My First Career
On 5 January 1942, I went to Shotley Royal Naval Base for a medical examination, which I passed despite being under the height requirement of five feet. I was four feet ten and a half inches, six stone six lbs (42.3 kg), and fifteen years, five months and twenty days old. I was an under-sized, under-aged piece of ‘cannon fodder.’ The school received a twenty-five pound Sterling bounty payment upon my delivery to the Royal Navy. My body was sold for approximately 55p or Aus $1-15 a Kilo or 30 cents U/S per lb.
After a gruelling train journey to Fleetwood (near Liverpool,) I embarked in the early morning on the Isle of Man steam packet, ‘Rushen Castle’. It took four hours to get to Douglas, the capital and main port on the Isle of Man. I hadn’t been at sea for four years.
Looking piteously at the first-timers berleying on the boisterous Irish sea, I was reminded of my first experience of sea sickness on a Portsmouth to Isle Of Wight ferry in 1938 the ‘Lorna Doone,’ a coal burning paddle steamer that smelled of beer, egg sandwiches, and tarred rope. I believe it was put to good use evacuating soldiers from Dunkirk (Dunkerque) France in June 1940.
The Bible in my possession said, ‘To John Leonard Spencer on the Feast of the Epiphany, 7 January 1942.” It was signed by the Rev. Harling. I often wonder if the Rev. Harling ever made it to heaven.
Some of the other entrants who wore sailor’s gear like mine were from other navy schools. Some wore civilian clothes. It was Wednesday, 7 January 1942. I was now a boy, 2nd Class RN. The Americans had beaten me to this war thing by thirty-one days, but I was better prepared than most for my next encounter with a new type of authority.
January 1942 – HMS St. George – Douglas, Isle of Man
This Royal Navy training establishment was formerly ‘Cunningham’s Holiday Camp’ but the happy camper syndrome had long since disappeared. Being in the New Entry Division involved attending lectures, basic drill, and sewing our names on clothing with either red or black embroidery cotton in chain stitch. A bloke called Ian Cox finished first, but his smile vanished when he was given the task of helping poor little James Henry Morgan-Smythe.
Although the food was not to the liking of some recruits who had supposedly eaten better, they were surprised at my willing acceptance of it. To me, it was of a quality and quantity that was far better than I had previously experienced.
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