Naval Notes: Nelson's tars still slung hammocks till the 1950s

"MAKE THE Navy your Korea." That was the mocking inscription chalked by a messmate on the door of a kit locker belonging to a young able seaman returning from leave; his first intimation that during his absence "his number had come up" for a Far East draft.

It was July 1950 and the Korean War was just two weeks old. Ahead of this young sailor loomed the prospect of a two-and-a-half-year separation from family and friends, exotic foreign parts and the likelihood of seeing some action and even being shot at. He may not, on balance, have been displeased; in his boyish imagination, perhaps, distinguishing himself and getting his picture in the paper back home. Such was the lure, with little else to recommend it, of the peacetime Royal Navy to romantically minded British youth. Anyway, as his messmate reminded him, if he couldn't take a joke he shouldn't have joined.

It was assuredly no joke for hundreds of older men caught up in the emergency. These were senior ratings within a few months of completing their 12-year engagements, signed up for as adolescents. A Retention Order rushed through Parliament within days of the Communist invasion of South Korea had suspended armed-forces release. These RN ratings, mostly married and fathers of children, who had served their time and wanted their lives back, were bitter men. A foreign draft held no allure for them; they had done all that, seen it; including enemy action to which their Second World War campaign ribbons bore witness.

The Retention Order had left it to heads of Services to determine the length of time that personnel should be retained in the light of their manpower requirements. The War Office opted for six months; the Air Ministry three; and the Admiralty 18 months. Such inequity angered but did not surprise the ratings affected. It was, in their view, of a piece with the admirals' attitude in general to the lower deck of the post-war, atomic- age Royal Navy; still seemingly regretting the demise of the press gang and vexed by this unwonted necessity of making the service attractive to long-engagement volunteers at a time of high pay and full employment ashore.

The Royal Navy was not then, nor has been until comparatively recently, amenable to rapid, radical change. Nelson's tars messed below decks in small groups between a pair of broadside guns, slept in hammocks and drew raw victuals for their meals. A hundred and fifty years on, junior ratings, except in shore establishments and the larger warships, lived in "broadside" messes, slung hammocks and were issued with raw provisions which they prepared themselves for cooking in the ship's galley.

This single fact illustrates better than any other the extraordinary conservatism, or hide-boundedness, of the Royal Navy in the mid-20th century. Other aspects of lower-deck life were commensurate with the messing arrangements. The archaic discipline, rigorously applied by naval officers who were still godlike beings apart; captains who "cleared lower deck" to read to ranks of bareheaded sailors the Articles of War, in which no fewer than 22 offences specified therein were followed by the awesome formula: ". . . shall suffer death, or such other punishment as is hereinafter mentioned". Of course, for most of those crimes the supreme penalty would not, could not, be exacted by this date, but they were chilling words and meant to be so. This archaic rigmarole was continued with because, like so much about the Navy, it was the tradition.

In fairness, there were many things the Admiralty would have changed had it the resources to do so in post-war Britain's dire economic circumstances, and as those circumstances slowly improved modernisation was gradually introduced, too gradually for some.

David Phillipson is the author of `Roll on the Rodney! - life on the lower deck of Royal Navy warships after the Second World War' (Sutton Publishing, pounds 16.99)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

music
Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor