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Whale Island

On the subject of Whale Island, I couldn't resist providing some reminiscences from Canadians who trained there in a bygone era. This article is reproduced from the Maritime Command Trident (Halifax), Wednesday, February 21, 1990.

Son of Whaley - Gunners and Tricks of the Trade

Lord Harold of Hemprope

My Lord,

I have addressed you in this fashion because I have no doubt that you would have reached this status had you remained longer at Whale Island.

I write as the last remaining Whale Island trained General List Long G in the Canadian Navy, to bring you up-to-date with events at that illustrious establishment.

The book "The House that Jack Built" has now been superseded by "Whaley" written in 1980 by Captain John Wells CBE, DSC, RN (my Captain in HMS Kent as it happens). "Whaley" covers not only the Island's early days, but goes through the war years to 1980, and includes such events as the elephant at the Long Course passing out parade. I would not have put it past you, My Lord, to have dressed UD as a mahout and driven the behemoth yourself.

Whale Island serves today as an accommodation centre for HMS Nelson (which you knew as Vicky Barracks) and is now where photographers and regulators are trained. (How have the mighty fallen!) No longer can one hear the stentorian voices of the GIs or the paralysing blasts of their whistles.

In fact, I expect Sir that you remember, as do I, such parade grounds as HMS Victory (barracks), HMS Drake, HMS Pembroke, HMCS Stadacona, HMCS Naden and the dockyard parade ground on which there now appears to be some son of building. The most terrifying parade ground I ever ventured onto belonged to the Pongos - at Aldershot in U.K. where Sergeant Majors and even Corporals must have eaten gravel to have given them the voices and ill-tempers from which they all suffered.

What halcyon days - what trepidation on crossing that dreaded bridge to HMS Excellent for the first time, but what pride having passed the course and being given a chit to collect shiny black gaiters. (Do you remember that they were measured by your collar size? There must be some moral there.)

Royal Canadian Navy Whale Island trained Long Gs? A well-known bunch. Try names like Landymore. Crickard, Oland, Medland, Brodeur, Pullen, Tisdall, Dyer, Madgwick, Lawrence, Hayes, German, Macpherson, McMillin,Fulton, Barrow, Vondette, Okros and many others. They are all listed in "Whaley" as are the Canadian Ordnance and Weapon Engineer Officers.

Your Lordship will, I hope, remember Hosaqami. Since the end of the first World War 350 officers and more than 500 men of the RCN had been trained in Excellent. Because they held Whaley in deep affection a fund was raised to procure a suitable presentation - a gift which "was to be large, totally inappropriate and very difficult to clean". To this end Chief Mungo Martin of the Kwakinto Federation of Indians was commissioned to carve a totem. The result, Hosaqami, was brought across the Atlantic in Kootenay at the end of 1959, and then drawn through the streets of Portsmouth on two field gun carriages to Whale Island where the totem was erected. Hosaqami is still there.

I thank you Sir for permitting me to indulge in a little bit of nostalgia and history.

Please present my compliments to Her Ladyship.

I remain, your faithful and obedient Gunnery Officer.

David C.B-G.

Dear D.C.B-G,

Thank you very much for your amusing and informative letter. Given the insulting low-life riff-raff with whom I normally have to deal in this column, it's refreshing to hear from someone who comes from a classy professional background and moreover knows how to communicate with couth and how to show respect.

Just to set the record straight, I must say reluctantly that I was not the mahout in question although I do have the Elephant Coxswain OSQ; however, I am well aware of the details of the incident both as it actually occurred, and as embellished with time and tots. Also, I've had occasion to quaff a few ales with a gentleman purported to have been involved in the Whaley incident where an ancient motor car was driven onto the Sacred Ground during Divisions and set alight - or so the story goes.

