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In The Navy

Another 'Futtocks & Buttocks' Memoir

By Commander Nicholas Messinger

HMS NELSON - HMNB Portsmouth

I reported to HMS Nelson, the Royal Naval base in Portsmouth, for six months RNR training, on the 30th January 1966, in the uniform of a Sub Lieutenant. S W Silvers having removed my Fourth Officer’s shoulder straps added a single gold stripe to the cuffs, and changed the buttons from P&O to Royal Navy.

The venerable old Hall Porter checked me in and showed me to my cabin. It had a narrow steel framed bed, complete with RN counterpane, a small chair, wardrobe, washbasin and writing desk. It seemed I had exchanged my semi-spacious cabin aboard Orcades, for a prison cell! Over the next six months, we were scheduled to be trained in all aspects of naval life, enabling us to become qualified bridge watchkeeping officers in frigates and destroyers. Courses included gunnery, command and control, torpedo anti-submarine warfare, communications, and my favourite: naval aviation. The final course was based In the damage control simulator at HMS Phoenix.


Funnell, Barclay, Dunster, Davis, Habberley, Williams, Messinger

Fisher, Petty, Marsh, Russel, Harwood

My fellow P63 course-mates were from a variety of shipping companies: Cunard, Royal Mail, British India, Port Line, Blue Funnel, Clan Line, and Strick. There were two Lieutenants, one a Cunard Third Officer and the other from BI, a P&O subsidiary. The rest of us were lowly Sub Lieutenants of the Probationary variety.

The parade ground of Victory Barracks, now HMS Nelson.

Picture: Dave Phillips Vollection

Initially, life under training in the Royal Navy consisted of a great deal of marching up and down on the parade ground and in the drill hall during inclement weather.

Slowly the Gunner Instructors, senior Chief Petty Officers with a penchant for shouting very loud, knocked us into shape, and we were unleashed onto the live-firing ranges A selection of weapons was put at our disposal; the 9mm Browning Pistol, the Sterling Sub Machine Gun, the SLR Self Loading Rifle, and finally the Bofors gun and much bigger four-inch. I had fired a Sterling in Borneo, albeit just once for real, but it was my first choice – ‘Short bursts, Sir…….Short bursts…who do we think we are: bloody Al Capone?’ The Chief GI towered over me, all six foot six of him, in shiny black boots and leather gaiters. He reminded me of a Nazi SS Stabsscharführer, only not so pleasant.

In 1965-66 Westminster Abbey celebrated the 900th anniversary of the consecration of King Edward's abbey, taking as its theme 'One People'. Such a theme seemed to be fitting for a church that, through a long history of involvement with the developing life of the British people, has become known throughout the world.

Westminster Abbey - 900th Anniversary - One People

My Father was in charge of arranging a ‘Men of The Sea’ service and requested an ensign party from the Royal Navy, Royal Naval Reserve, Merchant Navy, Fishing Fleets and RNLI to attend, but was told that no naval reservists were available. Not to be fobbed off by Admiral Commanding Reserves, he telephoned the Admiralty - where he had worked in Naval Intelligence for many years before joining the Chapter Office staff - and informed the Naval Secretary that there were twelve List One RNR officers on gunnery courses at HMS Excellent.

Westminster Abbey 900th Anniversary Stamps

He requested three officers, a Blue Ensign, white belts, gloves and gaters, a proper naval colour party; and he got it. Three Sub Lieutenants, John Habberley, Howard Russell and myself were detailed off to attend and duly rehearsed in the drill shed on Whale Island, together with the three Chief Petty Officers who would make up the Royal Naval party. Being the taller of the three, it was given to me to carry the ensign; a real privilege. My Father met us at the Great West Door, looking very impressive in his tailcoat and medals. Casting an expert eye over us, he then inspected the Royal Naval party and told them, in no uncertain terms, that they could not carry their cutlasses inside Westminster Abbey. Forming up by the grave of the Unknown Warrior, and with Simon Preston at the mighty organ, we marched the length of the abbey, which was full of the great and the good, up the nave and through the choir to where Eric Abbott, the amiable Dean, took our colours, our Blue Ensign, and placed them on the altar.

It was a very moving occasion, but as we marched, we could not resist muttering the occasional comment about the three Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer Gunnery Instructors just ahead of us, with the White Ensign. After all, they had been giving us hell for two weeks in the drill shed and marching us round the island until we got it right. After the service, we all popped into the Chapter Office for a drink with my Father and received souvenir medals for the occasion.

Westminster Abbey 900th Anniversary Medal

I had a feeling he was proud of me, but he never said as much.

Other "Futtocks & Buttocks" Tales

By Nicholas Messinger

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