The National Heroes
Copyright 2008 by Deric Barry
All rights reserved. No part of this publication maybe reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is pure coincidence
January 10th 1955 was cold, grey, and drizzly. Danny’s train left the local Station at 7.30a.m, and he set off after saying goodbye to his Mother and Father, carrying a few things in an overnight bag. He would be issued with everything that he needed at H.M.S. Raleigh, the Naval Base where he was to start his National Service.
The train steamed into Cardiff station and he changed platforms to catch the Bristol train. Sitting in the train for Bristol, waiting for it to pull out, he saw a youth a little younger than himself saying goodbye to his parents on the platform. They were hugging him and generally making a fuss and Danny was glad that his own parents hadn’t come down to Cadoxton station with him, and caused the same tearful scene. The young lad got into Danny’s compartment, and as the train pulled out he waved to them from the window. His Mum was crying. He sat down opposite Danny and said, ‘Glad that’s over.’ Danny smiled. ‘You joining up?’ he asked.
‘Yes, Navy.’ ‘I’m Navy too. National Service. H.M.S Raleigh.’
‘H.M.S. Fisgard,’ he replied, ‘but they wouldn’t take me for National Service as I wanted a trade, so I had to sign on as a regular.’
‘Oh God,’ Danny replied, ‘Seven years. I thought two was bad enough.’ ‘No,’ said the lad. ‘I’m going in as an apprentice Artificer, and to do the apprenticeship you’ve got to sign on for twelve years.’ ‘Twelve years! That’s a lifetime. You’ll be an old man when you get out.’ ‘My Mum wasn’t very happy about it, but Dad agreed with me. It’s the best training for anyone.’ ‘I’ve got brothers in the Navy,’ Danny said. ‘They’re in for seven years, with five more on Reserve.’
The young lad’s name was Brian and he was just over seventeen years old. He was travelling to the Artificers training base at Torpoint, across the road from Raleigh. They could travel all the way together. A couple of hours later after steaming through the tunnel under the River Severn, the train pulled in to Bristol Temple Meads and they changed to the Plymouth train. It was a long, tiring journey and it wasn’t until five p.m. that they arrived at Plymouth North Road Station. Hundreds of young lads in civilian clothes poured off the train, milling about on the platform until the bellowing of the Naval Police sorted them out into two groups. One M. P was shouting ‘Raleigh’, and another bellowing ‘Fisgard’. Danny shuffled along with dozens of others and climbed into one of the buses labeled Raleigh.He had lost contact with Brian and had not even said goodbye.
The bus drove them to the Ferry Terminal at Devonport and they joined the queue of vehicles waiting to board the Ferry to Torpoint. They had a good view of all the Naval ships tied up in Devonport Dockyard, and the other ones, which were moored in the middle of the river. There were Aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, with submarines in clusters of three or four, tied up to each other, and dozens of very small, grey painted boats.
The buses trundled off the Ferry and took them through Torpoint and on to the Royal Naval establishments, about two miles outside of the town.
The buses disgorged Danny and the others inside the gates of Raleigh, which was a sprawling collection of stone buildings and wooden Nissan huts.
Inside the main gate was a huge sculpted head and shoulders of Captain Raleigh. The Guard hut was on the right hand side, and behind that, the office of the Officer of the day.
The duty Petty Officer lined them up outside the Guard hut, and checked their names off on his list, before handing them over to the Officer Of The Day with a smart salute.
‘You will be at Raleigh for eight weeks if you do well, do not get into trouble, and pass all your tests,’ the Officer told them. ‘If you do not do well, you will be back classed, which will mean another two weeks of training with the class coming behind you. You will continue to be back classed until you do pass your tests. If you are naughty boys and end up in detention, or worse still, serving a jail sentence, then the time spent in custody will not count towards your National Service, and you will still have it all to do when you are released.’
