About ten past midday, I was sitting in my cabin, finishing off my letter home, and re-organising my pile of files and divisional papers when the door cracked open about eight inches and a familiar bearded face of my friend peered in. “What time is it?” he said.
“Bout ten past twelve, Jim,” I replied trying to avoid looking into his veined red eyes.
“Bloody hell!” he exploded and disappeared. Then things began to go awry. Jim had fixated on the fact that he still had certain parts of the Operation Order which he had promised to return to the Boss. The Boss, he knew, was attending an anti-submarine forces pre-exercise conference in the wardroom at 1300 hours that day, and so would need the documents still held by Jim. What Jim did not know was that the CAG Commander had invited the senior attendees from the other ships and authorities to pre-conference drinks in the wardroom. The event was well attended particularly by American Officers who seemed to relish the opportunity to take a drink on board ship, probably because their own ships were strictly dry and not a drop of liquor was allowed.
When Jim had stuck his head around my door, from what I could see of him, he looked as if he had just fallen out of bed. He was wearing an elderly looking vest over striped pyjama trousers. Jim had focussed entirely on the urgency of delivering the papers to his Boss, who, he thought, could be contacted much as I had been, by Jim simply shoving his head around the wardroom door.
Jim ducked back out of my cabin doorway and disappeared into his cabin. He quickly threw on a pair of tracksuit trousers over the top of his pyjamas, grabbed the folders and files, shot out of his cabin, out of our shared sprig corridor and into the main passageway which he trundled quickly along, while ignoring the surprised glances from the sailors he passed. In fact people pass up and down the passageways of warships in all manner of appearance and mostly go unremarked. What was unusual about Jim was that his strange dress contrasted with the bundle of official files he was holding – and he was heading for the wardroom.
As Jim arrived at the wardroom door his way was barred by a steward who said that the conference was about to take place. Unabashed at the splendid array of uniforms, medal ribbons and aiguillettes assembled before him, he spotted the Boss in the middle of the room talking with a group of American Officers.
“Pssst” hissed Jim in what he believed to be a discreet stage whisper. Every eye on that side of the room, other than that of the Boss turned towards the door.
“Pssst” hissed Jim, louder this time. Then, “Hey Boss” while he waved the clutch of papers through the partly opened doorway.
The door opened further, exposing more of Jim, which was unfortunate. The Boss, who had finally turned to see what everyone else was looking at, hastily put down his glass and ran to the door. He snatched the papers and snarled, “Go, just go.” Jim was about to explain his circumstances abut he saw the look on the Boss’s face as the door was firmly shut on him.
Jim was one of the many very colourful characters who inhabit the pages of “At Least We Didn’t Sink,” This is a true account of the sometimes hilariously funny events at sea, and sometimes tragic times which all add up to life on a working aircraft carrier. You will be able to access this book and Anthony Holts other works by going to www.anthonyholt.org.uk