This is a brief account of the trials and suffering of a young shipmate who joined the Navy in Belfast with me on 14th March 1955. If you look at the photo he is at the front second on the right. You can clearly see his elbows are out of both sleeves on his work shirt, just one of the no no’s at HMS Ganges. I pick up this story in the autumn of 1955, we had been in the navy six months.
By far his biggest problem was his dress and deportment. He always seemed to arrive on parade in a uniform that was badly in need of ironing or a visit from a needle and thread. His unsightly appearance was guaranteed to send our Instructors into a fit of rage. This made things bad for the whole class because we were often punished as well because of his sloppy turn out. Trevor quickly found himself very unpopular with his messmates.
We also had a full kit inspection on a regular basis, and these were usually a disaster for Trevor. His whites had taken on a grayish hue, and, like his deportment, fell far below the expected standard.
One day, returning from my second leave in August, I was waiting at the Belfast quay when his mother approached me. She asked me to help her son and naturally I agreed. But she didn’t fully understand what she was asking of me. Just keeping myself at the correct standard required was difficult enough. To help Trevor as well was all but impossible. Of course we were encouraged to work as a team and help each other where we could, but that didn’t mean washing his kit, doing his ironing, dressing him or supervising his drill. Every boy was expected to become proficient in these areas by himself. Besides, if you were caught helping someone lay out his kit for inspection you could well find yourself under punishment.
When Trevor returned from leave his whites were the envy of the whole mess. His mother had washed them until they looked as clean and pure as virgin snow. Alas, they didn’t remain like that for long. All too soon they returned to their usual dull grey, and so did his troubles.
Trevor’s career remained on a downward spiral; he was always in trouble, suffering one punishment after another. Petty Officer Russell, our Gunnery Instructor, became so frustrated with his constant grubby appearance that he ordered him to be washed out on the parade square.
Of all the unusual things I saw at Ganges, this stands out as the cruelest and most soul destroying, of them all. A washtub was placed on the parade ground and filled with cold water. Both classes were made to participate in what followed. Trevor was ordered to strip naked and get into the tub, and we had to scrub him down with stiff scrub-brushes and ‘pusser hard’ soap. No one could avoid participating in this dreadful punishment. To try and dodge it meant we’d be next in the tub.
When it was all over Trevor’s skin was red raw, and tears streamed down his face. The pain and torture he suffered that day was surely better suited to an older Navy of cannon and canvas. I really felt Trevor’s awful agony, yet there was nothing I could do to console him.
I can’t remember the exact date, but some weeks later he disappeared from Ganges. He had been discharged as an unsuitable candidate for the Navy. It was dreadful news and I felt I’d failed my shipmate. I questioned if I could have done more. Had I tried harder, might things have turned out differently? But in retrospect, there was really nothing I could have done for him. Trevor just wasn’t cut out for a life in the Navy.
While no one could argue that this was not a cruel and demeaning punishment of a 15 year old boy, it was just the way Ganges functioned. The Ganges motto “Turning Boys into Men” and believe me it worked. My training has stood me in good stead my whole life and to this day I remain a proud Ganges Boy.
God Bless and keep reading