Lt. Taylor is a former Supply Assistant and this is an account of his service in a V&W destroyer.
Contributed by Old Hands of Ballina Maritime Museum.
I ‘VOLUNTEERED’ FOR THE NAVY, to avoid being called up into the Army, and found myself at HMS Royal Arthur, a Butlins Holiday Camp, in January 1940, and mustered as a Supply Assistant. We spent a week or so square bashing and were then sent on to Pwellheli in Wales. When we got there we were issued with tents, cooking equipment and spades and were marched three miles to set up camp from scratch in open fields. The Heads were alongside a railway line, which must have made the passengers realise that War is a terrible thing.
After three weeks more square bashing – but with no training for what we would be expected to do later – we were sent off to Barracks; the thinking was that we would get ‘hands-on’ training when we joined our ships, presumably big ones.
I stayed in Devonport, in the Clothing Store. It was at the time of the fall of France and there were loads of Frenchmen coming through for kitting up. Life in barracks was pretty good, we worked office hours and had no mess duties. There was an excellent cinema, with all the latest films, and admission was two pence. Then back to Skegness and an identical Clothing Store, but then in November came a draft chit to Viscount.
Viscount was in dock at the time being converted for escort duties. The ship hadn’t commissioned and the C & M (Care and Maintenance) party consisted of the Coxswain, the Buffer, Chief Stoker, Chief ERA, and myself; we all messed together. Needless to say I hadn’t a clue about what I was supposed to do. I discovered that there were various storerooms in various parts of the ship, but best of all there was a fair sized store which doubled as an office and which was reached by a hatch on the iron deck. I earmarked this as my cabin, organised a camp bed and a freestanding washbasin cabinet. Very civilised, and for a V&W sheer luxury.
In the office there was a pile of ledgers detailing loads of gear that I’d not only never seen, but never heard of. However, I quickly realised that a lot of stuff which should be there, wasn’t – dockyard mateys in Devonport lived up to their worldwide reputation. Things got a lot worse when we actually commissioned; the Captain, No. 1, the Cox’n, the Buffer, all wanted something. There was only one thing to do; go through the ledgers, and if an item was there – order it.
We did actually have a Supply Petty Officer but he decided that he was Victualling only and left me to my own devices. He had a pretty quiet life because in those days the V&Ws were on Canteen Messing. Some basic items like meat and vegetables were supplied, but in addition there was a cash allowance for every man which could be spent buying what the mess fancied from the NAAFI on board.
The drill was that each mess would prepare the cooked meal for the day and then take it up to the galley to be cooked. The galley was about twelve feet by six feet, most of which was taken up by a coal-fired range, presided over by two cooks for a ship’s company of about 150.
I was in the Stokers’ mess and being the only one who wasn’t a watchkeeper I was lumbered with quite a bit of the meal preparation, and was known for being a dab hand at baked jam roll! (When we had near riots on HMS Byron over canteen messing, I really wondered what all the fuss was about). The meat and vegetables were stored on the upper deck, but with no fridges or freezers they didn’t last long. There were no baths or showers and even the washing arrangements were pretty primitive. There was a metal bench arrangement with eight holes into which you put an enamel washbowl, having first taken it to a manual pump and pumped the water up. If you wanted a bath you got a friend to throw a couple of buckets of water over you, so the first item on a ‘Run Ashore’ was a hot bath.