name but a few.
Not much detail remains of that first day, but I know we started off in concrete accomodation blocks which were actually over the road in HMS Fisgard. During the first few days or maybe a week, we had all our jabs, passports were organised, official numbers given, ID cards made, kit was issued and personalised. My official number was ‘L’127151, since I was due to go to HMS Daedalus at ‘L’ee-on-Solent for my Naval Air Mechanic training.
Pay books were also given out (I still have mine) If you were a smoker a ‘Smokers Declaration form’ was pasted in and duly signed. This was to prevent any non smokers claiming coupons and /or buying cigarettes for other people. Since the Rum ration or ‘Tot’ had just been abolished, cigarettes or coupons became a very handy currency for favours such as duties etc..
Particular memories are the HUGE difference in the wake up call on the morning after we had actually signed on! No more, “Time to wake up gentlemen”, But a much louder ‘invitation’ to get our feet on the deck immediately with a wooden stick being rattled along the metal bunks and dustbin lids being bashed together. Quite a shock really.
We were taught how to wear and take care of our kit. The civilian in charge of the room where we had to mark our kit was a real ogre! The slightest mistake or non compliance of instructions was met a barrage of abuse.
Another trial was putting the 7 (or 5 if legs too short) creases in both number one and number two uniform trousers. These had to be perfectly aligned when the legs were put together or else. Also the ironing of the ‘silk’. This starts out about 2 foot wide and has to be folded and ironed from the outside in until it is about an inch and a half wide. I am not sure if it is actually silk but I do do remember some lads having the iron too hot and making a right mess of it! THEN I had to do my first ever piece of sewing. (The Naval term ‘homeward bounders’ was never used to greater effect). The silk has to be made up so it is the right length to give a 3 fingers width loop below the ‘tapes’. Yes It was complicated for us too! Incidentally, I still have my silk and my blue money belt.
I know that the jabs were given on Thursday 23rd as I still have the certificates and I was feeling like S*** on my Birthday the following day!
On completion of the first week we then ‘graduated’ to HMS Raleigh proper. There were four long rows of wooden huts named Anson, Benbow, Collingwood and Drake divisions. I was in Anson division which was also the furthest away from anything.
Now began 5 weeks of processing us from civilians to sailors. We were often titled ‘6 week wonders’ by boys who had been to St Vincent or HMS Ganges. I can recall recall quite a lot of this period; The learning how to march where if you did well enough as a class you earned the priviledge of a ‘quick burn’ (smoke break) behind the drill shed. The assault course, scrambling through muddy tunnels in boots and overalls which then had to be cleaned and dried ready for the next session. The learning to fire and maintain guns. Visits to the padre (vicar) which everyone enjoyed even though nobody admitted to being at all religeous, this was a time when there was no pressure at all….and free tea and biscuits. The whole class standing around a wire square being taught knots….something I was already good at due to my sailing experience, I could proudly help others in this subject. Fire fighting training and the gas chamber!
The gas chamber was one of those things that more senior classes used to regale you with horror stories about. Part of our kit was an AGR (anti gas respirator) which came in a green canvas case. This case was not supposed to contain anything apart from AGR, anti mist compound, small white cloth to polish the lenses with and a spare canister. A small fibre key ring was attached to the side of the AGR with your name and official number stamped on it. It was not unknown once young matelots were in the fleet, for these bags to contain all sorts of ‘other’ stuff to while away the time at action stations, especially at Portland. Items such as ‘nutty’ (sweets) girlie mags and some even used to carry a can of beer! NOT good news if caught of course.
