Fifty-two years ago today, I joined the Royal Navy.
I was seventeen-and-a-half and had been working in Newcastle Upon Tyne as a Junior Clerk (an office boy) for a shipping and transport firm; handling bills of lading, calculating charges, traipsing from dockside offices to the bank to the airport. The managing director, whose office was down the corridor, lived in my home town of Whitley Bay; I remember my mum saying, “Why don’t you ask him if he’ll give you a lift to work?” I didn’t, of course. I did ask for a pay rise when everyone else received one, but I was told I hadn’t been there long enough. The job was “dead man’s shoes”, so I looked around for an alternative place of employment.
I applied for a creative artist job with a Newcastle firm, but although my samples of artwork were highly praised in the interview, I didn’t have appropriate qualifications or experience. At the time I left school with two GCE O levels, the University changed the admission requirements for their course in Art & Design; I didn’t have enough GCEs, even though one of them was Art (distinction). The other GCE was Geography. Yes, I failed English!* (Perhaps I spent too much time writing a novel instead of studying or learning to pass exams…)
One lunch time, I walked past the Naval Recruiting Office near the main rail station, and then popped in on the off-chance, out of curiosity. Two of my cousins were in the RN, and my uncle had been in the Merchant Navy during the war. I lived close to the sea. Maybe some of that brine was in my blood.
My parents were naturally ambivalent about my joining the navy. It meant leaving home. But it offered what was then considered a secure career. And all the adverts said I’d ‘see the world’. I applied, sat the fairly basic exams in the Newcastle recruitment office and within a short while was accepted and given notice when to join.
I joined HMS Raleigh (Torpoint, Cornwall) on 19 October, along with several other raw recruits. I was a Junior Writer. Thus began my six weeks’ basic training – Part I training. Part II training entailed going to HMS Pembroke in Chatham, Kent . Here, I trained in secretarial (my score: 96%) and Pay (96.5%) disciplines; I also learning to touch-type (96.5%, 25wpm). I passed out from there to join HMS St Vincent in Gosport, Hampshire as ship’s company and on my birthday became a Writer. The latter establishment is now a college. The touch typing has certainly been useful! Incidentally, part III training is reserved for submarine recruits.
As the adverts predicted, I was fortunate to see quite a bit of the world in my time. I believe that is no longer the case for RN recruits these days. They get to see the sea, mostly. There aren’t enough ships…
Here's a picture of me with a couple of Arab horses in Bahrain in the late 1960s, just before a race. Camel racing followed...
Fifty-two years. Blimey. Where’d the time go?
* I subsequently passed several GCE O and A levels and obtained an OU degree.