Jolly Jack Tar – What Happened?

Once upon a time in the distant past (actually between 1969 and 1992) I served in the Royal Navy following on from those sailors both volunteers and pressed men who over the centuries established the attitude and persona that went under the name Jack Tar.

Now everyone who serves on the lower deck in the Royal Navy whether as a seaman, artificer, shipwrights, electrician or stoker (OK I recognise they now have much posher and cleverer names) recognised instantly when someone said “Good Morning Jack”.

Jack in those days wasn’t defined by his visual appearance, after all he had the unmistakable uniform that raised him above mere mortals, but by his happy go lucky, work hard, play hard attitude.

Not for Jack cries of woe when things and times were not the best and to cry about being victimised or discriminated against would certainly have led to him being the butt of mess-deck mockery and humour.

When caught out Jack didn’t call his lawyer or mum but simply accepted and took responsibility for his own, often self destructive actions and accepted the punishment that came his way.

Though of course when at the captains table if he could fabricate a convincing story to get out of it without dropping others in it he would and some of the mitigation’s and excuses are matters of legend within the service.

(I’ll perhaps share some in subsequent blogs).

Jack’s attitude was formed and refined from living in a world that was free from the rules of what may be considered ‘polite society’, in other words he was rough when it came to manners and his ability to curse and swear is legendary.

Jack simply laughed at anything and anybody when they were being ridiculous, inept or just downright stupid irrespective of rank, race, creed, religion or gender, it didn’t matter one bit, he would take the piss out of anyone and not the least he would take the piss out of himself.

Jack was never offended when someone took the piss out of him because he quite probably deserved it and anyway it was a normal and natural part of life.

But there was another side of Jack that outsiders never saw.

He would no matter what the cost stand up, for and by his oppos and if they needed support Jack would be there come hell or high water for as long as it took irrespective of whether his oppo was right or wrong – it didn’t matter.

When ashore Jack had two pastimes the first of which was to chase women (who by the way contrary to the ‘hello sailor’ image he loved them) which he did with energy and drive sometimes even actually catching one which incidentally happened a great deal less often than his legendary stories would have you believe.

His second pastime was partaking of his favourite tipple, beer (especially after the daily tot was stopped) which he drank in prestigious quantities to the extent that it would on occasions land him in a whole heap of trouble.

No complaints were forth coming when faced with punishments Jack just took it on the chin, sobered up, did his punishment and at the next port of call went out and did it all over again.

On the rare occasions Jack did grumble it was the type of complaints that could only be made by someone who really loved his job and especially being at sea.

Often was the cry “only 20 yers to go and you can ram this job” whilst at the same time being hugely proud of being in the Royal Navy – or Andrew – as they know it.

Whichever ship Jack was on it was the best in the RN and seeing as how as far as he was concerned the RN is the best navy in the world – bar none – then his ship was the best warship in the whole world.

Personal and collective pride was the by-word for Jack.

Behind it all Jack never quite grew up having a twinkle in his eye and always looking at life as a great adventure and yet he was a rough as a man could be and as tough as he needed to be to survive.

He worked hard and played even harder occasionally crossing the lines of acceptability according to the Queens Regulations for the Royal Navy (QRRN) that led to a bout of number 9’s or stoppage of leave that let him know the line had been crossed.

Talking to sons of my former mates who have followed their fathers into the RN it appears that the traditional long established and loveable Jack has gone into terminal demise.

Apparently stories of daring do, ingenious ways of getting into – and out of – trouble, usually when pissed are no longer bandied about the mess-decks because someone is almost certain to be offended.

And heaven above if you even think of telling a bawdy tale or make a ribald comment.

A wicked and sarcastic piss taking sense of humour is now considered unacceptable and a liability whereas only 20 years ago it was a necessity.

Today offence is the new watchword and it is considered almost a criminal offence to puncture someone’s over inflated opinion of themselves and their worth.

I suppose it falls under the remit of progress but give me the traditional Jack over the 21st sanitised Jack any day.

NB. I wonder how many will read this and take it all too seriously 🙂 🙂