|HMS Conway 1859 - 1974
© Alfie Windsor 1998
The Bangor Years 1941 - 49
Glyn Garth Mooring. There was a certain comfort in returning to our "old wooden mother" - there she lay, a big black hulk with towering buff masts, the slate grey waters of the Straits swinging her around on each new tide. (Ed. her traditional white lines had been painted out on the Mersey during the ‘blackout’ – but were soon to re-appear)
Along the side of the ship were old gun ports now filled in with windows; these had two panes of glass in them, which could be opened in fine weather. The views changed with the ebb and flow of the tides and the changing direction of the ship’s head. When the windows faced the Bangor side the view was of mud flats at low tide with the forlorn sternpost of the last occupant of this mooring – the reform ship Clio. (When the Conway first came to the Menai Straits the older locals thought that she was a reformatory ship like the Clio. In the case of some of the cadets they were almost right as some were a little wayward and had been sent to the Conway by their parents for the strict discipline.) When looking at the Anglesey shore one saw a heavily treed vista of green where substantial mansions peeped from the vegetation. A few hundred yards towards Menai Bridge was the Bishop’s Palace - the handsome castellated residence of the Bishop of Bangor. After the war this handsome building was demolished and replaced by a hideous concrete block of flats. The buildings of Bangor University stood up on the hills on the mainland side and to seaward the Victorian Bangor Pier stood out into the Straits, its iron supports barnacle clad unless hidden by the tide. In the distance the magnificent mountains of Snowdonia provided an ever changing scene, snow clad at certain times but softer and a myriad shades of tan and green at others.
Catalina flying boats landed and took off alongside the ship and the sound of their Pratt and Whitney engines at full power would bring the class in a rush to the ports, ostensibly to view the exciting scene but at heart, to disrupt the lesson.
Looking at the ship from outside one could liken her to a duck with her small brood fussing around her. The Conway’s brood were a collection of boats - two twelve-oared and two ten oared naval cutters, a sturdy motorboat (No 1) and a smaller motorboat (No 2). The boats in use lay to a boom which protruded out from the ship’s side forward of the gangway. When needed they were allowed to fall astern to the gangway by slackening their lines. This arrangement, common to anchored ships kept the boats from being bumped against the ship’s side. On both sides of the hull, stout square davits hung and each boat was hoisted up on these entirely " hand-raulically" as some wit described it. That is, they were hoisted up by cadet-power and this operation called for skill and discipline of a high order. A bugle call would summon all hands to the lower deck where the rope falls were laid out on the deck. The cadets would space themselves along the falls - there would be the forward falls and the after falls. The boat would be positioned under the davits and the pulley blocks would be lowered to them.
The Officer of the Watch - usually "Spookey" (Lieutenant Brooke-Smith) would be leaning out and would shout orders to the cadets - "Take up the slack forrard" -the cadets would immediately lay-to the falls and pull stoutly. After the "after falls" were taken up, he would shout - "Heave away smartly" and the crocodile would heave and when they reached the end the cadets would run back and rejoin the line. " Avast heaving forrard - heave away aft". Thus with barked orders promptly obeyed the boat would be " two-blocks" - the nautical term for the two pulley blocks meeting. The two in the boat would pass rope stoppers over the davit heads whilst inside, two Cadet Captains would bind a rope stopper between two parts of the falls, both forrard and aft. " Walk back slowly" - and the cadets would walk back until sufficient slack was available for the Cadet Captain to fling the rope over the heavy wooden cleats on the deckhead beams. The stoppers would then be removed and the same routine carried out until all the boats were hoisted. In rough weather this operation called for quick reaction and the faultless response to orders. The cadets from the boat would then clamber down the davits, often with their heavy oilskins glistening and wet.
Boarding by the fixed starboard gangway we would enter onto the Lower deck, salute smartly and descend the steep double companionway to the Orlop deck and our particular corner where our wooden chest lay against the shipside. The wooden chests contained all our gear; our names were painted in white letters on the front. A short distance away was the wooden rack where our hammocks were stowed during the day.
Daily Routine. Each morning at six thirty PT would be held on the upper deck and this was routine in summer and winter and hardened us to the elements. Cross-country running was part of our routine and sometimes at weekends parties of cadets would be landed on the Bangor shore and made to run along the road, crossing Telford’s magnificent suspension bridge and back on the Anglesey shore to the Gazelle slip. Unscrupulous cadets had been known to hitch lifts in the few passing vehicles which would drop them off a little way from the Gazelle where they would appear, feigning breathlessness and fatigue.
The Main Deck, which was above the lower deck, was the highest internal deck in the ship and was next to the open Upper deck. This doubled as the messdeck and as the school deck. As a messdeck it was open from forward to aft. The kitchens straddled the forepart and in the middle were the companionways and small railed-in area, which was "holy-ground" - it was where the Padre stood to conduct services on a Sunday. The deck in this space was holystoned for hours each Saturday until it was smooth and shining. Abaft this doors led to the Captain’s quarters. Wooden tables and stools occupied the deck, each table sitting ten cadets, five per side, with a cadet captain at the head. Food was served to nominated cadets from each table who queued at a hatch at the kitchens. There was much shoving and pushing with seniors pulling rank to get ahead. Sometimes there were "seconds" and the messmen would rush back to their tables with a dish of potatoes, tip them smartly onto the bare table and hurtle back into the queue, hoping for more. The food was poor and sparse; we were given seagull eggs in season - they were strong and fishy. A liquid which was called "skilly" was served -it seemed a cross between tea and weak coffee. On Sunday mornings we were given a piece of bacon at breakfast time - the piece was about three inches long. This with a piece of bread following porridge formed breakfast for ravenous mouths - we were permanently hungry. Discipline at table was maintained by a particularly painful punishment for misdemeanors, namely - "knuckles". This involved a miscreant presenting his clenched fist, fingers downward, to the cadet captain who would smartly whack the knuckles with a serving spoon.
Bugle calls were used extensively to carry out the ship’s routine. There were distinctive "tunes" to summon the cadets at a run to various parts where they were needed. There was a call called a "Still" - an ascending three-note call. This was an order for all to stand still immediately and listen. An order would be bawled out into the open space in the centre of the ship - for example a "still" could be followed by -" Heavy weather cutter crew to the Lower Deck immediately" or " All hands to the Upper deck". These orders were followed by a two-note, rising - "Carry-on" call when everyone resumed their duties.
After breakfast on weekdays we would descend and, guided by bugle calls, lash and stow our hammocks. A further bugle call instructed us to " Rig School ". This entailed arranging the main deck where we had just eaten into six classrooms by means of a system of wooden panel partitions. Wooden beams about eight feet long were placed on the deck in a fore-and aft direction. These had pins on their underside, which dropped into holes in the deck. The upper edge of these beams had a channel into which panels were put, their upper edges were held in place by large turn- buttons on the deck head. Athwart the ship there were panels, which were hinged to the deck head, and when not in use lay flat against the deckhead secured by hooks. To rig school the hooks were released and the panels dropped down to hang vertically. Tower bolts into the deck then secured them from swinging. Thus the walls of the classrooms were quickly rigged. The athwartships panels had a door built into one panel to allow access from one classroom to another. The panels next to the ship’s side were unique because they had a device to enable them to clear the heavy frames of the old ship and the "knees" which joined them to the deck beams. This consisted of a small hinged panel incorporated in the main panel. When lifting the panel to the deckhead this small panel was hinged right back so that the main panel would not foul the "knee" as it was lifted and hooked up out of the way.
Divisions & Morning Prayers. After the classrooms were rigged there would be morning "Divisions" when all the cadets would wear their uniforms with their brass buttons and white lanyards. To bugle calls they would fall in on the lower deck in their respective "Tops". They would be called to attention and the officers and headmaster would assemble towards the after end and with the cadets lined up on either side of the deck.
