Ashore & Afloat 1949 - 1953
The Nelson Block, Plas Newydd
key reason for moving from Bangor was to obtain more space for
accommodation and sports. One significant gain was the use of the one
end of Plas Newydd as dormitories for New Chums and junior cadets who
spent at least their first term ashore. The accommodation was
officially called the Nelson Block but was generally referred to as The
House. "Our" end of the House was accessed by a sloping lane down from
the Kelvin Block which accessed a small yard and entrance.
Floor: The entrance hall had a small room for the duty cadet captain
and duty messenger fitted with an announcement system that broadcast to
all rooms. The small "Chinese" gun was in the entrance and Nestor's
bell was outside the entrance door. To the left, up a short flight of
stairs, was the mess deck and galley with a number of small rooms, one
adopted as a hobbies room. There was also access to a rear yard where a
small wooden hut was erected containing a full sized billiard table. To
the right, and on the right, was a small room with the Ship's telephone
system. To the right and on the left were two rooms. One used as the
Cadet Captain's Gun Room, Between them a narrow flight of stone stairs
led to the two upper floors.
floors were organised very much the same way. There was a long central
corridor with brown polished lino, ending (on the left) with a cross
door into the `marquis's private quarters. This was a fire door and so
unlocked but cadets were not supposed to venture through. To the
left were two dormitories on the front of the House with splendid views
over the Strait. These were separated by a narrow room with washbasins
on each side. On the first floor there was a very large library on the
back of the House and further dormitories looking out over the back of
the House and grounds. The second floor had the same number of rooms
but all used as dormitories.
dormitories were of various shapes and sizes but all were equipped with
a number of two tier bunks with two large clothes drawer below. There
were also tall wooden cupboards for each cadet. The upper half hanging
space the lower half extra drawers. Bunks were all numbered but there
was no bunk 13. The furnishings were all designed by Captain Gouda and
specially built to order.
The dormitories were named for noteworthy ships:
Fxl (2nd floor on front of house): Andes & Nestor
Hold (2nd floor on back of house): Mauritania
Fore (1st floor [front?]): Ohio & Rangitiki
Main (1st floor): Rawalpindi
Mizzen (1st floor): Jervis Bay & Orontes
had a large framed picture of the appropriate vessel. There was also
some memorabilia e.g. Ohio’s brass after steering wheel and Nestor's
was in the first term to occupy Plas Newydd shore establishment
where we stayed for one term before joining the hammock brigade
on board. I remember NO huts at all only the Kelvin Block and
later a canteen in the grounds (now the national Trust cafe Ed).
The cadets who preceded us thought we were being given soft treatment
but I well remember ALL the ships company making good use of the
new fangled showers ashore as there were only a few baths aboard
and one had to sign the bath book each time it was your tops turn
to use them. As I remember both taps initially were so bloody
hot that even water from the cold tap had to have cold water added
from a churn, cant remember where that came from now though. As
you would imagine after half the top had bathed both taps were
bloody cold!!! The trick was to try and get the happy medium in
the pecking order. Baths were only allowed one per week incidentally
whether one needed one or not as also was a change of underclothes.
As we were charged for laundry some types economised and I remember
my friend Moggie Williams wearing his blue working shirt
all term and being proud of the fact that the red stitching which
was part of the makeup of the shirt, was almost invisible at term
end. I expect he would be horrified now if one of his kids
tried that trick!!"
The school year began with each new
entry. There were three entries per year, Spring, Summer and Autumn.
Each entry had about 50 - 60 cadets in it and you only spent 2
years or six terms at the ship. "Our entry was I believe
the second to spend two terms ashore, then the last four on board.
In the fourth term if you were in the upper half after the third
term you went to the Outward bound at Aberdovey. You had to complete
the 6 terms to get the one year reduction in qualifying sea time
for second mates."
Abusing the Water Boat
"We accidentally grounded
the Juice Barge on a Thursday morning practical at Port Dinorwic
slip. Strangely... just a few yards from the cafe! (see 1971
Messing Around With Boats Ed) Two unusually unpleasant petty
officers, and the rather unhappy boats crew refloated the vessel
at, (if my memory serves correctly), something like 11 pm the
same evening at the top of high tide."
"I was also present on another
occasion when the same imposing vessel had to be hauled over some
yards of shingle with the aid of bulks of timber, white lead,
tallow and about fifty cadets. The water boat had grounded broadside
on, above the shingle bank near the Port Dinorwic slipway at the
top of a spring tide. Captain
Hewitt was heard to be remarkably forthright with the boats crew
that he judged had done their best to deprive the ship of water
for a month."
Heaving The Lead
"The Seamanship Officer
was the ex-RN heavyweight boxing champ and was so formidable that
on the dreaded occasion that I had to heave the lead for examination
purposes from a platform over the reeds. I knew I couldn't get
it over the top and sure enough I felt the line go slack when
it was vertically over my head. With the class watching and him
glowering below my only thought was not to damage his 14lbs lump
of lead. I looked up and the missile was descending and I caught
it like a cricket ball and it drove me right across and into the
chains. The lead was clutched to my chest and I dare not move
until ordered to do so, and I could hear the wind in the reeds
and the pewits calling. After a while I stood up festooned with
rope, and a subdued titter of laughter ran through the class.
