I joined the Royal Navy as a Boy Seaman 2nd class in October 1937 at HMS St. Vincent, Gosport, Hants. After 9 months training I joined 10th October 1938 H.M.S. Dunedin at Portsmouth as a Boy Seaman 1st class. This was to complete my training at sea aboard, before joining a ship in one of the Fleets.  I was drafted to the cruiser  H.M.S. Aurora on 29th April 1939.

H.M.S. Dunedin

Boys were not permitted to wear their boots between 6.30am and 9.00am in the morning.  After lashing and stowing your hammock,  a hot cup of ‘Kye’ very strong greasy cocoa,  then to the Upper Deck to scrub decks.  Seamen wearing  sea-boots hosed down the decks with seawater, then scattered sand, then we boys scrubbed the deck with ‘Holy Stone’. This was  followed by drying down by the use of squeegees.  During the winter months  it was sure agony on your feet.

Pay day, six shillings per fortnight. The balance of your pay was kept for you until you reached the age of 18. Any requirement for clothes from the ‘Slop Chest’ was  deducted from this money.

At St. Vincent the biggest crime you could commit (except for running away) was smoking.  You were searched when you returned from shore leave, if caught the punishment was caning, strapped over a vaulting horse in your canvas ‘Duck’ trousers and the number of strokes (varied) laid on by the Master at Arms. (running away was also punished this way.)  That kept me from smoking then. Once you went to sea you could smoke. ‘Cigs’ were duty free from the NAAFI (ship’s shop)  I remember Players and Senior Service 5 ½d for 20 and large Woodbines 4 ½d.

With all the exercise and fresh air, boys were always hungry. Pay Day for me was a tin of pineapple chunks 4 ½d and tin of cream 1 ½d. You still had so many hours schooling, (there was an officer rank of school master.)  I actually passed for a School Certificate on the Dunedin, and was confirmed by the Bishop of Portsmouth. Schooling continued until you became an Ordinary Seaman.

Vendors were  permitted on the Mess Decks during the Dog Watches.  1st Dog 4pm – 6pm, 2nd Dog  6pm – Two I remember were – one selling boot laces, and the other selling Paragolic Lozenges, flat, grey in colour, sold in paper twists, for coughs and colds!

Once a fortnight, boys of the Duty Watch were marched through Portsmouth to ‘Aggie Westons’ a Temperance Society. (Royal Sailors’ Rests) On arrival you were given a cup of cocoa and rock cakes, then to the cinema to watch a film, usually a Western. This was followed by a rather long lecture on the sins of ‘Drinking Alcohol’, given by  men  in suits, wearing three or four medals, all for abstinence. At the end of the lecture you  were asked to sign the Pledge (A small price to pay for the cakes and film!)

Another responsibility of the Boys was to recover the torpedoes fired in practice by the Fleet Air Arm Swordfish at H.M.S. Dunedin. To ‘man the Whaler’, a 27 ft  clinker five-oared sea boat. The torpedo floated ‘upright’ at the end of it’s run, a calcium flare showed up it’s presence, we hooked it to the whaler and towed it back to the ship, under the ship’s Torpedo Hoist where it was hoisted aboard.  Once in  a while when we were taught gun drill, the 4 inch anti aircraft gun (no gun shield) was actually fired. We Boys had to stand and watch when the Seamen Gunners manned the gun and fired it for real, no anti-flash gear in those days or even cotton wool for your ears. I still remember the Gunner’s Mate warning us when we heard the fire bell ring. This is when the Captain of the Gun actually fired, to open your mouth wide to absorb the shock. This 4 inch gun was one of the loudest in the R.N. Quite a shock to us novices. After a stand-easy (Navy’s short breaks) the Gunner’s Mate (senior Gunnery Rating aboard) had a job rounding up the Boys for a repeat. Many decided they didn’t want to join the Gunnery Branch, when it came time to decide which branch you wanted to join.  Actually we  didn’t get a chance to choose, and I finished up as a Gunner’s Mate (P.O. Rate) at the age of 22.

Of course breaking two of my fingers of my right hand, lowering the Quarter Deck awning one day actually saved my life by putting me back a class. My class left on completion of their course aboard to join the Royal Oak, all to be lost when H.M.S.  Royal Oak was  sunk by a U-boat in Scapa Flow, October 1939. (The first time my Guardian Angel saved me during World War 2.)

I served on 2 ‘D’ Class Cruisers, – H.M.S. Dunedin before the war,  H.M.S. Despatch in 1944 at Arromanches. I was actually Capt. for 2 days with 10 seamen and 2 tugs and brought her from Devonport to Falmouth up the river Fal, and secured her to two buoys awaiting to go to the ‘Breakers’ at end of September 1944. I also took passage in 1943 from Gibralter to Devonport on H.M.S. Durban, and saw the Durban again at Arromanches where she ended her days – sunk as a part of a large breaker built to protect the Mulberry Harbour there. A very sad  end.


Charles Embury.