Like most destroyers of the time, the ship operated a mess catering system
whereby each mess was granted a food allowance for the essentials (bread,
potatoes, meat) and then had to buy the remaining food from the 'Tanky'
or quartermaster (AB Gibbons). I was our mess caterer for some time, although
later on we all took it in turns. Any money that was left over at the end
of the month was shared out amongst those going on leave or a 'run ashore'.
The mess caterer was responsible for planning the meals, buying the food
and getting the meals prepared (usually by a young OD).
The food was then taken along to the galley in large tin 'fannies' when 'cooks to the mess' was piped, where it was cooked by the ship's cooks and then we brought it back to the mess to dish up and eat. As the ship did not have any refrigeration the fresh food soon ran out and we were very dependent on buying local food from wherever we were at the time, which was all right if you were in Scapa or Gibraltar, but not very good elsewhere. We enjoyed the Southern Africa visit as we could get plenty of fresh fruit. By the end of the first week at sea we were usually on corned beef and porridge.
One of Jack's favourite and sometimes cruel pastimes was teasing the sprogs (youngsters who were new in the 'Andrew', and often not very worldly). I recall some of the tricks we would play on them:
Sending a lad down to the boiler room with a saucepan covered in a newspaper to collect some steam for a steamed pudding.
Getting a lad to split the hard 'pussers' peas one at a time, with a knife, to make split pea soup.
Sending a lad down to the fog buoy locker to get some fog.
Sending a lad to the paint locker to get some camouflage paint.
Getting a lad to stand in an empty mess tin and try to lift his own weight.
Mind you it was not always one sided, I can remember one incident when a lad had lost his deck broom over the side. When the Captain of the fo'c'sle asked why he had lost his broom he replied
"Is it right that if I know where it is then it can't be lost"?
The answer was in the affirmative, and so the lad replied with a smirk
"Then its not lost because I know its at the bottom of the sea".
I leave it up to your imagination the sort of nautical language that followed.
Some of the lads on punishment. Probably off Gibraltar September 1941.
Left to right ?, ?, Bill Gifford, Tom Taylor, 'Buster' Brown, Gibbons, Jock
The traditional issuing of the rum ration was always a highlight of any day. The senior rate or mess caterer from each mess was responsible for collecting the daily rum ration for the mess. At 1100 each day 'Up Spirits - Chiefs and POs' would be piped, they were lucky enough to get 'neaters' - undiluted rum. At 1200 'Up Spirits - ratings' was piped. Our rum was diluted before we collected it - one and one or two and one (two water and one of rum) whilst at sea, three and one whilst in harbour. The reason for the watering down stems from Nelson's time.
To prevent the men from hording the rum and getting blind drunk it was watered down as this then had to be drunk straight away or it would quickly go off. The officers apparently were trusted not to get drunk. At the appointed hour the Officer of the Day would go down to the rum locker with the Cox CPO Pickersley and the Buffer CPO Jago. Tom King remembers Joe Pickersley as
"Never serving neaters, never mind the weather, always well watered down. I used to buy someone else's tot".
I remember that, if you were on watch, you had to dash down to collect your tot and gulp it down as quickly as possible before racing back to your station. This usually left me unable to speak for a while as the rum, even when watered down, was quite strong. On one occasion, a young lad (OD Richard Barnard I believe) was sent down to the rum locker to sweep it out. The fumes down there were so strong that you were only allowed to be down there for half an hour. Well, he was forgotten about, and when they finally fished him out he was blind drunk. Assuming the worst he was put on a charge and chained up in the paint locker (the only available prison cell on board). Only afterwards was it discovered that, being a none drinker, he hadn't touched a drop, and he had obviously been overcome by the rum fumes.
George Gill has his own memories of the rum ration:
"It fell to my lot to be the rum bosun (in our mess). When the weather was foul I made sure that the smell of the rum reached the young 'uns - and many's the time I finished with 3 or 4 tots in a bottle - into the hammock at night and zzzzz" - they were too seasick to drink it.
To while away the boredom (in the early part of the commission) the lads used to do all sorts of things - I often used to play cards, Solo was my favourite. Some used to make models out of match sticks and anything else that they could lay their hands on. Most of us used to write home to our families every day. AB Bill Gifford spent months turning his overcoat. I helped him sometimes. He picked out every stitch and literally took the coat to bits and then reassembled it after reversing the outer material. When finished it looked brand new.
Of course there were also the Sailors' Operatic and Drama Society operas (or SODS operas). These were raucous occasions when everyone let their hair down for a little while. A mess deck would be cleared and the idea was that everyone would get up in front of the assembled audience and, amidst catcalls and ribald remarks, do a 'turn'. Some recited ditties, some sang and others acted out a humorous story.