Captain Goddard would be advised that all were "fallen-in" and he would appear, acknowledge the salute of the Officer-in-charge and instruct him to "Cawwy - on" - he had difficulty in pronouncing his "R’s". The Padre would then lead the ship’s company in prayer - asking God’s protection for "those who go down to the sea in ships" and the prayer became familiar to all - " We commend to Thy care all who go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters. Help them in whatever lies before them. May they do their duty with cheerful willingness and face danger with courage, knowing that Thy hand is in all things and that all things are in Thy hand." The brief service over the assembled cadets were brought to attention, the band would strike up and they would march smartly around the deck, the taller boys skilfully avoiding the many protuberances under the low deckhead.
The headmaster, who was fondly referred to as "Bogbrush", presumably because of his shock of crinkly hair, would emerge from his office to attend this morning service. A mortarboard perched precariously on his head and he wore a faded gown; his trousers were "half-mast" and he usually wore purple socks. For some unknown reason his appearance anywhere brought about a low background hiss form between the teeth of a hundred cadets. Attempts had been made to stamp out this odd habit but it was unsuccessful. On one occasion Admiral Sir Percy Noble, C-in C, Western Approaches visited the ship and made a tour of the classrooms and the hissing was continuous though muted.
Schooling. The school side of the training was in the hands of teachers who came daily to the ship and they had little sanction against the mischievous cadets many of whom considered school to be entirely recreational. The quality of teaching was questionable with many of the peacetime teachers serving in the Forces. Seamanship however was taught by "Hoppy" Lee, so named because he had a false leg after an accident on board ship with a snapped wire hawser. He taught the intricacies of knots – bowlines and sheepshanks, timber hitches, garrick bends and so forth. He taught us how to rig a jury rudder, how to lay a kedge anchor and how to stow rice and grain and railway iron. We learnt that the stowage factor of coal was so many cubic feet to the ton, that grain and rice had to be ventilated properly and that mooring ropes had to be adjusted when working cargo. He taught us about "handy-billies", "single Spanish Burtons", and the mathematics of "mechanical advantage" and the "parallelogram of forces". It was passed down to our class that we should ask "Hoppy" the stowage factor of rhubarb and indeed one cadet called Mills was bold enough to put up his hand one day during a lesson on cargo stowage and asked - " What is the stowage factor of rhubarb, Sir?". Sure enough, old "Hoppy" Lee went berserk and lashed out with his textbook at the unfortunate Mills who lifted his crooked arm to ward off the blows and was hounded out of the classroom. We never discovered why this question touched off such a reaction.
Navigation was taught by "Spud" Murphy, a small laconic man and he was known for his remark - " Reach for your Norries"; this referred to the navigators Bible - Norries Nautical Tables which provided everything required from Log tables to tables of meridional parts, Traverse tables, Dip of the sea horizon, spherical trigonometric tables and a host of others.
A harassed young man taught English and he was given a hard time because the subject was considered boring and his classes were considered to be a time for fun. He would use a padded wooden duster to wipe the blackboard and place it on the front bench. As soon as he commenced to write on the board the duster was passed to the rear bench where it was dropped on the deck. When next he needed the duster he would look at the spot where it had been and say - " Come on now - who’s got the duster?" Complete silence and he would walk up the side of the benches, head down, looking for the item. He shouted - " There it is, Hall - it’s by your foot ". Hall would promptly kick it forward saying, " No it isn’t, Sir!" This would have the teacher crouching down and when he spotted it again he would shout - "There it is - under you Noble! - give it to me". And so this farce would continue until the cadets would consent to giving up the duster.
On another occasion when this master was busily writing on the blackboard the loose flap on the partition behind it was pushed up, a hand appeared and grabbed the easel and shook it vigorously before withdrawing. Teacher quickly looked behind the easel and seeing nothing continued to write; the hand appeared again and shook the easel. This continued until the teacher went next door and found the culprit who sat at the rear of the next classroom.
On one occasion and by a pre-arranged scenario a cadet asked the English master if he could go to the "Heads"; the master promptly refused permission. A few minutes later the cadet asked again and was refused. After a third refusal the cadet watched his chance and when the master was occupied at the blackboard, silently crept out of the port and clambered up onto the upper deck. With the "tumble-home" of the old ship (the inward sloping sides) and the various "chains" which supported the rigging, this was an easy task for an agile lad. Later he clattered into the classroom, disturbing everyone while he noisily regained his seat. The master was flabbergasted and remonstrated with the lad saying - " I told you ,you couldn’t leave the classroom". This brought a pantomime type of response from the class - " O - no you didn’t, Sir - you said he could go!" The resulting fiasco would, I am sure, make the master wonder if he were getting forgetful.
Occasionally the English master would have a "reading " lesson where the boys were allowed to read a book of their choice provided it was "suitable"! I recall one cadet being caught reading a book inserted into another larger book. It was called – "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" and was considered risqué in those days. Today it would be very mild. On discovering this grave sin the master said – " Right West – put that away. You must now write an essay as punishment" and he wrote on the blackboard with a flourish – "MAMMOTH SHIPS"
And said – " That’s the subject – I shall mark your effort at the end of the lesson". Shortly before the end of the period the master collected one sheet of paper from West who had written just two lines, which read – " As I was under the impression that Mammoths were extinct many thousands of years ago I am unaware of any ships being built to carry Mammoths. I therefore cannot write an essay on the subject "
Such was the indiscipline at school lessons that a scheme was devised, which the teachers hoped would make the cadets behave. The scheme involved awarding Merits for good work and De-merits for any indiscipline or bad work. Towards the end of each term each pupil’s Merits and De-merits would be counted and if he had more Merits than De-merits he would have a half-day’s break ashore whilst those with more De-merits than Merits would have lessons as usual.
The cadets soon decided that one measly half day was insufficient incentive to behave for a whole term and the scheme became unworkable. On one occasion a cadet whose name I forget had misbehaved and the master said – " Right – take a De-merit ". The cadet promptly said – " Sir – can I have two please – West has got more than me and I want to catch up with him".
Serious misbehaviour in school would result in the cadet being sent to the Headmaster – Mr Carter or "Bogbrush" as he was fondly known, for caning. He was a very mild man and on presenting himself for punishment the cadets would feign fear and Carter would say – " I don’t like doing this but you have been very bad and I have to cane you. It will hurt me more than it will hurt you, I assure you"
He would then reach for his cane, lift it high up and bring it down quickly until an inch or two from the cadet’s rear then hold back and land a very weak swipe". The drill then was for the cadet to scream loudly shouting " Ouch – Sir – that hurt". The disconcerted Mr Carter would perhaps apply one more similar swipe and dismiss the cadet saying – " There now – let that be a lesson to you. Don’t let me see you here again". The cadet, rubbing his posterior vigorously would depart to continue his behaviour as before. Old "Bogbrush’s" swipes were as nothing compared to the swipes of the ropes-ends applied by their fellow cadets
Ed. see Teaser in the Miscellaneous section.
Dusk would find a lone bugler blowing "Colours" as the large blue ensign was slowly lowered. Forty years on whilst staying at the monstrous block of flats on the site of the old Bishop’s Palace and on a balmy summer evening I could hear the clean bugle sound of "Colours" and could see in my mind’s eye the old ship lying there, a piece of history and a nursery of hope and adventure.
In the evening the hammocks would be slung from an iron hook on the ship’s side and onto an iron bracket which was hinged down from the low deckhead. Each of us had about 30 inches of space in which to bed down; the hammocks were cosy and comfortable and sleep came easily to tired youngsters. Hammocks provided ample opportunity for pranks; if one visited the "heads" it was quite likely that a slipknot had been substituted for the " round turn and two half hitches" so that on clambering into your hammock you would be deposited unceremoniously onto the deck. At nine thirty the generator on the upper deck would be wound down and a dark silence would fall on the ship. Before long the steady sound of footsteps would be heard as the Officer of the Watch and the Chief Cadet Captain preceded by a watchman bearing a hurricane lamp made their way to the centre of the Orlop deck. Cadet Captains from the various "tops" would then line up in front of them and, in turn, would step smartly in front of the Officer of the Watch, salute and report that, for instance " Starboard Foc’sle all correct, Sir. Scuttles shut and bilges pumped, all present!"
