Meeting Swine Along Life's Journey
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Life can be full of wrong choices
Meeting Swine Along Life’s Journey
In a life filled with bad choices, number two, career-wise was undoubtedly signing on the dotted line to join the Royal Navy.
I had just completed the results of mistake number one, finally scraping the last clumps of cow dung from my boots and quitting farming. This farce had begun two years ago with my family gratefully unloading me into the calloused hands of the farmer involved with the BBBF scheme in Wilderwyck House, East Grinstead, then run by Lady Anderson. This organization, “British Boys for British Farms,” run by the YMCA and approved by the government, was no more nor less than servitude, verging on slavery, of a lot of boys from marginalized backgrounds, or those whom their family wanted to sweep under the carpet. Such as yours truly.
In two short years, I experienced some of the brutality humans can descend-to when they think that they can get away with it, (Yes, Mr and Mrs. Webb, Melon Farm, Ivychurch, God rest your psychopathic souls), and also some of the decency, (Ford’s Farm, Gate Helmsley…lovely people). But farming wasn’t for me; it is the hardest way to eke out a living you could ever believe, unless you are a gentleman farmer or the owner of large acreage. We boys, all in our late teens, were the lowest of the low; the bottom of the pecking order; drawing about ten shillings a week, and that sometimes handed over reluctantly.
But farming did make me fit and very strong: strong enough, in fact, at 16, to carry 220 lb. sacks of corn up two flights of steps into the granary in Gate Helmsley near York. In fact, I might have continued as a trainee muck-spreader if fate had not intervened in the shape of Ford’s foremen, “Charl,” (that’s what is long suffering wife called him). He was an ignorant bully and one day we squared-off which resulted in my getting fired.
What on Earth I saw, read or heard, over the next year as I bummed around Broadstairs, discovering girls and all their secrets, that had me thinking Royal Navy, I don’t recall, unless it was family pressure trying to move me to distant parts again.
Whatever the motivation, I found myself in the recruiting office at Chatham Barracks being interviewed with the view of becoming a matelot.
“What branch are you interested in,” enquired the dapper officer, who looked like a minor deity after the farm workers I had rubbed shoulder with for two years. “Signals, sir,” I earnestly informed him. “An excellent choice, “ smiled the recruiter. Mother smiled proudly. My son, the Captain.
I had seen photos of handsome young chaps, smiling gaily as they waved across an ops room wearing headphones, or stood like figureheads on a magnificent bridge-wing waving coloured flags cheerfully at nothing. Yes, this beats mucking-out pigs I thought, or cleaning off a cow-shit mask, as one old Bessy had coughed while she was shitting, catching me full in the face with the malodorous stream. Or even bravely washing Prince Phillip’s balls, as a result of a joke from older fellow workers, who said the huge Friesian bull had to have it done before he was put with a cow. The bull loved me for the rest of the time at Wylderwick, but I never turned my back on him!
Then I waited at home for the results of my interview in trepidation in case the Royal Navy had enough canon-fodder for the moment and I would have to go back to skinning week-dead sheep, blue and stinking, as we hauled ’em out of the dyke with a tractor, hoping against hope the head wouldn’t pull off again. Yes, farming back then wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
Finally, the buff form from the Admiralty hit the door mat. Would you believe it, I had been accepted and was to report at Chatham Barracks for a six-week initial training course in two weeks! As a signalman? No, as a bloody seaman, but to be trained in radar as a RP3: lowest of the low again - a junior seaman - but we were all jubilant, especially the family who had unloaded me once more, and a couple of the local girls who had missed a period and wanted to blame their regular boyfriends, not a swain who had not a penny and still carried the fading redolence of pig dung.
I don’t remember much of the six-week training period: most of the trainees were trying to manipulate their way out after a few days of marching, kit inspections, more marching and more kit inspections. Jeez, I thought, is this what being a noble warrior and fighting for your country really means!?
Finally, this idiocy was over and we left to train in our specialities, my destination was Haverford West in Wales, near Milford Haven. Me, 80 other blokes, and 300 hormone-shedding WRNS!
This was more like it! If I couldn’t fight for my country, at least I could shag for her, which is what we all did for a couple of months, somehow acquiring our RP3 qualification during the day when the Wrens were doing whatever they did: being lectured on accidental pregnancy, I imagine. When women have the odds about four to one against, boy, do they put out to compete!
