Once across the Mersey, which I was to cross many a time a few years later, at the Princes Landing Stage next the Pier Head and under the Liver Clock on the Liver Building, we worked hard all afternoon and into the evening carrying aboard from the dockside, up the gang plank and to their neat and tidy cabins all the baggage officers and passengers were allowed. It was a wry joke among us that the proud ‘S’ on our sleeves stood for stevedore. All this without us receiving anything not even a thanks. We, of course, were just other ranks (ORs). The manner in which we were treated by many rankled me. We also saw how vastly different the officers and passengers accommodation was from that ours. I felt that in comparison ours was unnecessarily crude and primitive.
Farewell to England: the Devonshire Departs, Our First Night at Sea
Later that night at about 9pm we set sail from the Princes Landing Stage, Liverpool on January 24 1950. Like everything else about the Devonshire it was prosaic; without ceremony. No dignitaries. No bands. No farewell, just the men ashore on the dockside casting off the lines. To them it was just a job, just another ship sailing. It was dark. It was cold. It was a Tuesday. I stood with the others on deck in the dark and cold of that January evening as we proceeded down the Mersey to the Bar and out into the Irish Sea. There was little to observe beyond the black of the Mersey, a few lights on passing vessels and on either shore. So it being around 1030pm having had little sleep and feeling tired, I went below to our troop-deck.
I, of course, had had the chance to try out my hammock the night before. That was when we were the only troops aboard. Tonight it was different. The troop deck was full of other squaddies all trying to settle in. There was movement of a vessel at sea, all the shipboard sounds and the smells. There was little light. Troops in various stages of undress, kit strewn about, and the issue of the hammocks and bedding; I suppose it was a controlled confusion. Some of the regulars had done all this before so as ‘old soldiers’ they knew how to make themselves comfortable. And we attempted to follow their example.
Eventually we were all in our hammocks. These were slung from hooks in the deck head above and hung at about head height, and so arranged that the occupied hammocks fitted together like sardines. It meant that to get in one had to prise apart the hammocks on either side and on getting out the gap filled up. One also had to crouch beneath them to get about if a call of nature required a visit to the heads. As we got out into the Irish Sea the ship began its everlasting roll and as she rolled all swung together. If one awoke in the night, as one often did it was quite amusing to see in the dim light the movement of them all swinging in unison.
Through the night there was a constant turmoil of squaddies falling out of their hammocks and beginning to experience the first qualms of sea sickness. But I think I slept quite well. Some squaddies never mastered the art of sleeping in a hammock, and they were content to sleep on the deck below the mess tables.