- Whitehouse, John
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2006 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Come the end of the War, someone in the Supply Department, doubtless with an eye to promotion, decided to hold a massive Stores Audit throughout the Fleet, presumably to discover what had survived the War and what had not.
The Navigator handed me a typewritten dossier showing all the items which were on charge to our department and voiced the hope that I would find them all, and if I could not, to look again. He did, however, have the good grace to offer me Midshipman Goddard, RAN, to assist in opening doors which might otherwise be closed to a mere Navigator’s Yeoman – a wise move as it turned out as some Keyboard Sentries proved to be remarkably tight-fisted.
Mid Goddard and I worked our way through the list, ticking off items as we went. All the chronometers were there, a great relief as they were inclined to be expensive, as were the Deck Watches, which were only marginally less so. We found a caboose in the bowels of the ship labelled ‘Navigation Stores’, where we had our first brush with a Keyboard Sentry, but discovered the spare Pitometer Log. We found all the barometers (and found they were all in dispute with the Met Office). The chart folios were there, too, as was the Yangste River Pilot. There was finally, however, one item which was not there. We stared at the entry in bemusement for some time – ‘Spadrem . . . 1’
‘Ask (N) what it is,’ I suggested to my young helper. The reply came back, (N) asked the questions and Mid Goddard (or me) supplied the answers.
We stayed bemused and Goddard could see his chances of achieving Flag Rank receding rapidly. ‘Go to the top,’ was his command decision.
‘You mean . . . Chief (Stores)?’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t dare.’ Goddard assured me I would. ‘Indent for another one’.
‘But then we’d have two to account for.’
‘Never mind. At least we’d know what one looks like’.
Accordingly, I found myself in conference in the Clothing Store.
‘Spadrems?’ said Chiefie. ‘Can’t have one. Withdrawn. Before the War. I’ll show you.’ He produced a truly massive list of all the things you could ask the Navy to supply, from a battleship to a Pot, Chamber, Gilded, Flag Officers only. ‘No Spadrems.’
I was not convinced. ‘If they were withdrawn in 1938, Chief, Belfast wasn’t even launched then, so how come it’s on our Slop Chit?’
Not for a moment was the logic of this argument admitted. Instead – ‘Come with me’, and I was marched off to the Gunner’s Store.
The GI managed to be dismissive, sarcastic and condescending, all at once. ‘Spadrems,’ he said. ‘Don’t talk to me about Spadrems. How many have you lost? Just the one? Deary, deary me. What’s the Navy coming to? Why, when I was on the mighty ‘Ood, we had three! Ho, yes. And I’ll tell you another thing – I was the only one allowed to touch ‘em. Commander’s orders. ‘You’re the only one I can trust’, he says. Anyway, laddie, I’m glad we cleared that all up. You’re quite right to come to me,’ he lied. ‘My door is always open . . . ‘ – falsehood upon falsehood.
As I was a trusted and reliable purveyor of withdrawn or out-of-date charts, I was persona very much grata in the Engineering Department. The backs of charts, being printed on thick, good quality paper were much in demand for Watch and Quarter Bills, drawings of gadgets and the like. Accordingly, I found myself in the Common Machine Shop, relating my woes.
‘What did the GI say?’
‘I’m sure he had no idea what I was talking about.’
‘Couldn’t be better. Right – day after tomorrow, I’ll have your Spadrem for you. Incidentally, any spare mapping pens and chart correcting ink?’
When I collected our errant Spadrem, it turned out to be a four-legged table, the top surface being a sort of trough, having a diameter at one end of about 10cms and with a diameter of 10 inches at the other. Along the port side was a brass scale marked off in centimetres, with a similar brass scale on the starboard side, marked off in inches.