Sixty years ago on the 15th March 1955, I entered the gates of HMS Ganges, a boys Royal Naval Training establishment located in the village of Shotely England. A harsher place I have never known and yet they provided the best training a boy could ever want. The photos with this blog are of my 50th anniversary certificate of becoming a Ganges Boy and a sailor. We were so young at 15 years of age, innocent, frightened. bewildered, never before away from home and belonging to the Navy, body and soul for the next 12 years. In fact that 12 years didn’t start to count until we were classified as men at age 18. Things were very strict at the camp and the training severe. if one boy erred we were all punished. We were up at 5.30 am, our beds stripped sheets and blankets folded in a uniform pattern. We shaved whether we needed to or not, the water was cold and there was no heat in our barracks, summer or winter. My joining was somewhat odd because of the dates, Easter fell about three weeks after we arrived and the whole camp closed down for Easter leave (three weeks). My family thought I had found a real cushy number in the navy when I arrived home so soon after leaving. Nevertheless, leave was a difficult time for us new boys. Just half way through basic training we stopped for three weeks. This made it all the more difficult when we returned. Now we knew what to expect, indeed it was too much for a few.. A couple of boys decided they’d had enough and didn’t come back. This was desertion, the police were called in and the boys found and returned. Punishment for such a crime was severe, six 0r twelve cuts with the cane. This was carried out by the Master-At-Arms, he administered the cuts across the boys rear end. The victim was bent over a chair while a Medical Officer observed the laying on of six or twelve welts on the boys buttocks. It raised angry looking welts but they were usually careful not to actually break the skin and cause bleeding. As I’m sure you can imagine few boys ever ran away twice. I have always thought this punishment a more acceptable version of our historic traditional Navy of canon and canvas, lash and cat-o-nine tails. You may well wonder why we allowed ourselves to be in such a dire situation. We didn’t know until we entered the gates and then it was too late. We had signed away lives to the Royal Navy, they owned us for the foreseeable future. I realize how dreadful this story must sound, yet I’m so proud to call myself a Ganges Boy, and I doubt you will find an Ganges Boy who would not agree with me. Outside the Gym at Ganges was the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling “IF” the last sentence reads “Yours is the Earth and everything in it. And – which is more you’ll be a Man my son”. Truer words were never spoken, Ganges turned boys into men.
God Bless and keep reading.