Roger Paine

This England - - This England's Golden Anniversary -

At around the same time This Eng­land was first pub­lished, the Royal Navy was un­der­go­ing many changes. Not only were new classes of ships be­ing built and com­mis­sioned but liv­ing con­di­tions on board them be­came vastly im­proved. Cafe­te­ri­astyle mess­ing was in­tro­duced, stain­less steel lock­ers re­placed can­vas kit­bags, and ham­mocks, used for sleep­ing since be­fore Nel­son’s time, be­came re­dun­dant to be re­placed by fit­ted bunks and mat­tresses.

Ham­mocks Re­mem­bered The ward­room stew­ard no longer serves pink gins, Of­fi­cers’ stripes no longer have colours in be­tween, Sailors would wait for “Up Spir­its!” then sink a mid­day tot, The ship’s cat, or dog, or mon­key was al­lowed to go be­low. What hap­pened to the ham­mock? Only Navy sailors know.

Kit­bag on your shoul­der and ham­mock safe in hand, When join­ing a new ship your sling­ing bil­let was al­ways first in mind. A stan­chion to pull-up on, a mess deck ta­ble to put feet down on, Over 80 snugly swing­ing ham­mocks, to and fro. What hap­pened to the ham­mock? Only old salts know.

Lash­ings, clews and net­tles, wooden stretch­ers carved in vees, Rigid and up­right in the net­ting, pli­able and form-shaped when cor­rectly slung, A well-lashed ham­mock could stay afloat and save your life, In Which We Serve, filmed in black and white, was not made just for show. What hap­pened to the ham­mock? Only time­less seas know.

Scrubbed with pusser’s hard to make the can­vas soft and white, You “slung your mick” be­fore you went ashore, But bunks, and more bunks, were fit­ted for ev­ery­one in rows. The boatswain’s mate no longer pipes, “Wakey! Wakey! Lash Up And Stow!” For ham­mocks, like cooks to the gal­ley, have gone long ago.

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