We continue Group Captain Peter Holland’s memories of growing up in Hastings, with more of chapter 2 .
He writes: He joined the Sea Cadets. Bells ringing to change the watch. Ropes and chants and, most importantly, launching and recovering the boats from the sea with a ‘two-six heave’ as the shingle tried to claw back it’s prize.
The boats often put to sea in rough weather, each cadet gripping an oar, all responding to the coxswain’s ‘Oars - give way together’, as rough, spume haloed breakers surrendered to cold, green, rolling sea.
The commander of this group of would be mariners was a tall lantern jawed Lieutenant of the reserve called, appropriately enough, Funnel.
He may never have served with the proper navy but he absolutely lived the part. He was supported by sub lieutenants Marchant, Tyler and several other worthies all very committed to the maritime ethos and the care of young people.
The Boy was never so happy as when out on the choppy brine, or rowing in rhythm with his mates along the shore from Glyn Gap to the west, and the Fairlight cliffs to the east; taking care to stay out beyond the tangled remains of the Old St Leonards pier.
Late one afternoon there was a message that a mine was adrift off the shore. The cadets put to sea with orders to locate and keep station till the Royal Navy could handle it.
The boy’s recollection of the event, even when describing it to his underwhelmed father, was clouded by the excitement of it all.
But the Hastings Observer related the story the following day, giving prominence to the role played by the Sea Cadet Corps. It seems that the object was not a German instrument of war but a deceptively harmless metal buoy.
Then there was the detachment to HMS Osprey in Portland. Three days of chasing submarines out at sea beyond the Portland Race and three under the foam submerged in HMS Aurax, the boy operating the hydroplanes. A week later HMS Affray, a similar class of boat, sank with heavy loss of life. Reality sometimes intruded on romance.
Hastings Grammar School now boasted a Combined Cadet Force and much was made of the value of ‘pre entry training’ for those, like the boy, not academically inclined, who sought a military career.
Furthermore, it was led by the boys maths master Rusty Atwood. There was no Navy section and Atwood led the RAF Element.
Maths was not his strong suit, so the boy joined the Army section and paraded each Wednesday wearing the cap badge of the Royal Sussex Regiment. The weekends saw him back in ‘Bell Bottoms’ and away on the brine.
The boy was not fazed by the transition from land to sea although his mother, now practiced in the art of pressing seven creases crossways on the blue, did the same on the khaki.
It may have been absentmindedness or a stratagem to avoid the thankless chore in the future, but it took the boy an age to remove the offending creases and from then onward, the task was his – and rightly so.
Now with the weekends afloat and Wednesdays, a-marching, study and homework could easily be avoided.
However, just to be certain the boy joined a youth club and launched a local newspaper which he called ‘Youth Opinion’.
Sponsored by local firms, typed on a skin and printed on a machine which oozed ink, the product was not an attractive sight.
Exams came and went- It was said that the boy ‘nearly’ passed everything, but the sad fact was that at sixteen he left school bereft of any qualifications, his name never to grace the walls of that ancient institution for either academic achievement or military valour.
To be continued in next week’s edition.
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