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Life in the navy - an admiral's folly

Updated on October 10, 2013

Now, these ducks do meet the standard.

What!  No dirty or oily spots!  Good show!
What! No dirty or oily spots! Good show!

To admirals, we lower deck sailors were simply serfs

Welcome to Life in the navy - an Admiral's Folly.

Nelson held a telescope to his blind eye, just prior to the Battle of Trafalgar, British admirals were rather silly. Brave, no doubt, but silly. When I was in the Australian Navy - which, incidentally, was made up of a great number of Royal Naval officers who’d transferred over to the R.A.N. - British-born admirals prevailed. Yes, and they were all rather silly. Not to mention supercilious. Most had delusions of grandeur which raised them to be ‘legends in their own minds.’ They were usually rude to the extreme. And young naval subalterns were said to cringe in fear at their approach and...well, we poor lower-deck matelots were regarded as somewhat lesser than servants – to admirals, we were simply serfs.

No, this is not the admiral we're talking about here.

Lord Jellico, a British admiral of Word War One.   Man could develop a big bicep just lifting old that braid.
Lord Jellico, a British admiral of Word War One. Man could develop a big bicep just lifting old that braid.

Even in Australia they clung to the illusion of class distinction.

Anyway, I’ve heard some funny stories about the antics of admirals, but this one in particular sticks in my mind. Of course, we lower-deck sailors spent a lot of time yarning about the incredibly stupid goings-on of naval officers in general. As a class of people, they really were something else. There were exceptions, but many clung to an illusion of class distinction. Australia’s great egalitarian society was regarded as quite unacceptable.

The admiral decided to throw a party for the socialites

Apparently way back in the 1950s when the light fleet aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney, was the flagship, there was a particular admiral who wished to hold a celebration aboard. In other words, he wanted to have a party. Guests, naturally, would be made up of various civil dignitaries and their wives. There’d be heaps of high-ranking Army, Navy, and even Air Force officers aboard. This was to be a big, big occasion.

Just one more story of life in the navy.

How to make a splash? How to make the social pages of the newspapers? Well, that was a challenge. And then it was realized that on the hangar deck of an aircraft carrier there are a number of deep wells. When the lift comes down from the flight deck carrying aircraft – wings folded – to the storage deck below, the actual lift, which is three or four feet thick, has to descend below the hangar deck level so the aeroplanes could be rolled off and on. In other words, a four feet deep depression lay below – the lift well.

Admirals seemed to live in memory of such great occassions.

Picture of Nelson's flagship, The Victory, sailing into the French fleet at Trafalgar.
Picture of Nelson's flagship, The Victory, sailing into the French fleet at Trafalgar.

What better place to make a splash...

What better place to make a splash! What better place to hold the party than in that huge hangar deck! Somebody suggested to the admiral that one of the lift-wells could be filled with water. Then they could rig up lights to brighten it all up, put in rocks, weed, water lilies and the like, even some gold fish or carp. Brilliant!

Well, the admiral thought this a marvellous idea and soon, through appropriate intermediaries, put a number of lower deck slaves to work on the project. The artificial pond was created.

That’s when somebody suggested the ducks.


No, this is not HMAS Sydney

British aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrius.  Even the names convey the attitude, eh?
British aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrius. Even the names convey the attitude, eh?

Ducks would look fabulous!

Ah, well, three or four ducks swimming on the surface on that square pond would look fabulous – and what a conversation piece! And so ducks were found. They couldn’t get any colourful little Woodies or Mallards so they ended up with some rather big, ugly white birds.

Anyway, all was readied, the pond was set up. The party was to be that evening. The admiral came down from his great cabin to eye-ball the area which, as mentioned, was to be held in the vast reaches of the carrier’s hangar area with the man-made pond at one end. The admiral surveyed the scene. Everything was pretty much to his liking – except for the ducks. They weren’t the regulation white he’d been expecting. Instead, they were dirty. Had oil marks on them or something. They certainly didn’t look shipshape enough.

So he ordered them to be scrubbed!


Of course, the days of bringing up the 'big gun's is well and truly gone.

Now gunship diplomancy is done by deploying supercarriers.
Now gunship diplomancy is done by deploying supercarriers.

Just one more story of life in the navy.

Half an hour later the ducks were placed back in the pond – where they were seen to be paddling frantically before all sinking to the bottom. The poor birds had lost their natural water-proofing and had each gone down like a submerging U-boat.

Well, that night the party went off without a hitch. Be that as it may, there were all sorts of mutterings about the admiral being subject to a civil charge by the RSPCA for cruelty to animals. But, of course, admirals are admirals and are sacrosanct beings. Nothing like that occurred. Even so, it was still a little bit embarrassing for that admiral. For word had got out about those poor birds and guests kept asking him what had happened to the ducks.

Needless to say, the admiral ducked everyone of these questions. But then, admirals are admirals.


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