Ted Gee

Albert Edward Gee - Autobiography Part 4

For the dinner we usually had stew - towards the end of the potato season they used to smell rather high and although they were peeled they had plenty of eyes left in them and some times a dirty mark where the prong of a fork had pierced them during digging. Tea at 5 o'clock was usually two more slices of bread and margarine and sometimes jam. On Wednesdays we usually had cake baked in a tin dish, sometimes as hard as iron.

On joining the School each boy had to put all money and stamps etc. into the custody of Mrs. Fry, who put it to the boy's credit; from that credit boys who had a clean record during the week could order from Lancaster & Crooks at Netley, goods to the value of one shilling for new boys and one shilling and sixpence for boys who had been longer at the School. Most boys ordered bread with an occasional pot of jam. I used to go in for sweetened condensed milk rather than jam. With this and the odd parcel from home we seemed to keep fit and healthy. On Wednesday from three until four o'clock we had to write letters home. We addressed the envelope but left it unsealed so that the letter could be censored. The cost of the stamp was taken from the boy's credit. It was an offence to hold back cash or stamps when returning from holiday.

They had a system at the School of help for new boys to settle down. Each new boy was put in the charge of a boy who had been in the School a year. They were called new boys helps and were responsible for every thing the New boy did for about six weeks. During the first week some allowance was made if the New boy was in trouble but, thereafter, if the new boy was in trouble meriting punishment the New boys help also suffered the same punishment. It was a rather ingenious scheme, but caused some friction sometimes between the boy and his help.

Cecil and I were introduced to our helps during tea and, after tea at about 6.30 we four went on board the "President" where we spent the evening preparing our hammocks and having practice getting in and out without crashing and also learning how to lash up and stow our hammocks. The other boys came on board at 8 o'clock and as it was still swimming weather all the swimmers went for a swim. Everyone assembled on the upper deck and undressed, making a neat pile of their folded uniform and underclothes, then pyjamas on top. The swimming instructor was also the night watchman (Mr. Childes). He used to take charge of the boys as they arrived on board. When he was satisfied all were ready he used to shout "hands to swim" then there was a mad rush to get down to the gun-deck to use the gangway but, as soon as the rush started he used to start shouting numbers and those boys whose numbers he had called out must stand still until the rush was over then he made them go out of the upper deck ports. The first time he caught me was two days before we were going home the following Summer, I was scared stiff but, I just shut my eyes and just walked, but I was to have a rough time with him later. Cecil and I were non-swimmers so with a few other boys we watched from the gun-ports until they came back. Mr. Childes followed the swimmers in the dinghy picking up the stragglers, but it was not wise to be a straggler for they all had to go through the upper gun ports the next day. Eventually, we got turned in after a pretty tiring day.

A special part of the upper deck was reserved for new boys and "bedwetters" and twice during the night we were made to turn out and use the lavatory. Mr. Childs used to pull down the side of the hammock and call the boy's number; and if there was no immediate response he had a brush with a large head about 6 inches square he then brought the brush up underneath the hammock and that did the trick. We were awakened at 5.15 by Mr. Childs calling out "new boys, new boys and bedwets, new boys helps up", then he would repeat that several times and finish up with "Bugler and Quartermasters up". We had to turn out then and supervised by our helps lash up and stow our hammocks and each boy had a locker for pyjamas. The Bugler sounded the reveille and everyone turned out at 5.30. We were then mustered on the Upper Deck. Eight boys were detailed to man the Downton pump and everyone else had scrubbers and squeegees and swabs and we scrubbed either the upper or gun deck. The Downton Pump was one of the type where four boys placed themselves on each side of a metal bar that was connected to an iron wheel at each end. The bar used as a handle turned the wheels and so pumped the water for scrubbing the decks. This job lasted until about 7 o'clock when we embarked in the cutters to go ashore. Once ashore the Port Watch went to the Gymnasium and the Starboard Band to the band room, where we cleaned our boots and sewed any buttons that were missing. The bathroom could accommodate a quarter of the boys at a time. There was a dressing room with fixed seats all round with pegs and racks on pulleys that could be pulled up to the ceiling for towels. The baths were showers formed by two pipes about twelve feet long drilled with lots of holes. They were about 6 ft from the floor which was concrete. Under each shower there was a wooden form and twenty or so small hand scrubbers (not nail scrubbers but real scrubbers). Between but, back up from the showers there was a box on which Mr. McGavin the Bandmaster used to stand. In the dressing room there were boards with holes in, each hole was numbered and were for tooth brushes. There was also a bowl of green soft soap with a boy in attendance. The procedure was that on a certain number of whistle blasts from Mr. McGavin one section of boys rushed for the bathroom. The towel rack was let down each boy retrieved his towel undressed and formed a queue by the soap boy. I have noted that our hair was cut short. The boy picked up two fingers of soap and dabbed it on each boy's head as they passed to the toothbrush rack. There were bowls of pumice powder in the bathroom for cleaning teeth. Each boy then turned round in front of Mr. McGavin so that he could see if there were spots or rashes. The boy then went to the shower, found a brush and felt for the soap and proceeded to scrub himself, often I found that I had lost my soap in that spin round in front of Mr. McGavin. When the boy thought that he was clean he again had to spin round in front of Mr. McGavin who would shout out "Elbows, Neck or Ankles" or something then the boy had to go back and scrub again until Mr. McGavin was satisfied. Then dress again and back to the Gym.

The cooks then went to the dining hall and on the bugle call all the boys went to breakfast. I have said that the Bandmaster Mr. McGavin used to preside in the dining hall and during breakfast he used to distribute letters. He used to start at one end of the hall walk up the gangway shout out the boys number and drop the letter on the floor, the boys concerned then dashed up the gangway and retrieved the letter. On Monday mornings he used to read out the duty list. Galley boys, house boys, post boy, gardens, laundry etc., the best job was of course, the galley, but as there were about 150 of us the job did not rotate very fast. I only had it once and then it brought me trouble. Mr. McGavin also read out the punishment list during breakfast. There was a marks system, with extra drill. A boy could find himself on the punishment list for having a button off at inspection during divisions, for talking at the wrong time, for being sent back to the bath by Mr. McGavin too many times; during the winter we boys used to get chapped ankles and Mr. McGavin often sent a boy back time after time to re scrub his ankles, then put him in the book for it. We were timed when we went to the lavatory and went in the book for taking longer than was considered necessary. Often a boy would find himself on the list without foreknowledge.; he would have been "Observed". The drill consisted of running up and down a slope leading to the recreation field with a full sized rifle sometimes or, if the P.T.I. was duty instructor he would have us in the pavilion scrambling up and down the wall bars, doing sit-jump or just running round the floor. He was Mr. Ward and was a bit of a brute, but after I had been there a few months he turned out to be very good to me and took my part on two occasions when Mr. Childs- the swimming instructor- was taking it out on me.

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