A few at the back started muttering. ‘Silence,’ the Officer bellowed. ‘The message is this, behave yourselves, work hard, and at the end of the training you will be assigned to ships. The training is strict, so the sooner you pull your fingers out and learn something, the sooner you will be released to a vessel where the lifestyle is a lot easier. While at Raleigh you will call all the instructors Sir,’ regardless of rank.’
The officer counted off the first twenty men. ‘You twenty men are Drake ‘A’ class.’ He counted off the next twenty. ‘You are Drake ‘B’, and the remaining twenty, Drake “C”.’ He turned to the duty Petty Officer.
‘Carry on, Petty Officer.’ The P.O. saluted and the Officer went inside.
‘Pick up your bags,’ the P.O. ordered. He handed them over to an ordinary rating with a propeller shaped badge on his arm. The Stoker marched them away in columns to the wooden huts, which were to serve as home for the indoctrination period of two weeks. During these two weeks they would complete their basic training, learn marching and rifle drills as well as complete their medicals, have jabs, visit the dentist, have their kit issued and learn to look after it.
The Stoker halted them outside a group of huts and they were assigned a hut per class. Drake “A” in the first hut, Drake “B” and “C” in the second and third huts. ‘Dump your bags on the nearest bed and then fall in again outside,’ the Stoker yelled. ‘Next stop is the mess-hall.’As Danny was very hungry by now, after not eating since he left home at breakfast time, he was quickly outside again. The others were right there with him and the Stoker lost no time in turning them right and marching them off to dinner.
The mess-hall was enormous and the noise was deafening. Shouting and laughter, cutlery rattling, chairs and tables scraping, an occasional plate or cup smashing on the floor followed by a great cheer, all the sounds mingling together in a hubbub of noise.
They were shepherded into line by the stoker and he shouted at them, ‘Pick up a tray and a mug and plate. Get some irons, and in an orderly fashion, file past the chefs.’There were mountains of bread, ready buttered, the slices stuck to each other, tea in huge urns, gallons of milk in others, and huge bowls of sugar. The chefs behind the counter dropped food on the plates whether it was wanted or not. At the far end of the cafeteria Danny discovered that he had bread, tea, meat of some description, potatoes, chips, peas, carrots, gravy, rhubarb and custard and apple pie. He followed the others to a table that had just been vacated and sat down to eat. The new intake were the only people in civvies. Danny felt a little bit self-conscious at the glances that people were throwing their way and the occasional comment of ‘Sprogs’ that he could hear. These others in uniform were seasoned matelots with up to eight weeks time in already.
After the meal they wandered back to their hut and perched on the beds, chatting. There were eight pairs of bunk beds each side of the hut with the heads at the windows and the feet pointing in to the centre of the hut. Alongside the head of each pair of bunks were two steel lockers, one for each occupant. Blankets and sheets were folded up on the top of the mattresses, and a pillow placed on the top.
The same Stoker came back and gathered them around him at the table.
‘Your routine for tomorrow will be a call at 05.30hours,’ he informed them.
‘Bloody hell!’ someone exclaimed.
‘You will wash and shave, and make the bunks up with the sheets and blankets folded neatly on top. Instruction in folding these up in the proper manner will be given later in the day. Breakfast is at 06.00 hours. After breakfast, muster back in the hut.
Until morning, your time is your own, but you cannot leave the base. Neither can you leave the base during the first two weeks of training. The N.A.A.F.I. is the large building at the far end of the mess-hall. There’s a beer bar, but be careful of the amount you drink. It’s patrolled regularly by the O.O.D. and his guards, and if he thinks you’ve had enough you will be escorted out.
There is also a cinema on the base, across the other side of the parade ground. I wish you a pleasant evening.’
He turned to go, then stopped and addressed them again. ‘One last thing, please leave the blue light on all night as it’s the police light. Anyone entering to rouse people in an emergency needs it to see by.’
When he’d gone, a little West Countryman said, ‘Christ, they even tell you how much you can drink. This is going to be a long two years.’ He shook his head sadly.
Danny joined a group of the lads who’d decided to go for a pint or two to help them settle in.
