My Dad describes The Royal Navy at work and play in World War 2 as he learned to pack parachutes, enjoyed banter with Wrens and relaxed in Eastleigh and Southampton. He was based at HMS Raven
An interesting reminder of the flying connection at Eastleigh was the fact that hanging from the roof of the hangar wherein we received dinghy instruction was the actual seaplane that won the Schneider Trophy in (1932?) certainly well before the war. The seaplane in crimson paint was designed by Mitchell and was the forerunner of the Spitfire (and the Seafire which I was to meet up with later in my service)
Instruction in parachute packing created a relaxation away from the daily discipline in Raven. This was because to enable a parachute to be packed a table six feet wide and forty foot long was necessary. For some reason this facility was not available withing the “ship” and the Navy had commandeered the only building in Eastleigh large enough to accommodate two packing tables. This was in the first floor of Burton’s men’s shop in the high street. On two weekday mornings each week four ratings were taken into town and handed over to the care of two pretty Wrens who were out instructors for the morning. About 10.30am we knocked off for a break – stand easy in Navy terms – and the four of us and the two Wrens went to a coffee shop further along the High Street where we sat and chatted over tea and home-made cakes off the ration. This went on for a few weeks until we were judged to be proficient in parachute packing.
After work finished during the weekday we were free to do as we wished after the evening meal except once a week you were on duty roster when you were allocated jobs from 7pm-9pm. These varied such as washing and polishing office floors, cleaning brasses and a bit of half-hearted patrol duty round the camp. The worst job was filling massive coke sacks an delivering them by lorry to the various offices, huts and work rooms. A heavy, dirty job.
For relaxation on weekday evenings we played cards or dominoes with an odd drink in the canteen. There were no attractions in Eastleigh itself which virtually closed down at tea time. Southampton had more to offer but we just did not have the money to go there on an evening. Sometimes on a Saturday when work finished at 1pm we would go into Southampton. Swaythling was the village nearest the camp but is not part of the urban area of the city. It is about 2 and a half miles from the City Centre and was on the main railway line into the city. But most times we took the steady downhill walk into the city and only used the train if we couldn’t face the walk back.