'The CONDOR Reminiscences of a Young Artificer Apprentice'
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"It's amazing how many of
my memories of CONDOR concern musical matters.
Departing Arbroath in 1952
Arriving Bournemouth 1998
We were steeped in what we used to call Scotch Bop. It ground out forever
from the local radio stations. The Jocks servicing the huts would tune in
each morning and leave the radio running to improve on our musical
literacy and our relations with the locals.
"It didn't work.
"We preferred 'Peanut Vendor' by Stan Kenton; 'Shrimp Boats are
Coming' by Jo Stafford; Gene Krupa; anything by Joe Loss - and even the
ship's own dance band.
"I remember in particular Harry Reynolds' renditions of
Reveille. Divisions too, notes clear and as rich as cream. To march off to Titch Treacher on side drums and Ginge Sanger on base was amazing. Titch
could work in a samba rhythm for eight bars or so and then change it just
before the G Is realised what was going on. By then we were all smiles.
It made bearable going to classes in the freezing cold.
"The Military Band was fun. Anybody who really wanted
to could join but it was made up almost entirely by apprentices � one
matelot (Len) played trombone, and very well at that. The Bandmaster was a
Jock. I could read music but my euphonic playing was abysmal. (It still
is.) We practised in the band hut in a haze of cigarette smoke. Those who
played instruments in the dance band kept us roughly in tune.
"There were better moments. When the King died we were
employed to play for the parade in Dundee with a free lunch and beer.
Marching over the tramlines when reading the music was a challenge. The
Hospital Sports Day was another. The establishment was way out in the
sticks. The patients were mostly long-term bed cases, which meant that the
Nurses and the Band performed the races, tug o� wars etc. The Ship�s Dance
Band played in the evening, conducted by Ginge Sanger. The others
entertained the Nurses. Someone had to.
"There was THE Passing Out Parade. The one in the
hanger because it was hissing down outside and blowing a gale. The entry
parading was all together with the cutlass drill and smartly presented
arms to the visiting admiral on his dais. The band played the 12 bars of
saluting tune, to be ended by a dramatic clash of the cymbals wielded by
Tom Clark. One of the finger thongs broke. It was a case of the thong had
ended but the malady lingered on. The loose cymbal landed on the floor
with a 'boing' and rolled to the dais to 'wowwow', right in front of the
Admiral, echoing around the huge hanger. Then there was silence. Tom had
great difficulty hiding a gurgling laugh. Nobody moved. Then the Admiral
smiled and everybody breathed again. We all went off for lunch and agreed
it had been the best Passing Out Parade ever. Tom kept the job. Nobody
could have followed that.
"There were Adventure Weekends. If a suitable project
could be dreamt up you could get a pass and food for a weekend out.
FREEDOM! Fred Gooch and Jumbo James borrowed a parent�s tandem
and cycled halfway around the Highlands. According to Fred, we never made it back to RNAS.
Condor. Both pictures are genuine! The caption is all Fred�s!
"On another adventure, another group, including Morphy
Reeve, Alan Hyde, Jumbo James & Slim Forrest, made a visit to Glasgow. We
found Saucihal Street and the Barrowland Dance Hall (but didn�t go in).
The transport was in a friendly Officer�s car. Lessons learned? The
Highlands are nicer than Glasgow. Cars are better than bikes.
"Duncan Division at Fisgard had a star sailing
apprentice in Trevor Tyler, from the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. He had had quite some dinghy sailing experience and
soon became an accepted coxswain. We sailed to Cawsands Bay in a near gale
and also, in calmer conditions, up the Yealm to Newton Ferrers. Happy
"There were some races off Jupiter Point and we were
then entered for a race in Plymouth Sound. The old cutter we had was
easily last to the start line but Trevor had noticed that the signal for
the course to be followed was not for that which had been sailed by all
the leaders. On the basis that we were so far behind that it wouldn�t
matter anyway, we sailed the course dictated by the signal. When,
eventually, we crossed the finishing line, there was a huge bang from a
cannon and a cheer from the Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club�s
"Next morning, at Divisions, Trevor Tyler and his crew
were congratulated on their "win" and there was even an article about the
episode in the local rag. The Pegasus Cup was installed at Fisgard!
