‘The Red Sailor’ was never intended to be a literary masterpiece. It simply reflected a time in living memory (for some of us) that we could readily identify with, warts and all. It was probably one of the very few books, fictional or non-fictional, actually written during those post-WWII eras by a matelot from the lower decks. Naval authorship in those days was usually reserved for those of the officer fraternity who had some influence via the oldboy network in the literary world of publishing. They in turn produced numerous good books of their exploits but quite a few of them conveniently ignored Jack’s contributions within their story lines. Instead, they often chose to portray their sailors as unthinking automated gofers, rebellious upstarts or drunken simpletons that they could control and punish at will whenever they erred or strayed. Patrick O’Hara in his wisdom took that narrow and subjective wardroom perspective of Jack and used it to great humorous advantage in his novel. His hero, James Varne, was the stereotypical two-fisted mess deck rebel, who held nothing but contempt for his superiors, a hard man who felt forced to declare war on the Imperial Navy as he frequently referred to it. Having served on HMS Consort/Concord (can’t remember which one) in the Far Flung, O’Hara drew on his own experiences with the fleet in Hong Kong and Singapore. I believe he modelled his anti-hero character from a former shipmate of his, a stoker, Trevor Thomas, who had once been Royal Navy welter-weight champion for the Home Fleet. Trevor lived near to me in Bootle, Liverpool, and as a baby sailor on leave; I listened avidly in our local pub to his dits which closely mirrored Varne’s adventures in almost every detail. Bear in mind that O’Hara’s book was not to be written for some years after. His tales were legion but this one remained embedded in my memory: Soon after joining the destroyer in Hong Kong, Trevor was approached by his DO asking him to box for the ship in a forthcoming tournament against the US 7[SUP]th[/SUP] Fleet and he respectfully declined to do so. The pressure was gradually increased by both officers and POs but Trevor was adamant he would not box for the entertainment of the pigs or to put silverware in their trophy cabinet. Gentle persuasion soon turned into a ruthless conspiracy to make his life a living hell but their efforts only entrenched his iron resolve of non-compliance. One night whilst ashore in Hong Kong it is believed that his Captain ordered the shore patrol to focus special attention on Stoker Thomas and give him a hard time. They found him in the Wanchai district and tried arresting him on a trumped-up charge. When they attempted to seize him, all hell broke loose, with Trevor punching out the lights of the shore patrol and also those of arriving US Navy snowdrop reinforcements; one patrolman being thrown through a store front plate glass window and others requiring hospitalisation for their injuries. His giant oppo, ‘Tiny’ Henderson, jumped into the fray up-ending three USN snowdrops in rapid succession and ramming their helmeted heads into the pavement like garden posts. Finally detained, Trevor came up before his Captain for punishment and realising this was another set-up responded to the charges by grabbing and punching the CO, breaking his jaw. He was ordered brought home in chains on HMS Theseus and given the maximum of 90 days DQs in solitary upon arrival in Portsmouth. After 90 day’s in solitary confinement, the prisoner was to be examined by a Surgeon Commander and evaluated by a trick cyclist to determine its effect upon his well being. When they entered his cell Trevor immediately set about them pushing their dazed and battered bodies out through the door. They were followed by every item of his clothing and then there was the sound of him smashing the glass well lights in his cell with one of his boots. His Royal Marine minders arrived with his particular pet hate, CS ‘Killer’ McCoy, in charge, calling out for Trevor to come out and surrender himself. Out of the darkness came his reply, “You can always come in and get me Colour Sergeant.” Three attempts were made to enter the cell by Marines armed with pick handles, but inside its unfamiliar gloom the bootnecks soon fell victim to Trevor’s fury and his particular brand of punishment. An overhead lubricating oil line ran through his isolation cell that had a leaking isolation valve. Trevor had used the leaks to smear most of his upper naked body and legs with oil thus making it more difficult for his attackers to grab and subdue him. On the fourth attempt they were eventually successful in restraining and handcuffing him, but not before more injuries were inflicted upon them. It must have been poetic justice for Stoker Thomas to later learn that CS McCoy,suffered serious neck and back injuries in the mêlée, and after hospitalisation was transferred from HMDQ to light and later desk duties elsewhere. Trevor was court-martialled and dishonourably dismissed from the Navy as violently aggressive and totally unamenable to discipline. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what he wanted all along, after the despicable treatment he had received on his last ship. An old sea daddy of mine once said there were three kinds of shipmates: friends, oppos and MoD acquaintances. Friends are with you for most of your life. Oppos are guys you raised a lot of hell with in far off ports a long time ago and that you might see from time to time. And MoD acquaintances are those you stood some watches with, shared some BS sessions with in the mess, would never see again and rarely ever remember. I did believe that competence could be a saving grace for some sailors back in the day, many for the most part had a natural affinity for non-conformity, harbouring disdain for the ‘recruiting poster’ superficialities of naval life. And so it was for Trevor, a man who worked hard as a stoker loving his job and who played even harder when shore leave came around. Rebellious and assertive - yes - but mean spirited and petty– never. Given some pro-active encouragement rather than the continual aggravation and intimidation handed out by his masters, Trevor may well have proved to be an asset to the Navy rather than the disgraced pariah they had conspired to turn him into. Mr Thomas has long moved on to that big boxing ring in the sky,but I for one was extremely proud to have called him my friend and neighbour.