You mentioned the trepidation on first crossing the dreaded bridge to Whaley. Far more intimidating in my experience was the prospect of going to Divisions for the first time as Platoon Commander. (It was never in the nature of Whaley to be gentle even if it was one's first time nor was there very much in the way of foreplay). As I recall it, the trip outbound to report the platoon was relatively trouble free, and reporting to the Parade Commander wasn't all that bad either - provided you could keep your knees from knocking together. However, very soon after giving your report and getting the "carry on" from the Parade Commander you come to realize that he was to be the nicest guy you'd meet all day and it would be all downhill from there. Commencing with the GIs on either bow of the Parade Commander facing inboard, you had to run the gauntlet of a phalanx of ferocious GIs stretching all the way back to your platoon; each one entreating you in a most forceful tone to "Report to me sir!" Upon doing so, you would be "strongly encouraged" in somewhat less than dulcet tone to re-arrange your body, your attire or whatever arms you were carrying, or, perhaps all three, in such-a way that Her Majesty would be pleased. Verily an experience fraught with sheer terror.

Another feature of Whaley Divisions which I also dreaded was prayers. Indeed it was pure hell, figuratively speaking of course, for those not of the majority religion. Roman Catholics Fall Out" was the cue for Micks such as myself, Moslems, Hindus and other religions of the Commonwealth, the Colonies and Protectorates to proceed to a separate area and act independently for religious drills. While this procedure was an excellent concept, and may well have spawned a degree of ecumenism among we outcasts. It was not at all a polished procedure and was intimidating to say the least. In retrospect it occurs to me that Whaley GIs did not have a consensus on whether one was to march or doublc march, or, the drill was dependent on such parameters as: day of the week, month and odd or even platoons. In any case, nobody ever got it right and the parade ground resounded to shouts of GIs ordering "March Sir", or "Double". As there were usually sufficient GIs to assign one per non-believer each was assured of personal harassment until we reached our sanctuary where I'm sure we all prayed for a Saint Paul type conversion to the state religion so we would never again have to respond to "Roman Catholics Fall Out". We considered ourselves too young to be religious martyrs.

Along with the elephant and the motor car there was another caper which was equally infamous: It seems that on a night before Ceremonial Divisions a group of subs planted/installed a small tree smack dab in the middle of the parade ground. Thoughtfully it was fitted with a light charge for remote detonation. The following morning at Divisions, the Parade Commander on noticing the tree ordered "Get rid of that *?!* tree" whereupon a brave subbie promptly obliged by blowing it up. VC material, don't you think?

Yours is the second letter of nostalgic reminisce on Whale Island. It's been pleasant to ponder a simple era when computers were analog and some were "oily" systems. It is somewhat distressing however to realize that our last serving Long "G" is a west coaster. I suggest you do something about that.

Yours Aye,
Hemprope Harold

HAROLD graduated from the North Atlantic School of Couth and Culture and for many years held a "chair" in this discipline at the BLACK ANGUS. HAROLD will provide advice to the lovelorn, tips on gardening and the care and feeding of engineers and will answer questions on a wide variety of career and domestic issues. Harold will be unable to answer all letters therefore only issues of the most serious consequence will be addressed.
 
New HQ is quite "gucci"

I think so too but I've only ever visited a few times and I've yet to work there. Perhaps my opinion will change when I'm struggling to think/communicate over the noise of a mustering / stand easying conference down the steps at the back. Lost count of the number of HQ 1*s who told us (including the captains among us) to kindly pipe down. A building design flaw rather than anti social behaviour?
 
Up to a point Sgt P - but the ref to Napoleonic PoWs puts the date to pre-1815 and the Island was built much later. Actually I think the Portsmouth hulks were mostly for Brit transportees but may have been used for Frog PoWs also, who were housed in Portchester castle as well. For a 1st hand glimpse of the hulks see 'Experiences of a Convict', JF Mortlock, Sydney University Press reprint 1968 or thereabouts. Mortlock is said to have given Dickens the gen for the Medway hulks in 'Great Expectations'.
 
God is it still there?The worst bloody place on earth for a Seaman gunner to be based.Every sod shouting at you,kit inspects at every turn,gaited idiots walking around like ducks[and looking like ducks].
It wasn't a training est.it was a place for GI's ond ossifers to practice shouting.
Most had little brains and even after many stays there I had yet to find a decent CPO,PO or a up from the ranks ossifer.
Evry matelot hated the place and it did no good except for training the parrot to swear at the lady mayoress.
Oh! and for the ossifers getting a good living from the pig farm when poor Jack had to clean out and feed the honkers for them.
Piss poor of a place, it would be better as a nuke bunker with all the GI's inside it shouting at each other!
Not the best draft.
 