Some time later, the same motley crew was returning up
to the Hamoaze in an equally decrepit whaler after lazy days sailing
around Drakes Island. The wind had dropped off and the whaler drifted
along on the flood tide. The Torpoint Ferry came into view and, seeing our
approach, stopped in its crossing. Then started again, thought better of
it and stopped once more.
"The whaler rammed the ferry hard amidships with such
force that the rotten mizzenmast snapped off and fell amongst the
recumbent crew. Nobody was hurt (but there was a lot of shouting). This
resulting article in the local rag was amazing and the whaler�s crew took
the blame. Well, they would wouldn�t they? We used to inspect with glee
the dent on the ferry every time we went ashore.
"Sailing from CONDOR was
not the same. There was one trip down the Tay and out to a lighthouse
during which time the whole crew was pretty seasick. Malcolm McColl will
remember that trip. If he doesn't, here is a photo to prove that he was
"Then Cluck Everett persuaded Tom Clarke, Fred Gooch, Malc
McColl and Jumbo James that the best way to spend some summer leave would
be on the Norfolk Broads, in a hired motor cruiser. Cluck organised
everything and presented himself promptly at every payday to make sure we
wouldn�t spend the necessary boating subscription on anything unnecessary.
Eventually the great day came and we presented
ourselves at Wroxham for the introductory lesson on boat handling (being
Navy people didn�t mean anything here). Off we went. The week featured a
load of fun and included expert boat handling by Tom Clarke through a
narrow bridge, which officially should have required a pilot. Some of the
crew narrowly escaped being swept over by the bridge structure as we sped
through. At one point, we persuaded a couple of girls to come aboard "our
yacht" but when we got them there none of us knew what to do next and it
was some relief when they eventually went ashore.
"Two of us had a fishing rods but all we
could catch were wriggly eels. Cluck hated these and we were obliged to
halt to this activity.
"Brian Wright has reminded has reminded me of Cluck's
kneecap, which he used to carry around with him on a leather thong (not
another one?). His natural one had been replaced by a genuine stainless
steel job but the old one was useful as a social gambit. He produced it
one evening at Ma Shepherds restaurant. We had met some local girls and
were endeavouring to impress them. The kneecap appeared when conversation
stalled and was meant to help things along. It didn�t work. Good old
Ma Shepherds was THE Food experience at Arbroath. It
was the "The Ivy " of Arbroath, an eating experience for a hungry teenager
used to Pusser�s grub. On payday weekends, flush with cash, we would dine
out on bacon, egg, beans and chips, done to a turn. On my final day at
Arbroath, awash with cash, I treated myself to two Ma Shepherds
dinners, one after the other. This is a record not to be sneezed at - nor
Dealing with food and the constant need for more of it
leads to the Black Book, which listed the local girls who had befriended
the aircraft artificer apprentices. The principal items of reference were
not how nice the girls were, or even how free they might be with their
favours. No, the main point of interest would be whether their mothers
provided good tea and cake if a home visit was made.
Gobby Gibson was amazing. Weak at workshop technology,
he was sentenced to "extra factory". This meant that he was let loose to
do whatever he wanted in the workshops to improve his technique. However,
whatever he lacked in technique was more than compensated for in
innovation. One invention was the Extra Powerful Jetex Motor. This was a
proprietary model rocket but enhanced to take an aircraft engine starter
cartridge. One was strapped to a model car chassis and ignited. For a
while nothing happened and, with jeers and cheers, the assembled audience
reappeared from behind walls, dustbins and other places of refuge. Then
with a sudden roar of power, the car took off and disappeared over the
hut�s roof. Everybody went off to look for it but it was never found.
Gobby�s reputation was then secure as a mad inventor.
In April 2000 Kelly and I were aboard the MS Sundream,
a small cruise liner on passage from Barbados to Tenerife. We met a couple
from Arbroath. Doug Matthewson told us he had been a fisherman. I
mentioned the military band which had played a lament around the harbour
when several fishermen had drowned in the early 50�s. He looked at me hard
and long. He said, "We�ve probably met before. It was the lifeboat crew
and I was due to be aboard on that day." It turned out that he later
became the Lifeboat Coxswain and won several awards.
We had a word with those in the know and later he and his wife were
entertained on the Captain�s Table.