It was at this hour that "Official" punishment was meted out. This was awarded for such misdemeanours as being caught smoking or insubordination. The party would approach the culprit’s hammock, -shadows from the glimmering lamp dancing on the deckhead. He would be taken up one deck and in deathly silence, he would be flogged, usually the punishment was three or six lashes with twelve being given for really serious matters. The " swish" of the ropes end could be heard all over the ship, followed usually by a gasp from the recipient. He would then be returned to his hammock to whispered sympathies and to nurse a sore and sometimes bleeding behind. Fortunately this was a fairly rare occurrence as immediate and salutary punishment by the Cadet Captains with a "teaser", (as a short length of small rope was called) kept us in check. The ropes end was administered quite freely and was accepted without malice. The last cadet to lash up his hammock and line up with the rest of his "top" was given a whack for being last. Then the hammocks were bent double and straightened; if any bedding showed through then a whack was administered. The last in the column was awarded the worst job as well and these arrangements made for speed and competence in hammock lashing.
Sunday Service. The Mr Roberts of this famous café was also the harmonium player at the Sunday service on the ship and at one stage he was concerned that the singing was disjointed and of doubtful quality. One of the problems was the acoustics of the low deckhead of the main deck and the fact that half the assembled congregation was on one side of the ship and half on the other with the companionways and various other obstructions separating the two sides. His solution was to form a sixty strong choir of cadets with the loudest voices, quality of voice being quite unimportant. The incentive for being in the choir was, again, a periodic cream tea at his café. Audition for the choir was therefore much sought after and Mr Roberts attended one weekday evening to choose the choir. He was attended by two burly cadet captains and the selection method was to summon a cadet and peremptorily order him to start singing from the A&M hymn book – "To be a pilgrim " with Mr Roberts giving the note on the harmonium.
The potentially lengthy selection process was speeded up like this .
A small timid cadet would be told – " Paton – sing this! Look sharp now " and the hymn book would be thrust in his hand. With sweet falsetto and perfect tune Paton would start –" He who would true val…….." " That’s enough – get out!" and he would be roughly pushed aside and " NEXT" called out by the burly cadet captains. The next would perhaps sing atrociously out of tune but in a voice that would not be out of place on a parade ground. " Right – you’re in – stand over there!"
The chosen choir was then licked into some semblance of order and with considerable decibel capability, dominate the singing on both Port and Starboard side.
The end-of term service was quite moving, even for immature youngsters of fifteen and sixteen. Excitement would have been mounting in any case at the prospect of going home or going to sea. The tradition was for the cadet captain on watch at reveille to bawl out immediately after the bugle call – " Three cheers for going home three weeks today!". Of course there followed loud cheering. A week later it was repeated and then seven days before the end of term there would be a shout of " Three cheers for going home seven days today" and then, six, five, four, three, two and then on the actual end of term day reveille would be played by several buglers with drum accompaniment followed by loud cheers. It was also traditional for each cadet to hurl his mug into the hold to be shattered with all the others.
The last Sunday’s service always finished with hymn 577 – the End of Term Hymn with the first and last verses sung with great feeling :-
Of course it was a time when some of those "who here shall meet no more" were to experience great adventure and dangers and some even to meet their Maker before ever so long.
New Chums. Soon after joining the ship the "new chums" as they were called would be introduced to clambering up the main mast. A stout rope net was strung under it to catch anyone who might fall but no one fell in my time. One unfortunate lad who attempted to descend the forestay hand over hand fell and was fatally injured – the net did not extend under it. The climb at first was easy via the ratlines tied to the rigging but there was a large "table" about fifty feet up and it was necessary to climb outwards over the "futtocks" to gain this. It was frightening at first because the weight of ones legs tended to the vertical whilst ones hands and arms were outward and backward. Some who could not face this outward climb could attain the table though a hole against the mast. Then a further climb would take one to another smaller "table, forty feet higher and then another climb brought one right to the top of the mast and the "truck" – the round wooden disc topping the mast. One or two intrepid cadets had been known to sit on the truck.
Day followed day in the old ship and the routine became familiar and enjoyable with the cadets eagerly becoming experienced in the ways of the sea. The anchorage was in an ideal spot with the scenery changing with the seasons and with the wind and sun bringing the cadets a rosy weather-beaten complexion. The crowded conditions and lack of a decent diet did not unduly affect the boys; nearly all had some sort of "goodies" sent from home. Peanut butter, biscuits, and cakes were the usual items and some had homemade jam sent by anxious mothers.
Rowing I cannot recall any lifejackets on the old Conway. Today’s "Health and Safety" industry was a distant prospect; the ship’s routine had its roots in the days of sail of "iron men and wooden ships". It did us no harm - no cadet was ever lost despite winter storms and ripping tides. There was a "heavy weather" cutter crew who were considered good rowers and they would be used in bad weather when the motorboats had been hoisted for safety. There was one occasion when disaster nearly struck one dirty Saturday evening in September. The Padre who had been ashore and who was to conduct the Sunday service was seen on the end of Bangor Pier and the order " Heavy weather cutter away" was given. We donned our oilskins - heavy black tarred garments unlike today’s light materials and leapt in turn in the bouncing cutter which had been lying to the boom and which was now alongside the gangway.
"Oars -UP" - the command from the Cadet Captain coxswain had us lift the oars between our legs to the upright position. " Let -go forrard " - "Let-go aft" and the cutter corkscrewed away from the ships side. " Oars-down - GIVE WAY TOGETHER". The ship was heading into the strong wind and tide and Bangor Pier was a quarter of a mile astern of the ship. The wind and tide sped us on and in no time we were rounding to come alongside the head of the pier. The tide was shortly past being full and the ebb was gaining strength so it would entail a hard pull back to the ship.
The cutter was swept past the pier but strong strokes brought us slowly to the floating pontoon where the Padre stood lashed by wind and rain - there was no shelter here. He leapt smartly into the sternsheets and was helped by the cox’n to sit, as it was impossible to stand in the heaving boat. Soon were away from the pier and leaning to our oars but we made no headway at all. It soon became apparent that we could not defeat the wind and tide and it was decided to make for the Anglesey side where the tide would not be as strong and where there might be some shelter. This was unlikely as the geography of the Straits made them into a sort of funnel for wind and tide. In the middle of the Straits there were four-foot white horses with their tops whipped into sheet spray. We rowers had our backs to this freezing horizontal onslaught but the coxswain faced it as he steered the cutter bearing over to the opposite shore yet keeping the boat from broaching-to and possibly being thrown over. Eventually we crabbed across and approached the Gazelle slipway. At the head of the slip lay the Gazelle pub, now deserted in the gathering gloom. "Stand by bowman - get ashore as soon as you can and take the bowrope with you and make fast ". The starboard bowman shipped his oar and crouched ready to leap as instructed; the cutter was drifting astern quickly. He leapt onto the seaweed-covered slip and lost his footing letting go of the bowrope. Frantically he tried to retrieve it but the cutter drifted away from him taking the bowrope too.
Suggestions were made to run the boat ashore but the water on the shore edge was a boiling cauldron and it was judged to be safer in the main stream. A cable length downstream a coaster was anchored, its cable taught against the fast flowing ebb. The cox shouted - " Ahoy there - coaster! " All joined in the shout but there was no sign of life. We rowers felt tired and discouraged but we felt that if we could tie up to the coaster we would be safe. As we passed slowly - driven astern despite our rowing desperately, a figure appeared on the coaster and seeing our predicament, disappeared and reappeared with a heaving line which he hurled towards us. It fell short and our cox shouted to him to make it fast to a lifebuoy and float it down to us. However by the time he had attempted this we were well past and before long we were opposite Gallows Point near Beaumaris and we could see in the distance a haze of spume and breaking white water. This was the Dutchman’s bank, the sand bank of the Lavan Sands, which extends from the mainland shore out nearly to Puffin Island. As the ebb progressed, more of the sandbank was exposed. We were now feeling quite apprehensive and thoroughly exhausted. Night fell quickly; no lights showed because of the blackout, the land became just a darker shade than the boiling seas.
