A SHEERNESS DOCKYARD APPRENTICE 1944-1949.
After passing the Entrance Examination for the R.N.Artificers I was placed 203, I think , and only 350 places were available .The exam was sat by over 2,000 boys from all over England but sadly I failed the Medical ( I was declared Medically Unfit by a team of seven Doctors) . But , I was only slightly colour blind and my left eye was slightly weak. .I had wanted to be an Engine Room Artificer but it was decreed that I would have been a danger at sea not knowing the colours on the watertight doors, as the colour denoted when these doors should be shut or left open in rough weather etc.
My thinking at that time was to see the world at somebody else's expense and I thought the Royal Navy would be ideal for that.
So I decided to try another route via the Dockyard. I read "Better sight without glasses" and many similar books, and also played a lot of table tennis to exercise my eyes - winning a few medals on the way playing for the Bethel Club , the V.C. club , and for a short while with the St Pauls Blue Town Club. Playing with and against Roy Ballard, Bert Townsend Eric Neave ,Joan Porter, Joyce Green , John Quint and his sister Joyce to name a few.
I once had a game of ping pong ! with Kents non-playing Table Tennis Captain He had a wooden leg so I thought this will be easy , his leg squeaked every time he was caught out of position but he beat me easily and I thought I had really played well that day.
But I did represent Sheerness playing against the Italian P.O.W's at the Victoria Club one day. We fielded a team of nine , and as I was the weakest link! I played my match first. We collected quite a lot of money for Charity that day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves trying to make ourselves understood. But we did learn to count up to twenty one in Italian.
The medical examination for the dockyard was a little different from the Royal Navy Medical. The Surgeon Commander called me in , I entered the room and he said "Oh!. You are not deaf then" and ticked the form on his desk regarding deafness , and then said "Please sit down" which I did .He then said "You can see the chair then" and I received another tick .and so it went on .I coughed at the right place and I passed A1.
I started my 5 year apprenticeship as an Engine Fitter in Sheerness Dockyard on 28th August 1944 and completed it August 28th 1949 .There were 12 Engine Fitters in my year, Brian Buckwell, Harry James , Alan Taylor, Harry Smith, Ted Smith, Ken Kirkbride, Billy Edwards , Sammy Phillips , Bert Lowe, Peter Pearson, and Peter Castle.
The first 12 on the examination list (the brainy ones) opted for electrical apprenticeships ,the next 12 (also very very brainy ) chose Engine Fitting, the next 12 (rather a dumb lot !!) opted to become Shipwrights with the remainder being offered the lesser trades. (No offence meant ! )
Our Dockyard training was the best in the world. Without a doubt. And envied by everyone.
My Indentures were signed on 20th October 1944 . They stated that among other rules and regulations , that during the period of our apprenticeship we were not allowed to marry nor to be guilty by word or action of any immoral ,indecent, irregular or improper conduct or behaviour whatsoever??.. etc.etc.
Of course one lad had to test this out and was married during his apprenticeship aged 20 , after asking the Captain of the Dockyard for his permission and also receiving a telling off. We all then received a lecture on naughty marriages.
The first year of our apprenticeship was employed in making and using our own tools e.g. chisels , all types of Engineering tools, spanners, scrapers etc and repairing small pieces of engines, and pages and pages of theory on different types of engines and machinery etc .The remaining four years training was spent on the various machines , the lathe, the driller, the miller, the planner, the Pearn ,and working on refrigerators, welding, the foundry, the boilershop, the coppersmiths shop, the gun gang, lifts and cranes, and the engines and auxillary machinery of submarines, destroyers, small motor boats, in the fitting shop , in the dry docks and afloat in the harbour.
