- Jarrett, Hugh
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment)
- March 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The transit from peacetime tempo to the demands of wartime training left strong impressions on the many trainees during their introduction to the Navy in WW2.
We were all Acting Temporary Sub-Lieutenants RANVR, on probation, which as an officer must be very close to no rank at all, and about to commence indoctrination into the wartime Navy.
As a baby I was at the opening of Flinders Naval Base in 1921 when Rear-Admiral Dumaresq held me in his arms, my father being on the staff of the Gunnery School. Flinders Naval Depot in wartime was quite a stunning place, a great training establishment built for the task of training officers and men for the Fleet. At a time when the Army was expanding and accommodating recruits in quickly constructed camps the Navy had this well established training complex, with three-storied barrack blocks supported by every facility available at that time, with spacious playing fields, tennis and squash courts all surrounded by well-tended cypress hedges and flower gardens.
Arriving as we did from differing walks of life, we knew immediately that we were into something the like of which we had not hitherto experienced. There were different customs and even a different language, and everything was done at the double.
Drafts of recruit sailors arrived at Crib Point railway station and were marched into the establishment to commence the joining routine, which was carried out very efficiently. The Clothing Store always impressed. The staff had the reputation of being able to look at a recruit and assess the size of each item of clothing. However, it was said that if all the items fitted, the recruit was deformed! The thing which really impressed was that each recruit sailor was issued with a small wooden block with his name carved on it for use as a stamp for marking clothing. All prepared in advance and all names spelled correctly! Evidence of an efficient outfit and a harbinger of things to come.
At this time there were not many motor cars, even staff cars, and the main means of transport around this large establishment was by bicycle. The service bicycles were at least twice the weight of a normal bike, were painted service green and had straight handlebars. The machines were therefore known by the sailors as ‘Protestant Bikes’, being distinct from most civilian bicycles which had RC (‘Racing Cycle’) handlebars. It was the custom for the bikes to have indication of the department to which they belonged, and officers’ bikes usually had their rank stripes painted on the rear mudguard. The one bike that was different was that of the Commanding Officer of the Signal School who had a bike painted white instead of the usual government khaki-green.
The newcomers to the Navy found themselves in the hands of a very professional, self-reliant, efficient organization which was always in a hurry with little or no time for personal matters, but nevertheless impressed one with the good humour, patience and wisdom of its instructors. The general impression of the place was that, under an overlay of ceremonial and discipline, squads of men were being marched or doubled to and from instruction, while others were being drilled on the parade ground or being given physical training by shrill-voiced Physical Training Instructors known as ‘Springers’ or ‘Muscle-Bosuns’. Something was happening all the time.
The most remarkable building was the Drill Hall, a large building which had a stage at one end and offices for the Springers at the other. Next to the stage was the Gunner’s Store. During the day the Drill Hall was used as the gymnasium with all the equipment up to and including a boxing ring. On Saturday afternoons, the Duty Watch could rig it as a cinema by lowering hinged partitions and laying out seating facing eastward across the hall. By turning the seating around to face westward and opening a screen, it was turned into a church complete with altar. When concert parties visited, the Drill Hall was turned into a theatre with seating turned to face the stage at the south end.
Groups of amateur concert parties often performed – ‘doing their bit, entertaining the troops’. Mostly they were good-hearted folk of moderate talents who often had trouble battling with the ebullient humour of the sailors. Not surprisingly, the one thing that gained tumultuous applause was the sight of a pretty girl, even if she could not sing!
One evening, one of the female performers collapsed on stage and the Surgeon Captain got to his feet and turned to face the audience and bellowed – ‘Is there a Doctor in the audience?’ This was the best laugh of the evening!
The daily routine was announced over loudspeakers accompanied by bugle calls and piping with bosuns’ calls, and the day started with the Band paraded at 0745 for the ceremonial hoisting of the White Ensign at 0800.
After the lunch break, all classes fell in outside the barrack blocks and were marched to instruction to the strains of the Band. Newcomers to the Service could not fail to be stirred by the effect of such ceremonial. We quickly learned to respond to the discipline to which we were being exposed and developed a pride in being part of such an admirable system – the first stirring in our breasts of that mystical thing called ‘morale’. But visits to the hospital soon took the smiles from our faces. The dentists filled our teeth and the doctors gave us our ‘shots’ which was followed immediately with rifle drill, much to the delight of our instructor who seemed to enjoy drilling us in spite of our throbbing arms.