Another 5 mins passed and we were all frozen in time, until the
oracle spoke, "Well at least he tried, get down off there
you bloody fool" and gratefully I descended the ladder which
shook with my trembling. I was very relieved when I went to sea
to find believe it or not they had electronic depth sounders and
my erstwhile skill of heaving the lead was obsolete."
& The Conway Snowdon Scout Group
of the delights of the Menai Strait was that it was on the edge
of Snowdonia. Very quickly groups of cadets started expeditions
into the mountains at weekends. There
was no adult supervision, cadets were completely on their own.
Each outing had to write up a report of their expedition.
Another daily event that would be impossible today!
In addition the
Conway Snowdon Scout Group was a more organised version. The Padre
had formed this scout group with the Rector of Llanberis and cadets
spent odd weekends staying in the Rectory. They also would walk
there from the ship – about 12 miles. Each year Patrols competed
for the Haigh Trophy. This required a variety of hikes and following
of clues, solving of puzzles and completing of challenges. The sort
of thing that outdoor team building organisations still do today.
They were able to take various tests that qualified them for Snowdon
badges. A typical weekend would have involved at least 30 miles
walking up and down mountains!
grew to 270. New Chums were now accommodated in part of Plas Newydd
called the Nelson Block, a practice that continued to the end.
A stone barn was used as tuck shop. It is now the National Trust
Ticket Office, Shop and Cafeteria.
"My term was the first
to spend a first term in the house, and we went round the Marquis'
part several times, I well remember those columns, they were so
real. The part I loved was the library where we were allowed to
read, but not take away the old books, some printed back in the
seventeenth century. I was privileged to be able to read the first
chapter of a first edition of Gulliver’s travels while one
of the Marquis' footmen stood close watch over us to make sure
we treated them with the respect they deserved. Whenever I smell
the odour of a really old book nowadays, it takes me back to that
The top system was revised at this
time. In the Nelson Block Fo'c's'le were berthed in Nestor and
Andes dorms, Foretop in Ohio and Rangitiki, Maintop in Rawalpindi,
Mizzentop in Jervis Bay and Orontes and The Hold in Mauritania
(by my time in 1964 The Hold had disappeared as a top although
the Mauritania dorm continued). Cadets then stayed in their tops
throughout their time at Conway. The previous scheme had been
for New Chums to join as Fo'c's'lemen and then move to Maintop
(the biggest boys), the smallest in Mizzentop and the rest to Foretop.
Boys now joined between the ages
of 13 years 6 months and 14 years 9 months. They remained for
three years. They could also join aged 14 years 9 months and 16
years 6 months and remain for two years.
"Cupid Williams one day was
sat at his desk early one morning recovering from the previous
nights boozing when a Cadet whose name I seem to remember as Cretch
crawled unseen on his hands and knees up to right under the front
of his desk and then suddenly jumped up and frightened poor old
Cupid nearly to death. Despite being a man of the cloth, albeit
not with a parish or anything such as that, probably due to his
addiction to the bottle, recovered himself very quickly and floored
Cretch with one swipe! Whereupon he sat down and Cretch returned
to his seat and no one said a word!"
"I remember the Padre because
he spoke in a high falsetto and was considered to be "queer"
but harmless. He spoke in a high falsetto , was a talented cross
country runner and was a great friend of the Vicar in Llanberis.
Cadets went to stay at this rectory over the weekend for some
hill walking where it was purported certain overtures were made.
As far as I remember everyone seemed to know but was not unduly
bothered about it just pleased to get away from the ship for a
weekend and kept them both at arms length"
"The Padre when committing
the ashes of an Old Conway to the deep from one of the two "pulpits"
on the quarterdeck forgot or had not noticed that during the service
the ship had swung on her moorings and the wind was blowing in
such a way that the ashes when spooned over the side descended
down and through the porthole of the cabin underneath, which just
happened to be his. As we were going down the hatch after being
fallen out from the parade we were treated to the sight of the
Padre sweeping up ash from the floor of his cabin sayin "Dear
oh dear oh dear" The second committal was via the dustpan
and brush! Happy days."
Lowe fell overboard and drowned despite efforts to save him. He fell
from the Ship while climbing around onto the Captain's Walkway to clean
it. He was observed by an accompanying cadet to fall some distance onto
the tumblehome before landing in the water. It is very likely that he
was unconscious when he went into the water. He was wearing sea boots
which filled with water and dragged him down. From then on all cadets
had to wear oversize sea boots which came off easily.
cross strait swim was held.
In about 1950 the anchors were checked
and the chains were renewed by the Liverpool Salvage Company's
vessel 'Ranger'. "She lay alongside Conway for about
ten days and I well remember a few of us spending a lot of time
in her engine room. It was a great place for a quiet smoke and
a mug of hot sweet tea. The crew were very kind to us youngsters
and told us a lot of Rangers history. She was originally a gunboat
built about 1880 and had served in the Med and the Far East stations.
The engine room gleamed with polished steel and brass and a small
steam generator ran so quietly that the only way we could tell
it was running was the blur of the connecting rods and the occasional
puff of steam. At supper time they gave us giant jam sandwiches
that must have been a couple of inches thick and contained half
a pound of lovely strawberry jam. And this was still in the days
of rationing and food coupons."
