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HMS Defiance - Devonport

by lenmason

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Len Mason
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Background to story: 
Royal Navy
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Contributed on: 
20 April 2005

How many lads are there who spent time on this ship before getting a draft to somewhere or something only to come back to 35 Mess and go out again. Just about every ship or mother ship had an EA of some rating and we were supposed to finish training knowing the layout of supplies to all of them. Town class, County class, frigates, carriers, battleships, the lot. The class room was hot and stuffy in summer or freezing in winter and those sketches kept on coming down and going up again at a rapid rate.

Just for strangers to that excellent ship it comprised three old tubs lashed together with gangways between - HMS Andromeda which originally had sails as well as engines, she was aprize from the french sometime in the 1800 hundreds - HMS Inconstant, steel hulled - HMS Vulcan with a wooden bottom which used to be copper sheathed until it was discovered with salt water they had a battery between the two ships, so they took the copper off. All three were hardly sea going because, being anchored for years, they had become settled in mud. This meant you didn't get rocked to sleep.

Theory instruction was dispensed by Officers, practical work by Chiefs. We learnt (?) maths, electrical principles, RN history (official and unofficial), how torpedoes worked, trimming gyros, sound powered telephones, Y-dischargers, depth charges, machine shop practice, fitting skills and other bits and pieces. The best bit of fun was fire fighting and use of breathing apparatus in smoke filled ships. There was one fire alarm on Androm which I had to attend fully kitted. There was a smallfire which I found and extinguished, I never admitted I had started it accidentally.

Torpedoes were interesting, a 21" torpedoe had a four cylinder engine using diesel fuel compressed by 3000 lb air which caused ignition. The housing was 21" diameter and perhaps 12" long. It had to be stripped and rebuilt for practice. Just about everyone finished assembly with a pipe of some sort left in their box that could not be put in,- so strip and try again. A gyro driven by the 3000 lb air provided guidance. They had to be trimmed so that on start up the top pivot did not describe a spiral. This required adjusting tiny little screws and could take ages.

The workshop equipment looked old enough to have come from the 1800's. The Nile centre lathe with speed control using two pairs of adjustable cones and a vee belt. As one pair opened the other pair closed giving infinitely variable speed. The chiefs weren't quite as old as the lathe but on joining the ship I swopped my hard glazed collars for his soft one's, we were both delighted. Working in a white shirt and black tie took some getting used to, especially as I didn't mind getting dirty.

Each mess had messmen who drew our food from the galley and dished it out us. Who can forget the Saturday dinner. Every one who could was going ashore, including the messmen, so dinner was quick to prepare and quick to clear up. The menu for the day as, - Mashed potatoes (cool), boiled beetroot (cold) and herring in tomato (cold). A sixpenny "tater oggy" at the station was much preferred.

We also had a mess president who supplemented the food and dealt with our rum ration, neat for petty officers and above, watered down rum (grog) for leading hands and below. Rum was drawn from the spirit store under a guard of marines, taken up to the quarter deck of Inconstant and measured out one tot per rating. Any left over, there was never too little, was tipped into the scuppers in full view of all. Although illegal according to Admiralty instructions, it was a currency you could buy favours with or use as a birthday present. You were also not supposed to take it ashore or to save it for future use. Schemes for collecting the tipped away rum were not unknown.

There were two routes for going ashore. Route one, row across to Wilcove landing stage and walk a couple of miles down into Torpoint to get the chain ferry across to Devonport. You relied on the ships boat crew to row you across unless you had influence. Route two, take the ferry, quite frequently the Totnes Castle (a paddle steamer with a fixed shaft between paddles, had a 1/4 mile turning circle) that took you to the Flagstaff steps in Devonport Dockyard, the gate of which was guarded. This could cause problems for adventurous smugglers of rum or tobacco. Was your name written on the toilet walls of the Torpoint church tea bar. If so did you have to pay towards re-painting. Mine wasn't on the wall! If anyone can add to this story please do so.

Petty Officer L. Mason. EA 4th Class DMX 645610 Sir!

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