Sunday, March 1, 2015

Yo ho ho and a bottle of cold tea

YO HO Ho and a bottle of cold tea

Most people will know that it was a tradition in the Royal Navy for a daily  issue of rum or grog as it was known. Grog was Navy rum watered down, although the watered version was still a lot stronger than the rum that you will find on most supermarket or liquor store shelves today.
There are many who believe that there is some relationship between the drinking of rum and the somewhat strange dances that sailors in days gone by indulged in.

The Ration during World War Two was a quarter of a pint of the grog per day, issued in two halves, the first between ten and midday and the second after 4 o clock in the afternoon.A quarter of a pint is roughly equivalent to 5/6 doubles.

One of the rules regarding the issue of the rum ration,  which had existed since the nineteen century,  was that the issue was supposed to be drunk there and then, not saved up, or given to another rating.

This particular rule was circumvented quite often, there being many men who did not particularly like rum or wanted to save their issue for later. So it was that certainly during the war, quite a lot of rum needed to be smuggled ashore, but for the most part this was not a problem.  Most dockyard security at that time was mainly concerned with the control of anyone going into the docks rather than the sailors going out.  The dock police were quite often ex sailors or merchant seamen who whilst being aware of the practice of bringing excess grog ashore for the most part did not consider it part of their remit to prevent it. After all it was against Nvy regulartions, but not a crime.  This attitude apparently was not apparent at the Liverpool docks for some reason, which is not explainable.  Going into a Liverpool shipyard meant running the gauntlet of officious officers manning the gates and randomly searching the sailors kits.

Unfortunately for HMS Whimbrel they had to go into Liverpool for weather repairs in April 1945 after just completing a more than usually bad run in a convoy from Scotland to Russia.  You would have expected that in the appalling weather, the crew would have been glad enought to drink their rum ration at the time of issue.  However there were still quite a few who had accumulated a stock which they would need to take ashore, as it was necessary to take all kit with them whilst the ship was in the repair yard.

Dad did not know how the arrangement came about, but a scheme was concocted to try to bamboozle the dock police regarding the bottles of rum in the kit.  It was quite complicated in that a large number of rum type bottles were filled with cold tea, and  placed in a somewhat conspicuous position in some of the kitbags.  The decoys carrying the tea, had a buddy who carried their rum ration.  The tea carriers pushed their way forward to the front of the line waiting to go through the gates, with non bottle carriers in between.   The first tea carrier being stopped, asked to open his kit bag and identify the contents of the bottle.  "It's tea" say he.  A knowing nod from the the policeman, who opens the bottle and takes a swig. By the time the policeman had tasted half a dozen bottles of tea, he knew that he was being conned in some way but was not able to work out how to deal with it.  There were over a hundred sailors waiting in line and the delays were causing much unrest, particularly amongst those who were not involved.  The policeman called a sergeant, who decided to make a test for himself, walked down the line, chose a kitbag at random and asked for it to be opened.  Fortunately this also contained a tea bottle.

Dad was of the opinion that the Sergeant either had a sense of humour, was towards the end of his shift or had other reasons, but he just went to the front of the queue, told the constable to open the gates and waived them all through.
This always seemed like a most unlikely story to me, but Dad insisted that it was true.