Nights in the Hold
of the Nursery on the orlop deck was the hatchway to the hold,
leading down from aft to forward into the tunnel (the old shaft
tunnel) along which new chums had to run the gauntlet of older
hands as they staggered with their hammocks into or out of the
hold. On cinema nights the front row of the stalls was composed
of a pile of hammocks, on which senior hands sprawled to look
up at the screen at the fwd end of the hold. The hammocks they
pulled out of the racks nearly always belonged to focslemen, and
they were not likely to be stowed back in the same rack, which
resulted in further worries for new chums, anxious to get
their hammocks slung in the short time allowed. As Masefield says,
what is a new chum for if not to entertain his seniors?"
The Jam Locker
Under the hanging
coats between the foretops on the Orlop deck was a large hatch cover,
leading down to a provisions stowage, known as "the Captain's
jam locker". "There was certainly jam down there as
a member of our term had a key to the hatch cover padlock. Occasionally,
about half an hour after lights out, a shadowy figure would arrive
and disappear in among the coats. The creaking of the hatch would
be heard once, then a second time and two or three of the marauder's
grateful pals would each feel the weight of a two pound tin of jam
drop into their hammock (could be painful, but worth it). I admit
to being the receiver of stolen goods, along with other hungry
foretopmen who benefited next morning. The name of the keyholder
will remain secret, suffice to say that he was a Yorkshireman (from
Wensleydale), turned Aussie, with a very appropriate name which
was not Robinson or Keiller or Moorhouse. And his nickname, long
before he acquired the key was "Jammy"."
Daily Life Aboard
"My strongest memory is
of having to spend Saturday morning scrubbing the Orlop and then
getting moaned at for damping all the other tops sea chests. At
the after end of the Orlop was the hammock storage and I had the
job of storing the rolled up hammocks in them. We used to leave
a space in the middle where a couple of us skived off to get away
from boat hoisting and evening divisions. (It also meant we got
our own hammocks out and slung first.
Another memory was of the snooker
table down in the starboard hold. On a windy night the old ship
would roll slowly and that played havoc with my game. (Well, that
was my excuse). Opposite the snooker table was the library, a
lovely quiet room paneled in dark wood and with comfortable banquettes
where one could curl up with a good book. Coaling ship, it was
hard and dirty work and raised clouds of coal dust which I am
sure did more harm to our young lungs than the odd illicit cigarette."
The boats were shared between the
tops, changing each term, and my fourth term we (Focal) had the
water boat which meant an early breakfast, then a trip down to
Port Dinorwic followed by a second breakfast in the cafe while
the tanks were filled. "We often missed the first lesson
of the morning with our late return, and it was usually shipbuilding
& engineering with Charlie Nicholls, I think that is why,
to this day, engines and motors are a mystery to me. The only
name I can remember from that crew was George Fardell, the engineer
who was the only one who could keep the big monstrosity running
"After reading about dances
and young ladies in the later years, and comparing it with our
celibate life, I begin to feel that we did lead a Spartan life
in those days. But despite all that, I still think that my days
on board were the happiest and most carefree of my life (until
I retired, that is)."
healthy fresh air that swept along the orlop deck where we spent
a large part of our time did not come in through gun ports but
through holes that had been cut in the hull apparently to provide
more ventilation." Paintings of the ship in her service
days show that she drew quite a bit more than after she was converted
for use as a scholl ship. The lower deck and main deck gun ports
are the ones that show up so well on the later photos. The Orlop
deck 'holes' did have wooden plugs but they tended to blow out
on the colder windier days of winter.
remember as a New Chum refusing to carry a senior cadets bag and
then suffering the retribution the following Sunday aboard the
Conway. I also remember a certain cadet captain who had a spoon
handle spliced into a rope end for punishment purposes. It was
a bad mistake to be the last person to lash up your hammock in
also remember the cold water dropping on to my hands when tossing
the oar when rowing in the duty cutter. The views from the Conway
were spectacular and interesting in particular one morning on
the Duff estate when the famous herd of white cattle was being
culled. I often wonder if they are still there."
winter with a group of cadets we climbed up the side of the Devils
Chimney in the mountains got lost in a snowstorm and came down
on the wrong side of the mountain and had to walk 14 miles back
to Capel Curig."
the water boat aground at Port Dinorwic remained a way of spending
extra time away from the ship in the little cafe on the front
until higher authority caught up with this dodge.
Outward Bound course at Aberdovey was fun and a light relief from
the stricter and tougher regime on the Conway.
can remember the senior cadets eating the lion's share of any
meal and the junior cadets at the bottom of the table getting very
January L Holt presented the
bell of the Nestor for the Nelson Block. It stood outside the
entrance hall. One of Fo'c's'le's dorms in the House was also called
had a tune for Charlie Nick's (Nicholson) opening sentence to
everyone's first Engineering lecture "Up to thirty years
ago, ships' machinery mainly consisted of...." And 'Taffy'
Oliver 'flickkking and flassshing away' , Ernie Moore looking
for Twells and Gale (if he couldn't see them he knew they were
up to no good), 'Jackie' Maine being very Mr. Mackay (of 'Porridge'
) and poor 'Spbogsh' Carter (Maths) banging his earpiece on his
desk because he kept hearing Taffy Oliver's morse emanating from
the Hold, by courtesy of Clive Meadowcroft sitting in the back
row of the class. And very convincing it was too! And when I got
to sling on the stays supporting the hammock bars (less disturbance
from the rhythmic vibrations through the bars) I was able to stretch
the falls of No 1 boat, let them go at the appropriate time and
drop a passing rat traversing the falls into someone's hammock.