Bob Collins from Tredegar, Alec Short from Swindon, Graham Bennett from Truro in Cornwall, Tommy Wright from Gloucester, Geraint Roberts from Bridgend and Danny from Barry, near Cardiff. They gathered around a table in the N.A.A.F.I bar, which was crowded with recruits and old timers together. The beer was terrible, flat and watery but it was wet and welcome. They were soon relaxing, recounting their travelling experiences and joking around.
‘I met this young lad on the train,’ Danny said. ‘The poor bugger had signed on for twelve years to do an apprenticeship.'
The rest were horrified!
Alec Short told them to call him Shorty, after his surname. Tommy looked down on him and said, ‘Nothing to do with your five foot four, then?’
Shorty looked hurt. ‘Five foot five, if you don’t mind.’ He burst into laughter.
Graham said, ‘That meal was bloody disgusting, nothing short of pure crap.'
‘I was starving,’Danny said, ‘so I scoffed the lot.'
‘I couldn’t eat that muck,’ Graham said, ‘That wasn’t any meat that I’ve seen before.’
‘Probably horse,’ Tommy said.
‘More like bloody donkey,’ Shorty answered.‘The spuds were black,’ Bob said.
‘Probably meant for the pigs,’ Graham laughed. We feed our pigs better than that at home.’
‘That bloke sitting opposite me had gravy and custard mixed up on the same plate,’
Shorty said. He mimed puking up. ‘Yuk. ‘When I go past the chefs tomorrow,’ Shorty added,
‘I’ll wait till they’re about to drop the crap on my plate, then I’ll pull it away.
They can have it back, splat!’
Around 9.30 they decided to go back to the hut and turn in as it was going to be an early start in the morning. Some lads were already sleeping, so they made up their bunks in the blue light, as quietly as they could. Shorty stubbed his toe on the steel frame and cursed out loud which
brought a ‘Shut up,’ from further down the hut. Danny’s was a top bunk and it creaked and groaned as he climbed into it and settled down. Geraint was in the one below him and he whispered, ‘Stop pulling your pud, Dan, the bunk don’t like it.’ They laughed quietly, and whispered goodnight. Danny lay there thinking that the first day hadn’t gone too badly.
At 05.30 hours the lights were snapped on and a large, mean looking Petty Officer with a brick red face started shouting ‘Wakey, wakey; Drake “A”, stop sleeping. Upsy daisy;’ He walked through the hut hitting the steel beds with his stick, bellowing all the while. They roused themselves, cursing, muttering, sitting up in bed, blinking at the harsh lights, while the P.O. continued until he was sure that they were awake. ‘Come on, hit the deck, it’s a beautiful day, no good loafing around here, move yourselves.’ The bathroom and showers were in the passageway linking the huts together and they crowded in to use the washbasins and showers, sullen and moody; moaning and groaning. ‘Christ, what a way to wake up,’ Geraint muttered. They quickly washed and shaved, waiting in line until a washbasin became free, then went
back to the hut, stripped their bunks and helped each other to fold the sheets and blankets.
They straggled out to the mess-hall and joined the queues for porridge, bread, butter and jam
and mugs of scalding tea. The porridge was dry and lumpy; the bread stale and curled up, left from last night’s meal, and the tea smelled of chlorine but it was all that there was, so they glumly ate and drank, mostly in silence except for Shorty who moaned and groaned, cursed the poor food, the Government, the Navy and anyone in authority. They trooped back to the hut in a miserable and sorry condition, and gathered in little groups, bemoaning their fate. The door opened and a short, dark, Petty Officer entered. ‘I am Petty Officer Granger’, he said. ‘I am your course instructor for the next two weeks. During these two weeks you are confined to H.M.S. Raleigh. Yourinitial training will consist of Squad drill, Rifle drill, lectures, films and physical training. Everywhere we go as a class we will double march. This morning you will be issued with your kit, which is yours to keep and maintain. In your pay you will notice that there is included a kit upkeep allowance of three pence per day. If you lose any item of your kit, you will replace it out of your kit upkeep allowance. A new cap costs eight shillings, or 96 pennies, so be very careful of your kit. If you lose something, do not think that you will get away without replacing it, because you will have a kit muster every Wednesday and Saturday. Every item of your kit will be checked. Once you have your kit, you can pack up your civvies and send them home to Mum. There will be no further use for civilian clothes while you are at Raleigh. Now fall in outside.’
