National Service in the Royal Navy, 1949-1950: Demobilisation
By the beginning of September 1950, my impending release from full time National Service was drawing nigh. I had marked the date on the calendar so everyone could celebrate on the actual day.
About a month before that time I was duly informed that I was to travel to Royal Navy Barracks for 'Dispersal Routine'. Off I went.
At the Barracks I was told to go back to Cookham.
However - a very big NATO exercise was planned and all available personnel were needed to supplement shortages in ships throughout the Home Fleet for the period of the exercise. You've guessed it.
Off I was sent to the West Country to join a rusty little vessel which was a fleet minesweeper - and looked it. From the comparative neatness and cleanliness of HMS Loch Arkaig to this horrible little rust bucket was a bit of a shock. The mess was one where everyone, seamen, stokers and communications staff, did the best they could to live, sleep and eat. It was horrible and I was grateful that my stay was planned to be a matter of days, weeks at the most.
We went off to sea to take part in the exercises and my job was just as before. On the bridge doing my signals act.
After the exercise, it was back to port and I was off again to Chatham.
This time my Dispersal Routine went well and I found myself on the London-bound train with all of my kit except my hammock and gasmask. I had been told that I would be required to return for one week every year for the next three years but that as far as I was concerned was something to worry about later more than sooner.
I walked from Highams Park station to my nearby home laden with all my kit dragging behind me. Not one person offered to assist me in any way while I hauled my kit bag and all the other impedimenta the half-mile to home.
I knocked on the door. My sister Doris opened it.
I had completed my National Service. Having started it on 7th March 1949, I was now, on 30th September 1950, left to my own resources.
I was no longer a serving member of the Royal Navy.
I was in Civvy Street.
I was home.
What an adventure it had been!
Benefits from National Service
There were lessons that I did not learn in the formal training, but which served me well in later life:
• I was now more world-wise
• I had learned how to pay for, wash, iron and repair my own clothes, cook my own food, realise that toothpaste and soap had to be purchased and that it didn't just appear on the bathroom shelf by some sort of magic.
• I had learned to budget a very small income against necessary outgoings without any financial assistance from anyone.
• I had learned to keep myself clean
• I had learned to respect others for their knowledge, capability and experience.
• I had learned some things the hard way by insisting I was right and finding out that that was not always the case.
• I had learned to be self-reliant and experience the feeling of achievement and responsibility when I was the lone signalman on the bridge of one of HM ships far out at sea and accountable for every aspect of visual signalling from our ship to and from any other.
I had become an adult.