Well, it had happened to me, so why not?"
normal pattern was two terms on shore and four in the Ship. However,
a few were elevated to the Ship after only one term. Food was
horrendous. Parcels from home full of canned delights such as
baked beans, steak puddings etc. plus "beans on toast and
a cup of cawfee" (for which I remember we paid fourpence)
in the canteen after rugby practices were the essence of survival.
In the early
fifties the food on board was pretty gruesome.
were still in the post-war period of rationing and this probably
had some effect. In order to survive we relied on parcels from
home and snacks in the canteen after games. Shouts of 'Beans on
toast and a cup of cawfee' is a sound I still remember well. We
were only allowed one parcel a month from home so, the usual practice
was for four cadets to get together and arrange with their respective
parents to send the parcels at weekly intervals so that one parcel,
which was shared by the group, arrived each week. The contents
were, by request, very basic. Tins of beans, steak and kidney
puds, etc. Not gourmet, but solid enough to stave off the hunger
pains of young, active, growing teenagers. The quality of the
food, or lack of, eventually led to the food strike. I
can't remember exactly which term it was, either late 51 or early
52. How it was that the all the shipboard complement of cadets
learned about it without it coming to the attention of the administration
is a mystery. Especially as we prepared for it for a couple of
days ahead. In order to stave off starvation on the appointed
day, everyone on board stashed quantities of sodduck and grease
and other types of no cooking foodstuffs in their chests.
When the day arrived we went to the mess deck and when the breakfast
food arrived at the messes, we poured all the condiments we could
find into it and returned it uneaten, and spoiled, to the galley.
Lunch and supper were treated the same way. We heard that the
administration was furious, and the story was that Captain Hewitt
accused all hands of attempting mutiny. However, it did
obviously raise the problem of bad food and, for at least a few
weeks after, there was a distinct improvement in the quality of
the food. It didn't last though."
evening in the Ship, we would hoist the heavy cutters so that
they were slowly lifted out of the water to hang on stout wooden
davits. Lines of cadets, on the Lower Deck, took the strain on
thick ropes, which had passed through blocks and tackles outboard,
and plodded back along the deck, a few feet at a time, to a Cadet
Captain's shouts of, "Two, six: Heave!"
"This reminds me that at
the end of term, some cadets, who were leaving the ship for the
last time, were rowed ashore in a cutter, and were given three
cheers by cadets lining the upper deck"
The Conway motorised fleet comprised
three launches: No. 1, No. 2 (both with a tiny cabin, for'd and
engines amidships), and the pinnace.Oher vessels included the
juice-barge (the water boat that was also used for coaling ship),
the cutters, the racing gigs, the Menai Straits class sail boats
- and the skiff. "If I remember correctly, there was
a special bugle call for summoning the skiff crew, unless it was
simply called in a 'still'. Anyway, the need for a skiff crew
was rare, and a great cheer went if on these occasions. Is it
necessary to explain what a 'still' was? If so, a bugler would
sound a particular melody, and on hearing this, all conversation
was required to cease so that an announcement could be shouted
down the main hatch. This done, carry-on notes were sounded by
"I have a vague idea that
there was a telephone line, under the water, to the captain's
quarters astern. Otherwise communication was affected by semaphore
signaling between the poop and the dock."
No one on board had a radio. (These
were pre-transistor days, and even the smallest bulb or valve-operated
radio sets were relatively large.) News was gleaned through copies
of The Times, in the Reading Room. The Ship's newspaper was displayed
in a slanting glass-covered desk on the Lower Deck, and occasionally
illustrated in my time by second officer G.A.B.King, from Shell
Tankers, who produced water-colours of life on board. The Liverpool
Echo was also displayed in this case.
of Three Year Course
The First three
year course started in January 1952. For that reason the
conventional Two Year Course starters in Jan 52 were a relatively
small group. The reason promulgated for the three year Course
(straight forward MN entry, as against RN courses etc) was the
revised education qualifications envisaged over the next few years
(GCE's etc). Cadets would be able to leave with a national leaving
certificate in addition to the 'Conway Certificate' which was
only acknowledged in the shipping industry.
cadets who liven on board their sea-chest was extremely important.
The large black chests were provided from the outfitters in The
Sailor's Home, Liverpool.
was your home from home, it stored all your possessions and it
was the only area of the ship where you were afforded privacy.
If you wanted a quiet read, or a few minutes for private thoughts,
you sat on your chest and all the other cadets understood that
you wanted to alone and respected that right."
"You never owned them but, when it was time for you to
go on board, at that time for most cadets in their third term,
it had mysteriously appeared on the orlop deck. Some old name
had been scraped off and in its place your name had been painted
on in large white block letters. When you opened the lid there
were three shallow trays, about 2 to 3 inches deep, two small
and one large. Underneath was the main part of the chest. This
is where you stored nearly all of your clothes, shoes and even
books. The top trays were used for smaller items and often had
mouldy sodduck and other festering items of food. ( I recently
visited the Conway Chapel in Birkenhead and was amazed to see
how small the chest actually was. I think they must have shrunk
over the past fifty years)."
the paint could be scraped off easily and many an OC received
a nickname through having his name altered by his shipmates"
were usually unlocked as were the book storage areas on the outboard
side of the orlop deck. Occasionally, you might find that someone
had 'borrowed' one of your text-books, but theft was extremely
rare. You learned very quickly that you do not steal from shipmates."
in 1952, a theft was reported to the administration. This led
to the chest search.
the end of lunch one day we were told that we would all remain
at our messes on the main deck. No explanation was given and we
had no idea why. What happened next was an exercise in masterly
organisation by the administration. Using every staff member available,
every chest on board was searched. In small groups we were escorted
to our own individual chests and each one was searched by a staff
member as its owner watched. I don't know for sure, but I believe
that the missing object that initiated the search was never found.
