Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All For An Extra Shilling a Day

Carrying on from my last post , I recently found another article written by Bertie Male.

Men of the Royal Naval Patrol Service were often paid an extra shilling a day (or 'Hard Layers'), this was additional pay due to the discomfort of being one of the crew of a small ship in the service.

In the article below Bertie describes the dangers and the discomforts of patrolling the North Atlantic seas during the winter months of WW2.

Above illustration of a RNPS man in his sea-going 'rig of the day' by Hedley Crago (HMT Saphire)

All For An Extra Shilling a Day (Hard Layers)

No amount, of the most extensive training ever devised can prepare your thoughts and emotions for the first experience of 'Action Stations'--time and time again you have been through alt the procedures and drills in endless practise runs, -but this is the real thing! -and it’s different!

On patrol in one of HM Trawlers, it is winter and in these Northern waters, hard weather, with the ship bucketing into a force nine gale, with driving snow and rain is the norm at this time of year and in this latitude. The watch has just completed a wearisome four hour watch on deck in the blackness of this violent emptiness, -the yearning for the last ten minutes of the watch to end is overwhelming, with the warmth and comfort of the hammock and its gratifying snugness now only minutes away. Every minute now seems like an hour and to add to these dragging seconds, your relief is late, and you cannot go below until, not only has he relieved you, but he has accepted that his eyes are now accustomed to the darkness!

At long last you can fight your way from the bridge to the fo'ard messdeck hatch dodging the seas as they fill the welt deck waist deep in surging water. Using an upward surge of the vessel the warmth of the messdeck is gained by using only the handrails with which to slid down into the shaded snug of your living quarters and its pot bellied coal burning stove. At once you are aware of the stench of wet oilskins and over ripe sea boot socks.

The noisy creaking of the ship as she toiling plunges onward, - this and the hypnotic swinging of the cocoon like bodies in their hammocks, all seem to be in concert and you take great care in your efforts to strip off your wet deck gear, not to disturb any of their contents.

For all but the security lights the messdeck is darkened, and quietly lest we disturb our sleeping messmates we move to hang our dripping oilskins in the smelly lobby, then stripping off our wet clothes we don a dean boiler suit (pyjamas) and with the utmost sense of relief swing gratefully up into our own cocoon.

Sleep is not hard to come, but with only half an hour of the deepest slumber the jarring strident racket of the 'Action Stations' bell Jolt us back into life. Your training has you out of your 'mick' and already dropping into your well-placed sea boots, you grab a duffel coat and what ever else is to hand and in great trepidation dash up the companionway, only so recently slid down and back into this hostile bitter night.

Having only seconds before leapt from the warmth and comfort of your 'mick' and only yet half dressed, we met on this wet and plunging deck the full effects of a northern Atlantic storm ridden night, already doused by icy spray our teeth are chattering, - we mount the vertical ladder to the 4" gun deck! - not wanting for some reason to be the first to do so, but at the same time the compelling fear of not wanting to be the last drives us on. The quarter deck is awash as she plunges downwards and as she wallows and slides in this fearsome sea, she misses her step and a rouge sea envelopes us up to our knees and so we wait on this bucking deck with a shell 'up the spout' sodden wet, sea hoots full of water numb with the cold, with water from the woollen scarve so kindly knitted by a well wishing Ladies guild, now allowing water to drip down the spine, Frightened, never so utterly cold and miserable, my fleeting thought said, "What the hell am I doing out here, 1 should he at home and in bed"

It seems we have been awakened from our slumbers by an unidentified vessel NOT answering our challenge, -we feel the ship alter course! -towards the enemy? and only now is our total vulnerability beginning to dawn on us!! - our imaginations take over could it be that our Trawler with its peashooter gun might be challenging the mighty 'Bismarck? The order comes to change to 'Star Shell’ and into this ferocious night we illuminate the darkness!

Thankful there is no 'Bismarck' out there and the falseness of the alarm only adds to our discomfort. We secure the gun and hasten back to the dubious comfort of the messdeck, not without a stream of invectives being flung at the bridge and who ever was responsible for this escapade. We climb wearily back into our 'mick' and with now only at best two hours of sleep left before we again don our wet hard weather gear for another four hours stint on this bitter deck.
The last conscious thought before sleep was, "Just suppose there had been a 'Bismark' out there? -And all this for an extra shilling a day!

Bertie Male


Blogger Boabbie said...

Bertie Male sure could write. I
could feel the water in my boots.

Thursday, 13 September, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

fascinating tale and it's not surprising that many of them went down with TB etc.- for 7 bob a week extra

Thursday, 13 September, 2007  

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