Apps in Caledonia
By One of Them
Before the Great War, the old Caledonia, a boys’ training ship, lay off Queensferry. For fifteen years she graced the Firth of Forth until finally the shipbreakers claimed her. Now, near where her predecessor lay, is another Caledonia, far more graceful than her forerunner. Her arrival has been West Fife’s greatest nautical event since the German High Seas’ Fleet surrendered.
I will endeavour to describe life aboard as an Artificer Apprentice sees it, and hope this article will help to settle the minds of many other boys who do not know what career to adopt.
HMS Caledonia, previously the Cunard White Star liner Majestic, is now the largest ship in the Royal Navy. Ultimately, she will accommodate 1,500 Seamen Boys and 500 Apprentices, but at the time of writing, there are 800 Seamen Boys and 230 Apprentices under training.
Our quarters are aft, and consist of a regulating office, dining hall, four sleeping decks, four bathrooms, and two recreation rooms. The regulating office is the control room where all disciplinary matters are dealt with. On the sleeking decks are metal lockers big enough to hold an Apprentices’ kit, and overhead are steel rails from which the hammocks are ‘slung’ at night. The bathrooms are small, but after a bit of a ‘rough house’, enjoyed by all, we may, given reasonable luck, wash successfully. The messrooms and recreation spaces are kept clean by pensioners. The number of Apprentices on one ‘mess table’ is usually sixteen, and arrangements are often made to ‘club together’ to buy extras and trifles. In the recreation rooms are ping pong tables, darts, table games, daily papers and periodicals. In the senior recreation rooms there are sofas, but juniors wait until they pass the age of eighteen before they can sit in comfort!!! The quarters are always clean, and anyone found dirtying them ‘catches it hot’.
Apprentices are divided into four divisions ‘Anson’ – ‘Rodney’ – ‘Grenville’ and ‘Hawke,’ the latter are the new Special Entry and are all over eighteen and have been Apprentices for 2½ years with outside firms, therefore enjoying privileges as seniors.
After joining, an Apprentice does a fourteen days Disciplinary Course during which time are taught Seamanship, Squad and Rifle Drill, before going to the workshops where he is issued with a set of tools. After three months, we do our first future ‘test job’ – a plate and prism which is a test of chipping and accurate fitting. Our future trade depends upon the result of this job, and we become either boilermakers, enginesmiths, coppersmiths, or fitters and turners. During the first two years we do a course of fitting on the benches from which we go on, when proficient, to machines and lathes. Later, we practice ‘trueing up’ flanges, re-seating valves, refitting small engines or pumps, and various jobs to give us an idea of what is expected of an Artificier in workshops afloat.
During our 4½ years training we cover a lengthy school syllabus including Mathematics, mechanics, Science, History and English. In addition to these subjects we have lectures on workshop appliances, tools and machines – in the middle stages of our training we are taught Marine Engineering and mechanical drawing. Once weekly for half-an-hour, we go to Religious Instruction when the Chaplain does his utmost to teach us the right and wrong things of life besides giving lessons from the Bible and general talks on other religions.
Recreation is an important part of our training, but there is not enough of it. We go to the gym two hours a week to be strengthened and hardened. Once weekly, in addition to Saturday afternoon, we play Hockey, Soccer and Rugby in the winter, Cricket, Tennis and Swimming in the summer – we also have Sailing, Boat pulling, Rifle Shooting and cross Country runs. The Swimming bath aboard, a great asset during the winter months, is also available for our pleasure on certain evenings during the week. Each recreation afternoon, Football matches, competitive games, and races take place between us and the Seamen Boys or alternatively with other schools in the vicinity. Every Apprentice takes part in some form of sport. The Divisional spirit in ‘Anson’ and ‘Rodney’ is very strong, while in the ‘Grenville’ the newcomers, it is most promising. The ship’s Rugger team, which is most popular, has a large proportion of Apprentices in it, but as regards Soccer our representatives are not so common, and hope to be in the majority in the near future. Our Cross Country team and Cutters crews go out every Saturday for practice. The gymnasium is always available during our leisure hours, and Boxing, Concert Parties and Lectures covering subjects which interest the majority of Apprentices prove a great attraction.
When sickness occurs, however slight, we receive treatment at the Sick Bay, or in the Hospital. There are three methods of being treated: -
- We may go on the Attending List
- School List.
- Light Duty List.
On the Attending List we carry on work as usual, but see the Medical Officer, daily and receive treatment at the Sick Bay. Incidentally, this is an Apprentices ‘bug bear’ for whenever he imagines he is really sick he seems to get on this list, instead of the other ones, which are considered by him, to be much more pleasant. The School List entitles him to go to school all day, instead of factory, therefore he has the opportunity of ‘swotting’ all day on his own. This is a satisfactory cure!!! In Hospital, capable Doctors, Sisters and Sick Berth Attendants do all in their power to restore patients to their normal health again.
As an Artificer Apprentice usually accepts all things in the same spirit, whether a parcel from home or a minor punishment; he seems little excited or bothered over either. The excellent spirit and comradeship among the Apprentices is something that is to be covered by other people. To be able to pour your woes into the ears of sympathetic hearers, seems to lessen the trouble, and a good laugh, or a grouse does a great deal of good to all.
In conclusion, to all boys, the life of an Apprentice onboard Caledonia is really good, although as is common in all spheres of life, at times it seems monotonous and tiresome. After ‘pipe down’ when all lights are out, you seem to be friendly to everyone, even to the fellow who pinched the only piece of soap you possessed. There are far more incidents to laugh over, then cry over, when the day is finished. I hope that if anyone, after reading this article ‘joins up’, they will not blame me if they do not like it here. If they are average, decent and honest lads, they are almost sure to enjoy it.