Anyway, I digress…the gas chamber….. the whole class filed into a small brick building with no windows and a door at each end. We all stood around the walls, some of us knowing what was to come, doing our best to end up nearest to the out door at the far end. The instructor was wise to this though and it proved to be no advantage at all in the end. The forthcoming procedure was explained while we all stood nervously with AGR in hand. we were then told to put them on and a small white tablet or two was lit in the middle of the room. We all then had to walk around the edge of the room several times. At a signal from the instructor we individually removed our masks and had to announce our name and official number. This was at the OPPOSITE end from the out door which we were then allowed to WALK out of. Anyone who ran was further delayed. This was all designed to make sure that you got at least one good whiff of what was in the room. It was not just to be cruel but was a way to prove that the AGR did actually work.
NAMET was a big thing during this period too. The Naval Maths and English Test. We spent several periods over several weeks being groomed ready to take this test. With my lack of maths skills this was a source of some dread for me. However also during this period, someone from a more senior class recategorised (changed branch) from what to what I do not recall, but I saw another opportunity to achieve my ambition of becoming a ‘Greenie’ (electrical branch rating). An audience with my divisional officer was sought using a request form of course. (Everything had to be done using a request form) and was granted. At this audience my pre joining and since joining records were perused and it was decided that my request to change branches would be dependant on my performance at the NAMET test. I seem to recall ending up with a 6-3. (Zero – Zero is the best) The first number is maths and the second english. I was not sure I had done enough but my request was ultimately granted so on completion of Raleigh I then went to HMS Collingwood for electrical training.
This was a source of great pride for my Father since I was now ‘General Service’ instead of being an ‘Airy Fairy’ (Fleet Air Arm). He actually told his mess mates in Manadon college that I had been promoted!
There was loads of physical stuff of course as well as the marching, assult course and gun training. Many periods in the gymnasium which didn’t seem too bad at the time being used to such stuff from school. Returning for training in future years was a different story though! Swim training, with and without overalls. This included jumping off a high board to simulate abandoning ship I guess. I loved swimming and actually did a life saving qualification during this time. However, I am STILL waiting for the badge and certificate. There were cross country runs….hated them…always did! And sailing!!!! I recall all the regional songs being belted out from the back of the usual covered lorries on route to Jupiter Point which was the sail training school for Raleigh.
The first time there we were all taught the basics of sailing a mirror dinghy. I was bored stiff of course, but we did eventually get on the water and for most of the lads it was like a scene from ‘carry on sailing’! I was having a ball, as was the lad with me. The next time we went, I got a bit bolder and asked if I could take one of the 14′ bosun dinghies out instead of a mirror. This request was met with some horror, until I explained that I had sailed them before. My Father having got permission for me to sail the bosuns from Manadon college on production of a letter from my school sailing master. Eventually I was allowed to take a bosun out, with a lad who had very nervously volunteered to crew for me. All went fabulously well and on our return to the jetty I was told that I should take my sailing ‘ticket’. A test to allow you to sail these dinghies unsupervised. After several more sailing sessions with no sign of my being invited to take this ticket, I went to the office to enquire about it, only to be told that they had seen I could handle the boat so my ticket was to be issued. My first step to my sailing in the RN!
During another sailing session I was allowed to sail one of the small Hurley yachts and was encouraged to take my yacht ticket. Unfortunately on the day I did this the wind did not co-operate and it was deemed far too light to be able to sufficiently judge me, so no ticket was given. It was to be many years before I made the time to take this ticket.
I seem to remember having some special concession since I was classed as a ‘bona fide native’. My family home was situated close to Raleigh….in civilian terms. This meant that I was allowed to visit my home if we got shore leave. I dont think I was allowed to spend the night, but I did take one of my classmates ‘up homers’ for a decent meal and relaxing time one weekend.
Being fairly local also meant that I was fortunate enough to be well supported by my whole family at my passing out parade. Dad attended in uniform of course. I was one VERY proud young matelot that day!
That was about all the most memorable parts of HMS Raleigh. I do have some photographs to add at a later date……..they are awful of course but I will trust you all not to laugh…..too much!!
So with fresh trepidation of what was ahead, it was kit bag on shoulder and off to HMS Collingwood.