Dawn or before on the Devonshire, Our First Day at Sea
Morning came at 6am with reveille over the ships Tannoy system that regulated our lives with constant announcements that began “All Troop Deck Personnel”. This meant all the hammocks had to be taken down, rolled up and stowed away neatly in a huge pile. At night you went to this pile and if you were lucky you got your own back, more often you got someone else’s hammock. After waking and stowing the hammock next was in the cold break of day was the rush to the ablutions in the bow of the ship.
On deck as we emerged to get to the heads it was dark. The ship by now was out of the Irish Sea and as it began to meet the swell of the Atlantic and as we passed the Scilly Isles she was beginning to pitch and roll. There was little to see from deck except a grey dawn with a cold wind and a dark colored sea with breaking wave tops. All a little daunting.
Fatigues on the Devonshire
I cannot recall what was the exact procedure in the mornings, but after breakfast that had been collected from the galley, carried down the companion ways and shared out at the mess table , our first meal at sea. Then followed cleaning up the mess-deck and after there was, whatever the weather, a parade at the different boat stations when with a cork life jacket around one’s neck one answered to one’s name. We also did some PT. This parade was to clear the troop decks for inspection. Like our barrack rooms on shore everything had to be tidied away, mess tables scrubbed and the deck swept clean. Uniforms were, of course, the only wear we had. We still had to be properly dressed and shaved for this inspection, though strict military wear was relaxed.
Some of us escaped. My father’s experience guided me. He traveled by troop ship in WWI to Mesopotamia (Iraq) where he served, and then on to India and back. He advised that to avoid the everlasting call at all times for members of a fatigue party to perform one task or the other, one should volunteer for a specific permanent fatigue. He recommended that of cleaning out the ablutions and heads (the nautical term for lavatories). Being aboard early we had this opportunity, and I persuaded some of my fellow companions to volunteer. This might seem an odd choice, but it wasn’t. On ship there is plenty of sea water. The ablutions and heads had steel floors and walls. A high pressure hose soon cleaned them out. We had this duty the whole voyage and being on a permanent fatigue were rarely called for another. We did it whilst the others got on parade.
On ship there was little to do. We had to get our sea legs and overcome sea-sickness. I suffered little although often one felt some nausea. This quite likely had a lot to do with the food and the conditions on the troop decks below. We spent a great deal of time on deck either on the lee side of the ship watch the sea go by or up in the bows as she pitched into the seas. Early in the voyage the weather, notwithstanding it was winter, was quite good though as we got into the Bay of Biscay the seas got rougher and the ship began to pitch more into the seas and roll.