That is not to say, however, that the search didn't reveal anything.
I don't know how much contraband was unearthed that day but I
can guess there was more than the few laboratory rubber-bungs
that were found in my chest. (Used for plugging the bath plughole
on foretop bath night). A few strokes from the teaser and
all was forgotten. Three cadets, however, were suspended because
the contraband they had were packets of contraceptives. Fortunately
the Board of Governors, led at that time by Mr. L. Holt, reinstated
memory concerns sleeping in a hammock.
"Some New Chums, myself
included, had difficulty in lashing-up and stowing properly in
the mornings. The ideal was to fold bedding and pyjamas into the
canvas such a way the hammock could be tightly lashed in a series
of looped rope, and end up by being relatively firm. It could
then be hoisted onto one's shoulder and carried down to the hold
where hammocks were stowed in the daytime. As you can imagine,
a floppy hammock was not only difficult to wield, but could easily
become undone to the acute embarrassment of the cadet concerned.
On my first night aboard, I wondered whether it would be possible
to sleep on my right side, as I habitually did. It was!
Some apparently helpful seniors
would "assist" New Chums to attach their hammocks, but
use a slip-knot, so that the hapless cadet would crash to the
deck when he got into his hammock. Of course, this was potentially
very dangerous, as serious injury could have resulted had a New
Chum landed sharply on his head.
Once hammocks we were safely
slung, and we were comfortably settled for the night, a bugler
would sound the Last Post. If this was expertly played, it could
be a very moving moment. Sleep, like death, should ideally involve
a trusting surrender, and there was something strangely humbling
and comforting in this knowledge, underlined as it was by the
evocative notes of bugler.
In sharp contrast, reveille
was often something of an unpleasant jar! Reveille was sometimes
played by a tall and likeable cadet by the name of Jim Crowe.
He used to help out in the boiler-house, and wished to go to sea
as an engineer - but he was a terrible bugler! I remember how,
one morning, a cadet, who slung his hammock near mine, said that
he would refuse to turn out, on the credible grounds that the
marvelously inexpert notes from Jim's bugle could not possibly
be recognised as reveille! (Jim, if you see this reminiscence,
know that we loved you in spite of - or perhaps because of your
comically unsuccessful bugling!)"
ship and the Coal Hole were separate activities.
Coaling ship dealt with the annual coal supply. This was dumped
onto the dock in large heaps together with sacks. The whole ship
and shore base were involved, organised into parties for various
activities. All motorboats, cutters but not gigs were towed ashore.
Sacks were filled by one party conveyed to the slip by another,
loaded into the boats by another. The boats were towed to the
port gangway; sacks hoisted to the main deck by one group, dragged
to the bunker entrance hatch (main deck) by another party and
emptied by another. The empty sacks were returned to the boats
and they left for another load. The Rig of the Day was 'Jockstraps
and sea boots' so all Hands were decked out in what ever they
wanted - rugger shirts, shorts, boiler suits, bandanas, head covering,
anything in fact. The operation was over by noon. The ship and
the dock were returned to their normal pristine condition, the
showers in the school block were overloaded with filthy bodies.
Coal Hole was a weekly evening or sometimes a Practical Class activity
usually comprising the Duty Part of the Watch plus any Slack Party.
Sacks were filled and hoisted up to the boiler room under the fo'c'sle
by a steam dolly winch and emptied into the ready use bunkers for
the Donkey man to stoke the boilers.
used to arrive at the dock, and was there put aboard the water
boat, known to all in the Ship as the juice barge. On the trip
out to the Conway, we cadets would sometimes try to make the juice
barge roll, in a high-spirited attempt to alarm Commander Brooke-Smith
into thinking that the cargo would be tipped into the Menai Straits!
Suitably brought to order, and once alongside, we would pass the
coal, with some difficulty, through a port into the Starboard
After Magazine, where it was temporarily stored. After several
trips, the second phase of the operation could begin. This involved
dragging bags of coal along the Orlop Deck to an area below the
level of this deck, and called, simply, the Coal Hole. From here,
the coal bags were winched, up a relatively narrow shaft, to the
boiler house on the Upper Deck.
"It was while engaged in
this one day that a dramatic accident happened. A cadet was lifting
the handles of a heavy coal bag onto the metal hook on the end
of the winching cable, when his hand became caught fast between
the handles and the hook. Panicked shouting by his shipmates was
mistaken by the winch operator, topside, for "Heave away!",
which he promptly did, and the unfortunate cadet rose from our
midst and swiftly disappeared into the shaft. Matters were made
worse when shouts of "Vast heaving!" were heeded, and
the cadet became suspended, motionless half way up the shaft.