Suddenly there was a shout from one of the stroke oarsmen - " Look cox - there’s something coming towards us! ". Sure enough the crashing bow-wave of a vessel grew closer from the direction of the sea and it was apparent that it would pass about a hundred feet from us. "All together lads - all shout like mad" shouted the cox against the howling wind. This we enthusiastically did and the vessel could be seen altering course towards us. It was a fast patrol vessel of some 50 tons, which was making for its base at Menai Bridge because of the atrocious conditions at sea. Soon we were alongside and passing our bowline to eager hands and slowly it tautened as the vessel moved forward. Oars had been stowed inboard and we were slowly towed back up the Straits towards the Conway with the bow of the cutter rising high and falling into the troughs throwing sheets of stinging water over us.
Whilst we had been warmed with rowing we were now rapidly becoming very chilled. The now idle rowers relieved the Padre, who had been bailing water from the sternsheets with a small bucket.
The big bulk of the Conway appeared out of the gloom and soon we were alongside the gangway where willing hands leapt into the boat to assist in making fast. One by one we watched our opportunity and leapt aboard and gratefully entered the lower deck, our oilskins dripping. We learnt afterwards that Captain Goddard and the officers had been very worried but as there was no means of communication to the outside world they just hoped for the best.
Soon we were tucked in our hammocks after hot drinks; in the morning we were summarily dismissed as "heavy weather cutter crew" and replaced by another lot of cadets. The bow oarsmen who had leapt ashore on the Gazelle slip had sought refuge at the pub; the landlord let him bed down on a settee in the bar.
The Water Boat & Coaling. One of the favourite duties on the Conway was on the "water-boat" which was a motor launch fitted with a large tank to carry fresh water to the ship. A Cadet Captain was in charge and he had a crew of two cadets. The engine was housed in a small cabin which saw many a sneaked cigarette being smoked. One of its functions was to tow a barge full of coal from Port Penrhyn a mile away to the Conway to fuel the boiler which provided steam to drive the generator. It also provided steam for the winch which hoisted the coal from the bunkers down in the bowels of the ship. The task of manning this winch and filling the skip of coal down below was awarded as punishment for misbehaviour. " Right – "COAL-HOLE for you! " was dreaded by all because the work was hard and filthy but at one time or another most cadets experienced it. The "powers that be" had an ingenious method of coaling ship which was done every three months or so. This was to make each "top" compete to unload a barge in the shortest time. The "top" which unloaded a barge in the quickest time had a cream tea at Robert Robert’s café in Upper Bangor as a reward. This was a masterly carrot for ravenous youngsters and the competition was furious.
Sailing. The Conway owned a gaff rigged "Nobby" and groups of cadets would sail away into Beaumaris Bay in the summer months, sometimes entering the Conway River and mooring near the castle. I recall an occasion when she grounded on a falling tide whilst making for Conway and being deep-keeled she ended up high and dry on her side on the sandbank. There was nothing for it but to wait patiently for the tide to turn and float the "nobby" off. There were also three clinker built sailing dinghies which were moored a short distance off the old ship, close to the Anglesey shore. When Admiral Sir Percy Noble visited the ship he was rowed ashore in the Captain’s gig and the sailing dinghies were manned and instructed to sail professionally near the gig as it made its way to the pier. The dinghy in which I was among the crew made a close pass in the fresh breeze and when "going about" the main sheet fouled the cleat and instead of paying off on the opposite tack the dinghy promptly capsized giving the Admiral a perfect example of how not to "go-about,
The Captain’s gig crew was made up of Senior Cadet Captains and usually they would practice to perfect the rowing of this prestigious craft. The cox would be the Chief Cadet Captain. There were three eighteen-foot oars per side and they called for considerable strength because of their long length and the narrowness of the gig. The oarsmen were placed one behind the other; the steering was by "yoke and lines" unlike the tiller arrangement of the cutters. For someone used to a tiller the "yoke and line" steering took some little time to master. When I was Senior Cadet Captain in charge of the new chums in Port Focsle we were summoned one day to take Lawrence Holt ashore. He was the Chairman of Alfred Holt’s Blue Funnel Line and Chairman of the Board of Governors. As it was soon after the beginning of the autumn term we had no little or no experience of the gig. However we set off smartly from the ship and the tide being high the cox decided to go under the pier and make for the stone slip at the shoreward end alongside the pier. This would save this important personage having to walk the length of the long pier. However, owing to a combination of a strong tide, the cox’s inexperience, and the small clearance, we managed to enter the gap between two of the pier supports quite off-centre. I can hear the "Snap – snap – snap" as the three oars on the port side broke and deposited the gig on the lee side with an asymmetric problem which was solved by using the remaining oars to punt the gig alongside the slip. Lawrence Holt disembarked without a word.
Marching, marching, marching. "Right wheel!" shouted Cadet Captain Pearson in his high squeaky voice. This was quite unnecessary as the marching group of cadets was merely negotiating a sharp bend in the lane and they had been drilled to make a ninety-degree turn when given such an order. There were sixty in the squad in twenty rows of three and they were all pretty fed up having been marching for an hour and a half by now. Moreover they had passed Smith’s café where they had hoped to have a "spell-o" and something to drink whilst the smokers would slope off round the corner for a quick drag.
Pearson was a pain. Most other cadet captains would be far more amenable and after a token exercise in marching would allow the lads to take things easy. In any case this marching lark was partly just to occupy some of the cadets for two or three hours on a Saturday afternoon. Other groups would be playing rugger on the green at Beaumaris, cross-country running or rowing the ten and twelve oared cutters in the Menai Straits.
Commander T M Goddard - fondly referred to as "Wa-wa" because of his inability to pronounce his "R’s". He and his wife and pretty daughter Rosemary occupied a third of the ship, his cabins had the ornate stern windows looking out over the ever-moving waters. Under him were Lieutenant Commander "Laurie" Lawrence, a genial rotund product of the RN’s lower deck who had made it to the higher ranks. "Spooky", as Lieutenant Brooke- Smith was referred to was a tall bespectacled, well liked executive officer who, although a strict disciplinarian, was respected for his impartial running of the daily routine. Under him were two single-stripers - "Bossy Phelps", a cockney whose family were Thames watermen for generations past and who, with "Tooley" Lee his counterpart was well liked. "Tooley" was an army Warrant Officer who had been seconded to the Conway to teach them the new -fangled -"unarmed combat".
Whereas these stalwarts ran the ship with smooth efficiency and a no-nonsense demand for the strict and instant obedience to rules, the educational side was quite separate. A headmaster fondly referred to, as "Bogbrush" and a motley group of teachers were non-residents who came from ashore each Monday to Friday to conduct lessons. They had little control over the exuberant spirits who regarded "school" as a break from the discipline of shipboard routine. Every known device was employed by the cadets to frustrate the attempts of these teachers to teach and it was reluctantly accepted by most, that the educational achievements of the Conway were minimal and that the true value of the training lay in the producing of young men of spirit and initiative who would become the backbone of Britain’s maritime industry.
The "war effort" involved periodic weeks when funds and morale were raised through " Wings for Victory" or " War Weapons Week" and suchlike. Parades of the services and ancillary organisations like the Red Cross and WVS and Home Guard were held all over Britain and the North Wales towns were no exception. There was call for HMS Conway to provide their band and a sixty to a hundred strong party to head these parades. Being the "Senior Service" they led each parade and the marchers were especially chosen for their smart appearance and were drilled to perfection.
