- Thomson, Max
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Human Side of the War at Sea…
Backgrounded by years and years of experience, day to day life on a warship of the RAN – even in wartime – was basically a well-defined, disciplined routine.
Yet with ships required to spend so much time at sea, often in waters far from their homeland, it was the extra “over and above” gestures in a ship’s company that added so much.
Any warship of the wartime fleet could well document its own series. But here are some examples of voluntary gestures which helped to make life more bearable in ships that carried crews well in excess of peacetime manning levels and who lived in cramped conditions for long periods under the stringencies of wartime operations:
NEWS: …from the outside world and the ever-important war fronts, was always welcome. Radio Australia news broadcasts were always popular when “piped” through a ship. But so was that extra bit of effort so often put in when either by shorthand or other means, the best of the news gleaned from various radio sources, was taken down and typed-up for display on a ship’s noticeboard for the benefit of all to read at leisure.
THE MUSIC MACHINE: In most ships there usually was no shortage of volunteers to operate the turntable that sent popular music through a ship at selected times. A fairly busy job, for the old 78 rpm records ran through so quickly – drawn from a ship’s collection usually donated by wartime welfare groups.
NEXT PORT: With RAN ships going to strange ports – often in places never before visited by Australian ships – there was great merit in researching as much as could be gleaned from on-board books, from which a typed summary of geographical and general local information could be placed on a notice board about the ship’s next port of call.
CROWN AND ANCHOR: Other volunteers chose to organise and conduct whenever possible, the ever-popular “Crown and Anchor” games on board.
THE MOVIE MACHINE: A film screened on board was a rare treat and usually the first of the signals sent by a ship when it dropped anchor was to other ships nearby to see if a film exchange could be arranged. Funniest parts of the film screenings so often were the comments and remarks from all and sundry as they waited for the one and only projector to have one reel unloaded and another threaded in.
SHORT BACK AND SIDES: Every warship had its hairdressing exponent – ready and eager to attack any head with scissors and comb.
THE OPPORTUNISTS: Usually the group on board that had access to lathes and similar equipment used off-duty time to turn out ornamental ash trays from shell bases or add handles of adornment on each side of spent anti-aircraft shells to make vases and other mementoes. So often with a Navy button as additional adornment… often to the despair of chiefs and petty officers whose uniform buttons became so coveted.
THE CANTEEN: Others chose, as their contribution, to help staff the ship’s canteen – often including their own individual capabilities in efforts to extract a wide range of popular items not only from supply ships, but from any other vessel that anchored nearby. With ships operating at sea for prolonged periods and with crews ashore so infrequently, it sometimes resulted in canteens eventually receiving so much currency back that the ship’s company could again be paid – thereby starting the whole cycle all over again.
These and a myriad other examples represent the human side of the navy. Of life at sea, especially in wartime, within the confines of a warship.
They are aspects which, in their own way, are equally of significance in terms of naval history, as the drama with which the ships themselves so often became involved.