Aircraft Carriers of the Royal Canadian Navy

The music you hear now is called
Eternal Father, Strong to save - performed by - The Stadacona Band

of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Life on board:

(I wrote this text as my memory told me in order to give you a general view of the life on board an aircraft-carrier in the post-war years.)

Each morning at 06:00 the quarter master blew his bosen’s pipe through the loud speaker system to wake up the ship’s crew.  After which he shouted “wakie-wakie-wakie”!  Then he played some loud music for about five minutes, before giving us the orders of the day!  We were jumping from our hammocks, tied them up as required, with our blankets inside and inserted them in the provided rack.  We had to make sure they were folded in the right way, as in case of an emergency, they were also our life support at sea!  We had no life jackets.

Sometimes, weather permitting, we would go up on the flight deck or in the hangars, for some physical training.  Then down to the showers, and  back to the mess to get dressed for the day!
We then had our breakfast in the mess hall and the choice of food was excellent.  We could eat a choice of cereals, pancakes and syrup, bacon and powdered eggs, toasts, and all kinds of jam and jellies, etc As a matter of fact all meals were delicious!  

We then came back to the mess for a clean up and a little rest before going to our duties and work for the day.  The mess was inspected by the officer of the day each morning and we could not leave a small piece of clothing lying around because hell was raised, as a pair of socks could block a water pump and cause damages or danger to the men. The ship had to be clean as a whistle!

At 10:00 we had a “stand easy” for 15 minutes and we resumed work until 12:00 in time for lunch.
(We had as a mascot a small Fox Terrier dog, named “Stand Easy”, because he was doing nothing all day!)

At this time the men who were of age and “grog” had their portion of “pusser” rum” on the forward deck.  It was a very strong liquor.  The portion wad 2 ½  on. of rum an 5 on.of water.  This stuff was so strong that if you fell overboard, you would drink a “tot” and your clothes would dry instantly on you! Well so they reported…We were getting this rum in small wooden barrels  in Kingston Jamaica each year when in the vicinity.  To day the rum portion has been replaced by two cans of beer at l6:00!

We had a cafeteria messing system for our meals and a choice of three meals at each dinner or supper.
We also had a baker, for the cakes and biscuits; we made our own drinking water from sea water by evaporation system, and used it through out the ship for all purposes. After dinner we had enough time to relax and even had a 30 minutes nap! 

We returned to our duties at 13:00 for the afternoon with another “stand easy” at 14:30.  We drank a lot of coffee in those days, maybe too much, but our coffee was very good and I always had mine black, because Carnation milk gave it a funny taste.  But we were all coffee drinkers for sure.
We liked our work because we were not pushed around and sometimes we could go up the flight deck and watch the aircraft operations, taking off or coming in!

At 16:00 the bell rang to tell us the time and the quarter-master shouted a big “Secure” to let us know that the day’s work was over, except for those who were on duties depending what watch we were on
We had 3 watches, White, Red and Blue. So we were on duty every 3 days for 24 hours in a row!

At this time those who wanted to go ashore, if we were tied up, could go as long as they would be back at 08:00 the next morning.  We all had a station card, of different colours as mentioned, so no one could leave the ship as we had to give our station card before leaving in order to know where each member of the crew was.  On this card was our name, official number, place of work (trade), place of action station, and emergency station, and if you we grog or temperance…  So this card was very important, and if and officer or a petty officer requested your station card for any reason, you were  in trouble!

When the ship was tied up the men went ashore a lot, but at sea we had of kinds of distraction for the long evening, even if we could hang up our hammocks and turn in at 19:00. Ashore it was at 22:00.
Some played cards, other building model ships of planes, making photo albums, or pressing clothes, shinning boots ands shoes with a spit shine…or going to the barber shop, the canteen or other messes to meet and chat with friends of other departments. As we had a radio station we could also listen to of kinds of music of that time even classical!  So the evenings were nice as a whole, especially when we were reading and writing letters to our girl friend at home!

Every Wednesday afternoon was “make and mend day”, meaning that we had to wash and press our clothes!  But we had no washing machines or dryers!  So we built one in almost each mess!
It went like this!  We took a big can of milk, and washed it clean.  We made a hole in the cover in order to insert a new toilet plunger through it and filled it with water and green soap, put in our dirty clothes, and the cover over the plunger and shaking the plunger up and down the can!  A real washing machine.
But the cooks were short of milk cans.  After a good rinse, we hanged up the clothes near some hot boilers to dry, and all that was left to do wad to press them and we were looking sharp and proud!

Every night the officer of the day made a visit to each mess, with a sailor and his bosen’s pipe shouting “Stand for Rounds”.  We all came to attention and the officer said “carry on”, and we resumed what we were doing.

We were always talking using naval terms, like deck, galley, bulkheads, deck heads, companion way, gang way, heads, sickbay etc.

In winter time we were always in the Caribbean seas and we went to Guantanamo Bay a few times at the American naval base.  But we liked Bermuda a lot because this is where we had most fun, like large Bar-B-Cues on the beach, and the visits in the crystal caves where we could see the stalagmites  and   stalactites.   There was also the Devil’s Hole where we were playing with octopuses…!

We also went to Wakeham  Bay  in the Labrador region where we met and fraternised with the Inuits!
We travelled a lot in Central America, Panama, and all the islands in the Caribbean seas and Europe and the British Isles, like Ireland, Whales, Scotland and the Clyde river up to Glasgow
Belfast where we remained many months waiting for the Magnificent to be ready for sea duties.