They were indeed a very professional group and the bugle and drum band were deafening. The drum major, a lantern-jawed lad called Bates wielded his baton impeccably, hurling it skyward whilst looking straight ahead and unerringly catching it as it spun earthwards. The Saturday afternoon drilling therefore performed two purposes - occupying the cadets and keeping them up to scratch in their marching. The squad however did not look at it in this way. For a start, the cadet captain in charge on a Saturday was not the one who led them on the formal parades and some, including Pearson had little grasp of the technicalities. The lads, in any case wanted a bit of fun and relaxation and if Pearson had other ideas then they would make life hard for him. Indeed, when he shouted his "Right Wheel", it had already been decided that, as this was one of several unnecessary orders, the lads would comply accurately by turning ninety degrees to the right regardless of where they were. On this acute bend, and on the order being given the first row turned smartly right, climbed a small bank and clambered over a low wire sheep fence and, followed by the following ranks marched across the newly ploughed field.
Pearson, striding ten feet ahead of the column, was initially unaware that his charges were diverting away from him. When he realised what was happening he screamed - "Halt", then "Stop it -I’ll have you all on report". However the squad had become deaf to his orders and continued until met by a high hedge at the opposite end of the field. The shambles eventually ended by the cadets returning to the lane and protesting that they only obeyed the shouted orders. Pearson, a subdued person thereafter, allowed them to call at Smith’s café on the way back to the slipway.
He even allowed the squad to perform a manoeuvre which was not in the book, so to speak, and which had been conjured up by bored cadets on previous drills in the lanes on the Anglesey side.
This was a variation on the "About - TURN" order. Instead of smartly turning 180 degrees in four steps with knees well raised, sometimes to the shouted accompaniment - "One- Two - Three - Four" and then marching away in the opposite direction the squad would make eight "on-the spot" steps and turn through 360 degrees and continue marching in the same direction. This incongruous manoeuvre, performed immaculately was usually done when there were passers-by whose expressions were quite funny to see.
When on official parades in the various towns - often two per day, the boys could become quite mischievous, particularly if there was an officious Parade Marshall. I recall one instance where the Parade Marshall was on horseback - he was a retired cavalry officer. Imperiously he addressed the squad who were fallen in facing the pavement outside the Waterloo Hotel in Bettws -y - Coed. " Look here - you chaps. Let’s have no nonsense - heads up - shoulders back, and no slouching". Such talk from a rank outsider was quite unacceptable and the "bush telegraph" soon had a plan to make his afternoon miserable. The driver of one of the coaches, which had carried the squad, was sitting with others on the top rail of an iron fence when it collapsed under their weight and deposited them among the rose bushes in the hotel garden. It was difficult to maintain straight faces.
When all the long column was in place - HMS Conway band and marchers at the head, followed by the RAF contingent from Valley RAF station and the Infantry from Trawsfynnydd and various Scouts, Guides, Firemen etc, the Parade Marshall rode up to the front on his horse and shouted - " All right there, away you go! " and with a mighty "Thump- Thump- Thump " from the big drum the HMS Conway contingent stepped smartly away with the band thundering away.
What the Parade Marshall did not realise was that the Conway lot were marching quickly and with long strides which soon took them a hundred yards ahead of the RAF men and the rest of the parade. The Parade Marshall came galloping to the head of the parade shouting - "Slow down - slow down ! Bates took him at his word and reduced the tempo and the lads, with unspoken agreement took short steps, which reduced the forward speed to a crawl. Soon the rest caught up and were unable to continue because of the slow moving cadets and the whole lot bunched up until they were almost marking time in the same spot. The Parade Marshall, seeing the situation, again rushed up to Bates at the head shouting -" Speed up - you’re holding things up". Promptly, the Conway contingent increased tempo and stride and were soon many yards ahead. And so it went on - the Parade Marshall quite unable to maintain an even speed in the parade because the lads had decided he was to have a difficult time.
These march-pasts with "eyes left", or "eyes right" often presented the lads with some old veteran colonel standing on a makeshift dais, barely able to keep his arm in the salute, and with some pompous mayoral figure alongside. Volunteer ladies in some chapel schoolroom or village hall provided refreshments and I recall the cadets rushing into one schoolroom and grabbing several plates of sandwiches and elbowing others aside. Being a Welsh speaker I heard one lady remark to another in Welsh - "Dewcs - mae nhw fel anifeiliaid" - ("Blimey - they’re like animals"). We were in fact always ravenously hungry because the food on the old ship was poor and very scarce.
The Crosville Motor Bus Company would then take us to another town - Llandudno or Colwyn Bay where we would again march and then we would be taken back to the pier at Bangor where No1 and No2 motor boats would come and take us back to the ship.
Robert Robert’s café was a landmark in Upper Bangor and was frequented by university students and Conway cadets on the rare occasions when they were ashore and free. Wartime rationing restricted their cakes and buns but once a week they provided Captain Goddard with an iced sponge cake which they delivered to the pier with other "goodies". The cutter crews which collected these soon became aware of the juicy nature of their cargo and the icing on the sponge cake was picked at by one hand and then another until it was almost bare sponge. As one can imagine this was unacceptable to the Commander who issued dire threats against any of the icing robbers but the problem persisted. In the end a small wooded chest was made with a hasp and staple and a padlock with two keys, one for the bakery and one for Captain Goddard. The cake was delivered in its chest, to the little kiosk at the head of the pier and a flag was hoisted on the flagpole to advise the ship that the cake was there. A cutter was then despatched post-haste to collect it. Problem solved!
Dickie’s boatyard at Bangor which pre-war built wooden yachts now built motor torpedo boats which, when completed were tested in Beaumaris Bay and then handed over to naval crews who sailed away to secret destinations. One such MTB was anchored just to seaward of Bangor Pier when we were sailing the dinghies one autumn afternoon. We were tacking across from the mainland shore in a fresh breeze and when it became apparent that we were bearing down on the anchored vessel so it was decided to "go about" onto the other tack. Shouting "lee-o", the cox put his helm down and the dinghy come up into the wind but failed to come round onto the other tack. It stayed "in irons" for a while, that is, it was unsteerable and drifting backwards until gradually the head payed off on the same tack as before. It gathered speed and despite the cox attempting to steer the dinghy past the stern of the MTB, the stout wooden bowsprit buried itself into the hull of the MTB just a foot from its stern.
The officer on the MTB was jumping up and down metaphorically but one of the sailors told us under his breath that we had performed a wonderful service in making it impossible to sail until repairs were made. They were about to sail for the Middle East apparently. The hulls of the MTB’s were merely laminated plywood. Two aircraft-type engines powered them; they made a wonderfully loud roar when under full throttle. Cadets were sometimes allowed out on trials and it was a great experience.
There was no heating on the ship and when a strong breeze blew in a direction opposite to the tide she would sometimes lie athwart both. At such time the wind would blow though the various openings and make life quite tedious. The shallows extended out from the Bangor shore to within a cable or so of the Conway and at Low Water Springs there was little clearance when she swung to the flood. On one occasion the stern grounded causing Captain Goddard some concern with forays around the mooring taking soundings. She re-floated on the tide and it was decided that the winter gales had caused the anchors to drag. The Trinity House support vessel Patricia came and repositioned the anchors and all was well.
The BBC had been evacuated from London to North Wales because of the bombing of the Capital and broadcasts were made from studios in Bangor and Llandudno. Popular programmes like ITMA and Saturday night Music Hall were made locally and the stars and staff lived locally. One of the characters in ITMA was a Mrs Mopp a charlady whose stock line was – "Can I do you now – Sir?". Captain Goddard had a look-alike charwoman who came from Bangor several days a week to "do" for him and Mrs Goddard. The Goddards had a coal fire in their accommodation and on one occasion I was bowman in No1 motorboat which had been summoned alongside the gangway to take the Commander ashore. He appeared at the top of the gangway resplendent in his immaculate uniform and lightly skipped down onto the bottom platform. The cox saluted smartly anticipating his boarding when, from above a bucketful of cold ashes descended in a dense cloud and transformed his uniform into a light grey colour.