They formed up in three columns and Granger doubled them off to a group of huts, which made up the stores, to be kitted out. They queued up and entered the stores in single file, where the storekeepers asked their sizes, or guessed them if they didn’t know. They were issued with uniforms, jerseys, caps, boots, Burberrys, underwear, socks, working denims and shirts, overalls, boot brushes, tin mugs, kit bags, badges, cap tallies, lanyards and black silk scarves. Each man staggered in to the next hut and placed his kit on the long tables, which ran the length of the building. When they were settled down with their pile of kit in front of them, the P.O. Storeman took over He showed them how to make up a block containing their names from large buckets of wooden letters and full stops. The letters were slid into the block until the man’s initials and surname were complete. The blocks were then dipped in black marking ink and the name stamped on the kit. For the dark items there was a white label to be stamped which the recruit could sew into the clothing later. There were metal letters to stamp their boots with and larger stencils to mark the kitbags. Once all their kit had been marked they carried it back to the hut, where P.O. Granger would give them new instructions.
Granger came in. ‘Right, everyone get out of his civvies and into his No.8’s. No.8’s are the blue denim shirt and trousers.’ When they were dressed in their new kit, Granger showed them how to tie the cap ribbon around the cap, with the bow placed over the left ear and the E in Raleigh over the nose. Your boots can be worn as issued today, but tomorrow they must be polished to a high gloss,’ he shouted. ‘Your No l’s is your best blue uniform, only to be worn on Sunday morning parades and ashore, when you are eventually allowed to go.’ Granger held up Tommy’s blue uniform. ‘As you see, it consists of navy blue bell bottomed trousers which button up around the waist with three buttons, then a flap which covers the three buttons. The navy blue jumper is a tight fit and is put on by sliding the arms through first, then raising it above the head and wriggling it down over the body. Under this you wear the Seamen’s jersey and the light blue Seaman’s collar. Once the jumper is on, the collar is pulled out and laid flat over the collar of the jumper. Then the black silk, ironed into a flat, two inch wide scarf is placed around the neck under the collar and tied into place on the front of the jumper with these two black ribbons permanently fixed to the jumper. Your white lanyard is then placed under the collar, draped over the front of the silk and led under the right hand side of it, underneath in a loop, and then under the left hand side and tucked into the front of the jumper. Your No 2’s are the next best uniform, to be worn around Raleigh in the evenings, without the blue collar. You are responsible for washing your own kit, drying it and ironing it. The sailors trousers are to be pressed inside out, with horizontal stripes of equal distance apart up the legs, seven for tall men and five for short men. The blue sailors collar is to have three vertical stripes pressed into it, the centre stripe ingoing and the other two outgoing. Those of you who have been in the Sea Cadets, will be able to instruct the others in how to press the uniform.’ Granger instructed them to pack the rest of their new kit in their lockers, and use the padlock which had been issued, to secure it.
‘I’ll never get all this lot in that little locker,’ Shorty moaned. Granger came across to him. ‘What’s the problem?’ he asked. 'There’s too much of this crap to go in the locker,’ Shorty moaned.
‘Crap!’ Granger bellowed. Crap! That’s the Queen’s uniform lad.'
‘Well maybe she can get it in the friggin' locker,' Shorty answered. Granger was incensed: his face turned beetroot red.
‘Stand to attention.’ he screamed. 'Name?’ Shorty dropped the jumper that he was trying to fold up and stood rigidly to attention.
‘Alec Short,’ he answered.
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