The winch operator peered down to see what was awry, and once
he realised what had happened, he evidently decided that it was
better to continue winching his human cargo upwards, rather than
lowering the cadet back into the Coal Hole. Finally topside, and
released, the victim was quite understandably in a state of shock,
but not, as far as I remember, seriously injured. Of course we
wore old clothes to coal ship, and became very dirty in the process,
and this reminds me that hot baths were available on board only
once a week. The wash basins, for'd on the starboard side of the
Lower Deck, near the open hawse pipes, were piped with cold water,
and it was only in the House that showers were available.If one
could say that life was a bit primitive on board, it was certainly
better than that known by the Jack Tars who manned her when she
was in commission as a fighting ship. I don't think we gave them
much thought, but it is an intriguing comparison."
There was a time when Catholics
were not eligible to be Conway cadets, and even when Catholics
were eventually welcomed into the shipboard family, they were
not entitled to be Cadet Captains, until this ban too fell away.
There was, however, a Catholic tradition that had long been observed
in the ship, and in all ships of the Royal Navy. For immediately
on coming aboard, cadets knew that they had to face aft, and salute.
How many knew what, exactly, was being saluted? When all England
was Catholic, not so very long ago, there was a crucifix, or a
statue of the Virgin and Child on the quarterdeck, and it was
these Christian symbols that were being honoured.
"I would love to have sung
the Conway song with my shipmates, but the fact that I was never
able to do so is due to the fact that it was sung at Divine Service,
which Catholics did not attend. Today I feel it fitting, even
necessary to apologise for not being able to be at shipboard church
services. In today's ecumenical climate, Catholic Conway cadets
would have been encouraged by their bishops to join their Protestant
friends in giving honour to God, although facilities for hearing
Mass would still, of course, be a priority for Catholics anywhere.
But in the ecclesiastically careful 'Fifties, while waiting on
the Upper Deck for the boat that would take us Catholic cadets
to Port Dinorwic, the strains of that lovely hymn, Eternal Father,
Strong to Save (far better known for the line, for those in peril
on the sea) would waft up from below, and I wished that I too
were below in fraternal solidarity, and joining in.
Anyway, one of the launches
would soon be ready, and once ashore at Port Dinorwic, we would
walk up the slip to the main road to wait for a bus. I was always
struck by the fact that Welsh villages seem to be uninhabited
on Sundays, and Port Dinorwic certainly gave me that impression
on the Sabbath! Anyway, the bus would trundle on to Caernarfon,
where we would climb a surprisingly steep hill to a tiny church
to hear Mass, in Latin in those days.
the way back to the ship, the bus timetable sometimes permitted
us to walk around the ramparts of Caernarfon Castle, and there
was often time to spare too at Port Dinorwic, when we would sit
in the small cafe, and listen, over tea, to either Forces Favourites
or Housewives Choice - I forget which, while waiting for the launch
to take us back to the ship. Once on the waters of the Straits
again, we would approach the Conway, of course, from the south
west, a prospect not often seen by the majority of cadets, who
knew only the brief crossing to the dock at Plas Newydd. Back
aboard, we would sit down to a late lunch, before melting back
into shipboard life, generally pleased, I think, to be able to
King Is Dead, Long Live The Queen!
Several cadet have vivid memories of the announcement and subsequent
my first term in the House, before going out to the Ship,
I was among a group of cadets attending a mathematics class in
the Nelson Block when the history master, Mr Kingsford entered
and spoke quietly to the mathematics master, Mr Miller, who was
facing the blackboard. Mr Kingsford left, but Mr Miller did not
turn to face us until at least a minute had passed, and we were
keenly aware that something dramatic had happened. What could
it have been? Eventually Mr Miller turned say quietly, "I
am sorry to have to tell you that His Majesty the King had died."
We could not believe it. Why? Almost certainly because the King
had been such a quietly inspiring and affectionate presence throughout
the war, when we had been children. In my preparatory school a
picture of the King, in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, had
pride of place in the common room, and an awareness of His Majesty
was somehow inseparable from any thoughts of the national pride
which so frequently needed expression in that war. For this reason
he seemed to be an essential and permanent presence, much as our
parents were an essential and apparently permanent presence."
was in Signals class with Jackie Oliver. One of our party asked
to go to the 'heads'. Whilst there he was tuned into the BBC on
his crystal set and heard the news and mournful music. He rushed
back to class and told Oliver who asked him how he knew. He then
delivered a 'bollocking' for listening to a radio in the bog and
not concentrating on bodily functions. At the end of the class,
Oliver dragged the poor guy to see 'Brookie' who delivered another
bollocking for listening to the radio. Brookie then dragged the
poor guy to see Hewitt who gave him another bollocking. Hewitt
told Brookie to get the Upper Deck watch to signal to the Dock
Watch to phone the House and tell the Duty Telephone Operator
to phone the BBC in Bangor to confirm the news. 'Yes, true'. said
BBC. 'Yes, true' operator told Dock watch. Frantic semaphore conveyed
the news to the Upper Deck watch who after many repeats passed
it to Brookie. All hands were mustered on the Upper Deck. General
Salute and the ensign was lowered to half mast. If that character
had not listened to his crystal set in the bog, when would the
news have reached the ship?"
were in the lab ashore when TEWB came in with the news and finished
up with, "Long Live the Queen!" - I wonder if he
considered what she was being lumbered with!
That morning, an hour or two before we heard the shattering news,
a cadet had accidentally hoisted
the Conway ensign, on the flagstaff ashore, upside down
, and he was later tortured by the belief that this very public
and acutely embarrassing mistake had somehow caused the death
of the King! It was soon announced that, as Cadets in the Royal
Naval Reserve, we would be required to wear black armbands for
a period of mourning. I think it true to say that we were aware
of being part of a solemn and prolonged historic occasion.
