Scattered around the Signal Office on the outside were various
tall lockers to hold foulweather gear, etc. The sponsons were mounted
so that they partly overhung the bridge rail and were entered by
means of a short ladder of about six steps. The entrance to the
Signal Office was on the starboard side.
The first thing I had to do was shift myself and gear
to the Signalmens messdeck, which was on the port side. There was
no place to sling my hammock and the only place I was offered was
the hammock stowage. After trying this for two nights I felt I had
to complain to the Killick who said he would see about it. The next
day he came back with the solution to my problem. They had found
me a place near the Police Flat, below one of the main engine uptakes.
This was where the fumes were taken from the engine to the funnel
and slanted at a angle across the space.
Now this would have been ideal if we had been on Russian
Convoys, but in the Tropics it was worse than useless. The heat
was tremendous and I had to sleep naked in my hammock. Every time
I got out of the hammock there was a large damp patch on the bottom
and drips of sweat could still be seen. Both the drips and the patch
vanished like magic. Life, however, carried on and I just had to
accept the situation. The only comfort was a stokehold entrance
just near to where I was slinging my hammock. I got to know some
of the stokers who were horrified at my sleeping quarters and every
time I was in the flat they left me a fanny of oatmeal water and
limejuice, which counteracted the effect of sweating and working
in the heat. The limejuice was contained in a large barrel in their
working space and was freely available.
Life settled into a routine. Four hours on and eight
off. I was no longer the messman as these duties were assigned to
each one on a regular basis. I got to know the bridge staff, particularly
the Chief and one of the signal boys, Henry Herron. The first watch
was the forenoon, presumably because the Chief could keep his eye
on me, and I looked forward to it with a certain amount of trepidation.
Not much signalling took place between the Prince of Wales and the
escorting destroyers, Express, Electra and Hesperus.
Three days out we were joined by the H.M.S. Legion.
The main thing was the daily report on the state of the destroyers,
such as the amount of fuel remaining and other such items. When
I had been on the smaller ships any Aldis signalling was fairly
rare and usually between signalmen of the same rank as myself. Fleet
signalling was done and supervised by professionals. However, the
first time I had to do this I only missed one or two words which
elicited no comment from the Yeoman of the watch. Henceforth there
were only two of us, one reading the signal and one writing it down.
We steamed down through the North Atlantic. The destroyers
were ahead of us on either beam to provide Asdic cover for the big
ship. My time was taken up in watchkeeping and flag hoisting exercises.
The flag hoisting was my first downfall.
As we were sailing south of the Azores we were engaged
one morning with the flag hoisting. Practice fleet signals were
sent by ourselves (acting as the Commander in Chief) to the destroyers,
requiring acknowledgment and sometimes replies. The flags were clipped
onto the halyard and when this was completed they were then hoisted
up the yardarm attached. I was in charge of the tack, which is the
upper end of the hoist.
Two signal boys were in charge of joining the flags
together. They were like lightening at this job and this particular
time, for some unknown reason, they had joined all the flags together
before attempting to attach them to the hoist. The boy in charge
of the upper end of the hoist handed it to me and, in the excitement
of the moment, I hauled away. In an instant the flags were streaming
in the wind. The bottom clip had not been attached! The bosun, who
had been supervising this exercise, went wild. I had never heard
him swear before but he did that day.
He then ordered me to climb the mast, go along the
yardarm and pull in the hoist. I moved towards the mast, having
no fear of climbing out on the yard, when the voice of the bosun
halted me. "No," he said, "one of the boys will go
instead of you - you'd probably fall off and break your bloody neck!"
That was the first of many misdemeanors which got me in his black
books. I was given another job and the hoisting continued.