I also worked at the Navy depot ,the R.A.B in Hope Street collecting and collating all the Dome Teaching Equipment from all over England. This was a system whereby the whole of the inside of the huge building was a huge domed screen and the whole apparatus inside was worked by a cinema projector and cams , planes would appear in the distance and swoop overhead to disappear in the distance
Model anti aircraft guns were connected to the sighting mechanism and a film was taken of your accuracy in shooting down the planes ( I shot down two spitfires one Wellington bomber and three Junkers when I tried it out )
I worked also on the B.Y.M.S (Brookland Yard Mine Sweepers ?U.S.A.) at Queenborough also at Barton Point on various guns.
No wonder a Dockyard Apprenticeship was the envy of the world
We were under the guidance of Mr. Frank Stuart Flaherty (F.S.F.) a lovely gentleman but sadly for him whenever we found any scrap metal from the Fitting Shop Dump stamped with a "F.S."(Fitting Shop ) we would take it to Frank after stamping another "F" on the originals (making it F.S.F.) with ?
Is this yours sir , ,we have just found it ?
We also tied thunderflashes to the top of his tool box so when he opened the lid it was accompanied by very loud bangs he took it all in good fun.
Ken Kirkbride was handing out apples to us one day and Frank came to see what we were doing, he was always wary when he saw us congregating together , thinking we were planning something (usually we were ) Ken gave him one of these apples and he came back in a few minutes and said to Ken that was a lovely apple , Ken then said it ought to be it came from your garden last night. (laughter from all )
One of the lads had a large ball of oily cotton waste and started it smouldering , removed the screws holding the top of Franks toolbox ( we had spent hours trying to open his padlock ), and put the smouldering waste inside and screwed the lid back. When Frank opened the lid he must have thought a genie was about to appear. He never did work out how we were able to open his very secure lock on his toolbox. His other padlocks had been very easy to open.
Everybody attended The Dockyard School , the first year was divided into First Upper and First Lower.
We had school on two whole days and three evenings or was it one whole day and two evenings
We had fun with Alan Taylor the Teachers pet. We were waiting for the teacher to arrive for one of the lessons and as soon as we heard him coming along the corridor we made a grab for Alan and threw him out of the window ,He then arrived late through the front door looking very sheepish . After a few times coming in the class late- he was not the Pet for long.
Another lad Alan White , an Electrical apprentice and "pet to be" would be turned in his chair to face the door and only released when the teacher was just about to enter the room with the teacher saying "Stop playing about White ! turn around and stop being silly"
Mr.Norrie the headmaster was a typical Scot.
Alan White dropped a threepence piece on the floor which was promptly grabbed by one of the lads who placed it on Mr.Norries desk at the front .When he came into the room he saw the money and asked whose it was but no one replied so he said he was going out to get a book and if it was still there when he returned it was going in his pocket. Some of us held Alan White back and we exchanged the Threepence piece for three pennies ,Mr.Norrie returned, pocketed the money and carried on with the lesson as if nothing had happened.
At Christmas we would have a lovely time celebrating .The Inspectors etc left us alone . We would have a sing song sitting on a set of four torpedo tubes with some of the older lads swinging the tubes round and round.
Sheerness Dockyard was renowned , among other things, of making the best torpedo tubes in the World. Incidently shortly after the War the Boilermakers shop tried to make a dustbin to compete with Industry It
cost approximately £30 to make (the average wage was about £5 I think)
We all had to suffer an Initiation from the older apprentices which was intended to make us all equal and certainly stopped anybody feeling superior. Details will be sent in a plain brown envelope to any one interested.
The Sea Trials after a ships refit were the most enjoyable. We would put to sea and have a very enjoyable time while the ship was being tested and passed as O.K. Sadly we were not allowed to submerge during the submarine trials but we were allowed on the conning tower to use the ? Pigs Ear , the submariners toilet and so we could watch the other boats going by.
On August 29th 1949 I joined the P and O as an Engineer, and an Officer and a Gentleman ! to serve on the liners going to Australia .This I did for five years.
It was interesting to note that I was doing exactly the same work that the R.N. would not let me do and without the discipline.
The apprenticeship showed us how to improvise which was very useful at sea when we were miles from any shop.