As I had passed out first in my class I had been recommended as a CW Candidate, (Captain’s Warrant) which is about the only way a “lower deck” rating can be elevated to officer class. I also had two weeks leave and orders to report to the HMS Theseus, a light fleet carrier, to complete my sea training.
Again, I don’t remember much of this, apart from the beer issue: one can a day while at sea. The older sailors had a rum ration, too, (Called Tot Time) but at just under 18, I was still too young. (This delightful extra was suspended by our parsimonious war lords, or other establishment pricks, some time in the 1990’s).
The highlights of this period were a couple of stops in Valletta, Malta’s capital, where I was introduced to the “Gut,” a steep street of honkytonks and greasy spoons, with the odd skaggly-waggly whore thrown-in. The highlight of THAT was stealing a jukebox and pushing it back to the docks, discs spilling everywhere. Yes, I am afraid I discovered mindless leglessness during this period. (spellcheck, you need to get an imagination).
After a few months of abject boredom learning switching drills for early warning radar that would be obsolete before they were ever used, and scrubbing the quarter deck so the Admiral of the Fleet could see his brandy-fuelled red nose in it, we got a break. The Suez conflict broke out and we set sail for the Med. with a detachment of Marines from the UK. As this coincided with the end of sea training and in my reaching the glorious heights of OS (Ordinary Seaman) to add to the RP3 I already received, I had another short period of leave and was transferred to the HMS Sheffield, a cruiser, which set sail for the war zone immediately.
My war was the stuff of comic books. The ship found a safe spot some miles away from the shore and began firing broadsides with its main armour of seven-inch guns. This went on, day and night, until the ammo ran out or the skipper had had enough of the noise, which sounded like the ship being struck with a huge hammer every few minutes and drove us all barmy. Especially as we were all at “battle stations,” closed up in our positions (mine was the radar room behind the bridge). This meant we could only leave briefly, for a crap, then back. Our meals were soup delivered by orderlies. What was it all for? No one knew: we never saw the enemy, apart from a ragged old aircraft that dropped a mine near our stern then buggered off before our gunners could wake up and have a pot at it. After a week or so, evidently, our shelling had had the desired effect, because we approached the land at Port Said, dropped anchor and waited - and waited. It was hot and muggy; the fear of our ‘orficers (read effete pricks) was that we would be attacked by frogmen, so we had to stand like idiots all night carrying Stirling sub machine guns. These useless weapons were know as “pepper pots,” because the magazine was at the end of the barrel in a round gizmo that looked like something to sprinkle condiments. This piece of comical kit had a range of about 20 feet, which is why we used it to point downwards, I suppose, to get gravity’s help in sending the bullet on its way. But the Stirling was deadly to anyone around the user, as it tended to spray in all directions, bruising, if not killing, all in the way. I never had to fire one in anger, thank the lawd, I would have hated to hear the Arab frogman laugh as he placed a mine under the ship, perhaps catching the Stirling‘s bullets and throwing them back at me.
Suez didn’t last long. The Americans told us to quit the nonsense and we meekly obeyed, as usual,
I had had enough of the Royal Navy by then, and decided to call it a day. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it sounds - you sign on that dotted line and you throw 12 years of your life away. Doesn’t matter if you were only 16 and had no idea what you were getting in to; didn’t matter that the Navy lied to you, refused your applications on principle for everything; didn’t matter that there was no peacetime promotion - you couldn’t even advance in your own speciality of radar; didn’t matter that CW Warrant wasn’t worth the paper is was written on if you didn’t have contacts, or if you refused the advances of a gay Lieutenant Commander. (yes, Limmer, God rest your soul, too).
So I took the time-honoured method, poetically known as “Going on the Trot.” an unofficial absence, that upsets the blue-bloods and has them all a’wafflle about the Queen, the Flag, Patriotism and all the other crap they employ to keep the common man where he belongs, shovelling pig-shit or getting accidentally shot with a dangerous piece of kit like a Stirling machine gun. Or, today, being ferried around Afghanistan in an unarmed jeep because all the money for helicopters has gone into MP’s moats!
They finally caught me; I did a bit of time at Eastchurch, then set sail for Australia where my first real life began and I soon began to write for a living: what I should have done in the first place. But I did meet a few swine: running farms; in the ship’s officer‘s quarters and, the best, grunting happily along the sides of a trough.
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