He probably realised that "Mrs Mopp" had excelled herself and he just shook himself, turned about and re-boarded without a word. The cox just exchanged glances with us – his eyes said it all.
In the Odeon theatre in Llandudno a daily programme was broadcast from 10.30 to 11 – " Sandy McPherson on the Theatre Organ" and indeed this large theatre had a Wurlitzer organ which rose up into the auditorium with flashing coloured lights from a pit below the stage whilst Sandy McPherson played some dramatic piece with feeling. The public sometimes formed an audience and this well known recital was advertised on a large hoarding outside with the wording – WE ALL LOVE TO SEE SANDY McPHERSON’S MASSIVE ORGAN RISE AND CHANGE COLOUR". This gaff went largely un-noticed.
One or two cadets could not settle in the ship and absconded with considerable skill. One such cadet used the light two-oared skiff which at night was hoisted on a simple purchase by the gangway.
He would get up in the night, lower the skiff and row to the pier and leg it into the dark. Eventually his parents brought him back. After the third escape it was said that Captain Goddard suggested sarcastically that his parents might like to buy the skiff. Two cadets found their way to Ireland whilst another two were found camping out on the Wirral.
End of Term
was eagerly anticipated and on the day all the lads were landed to trudge light-heartedy to Bangor station carrying an assortment of kitbags. The fast steam train from Holyhead to Euston
Took most of them to Chester and Crewe and London from where they would disperse to their scattered homes. Being fairly local it was a Crosville bus from near the pier for me. Forty minutes later would find me home at Penmaenmawr beneath the towering mountains and beside the sea.
When a cadet left during term time, as was sometimes the case, the whole ship’s company would be summoned by bugle call to the upper deck and would give three hearty cheers to the departing boy as he was rowed ashore in a cutter manned by his own term. This was to happen to me half way through my last term.
Climbing The Mast
Occasionally we would go aloft. Climbing the ratlines to the cross-trees was not, as Americans say, a big deal. But it was an awkward climb in that the rope foot-holds were particularly pliable, and it was difficult to achieve a firm foothold with each step. In climbing up for most of the way, a cadet was, in a sense, leaning against the rigging which, of course, was angled between the chains and the mainmast. However, at a point where the ratlines reached the mast, a few feet below the cross-trees, it was necessary to climb on outwards over a stretch of ratline that described an angle between the mast and the edges of the cross-trees platform. This left a cadet utterly dependant on his ability to grip the stays and keep his feet, with increased difficulty, on the foot-holds. A few false moves, and he could all too easily fall to the deck, and possibly to his death, given the inappropriate size and quality of the safety nets below. I must confess that on the only occasion I went aloft I was white with terror by the time I reached the edge of the cross-trees, and I was particularly grateful when another cadet, safely on the platform, recognised my distress, and heaved me up to comparative safety.
The mooring had previously been occupied by the reformatory ship Clio. The locals seeing another warship and uniformed cadets assumed the Conway was also a reformatory so cadets did not have too great a welcome at first.
Glyn Garth slip was in Menai Bridge. Cadets would land there for games and visit Smith's Caf¸ for 'shilling Teas' after activities afternoons. The caf¸ is now rebuilt as 2 Glyn Garth
One floor of Bryn Mel (above the Gazelle slip) was used as a sanatorium.
When Conway was moored in the Mersey boats were always able to use the pockets at Rock Ferry pontoon whatever the state of the tide. However, shallow water was something boats crews had to get used to at Bangor when the Conway was moored in the Menai Straits. Invariably cadets landed ashore over Bangor Pier - at the slip if water allowed, and if not then by means of the vertical steel ladder at the far outward end of the pier. It was not unknown for coxswains who were unaware of the shallow depth of the water to end up grounded alongside the slip.
Occasionally boats had to land at Beaumaris, as in the summer 1941 term when concern was expressed about a possible German invasion through Ireland and cadets landed at the Gazelle slip for a firearms drill.
Sports were played on Bangor City Football Club's grounds, later on Beaumaris Common (using the goal as changing rooms) before better facilities were found at Baron Hill.
On board in the tween decks fresh air was obtained by removing wooden plugs from the gun ports allowing gusts of fresh Welsh air to flow across the deck! I recall a tale told of a visit by the "Worcester" rugby team who complained of the lack of fresh air in the tween decks (not that there was a great deal to be found in Gravesend!). Plugs were removed from the ships side and the winter winds did blow! Almost immediately there was a request to replace the plugs!! This did nothing to enhance their reputation.
Outward Bound Sea School
During the 1940s cadets attended a four week course at Aberdovey in their fourth term. The OBSS was started up during the War to train young men whose ships were likely to be torpedoed and who might find themselves in lifeboats. It was really a survival course with great emphases on physical fitness. Conways liked the relaxed routine, for example, getting up at 7.00 a.m. instead of 6.30 a.m., liked the vastly better food, but HATED the morning run followed by a compulsory cold shower (at Conway they enjoyed a hot bath once a week whether they needed it or not). There are photos of Conway cadets in the (now) Outward Bound museum in Aberdovey.
There was a another scheme whereby cadets attended Gordonstoun (Gordonstoun School was then located at Plas Dinam, between Lanidloes and Newtown) for a year (3 terms) and then joined Conway as first term cadets. In their second term they joined the senior hands (Conway 4th termers) and left in their "sixth" term after completing four terms. It was a regular feature of the 1940s. It existed because the ship's complement was full at their initial application and, of course, during the war years there was greatly increased demand for seafarers.
Week-end mountaineering expeditions into Snowdonia began. Parties of six - eight cadets would prepare an itinerary and go off unaccompanied into the mountains for two days. This continued until closure.
Air Cadets undertook flying lessons at RAF Valley.
A cadet was killed coming hand over hand down the mainstay from the Maintop.
1941 - The Water Boat
Perhaps many do not realise that the water boat (Juice Barge) was acquired second-hand, one careful owner, from Indifatigable in 1941 when that training ship, like Conway, also abandoned the Mersey but relocated to a shore establishment by the Tubular Bridge on Anglesey. We spent the first Summer term in the Straits practically without water developing huge muscles lugging milk churns full of fresh water for drinking purposes. When we got the boat, it was greatly admired and appreciated by all! It actually had a telegraph to signal the "engine room" which gave the Cox a fine sense of being in command of SOMETHING WORTHWHILE. The previous water boat (a "dumb barge") never made it round the coast during the tow-around from the Mersey.
It obviously led an interesting life at the hands of our successors! See later stories about groundings! Ed
1941 - Sleeping In Hammocks
The general opinion was that they were comfortable to sleep in, but I slept in one for 2.5 years and I disagree. I adjusted to nettles, and even brought a small pillow from home and smuggled it onboard, but I could never get as comfortable as a half decent bed. Furthermore some miscreant could let you down in the night just for fun, and then there was the awful moment in the Summer when you had to put the whole kit and kaboodle on your shoulders and carry it ashore for scrubbing. At 13 years of age an about 130lbs ringing wet to carry it complete with contents down or up steep ladders and into a cutter jammed in with as many as possible and then up the pier to the scrubbing area was not a happy time. If memory serves the half hitches were actually supposed to be marline hitches and there was a difference in that to make the hitch the rope went over the standing part not under. The punishment for such infractions was you had to take your hammock ashore and double around the parade ground with it. Some of the tough kids would keep going for several hours but eventually collapse face down in the dirt and not moving, and the Seamanship Officer and Ex Heavy Weight Champion of the Navy would just stand there in the rain staring into the middle distance.
1941 - Sports
We used to play Rugby at Barn hill Beaumaris and changed in Beaumaris Gaol a Victorian ex military prison complete with treadmill and condemned cell. You had to be careful to leave the cell doors open as they had snap locks - you can imagine the rest. We used to load cadets into the cutters and then the pinnace towed them to Beaumaris. In the summer that saved a long walk and buses were out of bounds.