OD Arthur Chubb recalls one such occasion when AB Vic Smith and another seaman, dressed up as officers, portraying the Captain and First Lieutenant. The 'Captain' asked the 'Number One' what the men were doing and the 'Number One' replied that they had just sat down to dinner. "Right" said the 'Captain' "hard a starboard". This caused much laughter as this was typical of lower deck life - as soon as you sat down to eat something the ship heeled hard over and you lost the lot. Commander Walters was in the front row of the audience and had a wry grin on his face - he had been at sea long enough to realise that the Captain was blamed for most of the problems on the ship.
We were a bunch of individualists and, whilst at sea, rig of the day was fairly informal. Many of us wore overalls with a varied collection of headgear. AB Dicky Denn always wore a balaclava hat and Bill Gifford (completely bald) always wore a beret. Tom King wore plimsolls and could always be seen washing his overalls. He was 'pusser' through and through.
Runs ashore allowed us to let off steam and get away from the war and the privations on board for a while. They were always something to look forward to, and regret afterwards. On one such occasion in Gibraltar, Leading Seaman Bill Newhan got drunk on his birthday and after returning to the ship 'three sheets to the wind' was chained in the paint locker "for his own good". He was Captain of B turret and was always practising 'abandon turret drill' - he was eventually warned off this, as it made the younger lads nervous.
Tom King recalls Gibraltar
"...of course Gibraltar - more fun. Down to the boiled oil shops - Port and Brandy - 8 pence. God knows what was in it".
Men often came aboard after drinking these concoctions and could hardly speak for days.
One of Jolly Jack's favourite haunts in 'Gib' was the Trocadero. My mates and I would often be found in there - dancing on the tables - with very little on except daft grins. After a few beers Jack would often turn to boasting to other matelots about his ship or anything else that took his fancy, and of course the inevitable fights developed. But they were good natured affairs, we were too drunk to do any real harm and were always the best of mates the next day.
On one occasion two American cruisers came into Gib - their crews were only allowed ashore once - too many got injured!
Another way that we passed our time whilst in the 'pens' at Gibraltar was to play Tombola (bingo). The ships would take it in turn to host a game for the evening and would take 10% of the prize money towards their mess fund. My best 'oppo' was AB Harry Johnson from my mess and we used to put our winnings in a kitty, to be split when we went on leave or for a run ashore. I have always been lucky at games and one evening I won three out of the five houses.
Destroyers were notoriously 'lively' in heavy seas and we often encountered heavy weather, particularly in the Bay of Biscay. On one such occasion when I was trying to get my head down in my hammock, it was so rough that as the ship rolled to port I hit the deckhead with my right side and as she rolled to starboard I hit the deckhead with my left side. Poor old Cyril Fulcher was always very seasick - even on the calmest days he could be found laying in the canteen flat. After several bouts in the hospital at Gibraltar he was given the opportunity to be transferred ashore but didn't take up the offer. AB Dicky Denn was also very seasick even though he was a 'pensioner' with 22 years service.
In March 1942 the ship was adopted by the Borough of Doncaster who raised money in a 'Warship Week' to pay for her. The collection had been so great that there was some money left over, and so we were presented with a walnut piano. This was finally brought aboard by some squadies in Algiers (now called Alger) in the early part of 1943. AB John Fenby remembers this piano well.
"We used to keep it in the canteen flat and a half a dozen hands used to carry it down to the quarterdeck for Sunday prayers - that is until the thing went mad in a bout of heavy weather and got jammed in the hatchway down to the stokers' mess. Then it was lashed down permanently in the canteen flat. The gift gave rise to the formation of a ship's band. This consisted of a piano player, a bloke with an accordion, Bob North from my mess who had a set of drums and a silly old three badge stoker (mind my language) with a saxophone who could only play one tune - 'Whispering'. So when we had a sing song every fourth number was 'Whispering'! Regarding the above Bob North with the drums - he was mad keen and used to drive everyone in the mess bonkers playing the drums whenever a jazz record came on the radio. However, nobody took him to task as he was such a well liked lad. But when the ship went down and we assembled in the rafts a loud voice was heard
Thank ....... for that! That's the end of Northie's drums".
To every cloud there is a silver lining.
Towards the end of our time aboard the Lightning we picked up a little pet - I don't know where from. His name was Flash (Lightning) and he was a little Sky terrier. He belonged to the buffer, CPO Jago. We made him his own little hammock with its own clews and stretchers. I still remember him in it, he cheered us up through the darker moments.
Here are a couple of photographs of the happier times aboard - note the informal dress.
Gibraltar October 1941. Boys under punishment (for what I don't know). Extreme left are the cox Joe Pickersley and ?, Bill Gifford, ?, the buffer Jago (distant), Tom Taylor and Jock Mundie.
A lull in a Malta convoy, October 1941. Left to right are Dicky Denn,
George Robinson, Bill Gifford, Cyril Fulcher and Tom King doing his dhobying.
I remember that, particularly whilst in the Med, the First Lieutenant
was always very particular about the ship's appearance. Many was the time
when we had to go over the side to scrub and paint. If it was hot we would
often 'fall' off our seats into the water for an unscheduled swim. We even
made up a ship's song (please excuse the language):