Eventually, preparations were made for the coronation of the young
Princess Elizabeth, and we cadets were excited to hear that we
would have a part to play in this change of era. Some would attend
the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and others, among
them myself, would be aboard a Royal Navy ship for the new Queen's
review of the fleet at Spithead.
The ship turned out to be the cruiser Dido, which, as her engines
were in mothballs, had to suffer the indignity of being towed
out to her position in the review lines!
In the line of warships beyond us were the Italian training-ship
Amerigo Vespucci (a steel replica of a 19th Century frigate) and
the battleship HMS Vanguard, in which the Royal Family had sailed
for an official visit to South Africa in 1947. On the Sunday morning
of our stay with the fleet I was among a group of Catholic cadets
being taken in a launch to hear Mass in the Vanguard when we received
a signal to put about and head instead for a Mass aboard the submarine
As an added introduction to the Royal Navy, cadets from the Dido
were taken in a trip round the Isle of Wight in the destroyer
Trafalgar, giving us the opportunity to sense the atmosphere aboard
a modern warship.
The Royal yacht Britannia, having only recently been laid down,
the Queen inspected the fleet from the Admiralty despatch vessel
Surprise. A 21-gun salute was fired as the Surprise sailed down
the lines of ships, dressed overall, and a picture of cadets,
lining the deck of the Dido, one of them clearly wincing from
a deafening gun report, appeared later in the magazine Everybody's.
In the afternoon of the review day, we were invited to the quarterdeck
of the Dido to drink the health of the new Queen, before being
given shore leave in Portsmouth.
I wonder whether this overall experience inspired any of the cadets
to join the Grey Funnel Line, as we call the Royal Navy, rather
than the Merchant Navy. At any rate, it certainly underlined our
honorary RNR status."
"During the 1953 Coronation Review at Spithead, I was privileged
to be among the Conway cadets in HMS Dido. The engines of this
elderly cruiser were in mothballs, and she had to suffer the indignity
of being towed out to the line of ships to be inspected by the
Queen. On this occasion too, Catholic cadets were able to leave
the ship to hear Mass. This was to be celebrated in the battleship,
Vanguard, but we were not far from this giant ship, in a launch,
when we received a signal ordering us to alter course and make
for the submarine mother-ship Maidstone, where Mass was also to
be celebrated. So spiritual preference apart, there were
certain advantages in being a Catholic cadet!"
The Chart Room (Upper Deck)
Chart Room or Chart House was in regular use - from very early
in our first term we had instruction in the use of sextants with
Captain Hewitt and we were checked off on his personal list as
having been up, out and over the main mast - we had several sessions
with him. Apart from the sextants there - I suppose that was why
it was locked (but so was the spud locker) - some charts,
of course, Decca, a Kelvin Hughes sounder, Browns gyro,
(the binnacle was on the poop I think) - there was a deviascope
- barograph, not Loran, D/F and a telegraph - we
had a deep sea sounder was that in the chart room? There is a
picture in the "Red Liar". I did upper deck watch on
practical (must have got the barometer reading from somewhere
or was that down on the Lower deck?)"
remember an incident in the old science room. I forget
who the instructor was but while sitting at the teacher's desk
he swung his legs and knocked over a large chemical foam fire
extinguisher. Anxious as always to, help, the cadets all rallied
round and were eventually successful in getting the extinguisher
through the door onto the upper deck. Not, however before almost
all the foam was discharged. The classroom, the instructor and
most of the cadets looked like something from Scott of the Antarctic."
Chartroom was indeed used to try and teach us thickos how to read
a vernier sextant (Capt. Hewitt), chartwork, radio navigation aids,
DF, Consol, Decca ('Spud' Murphy). Forward of the Mainmast was the
so called Science Room, no longer used for Science, this had been
transferred to the Shore Base. This was now the domain of 'Spud'
Murphy, who did indeed impart the art of navigation into us I understand
that the cadet who fell off the mast landed just forward of the
Navigation room which was the fore hatch stairwell, he did find
his way into the hold!"
our first term we were taken on board the ship and introduced
to the idea of going aloft. Most of us, I believe, were a little
apprehensive. The safety-net under the main mast rigging did not
look too secure and did not really help in quelling any nervousness.
I can't honestly say I remember my first climb, although I am
sure I used the lubber's hole rather than the futtock shrouds.
However, as time went on I enjoyed going aloft. In the summer
term when the weather was warm and sunny the main top was an ideal
place to lie and soak up the rays. It was also an ideal place
for the smokers as, when they were lying flat on the top, they
were invisible from the ship. There was also no chance of any
authority figure coming upon you without warning."
cadets became very adroit on the rigging and out along the yards.
"Running up the rigging, shinning up the last 10 or 12
feet from the crosstrees to the truck, and coming down the rigging
hand over hand on the stays was performed by many, including me.
The occasional cadet performed feats which could only be
described as hair-raising. One cadet during my time would go out
to the end of the yard on the footropes, climb on top of the yard
and then saunter nonchalantly back to the rigging along the yard.
It was rumoured that he could stand on the main truck but I never
actually saw that feat performed."
