This is partly autobiographical, partly historical in its description of the training and service of boys in the Royal Navy, a system which did not end until 1956, amply demonstrating the RN’s vaunted conservatism. He attended the nautical school for boy seaman known as Ganges, and neatly compares its ancient traditions with those of his post-1950s education.
p. 9: … it is only from the late eighteenth century that the lower deck experience is handed down to us in the memoirs and journals of common seamen.
p. 17, contrasting boys’ training in 1800 and 1872: The evolution finished at 9 a.m. the bugles sounded the ‘assembly’ and all the boys fell in, in rows, on the upper deck for inspections. … After most close scrutiny by the Instructor and officer, in which a dirty boy was soon spotted and warned, or, if necessary, awarded some minor punishment, the boys were all marched to the quarterdeck, and prayers read by the Chaplain or Captain. This over, the boys were ‘told off’ and immediately proceeded to instruction—one half going to school, and the other to seamanship and gunnery instruction.
p. 26: The rest of Sunday was the boys’ own. Most spent it reading and writing letters; in fine weather wandering the playing fields or foreshore.
p. 96-97: At night times one of the crew used to come round and ask if anyone wanted fish and chips and you paid a penny for chips and twopence for a piece of fish. He’d take your penny or twopence and go in one of the dinghies to Gosport and come off with a sack full. While he was there the old hands, the old salts with whiskers, who couldn’t read or write, would gather round the galley. There, one of the younger seamen used to read to them from a novel. He’d sit on the coal bunker in the galley and these old salts would gather round and he’d read them part of this novel, how the squire’s son got off with the gardener’s daughter—all this tripe. They’d have their pints of beer (we had a little canteen aboard, open for an hour) and they used to give him drinks out of their beer for reading. And these old salts would sit there and wonder what had happened to the gardener’s daughter when the squire’s son got hold of her and this fellow would pile it on and these old boys would sit there with their mouths open. We used to write their letters for them and read any replies back to them.