Today my Dad describes life aboard HMS Ocean Royal Navy including cooking duties, lack of privacy and leisure activities.
The highest rank in a ratings mess was Leading Seaman. Petty Officers and Officers were berthed in a different part of the ship. A Leading Seaman was in charge of each mess and it was his responsibility to maintain discipline and see that the mess ran smoothly. The Leading Seaman of our mess was a dour Scot with about 12 years service called Tom Baird.
There was a large cook house further to the rear of the ship and a deck down. The Leading Seaman of the mess would allocate two men each day to be responsible for fetching the meal. The mess had two galvanised buckets and these were taken to the cookhouse and the men were allocated the correct amount of food for the number of men in each mess. The food would be carried up one deck through several compartments to the starving men at the table. Each man has his own knife and fork, plate and cup ad the two men on duty that day would apportion the food. Woe betide them if any man got less than his neighbour, therefore the cooks of the day would be very careful to avoid any favouritism as another two men would have that duty the next dy. The job was done on rotation.
Breakfast, for example, was a bucket of porridge and the other bacon contained eggs, bacon, sausage and whatever else. Bread was drawn from a storeroom beneath our mess deck, distribution supervised by a Stores Officer. Tea was provided loose and could be mashed at a tap in the bulkhead with provided boiling water.
When breakfast was finished the two cooks of the mess for the day would wash up, plates, cup, utensils and buckets with boiling water from the tap. Then they would scrub down the table and benches and then the floor using the same buckets until they sparkled (and so did the buckets) until it passed the Leading Seaman’s scrutiny.
The next thing the cooks would do was collect a bucket full of potatoes from a potato store sufficient for one meal for 12 men. They would scrape and wash the potatoes and have them at the ship’s galley in time for them to be boiled or roasted/mashed along with potatoes from every mess in the ship ready for dinner to be served in the same way as breakfast.
At 4pm the store on the deck below would be opened and each mess could draw a loaf of bread and a soup plate full of either treacle, jam or honey for tea but this could only be eaten as far as one’s duties would allow. Either one slipped down to the mess for a quick bit or you waited until such time as your work schedule was completed.
On squadron duties a man’s work time was governed by the flying schedule and sometimes this went on long into the evening or even involved night flying. During all flying times either Sam or I had to be available at take-off and landing so we had to take it in turns to go below to our mess for a meal. The same applied to all squadron ratings.
Supper was another hot meal dealt with on the same basis as lunch and was had at 6.30pm.
Thereafter subject to flying times and subject to other duties, was devoted to leisure. There was no activity beyond the mess deck apart from walking along the exposed boat deck or on to the flight deck if there was no flying.
Clothes could be washed in the shower room just beyond the after bulk head. There were no drying facilities as such clothes could be hung on the boat deck when at sea.
Toilets known as Heads were located in the 816 Squadron area. A row of urinals and some wash basins formed one side and a row of about 10 toilet cubicles opposite. Cubicles is a misnomer in that the dividing partitions and doors were only 3 feet high thus when you wanted to use the toilet you could see which ones were occupied by the row of heads along the line. In ship board life privacy did not exist.
Cards was a popular pastime but it was illegal to play for money or to gamble in any way. We tended to play for matches as cigarettes the recognised trading currency were looked upon as money. The result was that you played for matches so that if anyone in authority came through the mess it would appear innocuous. As the end of a card sessions, matches would be exchanged for cigarettes.
Crown and Anchor was a Navy game and was strictly forbidden. One or two men had a Crown and Anchor sheet (rather than a board) and there was always a lookout to give warning of approaching authority when the sheet and dice and money could be swiftly swept up and hidden until danger passed. Crown and Anchor was not a game that interested me or for that matter any of the members of our particular mess.