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A  DOCKYARD APPRENTICE.

(COLIN PENNEY.

YEAR ONE.

 

After passing the Entrance Examination for the R.N.Artificers I was   placed 203, I think , and 350 were required .It was sat by  boys from all over  England  and I  failed  the Medical ( I was declared Medically Unfit by a team of Doctors) .I was only colour blind  and my left eye was weak. .I had wanted to be an E.R.A.

So I decided to try another route. I read “Better sight without glasses” etc  and played a lot of table tennis to exercise my eyes - winning a few medals on the way.

The medical examination for the dockyard was a little different. The Surgeon Commander called me in ,I entered the room and he said “Oh!. You are not deaf then “ and ticked the form on his desk and then  said “Please sit down “ which I did  .He then said “You can see the chair  alright then “ and I received another tick .and so it went on .I coughed at the right place and I passed A1.

I started my 5 year  apprenticeship as an Engine Fitter in Sheerness Dockyard on 28th August 1944 and completed it August 28th 1949 .There were 12 of us  Brian Buckwell, Harry James , Alan Taylor, Harry Smith, Ted Smith, Ken Kirkbride, Billy Edwards , Sammy Phillips , Bert Lowe, Peter Pearson,    etc ertcc

The first 12  on the examination list (the brainy ones) opted for electrical apprenticeships  ,the next 12 (also very brainy ) chose Engine Fitting, the next 12 (rather a dumb lot !!) opted to become Shipwrights  with the remainder being offered the lesser trades.

Our Dockyard  training was the best in the world. Without  a doubt.

My Indentures were signed on 20th October 1944 . They stated that among other rules, during the period of apprenticeship we were not allowed to marry nor to be guilty by word or action of any immoral ,indecent irregular or improper conduct or behaviour whatsoever…….. etc.etc.

Of course one lad had to test this out and was married during his apprenticeship aged 20 , after asking the Captain of the Dockyard for his permission and also receiving a telling off. We all then received a lecture on naughty marriages.

The first year of our apprenticeship was employed in making and using our own tools e.g. chisels , all types of measuring tools, spanners, scrapers, and repairing small pieces of engines and pages and pages  of  theory

We were under the guidance of Mr. Frank  Stuart  Flaherty(F.S.F.) a lovely gentleman but sadly for him whenever we found any scrap metal from the Fitting Shop Dump  stamped with a  “F.S.”(Fitting Shop ) we would take it to Frank after stamping another “F “ on the originals (making it F.S.F.) with “ Is this yours sir , ,we have just found it “

We also tied thunderflashes to the top of his tool box so when he opened  the lid it was accompanied  by very loud bangs he took it all in good fun.

Ken Kirkbride was handing out apples to us one day and Frank came to see what we were doing, he was always wary when he saw us congregating together ,Ken gave one to him and he came back in a few minutes and said to Ken that was a lovely apple , Ken then said it ought to be it came from your garden last night.

One of the lads had a large ball of oily cotton waste and set it alight, removed the screws holding  the top of Franks toolbox and  put the burning waste inside and screwed the lid back.When Frank opened the lid  he must have thought a genie was about to appear. He never did work out how we were able to open his very secure  lock on his toolbox. His other padlocks were very easy to open.

Everybody attended  The Dockyard School  the first year  was divided into First Upper and First Lower.

We had school on two whole days and three evenings.

We had fun with Alan Taylor the Teachers pet. We would be waiting for our teacher and as soon as we heard him coming along the corridor we would grab Alan and throw him out of the window ,He would then arrive late through the front door.He was not the Pet for long.

Another lad Alan White , an Electrical apprentice would be turned in his chair to face the door and only released when the teacher was just about to enter the room with the teacher saying “Stop playing about White ! turn around “

Mr.Norrie the headmaster was a typical Scot. Alan White dropped a threepence piece on the floor which was promptly grabbed by one of the lads who placed it on  Mr.Norries desk at the front .When he came into the room he saw the money and asked whose it was . No body replied so he said he was going to get a book and if it was still there when he returned it was going in his pocket. Some of us held Alan White back and we exchanged the Threepence piece for three pennies ,Mr.Norrie returned, pocketed the money and carried on with the lesson. We called out “Please Sir, we think it is Whites ,who was shaking his head and saying “It’s not mine Sir “

At Christmas we would have a lovely time celebrating .The Inspectors etc left us alone . We would have a sing song sitting on a  set of four torpedo tubes  and some of the older lads swinging the tubes round and round. Sheerness Dockyard was renowned , among other things,  of making the best torpedo tubes in the World. Incidently  shortly after the War the Boilermakers shop tried to make a dustbin to compete with Industry  It cost approximately £30 (the average wage was then about £5  I think)

We all had to suffer an Initiation which was intended to make us all equal and certainly stopped anybody feeling superior. Details will be sent in a plain brown envelope to any one interested.

 

 

 

On August 29th I joined the P and O as an Engineer, and an Officer and a Gentleman ! to serve on the liners going to Australia .This I did for five years.

It was interesting  to note that I was doing exactly the same work that the R.N. would not let me do.

The apprenticeship showed  us how to  improvise which was very useful at sea and miles from any  shop.

One of my first jobs at sea was on the lathe and there were no lathe tools we had not collected then from the port which was supposed to sharpen and , so I used the ships square files to make these tools.