Some are the nice sides of our “jobs” in the navy,  but there are also bad sides, like rolling at sea, sea sickness by some of the boys, who had to work as the ships has to run  in a good condition. I only had sea sickness on our first trip at sea on our way to Bermuda the first time as the sea was rough, but never again after.

I was working in an office as secretary to the supply commander, and I was also typing letters and memos for the Commanding Officer, and keeping and eye on the secret documents in a vault.  If we had been taken by an enemy my first job would have been to throw all important and secret documents into a bag with  lead  bricks and throw them over the side.  I knew things that other member of the ship ignored.  One night I forgot to secure my typewriter, and the next morning there were hundreds of little pieces of metal coming back and forth on the deck and the machine was completely finished! So I got a brand new one!

Sometimes the cooks had a hard time doing their jobs, but they managed anyway, as they had special equipments for cooking with steam for instance, and large pots for soups, which they mixed with a paddle…!  That’s a lot of soup!

We had all kinds of trades on the ship, like stokers, writers, electricians, woodworkers, painters, pilots, aircraft handlers, deck hands, etc.
Each one of these young men did their jobs properly.  Some were ordinary seamen (O.D.) other able seamen (A.B.) etc. The first promotion a seaman would get is to become a Leading Seaman and we called them Killick! Then you became a Petty Officer (P.O.) and so on, and you could become an officer if you had the capabilities.

We had a nice sick bay, a dentist office, and all the requirements to keep the crew in good health, and even a surgeon and another doctor.  We had SBA’S  male nurses also.

In the supply office we had at least 5 men keeping inventory of all the material we needed and the ledgers for this purpose had around 44,000 pages!  It was all done by hand.

There were no transistors then, so we used lamps for the radios and radar and all kinds a gadgets called potentiometers, valves, resistors etc. I think we were in the stone age compared of to day with computers and all.

I should not forget the nice work done by the air people, like mechanics, and “plane pushers” and the fellows working in the hangars placing and securing the aircrafts to the deck with cables.

As we called the toilets “heads” the men in charge of cleaning them were called “Captain of the Heads”!  One day a seaman wrote his mother and told here he was now captain of the heads!
She was so happy, that she put his picture in the local paper and announced that her son had been promoted to “Captain of the Heads”, thinking he had become an officer!!  We had a great laugh with this one, and there were many others like this. And we played tricks on each other often also!

The Quarter-Deck, back aft of the ship is very important to all members of the crew.  It’s the only deck
made of wood, maybe in remembrance of old sailing vessels, I’m not sure, but was used every day by the Commanding Officer to give promotions, or receive the explanations from defaulters.
There were “plaques” mentioning the  good deeds of former warships with the same name as Warrior or Magnificent.  We could not abuse of the quarter deck as iy was a special place, it was kind of sacred, but a nice place to relax.

We had a police department with the Master at Arms as the chief, and the regulating petty officers (RPO’s) and they made sure that discipline was taken care of, but good fellows if you had nothing to worry about like drinking and skylarking in the wrong places!  Other P.O.’s  were designating for sports only and they were called PT P.O.’s  and on many trips we had a Band to play music during the march past and other ceremonies

When in Bermuda we used to fish the Barracuda at night using our semaphore lights to get them to come near the ship.  We would also tie two hooks at the end of a strong string with meat and throw them in the air and catch two sea birds at one time!  We were naughty sometimes! 

Our meals we served on the base of a Cafeteria Messing, so we could not eat the same food twice and all the rests were thrown overboard to feed the fish and the birds travelling with us, and sometimes we had dozens of theses birds.

In order to feed such a crew we need a lot of supplies, and refrigerators, and freezers, for the tons of meat and other victuals.  So before leaving for a long time trucks came along and all this food was taken aboard.  We had enough cases of eggs and milk for 3 days after which we were using powdered eggs and milk.  As for fruits we could buy them when stopping in other countries or islands.

We also had a chapel; and two chaplains, (we called them chaplains as we were not allowed to call them padre like in the army).

In the army and the air-force, uniforms are supplied as required, but not in the navy.  We were giving our first kit but after we had to purchase our gear.  Si we used to go to Tip-Top Tailors and bye our uniforms as the material was lighter and of better quality.  We could not always pay cash so we had arrangements with the pay office to send an amount to the store each month.  Sometimes we were short and sometimes we had too much money deposited at Tip-Top, but one thing is sure they were making good business with the RCN. Instead of using red badges we were using gold badges on these uniforms.

I will not describe why a sailor’s uniform was made this way, but it was a nice uniform and when together on a parade we looked pretty sharp with the band and the armed guard in front.  We were calling the navy the “senior service” and this, kind of pinched the army and air-force!

As I mentioned we had a barber shop with three chairs and  a  nice canteen.  Every year we had a “smokers” and  all  he expenses were paid with some of the profits of the canteen.
We were allowed two packs of cigarettes a day at 10 cents a pack.  I did not smoke at the time and I bought my “fags” anyway because in Portsmouth we sold them at 90 cents a pack!  So we used to have nice long week ends in London with this!

What we hated the most were the exercises of emergencies or action station during the middle of the night!  Each one of us had to reach his station of action and wait until the practice was over, and we were freezing, because we were half dressed anyway…

I would like to write more but this will give you an idea of the life on a carrier in those years,  To day these ships are very modern with all you need to pass the time, like TV and computers etc.

I very much liked to have served on these two ships and I still have good memories of the Royal Canadian Navy and  of the personnel serving on board  with me.  We were young men then and if we meet a friend who serve with us, even at the age of 80, we become young men of 20! We never had problems between english and french crew members and we all had respect for one and other!

So enjoy and take care!

PS:  On Wikipedia you will see the parade of ships for the Queen’s coronation, including the Maggie!

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