The Ganges Naval Hospital
HMS Ganges was a Boys Naval Training Base. The recruits were on average 15 year olds. We never for moment imagined what we had let ourselves in for by joining the navy! Nevertheless, while the training was tough and punishments harsh we learned so much in that long hard year. Experiences we would forever carry with us for the rest of our lives. I have written much about Ganges, however this is one part of the training that took me longer to understand. It was one aspect of training not all boys would experience. In all walks of life there are always those who are lazy and seek to dodge work. No one ever got away with being lazy or work dodging at Ganges. But if one could fake being sick a few days, hospital might be a nice respite from training. These unsuspecting boys would soon learn, Like everything else at Ganges the sick bay was no place for a slacker!
Hospital at HMS Ganges!
Around October 1955 I was suffering from a nasty virus and was admitted to the hospital. Hospital admittance was often a target of boys looking for a few days in bed! The sick bay was usually full of boys with thermometers in their mouths, hoping they had a temperature. There were many methods employed by the boys to raise their temperatures. Some said using toothpaste under the tongue worked? Others when the SBA (Sick Bay Attendants)weren’t looking held their thermometer against the radiator. Few if any of these tactics worked, the SBAs were well aware of these malingerers. In my case no subterfuge was required, I was genuinely sick. Nevertheless, the thought of staying in bed all day, and having my meals served was an inviting prospect even when ill. Once I was installed in the ward in my clean and comfortable bed I relaxed. A nurse, took my temperature and gave me some foul tasting liquid to swallow. I then lay back enjoying the moment and the quiet ambience of my surroundings. At 1130 hrs dinner arrived (at Ganges there was no lunch, it was (breakfast-dinner-supper) boys in the ward who served us in bed. I didn’t give much thought to those serving, it just seemed to be what was expected. When they finished serving us they sat at a long table in the centre of the ward to eat. By noon there was more activity, the same boys that had served dinner were now collecting the trays and washing the dishes. By 1300hrs the ward was shipshape and once more quiet. The boys who had worked the dinner hour were now doing a variety of jobs, cleaning windows, dusting bed frames, cleaning bed tables etc. None of the working boys were allowed to lay on their beds during the day. Supper that evening was a repeat of dinner and washing up. At roughly 1930 hrs the boys doing all the work were now dressing in their pyjamas and readying for bed. Up to that point I hadn’t realized they were patients in the ward.. At 2100 hrs it was lights out, the nurse came around to check on me. The medicine must have made me sleepy because I was out like a light. Suddenly I was awakened by the harsh white lights of the ward and the hum of activity around me! It was 0500 hrs, and the boys who I now realized were called up patients, were busily moving all the beds from one side of the ward to the other. Beds were slid in between my bed and those on my right and left. Once the other half of the floor, oops I mean deck was cleared two boys sprinkled old tea leaves. Two more then swept the whole area, and I realized the tea leaves were to keep the dust down. Next boys using tongue depressors flicked globs of polish unto the deck and other boys with polishing mops worked it into the wooden deck boards. Finally the up patients vigorously polished the deck with soft mops. Once the shine was approved by the head nurse the process began all over again by moving everything to the other side of the ward. By the time this operation was complete it was 0700 hrs, time to wash brush teeth and shave(shaving was mandatory whether one needed to or not). Once again the up patients dashed around the ward handing out bowls of water to us bed patients to wash with. No time was wasted and by 0730 hrs breakfast was being served. Hospital food was no better than what was served in the main mess hall. My tray consisted of a mug of tea two rounds of toast and on my plate a kipper. I’m reasonably sure, as sick as I was, I still looked healthier than that kipper. At 0800 hrs the nurses and SBAs were checking on the bed patients, temperatures, medicines, injections, none were particularly gentle or sympathetic. Our beds were then straightened, tidied and we were told to lay still and not mess them up. On the dot of 0900 hrs the senior medical team arrived, a doctor, matron and two nurses . We were told to lay at attentions in our beds, They stopped at each bed to check the chart, perhaps ask a boy a question. I was now becoming aware this was a tense and fearful moment for each bed patient. If the doctor declared you fit enough to get up, well, you became a dreaded up patient. I also noticed the up patients all stood tall trying to look very healthy. They were hoping and praying they could be returned to duty, and when a boy did received his discharge his face beamed with relief. I was now well aware of the fate that lay in store for me, four days later I became an up patient. Finally I was discharged and very happy to return to my division and training. I had just learned that even when sick the training continued. I decided I’d never be ill again whilst at Ganges. However, a warning for those malingering sailors the sick bay was never going to be worth the effort. Ganges did indeed turn Boys into men
God Bless and keep reading