1941 Water water everywher
When the ship first came to Menai Strait we did not have a water boat - ours had been lost en route from the Mersey: hence no water other than what came off in milk churns for cooking and the wash-basins (twice daily). We grew huge biceps lugging the churns out of the boats and into the ship - two cadets per churn. Also we grew ever more aromatic what with no baths. By the next term we had acquired Indefat's water boat and all was back to normal - once a week AND after coal-hole. This was in 1941!
We could be cruel at times. There was a big chap called Oddie. For some reason when he was called by the officer of the watch or whatever the whole ship would take up the call. Can you imagine a couple of hundred cadets shouting ìOddieOddieOddieOddieOddieî? We had a George Formby film where George was in the army. His sergeant looked just like Oddie so the poor chap used to get our rendering of George's ìOur Sergeant Majorî to top it off. Something similar used to happen to a boy called Weaver - ìWeeeeeeeverWeeeeeeeverî
1944/5 The number of cadets was 250.
1945 The ship's white lines were restored - they had been blacked out in 1939 by Indefatigable cadets and remained so throughout the war.
The Headmaster returned from war service in the RAF and promptly picked up where he had left off. He established gym classes, a drama group, music society and Scout Group. He even became resident on the ship.
1945 Sleeping In Hammocks
QBs were allowed to use hammock stretchers which apparently made them much more comfortable!
1946 The Pinnace
When the pinnace was delivered to the ship in 46 by sea from Birkenhead she still had her original engine and trans mission, timed in both directions over a measured mile between Gallows Pt and near the Gazelle her speed was 11.5 knots. She had I think a Mann diesel and conventional transmission, the "gear stick " was rather like and old hand brake lever with a release that locked it in position. There was a plate on the E/R bulkhead that said in German that it had a capacity for 85 persons in Fresh water. In 1950 as a callow 3rd mate leaving Hamburg in the Dymas we had to radio ahead to Cuxhaven to request the police to collect some stowaways, the police came out to meet us in the twin of the pinnace! On the pinnace it was possible to see where lifting points were fitted so she could be lifted on davits.
1946 More Abuse For The Juice Barge
One fine summer's morning I was happily coxing the Juice Barge to Bangor for a refill of water. We all had our little ways of coxing but mine - especially with the JB which was a bit of a wallower at slow knots - was full ahead/stop followed immediately by FULL ASTERN ( and prayers). On this particular morning we approached Bangor pier at full ahead until I could see the whites of its eyes and was receiving nervous and reproachful glances from the bowman. With a carefree flourish I ding-a-linged "STOP" and was about to follow this with a hearty FULL ASTERN when, with sinking heart, I heard the bl......y engine STOP running. No room to turn - either run up the beach or hit the pier. The pier won and we hit one of the vertical supports with a crashing crack I can still hear in bad moments of memory recall. The pier still stood, the JB did not sink, the bowman caught the side as he was being projected overboard and the engineer got burned as he flew over the overheated engine (serve the B.....right too!). So all was well and when the crew pulled me off the engineer we tanked up and blithely returned. Alas Spooky Brook - Smith had been watching these shenanigans through the Main Entrance telescope and I was summarily disrated (only temporarily) and left to stand on the Quarter Deck as a dreadful warning to other coxs with fast and loose ideas of seamanship.
I wonder where the old Juice Barge ended up? Anyone know?
1946 Honourary Captain RNR
In 1946 the Board Of Admiralty decided that the Captain Superintendants of Arethusa, Conway and Mercury were from then on all to be granted the honorary rank rank of Captain RNR.
1947/8 The Strike.
In 1947/8 England was still recovering from the Second World War and many items were still rationed. Add to this the fact that catering staffs were under training as well as cadets and the resultant food was pretty poor. The food became so bad that it was decided to bring this into the open by organising a strike for better meals. When it became time to hoist all boats up to their night positions which required all the ships company we all pretended to lay on the ropes without pulling, even the cadet officers were in on the plot and continued to shout usual orders. Finally when the situation became obvious we were assembled and kept at attention until the officers were informed of our reasons. Finally it was agreed that the matter would be examined and the food improved on condition that our action was never to be repeated. Sadly the small improvements made did not last long.
NB from memory we were allowed one pot of jam per month. Eight ounces of butter between six. Some food arrived cold. One night I found a wire scourer in my cabbage and on complaining was told that I needed the iron.
1947/8 Midnight Row.
Buffy Boothroyd and I decided that we would go for a midnight row in the small skiff thatwas hoisted above the gangway each night. We crept onto the gangway and carefully lowered the skiff as quietly as possible. To us it sounded very noisy as the ropes and derrick creaked. Finally in the water we had forgotten the bung so Buffy hastily and loudly stamped the bung in whilst the water flowed in. Casting off we glided with the current until we were about 50 yards astern of the Conway. At this time a ghostly apparition appeared at the top of the gangway and a voice echoed "skiff come back immediately"
Captain Hewitt resplendent in dressing gown unfortunately for us. We returned quickly and were to report to theCaptains cabin next day where we were quizzed about our joy ride and the reasons that he suspected were to meet girls onshore. We were given some punishment but not too severe and survived for other adventures.
1948 Sleeping In Hammocks
The order 'Lash up and stow' prompted a headlong helter-skelter down the hatch ladders in a race to reach your hammock into which you hastily stowed your bedding and lashed it up with (as I recall) seven equally spaced half-hitches which you laid back on with all your weight before rushing it off to fall in line with the rest of your Top to present your handiwork for inspection. The last one in the line immediately got three over the backside (somebody had to be last!). The inspecting CC then bent your hammock double to loosen the lashings, and then vigorously tugged at the canvas in the six spaces between the lashings to see if he could expose any bedding. You got one over the 'Butt' for each space where bedding could be exposed, and it follows that if bedding could be exposed in one space the canvass could be pulled through to expose it in the other five! And that was just the start of yet another day for your long-suffering 'Butt'! Happy Days!...
I still think that sleeping in a hammock is the most comfortable way to sleep.
1948 - How To Cox A Twelve Oar Cutter.
consists of thirteen cadets, twelve oarsmen and the cox'n, which might
have been seen as an unlucky number although we never thought about
it. Six rows of thwarts,each with two oarsmen, with their feet on wooden
stretchers to give purchase when rowing, oars held with arms naturally
holding the oar, inboard hand on the loom, outboard hand on the oar
1948 - Divisions
At Divisions the Captain Superintendent, accompanied by the Officer of the Day and a Senior Cadet Captain stood on the Holy Ground on the Quarterdeck, situated at the after end of the Lower Deck. In Spring Term 1949 the Quarterdeckmen not only hand-scrubbed this section of the deck, but holystoned it with small hand held holystones. It came up so well that it was decided to holystone the whole of the adjacent deck for which the Quarterdeckmen were responsible. It did not pass unnoticed that quite soon one could see where the Quarterdeckmen's responsibility ended and the Mizzentopmen's began. Ironically, Captain Hewitt advised against the practice because it was felt that it might eventually wear out the teak decking (apart from annoying the Mizzentopmen who were not much inclined to holystone anything).
At Divisions the Captain Superintendent often read prayers. Occasionally the Padre did so. If Captain Goddard felt that the time allocated for praying was being exceeded he would chime in "That'll do Padre, thank you", and order the Cadet Captain to "Carry On".
1948 - Climbing The Masts
A cadet Known as Boris Trotsky, who invariably wore boots rather than shoes, was reputed to have stood on the truck of the main mast. I cannot vouch for this personally, but I did see him walk along the main yard.
1948 - Etiquette 1
Should one wish to dispose of some article such as a magazine, or spare slice of bread, it was the custom to call out "Quiz" (Who). The first person to respond "EGO" (I) would be awarded whatever was being disposed of.