1952, the BBC were making a TV show about North Wales and included
in it were a few shots of the Conway. "In order to impress
the viewers with our daring and skills the main mast was dressed
with Cadets. A number of us ran up the rigging and then spread
out on the crosstrees and the yards, using the footropes. I'm
sure it looked very impressive to the viewers but the thing that
impressed most of us was that the BBC camerman, whom nobody saw,
was also running up and down the rigging while carrying and using
a large TV camera."
fore and mizzen masts were rarely climbed as there were no safety
nets for those masts. However, when for special occasions we were
flying ensigns at all three mast heads, somebody had to go to
the fore and mizzen crosstrees as the halyards for those masts
were secured at that level. Because of this,I was fortunate
enough to climb all three masts during my time on board."
Work ( a light-hearted review from The
Cadet - January, 1953 - Page 91)
Following the Executive order given
on an erratic bugle, the Top concerned falls in on the lower deck
in some form of disorder. . . (Please note: caps are not worn)
. . . and in a variety of unfashionable garments, and in very
disagreeable tempers. A couple of very senior hands engage the
Lower Deck Watch in impolite language, discussing the spicier
aspects of his birth and parentage, and also his ultimate fate
at sea. The Lower Deck Watch executes a strategic retreat to the
gangway steps, to be consoled with the pleasanter sight of two
sailing dinghies going aground.
Precisely five minutes later, the
Cadet Captain in charge arrives upon the scene, with lather on
his face, a razor in one hand, and a bleeding ear in the other.
He had been, it was understood, shaving! Quickly 'and quietly
receiving his orders from the messenger, he exercises his power
of command-PANDEMONIUM! Several hands disappear below for their
caps; others hurl laundry baskets and milk churns over the side,
into the raging sea; a very junior hand releases the inhaul to
let the cutter drift some fifty yards astern.
Quarter of an hour later, the crew
(usually ten men), assemble in the cutter, and begin fighting
for oars and rowing positions. Three white cushions are thrown,
before the forth lands in the cutter, to commandeered by the strokes.
The cadet captain falls into the sea between the cutter
and the gangway, and although suffering multiple fractures, climbs
into the stern sheets.
At the end of half an hour, a lady
appears at the gangway, and is offered a tar-stained and grubby
paw. Disdaining this, she jumps into the stern sheets. With a
sudden roar, the bows lift out of the water, and the bilge-water
rushes aft. The plug, unable to bear the strain, leaps out of
the boat with a loud report, followed by a gout of water. Bow
oars are cut out, as they cannot touch the water. The lady seats
herself upon a thwart, which collapses with the weight. The hungry
waves forever lick the gunwales of the stern-sheets.In an hour's
time the cutter is drifting in the general direction of the dock,
aided by the steady (?) stroke of rowing enthusiasts (colours
1952). The cutter picks up speed as it nears the dock, as all
hands wish to get ashore with the maximum speed. The craft finally
strikes the swimming-pool wall, which collapses with a crash and
cloud of dust, much to the delight of the crew who scramble ashore
like the much-filmed American Marines. Their objective is one
target-the blockhouse at the top of the slip. There they will
wait until the tide turns, enabling them to drift back to the
Ship-should the cutter float that long!!
once in a while we would be faced with the dreaded operation of
'hoisting the swivel'. You probably all remember the four enormous
anchors which held our old wooden mother captive in the middle
of the straits . These were all connected by huge chain anchor
cables to a giant swivel more or less under the forefoot of the
ship. From there two more cables led up to the hawse pipes. Now,
in a perfect world this would allow the old lady to swing lazily
to and fro with every change of the tide. First with her head
towards Menai Bridge then towards PD but every once in a while
the world would decide to be a blinking bastard and someone would
realise that she'd got her knickers in a twist. At the next slack
water, every cadet and the ship's cat would man all the boats
with the hope of hauling the ship's stern round and getting the
twist out of the anchor cable. Some hope! You can bet that as
soon as the tide started setting the stern would gradually swing
the wrong way and Eric would be running backwards and forwards
along his stern gallery yelling orders for the cutters to pull
harder and to hold down the governor on the pinnace engine. No
use. Operation Swivel would be put into gear.
'Ernie' Moore and 'Taffy' Oliver would start organizing the laying
out of the lifting tackles. Double Spanish Burtons, Triple Spanish
Burtons - anything to get a better mechanical advantage which
would help us lift the equivalent of a Cromwell Tank off the bottom
of the straits. Finally, when all was set up, Brookie, his circular
glasses glinting with concentration, would calculate the exact
moment when the curtain should go up.
was nothing like this. Even the 'juice barge' would have
been child's play in comparison. Taffy red in the face. Jacky
shouting "Make an evolution of it!!" while Ernie just
clapped on to the rope and put his back into it.
Little by little
the filthy black monster would appear above the surface until
the order; "Vast heaving!!", would allow us to catch
would be rigged and Slack Party would be sent down to chip off
all the barnacles and grunge and pump fish oil into the bearing.
Iron pipes to act as tommy bars would then be stuck in
to the upper and lower halves and the stronger cadets would sweatily
heave back and forth till all was loosened up.
Eric, the rest of the officers and probably a surveyor from Liverpool
would climb into the Pinnace for the 'great inspection'. There
was more gold braid down there than you could shake a stick at!
The Heads under the fo'c'sle were out of bounds for the day. You
can imagine if some chump pulled the chain at the wrong moment!!
When the OK
was given, the whole operation would go into reverse and the monster
would slide back into his lair for another year or two"
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