Another excerpt from a story I am working on. This is in draft form. More work to be done. I am now 95 pages into it. About 25% completed. It is fun and relaxing though. Hope to have it done by summers end.
In about a week’s time I was pulled out of school by the Kingswear council authorities and child welfare department. Our house on Church Hill was cleaned out, deloused and vacated as it was not family owned. My few belongings were passed to me in an old suitcase and carrying bag. Before I knew it and without any prior knowledge I was placed in the charge of the Royal Navy as a Boy Seaman, 3rd rate, under the auspices and guidance of the Royal Navy’s disciplinary regimen at HMS Britannia, Dartmouth. Being only 13 years young, soon to be 14, this was to be my lot in life until such time as I could join the Royal Navy as a formal recruit at eighteen years of age, if I wanted to, or as an Officer Cadet, if I was so inclined scholastically and again if I wanted to. Signing on at eighteen would be a twelve year commitment. I was not sure if I wanted that. How can a thirteen year old be sure of anything? But I had to survive.
Ruth went off to St Dunstan’s School for Girls, a private or public school in Plymouth. We would see each other from time to time over the next few years but only as her term breaks and my brief respites from my study and duties at Dartmouth would allow. Mr. Sommers continued his Saturday afternoon sails of which I accompanied him as my responsibilities would permit. Normally I had Saturday afternoons off, just after cleaning stations and Captain’s rounds. Unbeknownst to me at the time it was Mr. Sommers who contacted the local council and child services department in Kingswear and Plymouth about my personal station in life after my father passed.
How I loved those Saturday afternoons with Mr. Sommers and with Ruth. No longer an object of neglect but with three squares under my belt I was beginning to form out physically into an adolescent – a fine young man they said. Life at Dartmouth for a young lad such as myself was stark and harsh but I grew to enjoy it for it was secure and structured. Discipline could be severe but it was needed. Not physically abusive as one would think of an institution that was hundreds of years old. Never, ever were we brought before the mast with a lashing from a “cat o nine” tail. That was a maritime myth. But mentally? That was a different matter. Looking back on those years I can understand why. There were other boys like myself there with backgrounds as disturbing and as varied as the colour and sight lines of the many sailing craft on the Dart. There were “ner do wells,” the delinquents, the orphans, the physically abused, the homeless…well…just about every conceivable personality trait that covered the entire gauntlet of all of the social discords and ills of post war England. It was here and under these circumstances that I began my life’s journey into the maritime environment.
Over the next few years I learned a great deal. It turned out that I possessed an acuity and aptitude for mathematics and the sciences. I excelled at navigation, relative velocity and engineering. Seamanship came naturally for me, perhaps as a result of the many Saturday afternoons spent sailing with Mr. Sommers. My seamanship skills were quite advanced for my age. So much so that in my spare time I could be found scurrying about HMS HINDOSTAN, which was a decommissioned Royal Naval vessel, permanently moored at Sandquay, exactly 187 steps down from the Royal Naval School, HMS DARTMOUTH. The HINDOSTAN employed a Chief Boatswain Mate, or Bos’n, who was a senior plebe of the school assigned to the HINDOSTAN on a three month rotational basis. Given my age I was not yet qualified as an Officer Cadet or a Rating thus my presence there turned out to be the seamanship continuity on that ship. I got to know everyone from the college and they got to know me. Not always a pleasant experience as I was often times belittled and bullied by the Cadets who were of a class much higher and broader than mine. Amongst my own peer group of ner’do’wells etc…well we were all lower class in the eyes of the Cadets and not worthy of coexistence in their midst. One instance became ingrained in my mind and was directly responsible for one of my life decisions.
“You…you there…” someone yelled. I turned in the direction of the voice. It was a senior Officer Cadet, standing aft on the quarterdeck. I made a pointing gesture to myself without saying a word.
“Yes you…come here…NOW.” he had a number of fellow cadets with him. They were standing behind him, all snickering at my presence.
“Sir” I answered, for he was an Officer candidate if even under training.
“What is your name…turd.”
Confused at this turn, I answered. “Nigel.”
“Nigel what.” he came back.
“What? WHAT?” he screamed.
Oh…yes, I thought to myself: “Nigel Filtness…SIR” At attention now.
“Well Nigel Filtness Sir. Looking at your working dress I would say you were what, a Boy Seaman Third Class. Hmmm?” He looked me straight in the eye, sideways, with his left eyebrow raised.
“Yes Sir.” I answered meekly, without confidence.
“What?” he screamed.
“YES SIR” I bellowed.
“Well you know Boy Seaman Nigel Filtness Sir.” as he walked slowly around me, poking me with his “pace” stick. “You are the lowest of the low. The surface layered blackened scum of the bilge. To be expunged. You are not a seaman, you are certainly not a cadet, nor will you ever be an…Officer. So what are you Filtness? Hmmm? Hmmm?
“Whatever you want me to be…SIR.”
“Well Nigel Stillness…you are shyte as far as I…we…are concerned,,,Nigel.” he looked at me tauntingly but smugingly at his cohort. “Shyte of the lowest order of shyte, and that is low.”
“Yes Sir…”. I responded.
He looked at me for a while but wasn’t sure of what to say to me next. He was lost for words, as only bullies could be. He grunted, turned and with his colleagues crossed the brow, arrogantly, and left the ship to return up the 187 steps to the college. I stood still, remained at attention, humiliated and ashamed at my dressing down and my lack of resolve and ability to respond. But I couldn’t respond for fear of a major reprisal and punishment. Banishment from the college if I ever dared to challenge a pretend Officer, an Officer in waiting. No matter what the cause or occurrence. Being right did not always matter in the Royal Navy, especially when it came to the chain of command. That was the emotional discipline that we had to put up with. But it was nothing compared to the abuse I received all of my life at home.
“Pay no heed to them.” Petty Officer Brand offered in my defence.
It sure would have been nice to have had you there when this was going on. I thought to myself. Cowards, the lot of them. I looked up to PO Brand but for now I just shook my head and continued on with my chores. Inside I was fuming.
Other than the bullshyte abuse from some of the Cadets, life at the college was good. It gave me disciplined structure. My senior ratings were fair and treated me with some respect, probably due to my seamanship ability, aptitude for Celestial Navigation and common sense. My instructors, supervisors, all Naval Officers and Senior Ratings, were veterans of the war. They were extremely tough but fair minded. Our practical sessions were aboard some of the college’s sailing vessels, one of which was a 40 foot ketch. I excelled at sailing thus was given free hand at 16 years of age to assume charge of “Mercury” but under the watchful eye of Petty Officer Brand. We often sailed out into the channel for coastal navigational training and celestial practice when we had a clear and unobstructed horizon and clear skies. It was great fun.
It was now 1955. I was sixteen years on.