1948 - Etiquette 2
(Every part of the ship was the responsibility of – effectively was “owned” by one of the Tops. Convention demanded that “visitors” from other Tops asked for permission before entering or crossing any space. Ed)
At the order "Fall in Port Foc'sle" cadets (new Chums) in Port Foc'sle quickly formed a line, the last two might be awarded the task of emptying the yak tub of rubbish. This was a half barrel which lived on the deck, equipped with iron hoops and a rope handle on each side. For a thirteen year old cadet it could be an awkward and heavy load. It had to be carried with a cadet on each handle to the Yak Shute in the Tunnel at the fore end of that starboard side of the Upper Deck, outside the Heads, where it was lifted up, tipped and emptied. First it had to be dragged up the steep hatch way ladder from the Orlop Deck to the Lower Deck, first requesting "Hatch please" of any senior cadet lurking about. Then "Deck please" to move from the hatch to the Lower Deck, then "Hatch please" to the Main Hatch, a double haul up two decks, then "Deck please" to the Upper Deck, then "Tunnel please" to the Tunnel (or enclosed alleyway). Empty into the shute and reverse the process to return to the safety of port focs'le on the Orlop Deck. I bloody hated it !
1948 - Tops (also called Divisions)
In our time, joining September 1948, the organization was as follows: New chums went into the focsles. In their second term (minus the smaller cadets who went into the Mizentops, and a few who went into the Hold Division) they went en bloc into what had been the Senior Top of the previous term. Thus in the Easter term of 1949 we (who had been Port and Starboard Focsles) went en bloc into Starboard Fore (less those who went to the Mizentops or Hold). Our part of ship was the starboard upper deck.The scheme was that we would then have stayed together for the rest of our time in the ship, being depleted by promotions to CCs.
1949 - Boat Drill
Following naval practice it was customary at night for the Cadet Captain of the Lower Deck Watch to hail boats returning to the ship. If an Officer was being conveyed the cox'n would respond "Aye Aye !". If the Captain was being conveyed the response was "Conway ! " As a New Chum lurking in the starboard chains one summer evening, I heard this last exchange and not understanding its import was moved to shout "Hurrah !" Prudence then took me swiftly, discreetly and no doubt wisely, from the scene.
1949 - End Of Term
During the last week of each term it was customary for a "Still" to be sounded immediately after Reveille, whereby the Chief Cadet Captain announced "HMS Conway, three cheers for going home in six days time !" – and so on with a daily count down during the final week. On the final day of term Reveille was played not by a single Bugler, but by the whole Band.
1949 - Mealtimes
Each Mess was issued with cutlery, mugs and water tumblers for twelve cadets at the commencement of term. Broken or vanished items were not replaced until the following term. It was not unusual towards the end of term to be reduced to eating a roast dinner with the aid of a spoon. Those unfortunates who had to wait to use someone else's mug might be left with only the dregs from the tea pot. This could be circumvented by drinking tea from either the mess sugar basin or the mess butter dish once their contents had been distributed. The sugar basin was preferable being deeper and usually containing a residue of sugar. The butter dish was a last choice, being rather shallow, easily spilled and usually somewhat greasy.
1949 - Tops (also called Divisions)
The new chums always went into the two focsles. Exceptionally, when there was a large entry, the occasional overflow probably went into the Mizzentops.In the Easter term of 1949 the Quarterdeck division was formed of surplus new chums - Mike Llewellyn was SCC. His new chums won the Hobson Cup, not a very frequent occurrence. The Quarterdeck Division sometimes housed the Band.
In the days when sail drill was still regularly exercised (right into the 1890s) it seems likely that, after a term in one of the focsles, a cadet would proceed to a Top in accordance with his size - and in accordance with the size of the gear on the mast belonging to the Top. When and if he grew he would proceed into other Tops. The Maintopmen seem to have always had the reputation of being hefty laddies, which accords with this supposition. Tops would then consist of different members of Terms, which seems to accord with what Masefield writes. At some time (probably after the demise of sail drill) the practice became that the Focslemen (minus the small ones destined for the Mizentops) after their first term term moved into a Top, but in their third and subsequent terms moved progressively into other Tops, still remaining together as a Term (with the exception of those who had gone to make up numbers in the Hold Division or had become CCs of other Tops or Supernumerary CCs). This method would ring the changes as to working on different decks/parts of ship. The Hold Division was composed of a mixture of different terms. Each Focsle and each Top had a Senior and a Junior Cadet Captain. (e.g. there was a Senior and a Junior for Starboard Fore and a Senior and a Junior for Port Fore). The exception being the Hold Division (and when it existed the Quarterdeck Division) which had one SCC and one JCC. Supernumerary CCs (Boat CCs, Mailmaster, Rec Room CC, Bathroom CC, Pulling & Sailing Boats CC, etc) were not attached to a Top. They were spread among the messes for meals.
This system seems to have prevailed into the 1940s, but sometime in that decade there was then another change. In our time, joining September 1948, the organization was as follows: New chums went into the focsles. In their second term (minus the smaller cadets who went into the Mizentops, and a few who went into the Hold Division) they went en bloc into what had been the Senior Top of the previous term. Thus in the Easter term of 1949 we (who had been Port and Starboard Focsles) went en bloc into Starboard Fore (less those who went to the Mizentops or Hold). Our part of ship was the starboard upper deck.The scheme was that we would then have stayed together for the rest of our time in the ship, being depleted by promotions to CCs. However, we stayed together for just two terms. The last term under the old scheme being that of Summer 1949. (The Ship's Company photograph of that term depicts the last Ship's Company all of whom had entered the Ship directly as new chums)..
The situation of having a Top composed of all one seniority did not lend itself to internal competitive sport, so there were six "Ships" (Howe, Cossack, Sealion, Rawalpindi, Nestor, Ohio) - akin to Houses - composed of across section of all seniorities. which competed in various sports for the Pledger Cup.
At the end of the Summer term 1949 the Ship moved from Bangor to Plas Newydd. The Christmas term 1949 saw the opening of the Shore Base and for the first time new chums did not join the Ship, but spent their first term in Plas Newydd. Some spent their second term ashore also. Each Top (or strictly speaking Division) on board now had one SCC and two Junior CCs. Ashore there was a SCC (Deputy CCC) in overall charge and five JCCs, one for each Division. The unwieldy system of "Ships" for sport was now unnecessary and was abolished.
The part of ship allotted to each top differed over the years. In Masefield's time the Foretops had the Orlop Deck and the Focslemen the Lower Deck. In our time the decks were as follows: Foretops - Upper Deck, Maintops -Main Deck, Mizentops - Lower Deck, Focsles - Orlop Deck.The new chums always went into the two focsles. Exceptionally, when there was a large entry, the occasionaloverflow probably went into the Mizentops.
1949 No 2 & The Pinnace
In my second term (the first on board) I was bowman on number 2. She had a small diesel engine which was a devil to start from cold. We had to use heating plugs, small cardboard tubes like a half smoked cigarette. We put a match to these until they were smoldering and then screwed them into plugs in the cylinder head. After a few minutes we swung the starting handle with the compression lever open and when enough speed had built up, we closed the lever, and hopefully she would fire and run. You had to judge the timing right, too soon and she was too cold, too late and the heating plug had gone out and we had to begin again. This was the winter term, Jan to Easter, and it may have been better in the summer. I seem to remember trying to smoke one of the starting tubes, but although it looked like a ciggie, it tasted even worse than the Turf and Bar One ciggies that were all we could afford. But at least we had an excuse for carrying matches! She was steered with a proper wheel, whereas No. 1 had tiller steering and a petrol engine. No.2 was also a lot smaller and much easier to hoist at night. The pinnace usually was moored at the starboard boom at night and the juice barge lay alongside the port midships or, if the weather was bad out on the port boom.
With numbers growing conditions on board became very cramped and there were not enough shore facilities. A better location was needed. The Captain Superintendent reached agreement with the Marquis Of Angelsey for the use of part of his house (Plas Newydd - previously occupied by the US Military Intelligence Service) would be made available as dormitories for a number of cadets, for the use of large areas of grounds as sports fields and the use of the dock. The ship would move to a new mooring further along the Straits between the Plas Newydd and Vaynol Estates. South of Plas Newydd in the direction of Port Dinorwic.
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