“Snippets” of An Ordinary Life – 2 – Feel At Home

As those who know me and those who read my blog know I served in the Royal Navy for 23 years but in this “snippet” of my life I thought I’d say something about how it came to pass.

The strange reality is that I actually travelled to the recruiting office in Sheffield to join the army having decided that I wanted to follow both my father and eldest brother Stephen into the Parachute Regiment.

As someone in a family whose great grandfather and grandfather served in WW1 and whose father and his brother my uncle served throughout WW2 and whose eldest brother was serving it only seemed natural in the summer of 1969 that I to join up to be a ‘Percy Pongo’.

At the time I had already qualified and had a really well paid job as a coal face electrician with the National Coal Board at Silverwood Colliery, or as they say in South Yorkshire “I worked down t’pit”.

However at the end of August 1969 having decided a life working over a mile under the earths surface was not really something I wanted to do for the rest of my working life I mounted my scooter and set off to the Sheffield Recruiting Office.

After an interview with the army recruiting sergeant including going through my employment record and qualifications and why I wanted to join the army he sat back and very clearly said …

Why?

With your trade qualifications you would be better off joining the navy and at that he took me down the corridor to the Navy Recruitment Office where the Chief Petty Officer convinced me to give it a go.

The sales pitch – for that is what all recruitment is – was that as a qualified electrician I could possibly enlist as a direct entry Petty Officer, however two weeks later I received a letter – for those young people 1969 was pre-mobile phones and the Internet – telling me that direct entry had been stopped and inviting me to a two day interview and assessment to be held in HM Naval Barracks (now HMNB Nelson), Portsmouth.

Two days in Portsmouth – how could I refuse and the “delight” of travelling from Sheffield to Portsmouth via London on British Rail.

One particular aspect of the assessment that I will always remember is experiencing for the first time psychometric testing.

The question that made me very curious as to what exactly it was supposed to reveal was one in which you were asked to underline specific words from a list describing your own personality.

So for example included in the list of over one hundred words were such as – nice, pleasant, aggressive, angry, peaceful, kind, considerate, inconsiderate, unpleasant etc, etc!

It turned out that the assessor was very interested in why I underlined them all and even more so when I simply said that given specific situations with specific people I could be any of them.

There was no feedback immediately afterwards so I returned back Rotherham none the wiser whether I had been accepted.

However after three weeks I received a letter included in which was a rail travel warrant informing me that I was to report to HMS Raleigh, Devonport on the Monday 3rd November 1969 where I was to enlist as an Ordnance Electrical Mechanician Apprentice.

In simple terms I was about to undertake another full time four year apprenticeship.

Basic military training as anyone who has served will tell you is about breaking down and then rebuilding the individual as a member of the military team.

The question is – When do you know when or even if you will fit in and be happy with the choice of a military life?

Well I knew it was for me on my first weekend in the Royal Navy namely Sunday 9th November 1969.

It came about because on the Sunday morning it was mandatory to go church so we were “fell in three deep” and at the by the left quick march order we marched smartly off to church for a service that started at 10am.

The Gunnery Petty Officer who marched us down could not be more of a caricature complete with shiny spit and polished boots, peaked hat that covered his eyes, pace stick and a booming voice designed to intimidate and ensure that it was immediately obeyed.

We entered the church and took our places in the pews like good obedient newbies.

This is where it started to get interesting because one of the lads forgot to take his cap off – the result of which was the sound of the booming parade ground voice of the Gunnery PO with the immortal words,

“TAKE YOUR HAT OFF IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD YOU IGNORANT LITTLE BASTARD”.

Most were shocked but I suppose at this stage I should say that I’m one of those people who is prone to collapsing into helpless laughter bordering on the hysterical or maniacal when I find something very funny.

And this was one such occasion not only because of the words, or where we were but that he actually didn’t seem aware at what he had said.

The upshot for me as that my helpless laughter on refusing to obey the order to “stop laughing” was to report to the Gunnery Instructors Parade Ground office at lunch time where I then had to complete five laps of the parade carrying a SLR rifle at high port – which for the uninitiated meant I had to run holding the rifle above my head.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely because perversely it is the moment I knew I was in a place where I wanted to be and until I left twenty three years later as a Warrant Officer it is a decision I will never regret.

Incidentally there may well be other “snippets” arising from my time in the Andrew – but that’s for another time.
N.B. I’m the jug eared one back row fifth from the left.😄