- Crockett, Davie, Sub-Lieutenant, RNVR
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A Lower Deck account of the misery at sea in an old destroyer during an Atlantic gale.
WHEN I JOINED THE NAVY the probability of encountering dangerous weather did not occur to me. So, a week out on my second North Atlantic trip as an ordinary seaman, certain signs meant little to me. Parties under the First Lieutenant were renewing lashings on all movable objects on deck. The Gunner’s Mate was supervising the application of unusually thick layers of grease to the guns. The Chief Bosun’s Mate was tightening the sea-lashings on the anchor cable.
In all this I saw only the result of the Skipper’s morning chat with the First Lieutenant. Probably harsh words had been said about the lack of activity on deck in the forenoons; this sudden energy was No. 1’s reply.
The preparations went on throughout the forenoon until No. 1 was satisfied. Back in the mess-deck for dinner, there were a few comments on the state of the glass and No. 1’s sudden activity, but with the ordinary sailor’s mistrust of instruments, the barometer was dismissed as unworthy of notice. The glass had fallen before and nothing had happened. Dinner was the main topic, and the cook’s shortcomings were of more interest than a gale warning.
After dinner the time-honoured custom of ‘getting the head down’ was observed. Places on lockers and tables were quickly appropriated, men wriggled into comfortable crannies on the pile of lashed-up hammocks or kitbags, the unfortunate rested their heads on their arms at the tables. The call of the Bosun’s pipe broke the calm two hours later, ‘First Dog watchmen to tea’. A period of sleepy activity followed as Blue Watch stumbled to the galley to be early in the queue for toast.
The motion of the ship had changed. We were hitting ‘milestones’ fairly frequently, and the roll was no longer gentle. The walk to the galley was more awkward than usual, and a violent roll sent me sliding from one side of the galley to the other. My cup of tea, I am proud to say, was unspilled.
Ten minutes later I went on watch. Weighed down by a curious and quite individual system of garments, I heaved myself up the iron ladder to my look-out position alongside, and just below, the bridge. Mine was a lonely position, relieved every half-hour from the gun’s crew forward. White horses were lashed from the tops of the waves, and once or twice spray from the bows was whipped sufficiently high to reach my position.
Towards the end of the watch we took our first sea green over the fo’c’sle. At supper cheers and laughter rang as a steep pitch threw a man to the deck, crockery and Irish stew sliding after him. Now there was an almost continuous swirl from overhead as the seas came green over the fo’c’sle. Unforeseen leaks began to appear and water dripped in unexpected places.
About an hour after supper a shout and a sheet of flame came from the galley. A pot of melted fat had crashed out of its rack and found its way to the fire. The cook narrowly escaped frying in his own galley – thrown out of the door by the roll that upset the pot. The work of slinging hammocks was abandoned, and a happy crowd gathered to see the fun. Nothing could be done to extinguish the fat; the flames died down leaving behind an acrid smell which permeated the mess-deck for days. The chief regret appeared to be that the cook had escaped an end so poetically just.
As card-playing was out of the question, we decided to turn in. The men who had billets for their hammocks struggled against the motion of the ship to finish the job of slinging. Those without billets lay down on the lockers or tables as they were, the more fastidious removing their boots. I lashed myself to the racks beside the lockers with the tapes of my lifebelt, having only too often been rolled off to a rude awakening on the deck.
Now there was no peace. The ship was full of incredible clamour. Every movable article, and some we had thought immovable, was crashing about from side to side. A steel door had been left unclipped and clanged with startling regularity. The tin baths in the wash-place had broken their lashings and careered along the tiled floor. In the food lockers tins and cutlery seemed to have come to life and hammered for an exit. Above me the close-packed hammocks swayed as the occupants slept.