- Newton, A.C., RN (Rtd)
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
‘TO HEAR OF HIS OLD SHIP BEING SOLD to the shipbreakers is, to the sailor, like the death of an old pal.’ So wrote Mr. A. C. Newton, R.N. (Rtd.), when relating a few humourous incidents of life aboard. He goes on to relate:
It doesn’t seem so very long ago (December, 1905) since I stepped aboard the Encounter, a comparatively new ship, shining in her fresh paint, straining at her cable in the Medway tide off Sheerness, Kent.
The commission didn’t start too happily because she was ordered to leave for Australia on New Year’s Eve. Just one of those jolts which all ranks and ratings are liable to receive in the Service; but it meant a lot to the crew who were to say farewell to their nearest and dearest for over two years.
There was also an ugly rumour that the ship was top-heavy and that she would never cross the Bay of Biscay.
Officers and men were not so acquainted with the theories of ships’ metracentrics, angles of stability and righting moments as they are now, and the dread of capsizing really enters the minds of many. However, the Bay was on its best behaviour and once in the Mediterranean the unwarranted apprehension was forgotten.
I must mention a little joke which happened whilst crossing the Bay. We had on board a detachment of Royal Marines who were taking passage to Garden Island. Most of them were having their first sea trip, and one poor youth in particular was very seasick. The Boatswain (a typical old salt) observed him and decided to pull his leg. Walking up behind the marine, whose face was almost the same colour as the white enamel paint he was washing, the Bos’n said, ‘H’m, and what were you, my lad, before you shipped?’ ‘Me, sir? I was a minder,’ replied the seasick one faintly with a yawn. ‘A minder? What used you to mind?’ the Bos’n asked, grimly. The seasick eyes looked pathetically at the Bosn’s with the reply. ‘I used to mind my own darned business, sir.’ The Bos’n went down to his cabin, pulled the curtain and kicked himself. He never asked that marine any more questions.
We had a skipper who, like all skippers, had his peculiarities; this one’s weakness was scrubbers and scrubbing. Many a Thursday afternoon when the Quartermaster was just about to pipe ‘Make and mend,’ or ‘Leave to the Watch’, the decision would suddenly be arrived at to scrub the upper deck with sand. We scrubbed by numbers. One two was a forward and backward motion of the scrubber, and the three four was a short pace forward of six inches, the Captain of the Top had to do the counting and sprinkle the sand from his wash deck bucket, also to the beat; all motions had to be done together. If a scrubber was found stowed away with the bristles upward somebody became a target. All scrubbers had to be stowed hairs down, and that was more important even than winding chronometers.
Well, we arrived in due course at Farm Cove and received on board the usual officials and heads of departments. We were very proud of our batteries of 6 in. BL Mk. VII. guns, and soon had them looking like burnished silver, but on one occasion we were inspected by the Commodore of the day. He passed along the battery; and looked at our guns and the crew, and then turning to the Captain said, quite coolly, ‘They’re all breech loaders, I suppose?’ I remember the groans from the guns’ crews.
Talking about guns reminds me of an incident which happened once when we were ordered to ‘calibrate’. Nobody knew much what calibrating meant, much less how to work out the muzzle velocities, but we knew each gun had to fire in turn with a full charge. When we came to No. 4 gun Starboard and fired, it immediately recoiled right out of its cradle and laid down on the upper deck in rear of the gunshield. Luckily there were no casualties, but it took an awful lot of red tape, files of correspondence and numerous inspections to prove that the piston nut was defective. I suspect the real and unofficial cause was that the unfortunate armourer forgot to fill the recoil cylinder and there was therefore no hydraulic action. The accident had its good results all the same because later on there wasn’t an ordinary Seaman, or even a Paymaster, on the ship who did not know off by heart and understand the old, old story about: ‘The port in the piston head travelling over the valve key, etc.’ – you know the rest. They even understood the adjustable spigot, too.