HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu HMS Conway 1859 - 1974

© Alfie Windsor 1998
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The Tented Camp 1953

Following the loss of the ship a temporary tented camp was erected on the upper rugby fields. This camp was occupied until 21st October 1953 when the new hutted camp was opened. The tents were loaned by the Army in Menai Bridge, were rather old, not particularly watertight (it rained a lot that term) and had previously been used in Libya.


Editorial from the September, 1953 The Cadet magazine:


The day after the loss the brave decision was then taken by Mr. Alfred Wilson,CBE General Secretary of the MMMSA and Mr. Lawrence Holt JP Chairman of the Governing Body, that in spite of this disaster Conway would go on. Summer Term was due to start shortly after the catastrophe occurred, so some little delay was inevitable, but thanks to the co-operation of many good friends we were only a few days late resuming training. The Army provided marquees for sleeping, builders erected additional class-rooms and toilet facilities, and Lord Anglesey offered accommodation in his home and grounds to resident Staff.


The previous organisation was maintained as far as possible, Cadets who would otherwise have been on board living in the camp on Maes y Fran, where twenty- three marquees and two small tents were erected. Each division was allotted five marquees to sleep eight or nine Cadets each and additional marquees were provided for duty Staff, Chief Cadet Captain and recreation. Two small tents were set up near the camp entrance for the duty part.


Additional toilet facilities were rapidly provided and though these were about 400 yards away from the camp they were superior to the ones on board as there was an adequate supply of hot water. Four new class-rooms well-lit and heated, were built in the Kelvin Block, and the only really unsatisfactory item was the dining accommodation, which, having been originally intended to accommodate shore based Cadets only, had to accommodate three times that number. This was over- come by having two sittings for all meals and re- arranging the school time-table so that time should not be wasted, but none of this would have been possible had it not been for the efforts of the galley and pantry staff, who, with surprisingly few complaints either on their part or that of the Cadets, managed to adapt themselves to the changed conditions.


Although the weather was most unkind for the greater part of the term the Cadets seemed to thrive under canvas, and a full month elapsed before the first was admitted to sick bay, and he had taken too great an advantage of one of the infrequent appearances of the sun, and suffered accordingly. After his discharge, browner and wiser, sick bay remained comparatively empty apart from a few minor accident cases.

Cadets' Recollections

"The tents were on loan from the Army and were so dilapidated they must have been hidden since the Crimean War."

"The tents were bell tents and I seem to remember that they were hired from the Army. I think that there were about 10 cadets per tent, sleeping on iron bedsteads, and we had to go to the Kelvin Block to wash or shower.

HMS Conway - The Tented Camp

We were allowed to use bicycles to make the trip to the Kelvin Block and back, but it was very muddy at the time, so riding the bikes was far from smooth. Given that there had been 200 cadets on board, it follows that there must have been tents to accommodate the same number, that is to say about twenty.

For whatever reason, this is almost all I can recall about this transitional period, except that J.D.W. Edge was in my tent, and that uncharacteristically, I smoked a few Four Square cigarettes while under canvas. I imagine we must have eaten in the Nelson Block, and I do remember that classes were taken in the Kelvin Block."

"After we returned at the beginning of the Summer Term and having spent one night in one of the tents the Captain asked me if I was warm enough with only one blanket as I from Bermuda and a much warmer climate. I said No! So we had additional blankets issued that summer term in 1953. It was quite cold in the tents at night and as I recall we were quite comfortable with the extra blanket."

Water Water Everywhere

"I think that there was only one term under canvas. It rained like hell all the time and we used to rig up waterproof hangings over our bunks to keep the water off. We also had to fix ourselves some kind of duck boards due to the mud. Every couple of weeks we had to move the whole camp a few yards one way or another to find fresh grass. The places where the tents had been before, clearly marked as muddy ovals.”

"One of our greatest enemies were the sheep who used to scratch their backs on the tent guy ropes in the middle of the night. Even worse they could get their heads stuck between the two parts of said guys and someone would have to get out in the rain and free the offending beast. As I was JCC I could usually pull rank on the wetter nights but I took my turn when it was drier.”

“I had some ex US army camouflaged ponchos cum groundsheets which I strung up over my bunk and a second one made a sort of tablecloth for my chest.They kept the worst of the rain off”

The Cycle Races & Bill Silvester

Bill Silvester the Chief Cadet Captain (head boy) asked to be allowed to have one sent from home as his feet were acting up after an operation - a lot of the bones were held together with silver wires –and this was granted. Of course this started a lot of requests giving reasons from flat feet to dandruff and eventually most people had one. Things got a bit out of hand when we started dirt track racing in one corner of the field. The mud was terrific! The staff were not too worried about the mounting number of cuts and bruises but went overboard about the destruction of so many bikes. They reckoned they would get it in the neck from the parents. As the number of bikes reduced each bike carried more and more passengers from the camp down to the school block, a lot of them just collapsing on the way so that the path along by the rhododendron plantation started to look like a rather poor junk yard - finally they were all banned. Those that had survived, of course."

"The tents were some way from the dock, Kelvin Block (for classes) and the House (for food). A large number of bikes appeared from somewhere and cadets were all soon cycling madly everywhere."

"We were allowed to use bicycles to make the trip to the Kelvin Block and back, but it was very muddy at the time, so riding the bikes was far from smooth. There were no roads then only just muddy tracks or fields, and these were ordinary road and racing bikes with very narrow tyres."

"Bill Silvester enjoyed pranks as well as anyone but when he said "Enough" that's just what he meant. A case in point. He was more or less the instigator of the famous bicycle races, run on the dirt-track principle. Here we hurtled round a small oval track - black mud instead of cinders - and he was often the winner. However, the number of calls in Sick Bay for sprains etc. and the growing pile of smashed bikes decided him to put an end to the racing. When he said "Enough" we all stopped. No questions asked. He did things like this by force of character and personality alone."

This term was a critical one for the ship and the cadets. The ship had been lost and nothing was certain. Fortunately Bill Silvester was the Chief cadet captain in that term and he made a crucial difference. The cadets adapted to the new regime and with his quiet and much valued guidance they made it through to the next term in the newly opened Hutted Camp.


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