A Rum Do – Dave Cheadle
A 17-year-old boy from a Wiltshire farming village joins
the Royal Navy in 1961. With little knowledge of life
outside the village, this is a story of how he plots and
manipulates his way safely as a junior.
After training, he joins a frigate that sails to the
Mediterranean. He witnesses the very strict rum culture
that governs the lower deck. The living conditions on
the small ship are a shock to him.
From the amusing run-ins with the Gunnery Officer to
the very funny runs ashore in Gibraltar and Malta.
Then out to a small island in Hong Kong harbour where
he witnesses hordes of Chinese refugees swarming
over the border. On the lighter side, he sees The
Beatles live just after their first LP. The hilarious day
at the Navy swimming gala will be long remembered.
1960’s Royal Navy
Little did I know that in 1960 the Royal Navy was still barely out of officers
buying their own commissions and also depended on the Henries from the
country estates to provide their Naval Officers.
At the time I joined the Navy it still had a very old-fashioned system. The
Naval Officer was god and could not be approached. You could only complain
to the next up in seniority. The gap between the lower deck (Chief Petty
Officer and below) and upper deck (Naval Officers) was very large. Each rank
soared above the basic junior ratings. Approaching and talking to any Naval
Officer, or even Petty Officer, was just not possible.
The Navy increasingly needed intelligent young recruits to be trained in
navigation radar, gunnery radar, computers and sophisticated communication
systems. The lower deck was being filled with intelligence and not the labourer
it used to require.
This meant fitness and muscles were now being replaced
by men of a more delicate nature. Over the next ten years the electrical and
electronics sections would become close to 50% of the manpower on a ship.
A Gunnery Officer could no longer scream, flay and lash his ratings to throw
more shells into the guns. Now he had to ask politely (OK, forget politely)
how soon the radar or computer would be fixed. It was a strange time to be
joining the Navy. It would take quite a few years before the Navy realised that
its officers should be studying the up-and-coming technology.