We were issued with Respirators, Anti-Gas, and put through a course which included spending nearly half an hour in a room filled with tear gas with our respirators on, and then were ordered to take them off briefly. Every Thursday, the whole establishment carried respirators during working hours and once in a while a gas alert was exercised and everyone went about their duties grunting at one another through the rubber tubes. We carried those gas masks around for the rest of the war but, thankfully, never had to use them. Our best day was the visit to the rifle range when we joined other groups at the wharf and were transported across Hanns Inlet in an ancient motor-pinnace to the rifle range jetty, where we met a most remarkable man, Colour Sergeant Carter, Royal Marines. There were several Royal Marines at Flinders Naval Depot, Reservists who upon retirement had settled in Australia, and who had been recalled to the Colours and kept in Australia to serve in the Royal Australian Navy. Carter seemed very old (maybe 40 plus) and had poor eyesight, yet he could take a rifle and lie down and put a bullet through the bull’s eye at any range! He was the ‘yard-stick’ for rifles. If anyone said their rifle was defective, he would take it and put five rounds through the bull! And if he could not – there was something wrong with the rifle.
The Signal School introduced us to the mysteries of communications. We were fascinated by flags, bamboozled by buzzers, caught by codes, lost by lamp and saturated by semaphore – but it was an interesting change. Here we found orders on the Parade Ground were given as flag signals and it was quaint to see people marching and responding to ‘Blue Turn’ (right turn) – ‘Turn Blue’ (left turn). Here we also met Instructor Lieutenant Maurie Lloyd, who taught the principles of electrics and magnetism. He had a great trick to enliven an otherwise dull and uninteresting subject. One of our class was bored stiff and not paying attention; he was called to the front, stood at the demonstration bench, instructed to hold a great steel bar firmly with one end against his stomach, and warned to hold it very tightly. At the other end of the bar but some inches away, was a large electromagnet. ‘Now, when I throw this switch I want you to feel the strong pull of this electromagnet – are you ready?’ The victim nodded his head and the instructor made the switch, and to everyone’s surprise the electromagnet jumped about six inches and drove the bar into the victim’s stomach. It was not fastened to the bench. Lesson learned!
The biggest shock to our systems was the first school we went to – the Gunnery School. We presented ourselves in the quadrangle behind the small office block. A nice, chummy group of young fellows fallen in after a fashion and smiling happily, when a short tough-looking Chief Petty Officer Gunner’s Mate came out of the office and addressed us with a charming smile: ‘Welcome gentlemen, welcome to HMA Gunnery School. Now, the first thing you must know about the Gunnery School is that in the Gunnery School, you don’t walk, you don’t run – YOU FLY!!!’
When we recovered from this prophetic introductory remark we discovered he was quite right. We started doing just that – we flew!
In two days on the parade ground (The Sacred Half Acre) we were taken right through the Parade Training Handbook, and in a fortnight we were out in front of the squad giving the detail. Certainly we were not guardsmen, but the Petty Officer Gunners’ Mates were very professional and very expert on the parade ground.
Our Gunner’s Mate was Petty Officer Frank Butler, Royal Navy, a Cockney with a great sense of humour. He was one of the two Gunners’ Mates who had served with the Commodore Superintendent of Training – Commodore ‘Narvik’ Yeates Royal Navy in his previous command, the cruiser HMS Penelope during the Narvik campaign (when she acquired the nickname HMS Pepperpot due to the shrapnel holes in her funnels). The Commodore had requested that they be drafted to his new command in order to assist in training war service officers – like us. The other was Petty Officer ‘Brigham’ Young, a tall handsome fellow, who was very popular.
But on one occasion, Young had a squad of makee-learnee Acting Temporaries on the parade ground, and as often happens, the squad had one member with two ‘left feet’; eventually the gentleman’s errors became too much and Petty Officer Young bellowed – ‘You are a bloody fool’. The officer under training took a pace forward and said, ‘You cannot speak to me like that, I am an officer!’
‘Oh, very well Sir – fall out and return your rifle to the Gunner’s Store and wait at the Manual Office.’
Events took their course and on the Friday following. Petty Officer Young appeared as defaulter with his cap off before the Commodore, who heard the officer’s complaint and then asked Young what he had say in his defence. He had nothing to say, but the Commodore did. He told the officer under training he did not know him, but he did know Petty Officer Young, and if he called him a bloody fool, then a bloody fool he must be. Case dismissed.