Fancy hearing from David B-G again! Hosaquami was blown down in the 1987 storm but a shorter replacement was later provided and installed indoors. Should still be there somewhere. Realising that the TAS apes were thus culturally neglected, the 1963 Long G course provided Vernon with a totem pole but its installation in Vernon's wardroom lawn, with a sacrificial makee-learn TAS officer (kidnapped from his MQ specially for the occasion) secured to it with stout cordage, was sadly controversial. Can't remember all the detail but the bottom totem was a TASO with his fingers in his ears and the top was I think a Squid bomb. I think Mr Trickey had a big hand in the design and general plot.
 
seafarer1939 said:
God is it still there?The worst bloody place on earth for a Seaman gunner to be based.Every sod shouting at you,kit inspects at every turn,gaited idiots walking around like ducks[and looking like ducks].
It wasn't a training est.it was a place for GI's ond ossifers to practice shouting.
Most had little brains and even after many stays there I had yet to find a decent CPO,PO or a up from the ranks ossifer.
Evry matelot hated the place and it did no good except for training the parrot to swear at the lady mayoress.
Oh! and for the ossifers getting a good living from the pig farm when poor Jack had to clean out and feed the honkers for them.
Piss poor of a place, it would be better as a nuke bunker with all the GI's inside it shouting at each other!
Not the best draft.
Not quite Whale Island but up the road a bit at Tipner Rifle Range and home of the Royal Navy Film Unit I recall meeting the one and only Queer Chief GI I ever met. Bit of an oxymoron a woofter GI but he was such an animal. The AB living there who looked after the Pig Farm was an AB Salt.
 
I was there in 1976 in the red hot summer on HMS Ulster which was the first Sea Cadet Training ship,and it was the best draft you could have wished for,The Skipper was pissed in his Cabin all day,no Joss men at all,sunbathing all day and watching cricket and drinking Brown Ale.
Heaven on a Pussers War Canoe !!
Then they took the ship away and replaced it with HMS Rame Head and brought all the baby Seamen from HMS Vernon onboard to give them a taste of life on a Warship ( ????????????????) We just played Table Tennis all day and got the cranes working again for something to do_On the minus side they decided to bring a Joss man onboard tho and ruined everything for us
 
Nicks said:
I was there in 1976 in the red hot summer on HMS Ulster which was the first Sea Cadet Training ship,and it was the best draft you could have wished for,The Skipper was pissed in his Cabin all day,no Joss men at all,sunbathing all day and watching cricket and drinking Brown Ale.
Heaven on a Pussers War Canoe !!
Then they took the ship away and replaced it with HMS Rame Head and brought all the baby Seamen from HMS Vernon onboard to give them a taste of life on a Warship ( ????????????????) We just played Table Tennis all day and got the cranes working again for something to do_On the minus side they decided to bring a Joss man onboard tho and ruined everything for us
Who was the skipper? Name please.
 
Whaley was my first draft out of training! Worked at Fleet Engineering Staff in 88/89, also was 'volunteered' for November Cermeonies & spent two weeks standing still/marching up and down the steps - deep joy :thumright: We lived on board at Nelson though
 
any one remember the first war one tank that used to be there its now at bovington tank museum all spruced up and open to visitors :rambo:
 
The tank allegedly was stood-to in 1940 to repel the Hun - on the maiden voyage of her new commission she took out a corner of a building somewhere in Stamshaw and retired ignominiously back to her spot by the Parade Ground. Or so I heard. Tanks' crew, number!
 
spent a lot of unhappy times there as a Seaman Gunner,endless parades,boots shouting at you from behind buildings,or through windows etc.
Pissed me off until I landed a job with the paintshop and spent a lot of times dragging out signwriting.
Was detailed to spruce up the Royal Yacht for Princess Margarets honeymoon and tried to get a Wren to have some rogering on the honeymoon bed but she would not,silly sod as I never fancied her just wanted to say I'd done it before they did!
Whale Island was essential I guess but when a draft came thru your heart sank a bit as you knew there were tough times ahead.
 

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