Half an hour later, they were back on the parade ground and Petty Officer Young called the squad to attention and marched over to the complainant and smilingly said – ‘Well Sir – you are a bloody fool, aren’t you?’
Our RN instructor, Petty Officer Frank Butler, had a Cockney accent and clipped some consonants and slurred others. We had in our group a well-educated Sydney University graduate who was inclined to be pedantic. Petty Officer Butler had us for instruction in the ammunition section, and placing his hand on the nose of a fairly large projectile and said ‘This here is a six inch pwodjy and weighs abart a hunnerd and twelve pahnds.’ Our pedantic graduate quietly repeated – ‘A hunnerd and twelve pahnds.’ But not quietly enough!
The Petty Officer’s eyebrows dropped into a frown and he asked, ‘Would you mind coming out the fwont Sir?’ Then he directed two of the class as they lifted the shell onto the pedant’s shoulder.
‘Now Sir – at the double arahnd that flagpole GO!’ (It was a good hundred yards away).
In due course the victim staggered back and we lifted the weight off his shoulder. Our instructor enquired happily, ‘And now Sir – ‘ow much does she weigh?’
‘A ‘unnerd and twelve pahnds.’ was the reply.
‘Fank you Sir, that’s what I fought it was!’ We were very careful not to make any reference to our instructor’s accent after that.
My greatest embarrassment was at 6 inch gun drill when he took us for instruction on one of the old P3 mountings of pre-World War I vintage (installed during my father’s time).
For drill purposes they were loaded with wooden projectiles and charges and during the loading cycle the wooden projectiles were rammed home until the gun-barrel was full of imitation wooden projectiles and charges, which then dropped out of the muzzle. The drill always commenced with ‘Gun’s Crew Number’ and then the duties of the crew were detailed, followed by ‘Gun’s Crew – Close up!’ The first time we did this, I was number 4 and had not paid much attention to 4’s duties. In short, I went to the wrong position.
It was a gift to Petty Officer Butler who ordered ‘Gun’s Crew – Rest’ and marched around to me and inquired -‘Is young Sir lost?’ and graciously took me by the elbow and propelled me to the required position, to the accompaniment of howls of laughter from the rest of the squad. One of those embarrassments one never forgets.
In the Torpedo School we were lectured once again on Electrics, this time by a Chief Petty Officer Electrical Artificer who expounded at length on the ‘Right Hand Rule’ concerning current flow in a coil. Having finished his exposition, he asked if there were any questions? Our science graduate asked which way it would flow if the coil was turned upside-down? This caused a lengthy and warm debate between them until the CPO had the last word. ‘That might be all right for your university Sir, but this is the way it works in the Navy!’
Nevertheless our most important lessons were learned in the wardroom, where the Navy tried, with varying results in the brief time available, to make gentlemen of us, or at least to appear reasonable facsimiles.
It was said that there were definitions: –
Wavy Stripes – RANR and RANVR: Gentlemen trying to be officers.
Chain Stripes – RANR(S): Ex Merchant Service Seamen trying to be Gentlemen
Straight Stripes – RAN: Neither – trying to be both.
Undoubtedly, the main effect was learning to live in the Wardroom, where we smartened up our manners and discovered that consumption of alcohol was strictly controlled by the ‘chit’ system whereby drinks were signed for on chits. The chits were entered in a register which was perused weekly by the Commanding Officer, who would send for any officer whose drinking was excessive and, perhaps, stop his consumption of alcohol in the Mess.
In the wardroom, the guardians of the Old Navy ways of life were a covey of older officers who, of an evening, sat in a snug nook in the ante-room behind the fireplace, as a consequence of which they were known as ‘the Fender Club’. They sat there every evening in their sanctum wearing mess undress with boiled shirts and glared at any junior officer who dared to invade their preserve. Theirs was the last bastion of pre-war customs and habits and it was usual for an invader to receive a note in the letter rack on the morning following such an intrusion, pointing out the egregiousness of entering their area without invitation. It was as if these noisy young fellows wearing ordinary uniforms with bow ties had come from another planet. The Fender Club area was exclusive to officers properly dressed in Mess Undress.
There is no doubt that many social errors were made by ‘Rockies’ living in an area where reading racks were taken in to breakfast to prop up newspapers and magazines and where officers on the staff had black napkin rings with their rank stripes in brass. The one rule at breakfast was no talking (except for ‘Pass the jam please’). Not really a bad rule.
After breakfast, duty officers rushed off for Colours on the Quarterdeck where a guard and band was paraded for the hoisting of the Ensign at 0800.