In my haste to embark on a Day Twitch on the 'first of the month', contained in our last Post, sight was completely lost of the greatest tragedy ever to befall the Royal Navy. An Anniversary that would normally be respected, with full military honours wherever or whatever I was doing, would also be as important to any serving member over the age of 20 years, before the 1st August 1970. That was the day the Mandarin's of Whitehall called a halt to the Rum Ration and which to this very day has been known as
'BLACK TOT DAY'
A prompt from my Ol' Shipmate 'Sandy' Saunders, up there in Northumberland, reminded me of that Dark Day, raised a few very special memories to which I will raise a glass this very evening. Below, is a snippet from my as yet unpublished 'Memoir' - I Had to Die, 'Cus My Life Was Full - explaining the in's and out's of that Magic Moment during every day in a Sailor's life when the cares of the World simply disappeared. I joined
(The Grey Ghost of the Trucial Oman Coast)
(The Grey Ghost of the Trucial Oman Coast)
undergoing a major refit in
No 9 Dry Dock, Portsmouth Dockyard in early 1965, which
at that time was bound for a 'one year' deployment on what was
The Persian Gulf Squadron
At the height of the
Mod's and Rocker's Era
(on leave with my Mother and 2 Sisters at Littlemoor, Weymouth)
I was always firmly entrenched in the Mod's Camp, and
was even a passive onlooker at the Battle of the Beach's
(with my Aunt in Nottingham)
Additionally, a passion for Rock and Blues Music
would see me regularly at the Marquee, Roundhouse,
Ronnie Scott's et al.
(with my sister Pamela - Weymouth Seafront)
After refit and 'work-up' at Portland, to get the vessel and crew ship-shape,
we stayed to be part of that year's
Portland Navy Days.
(only 2 things sit on guard-rails - Sh**e Hawks and First Trippers)
Sailing mid-June of that year on what was then one of the
'new generation' of War Canoes fully air-conditioned, no
hammocks, canteen messing and limited to just one
Keel-Hauling per man per month.
An extremely exciting 'commission' for an already
seasoned sailor of nearly 19 years of age, out passage took us to
Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, through the Suez Canal, Yemen,
where we were heavily involved in the withdrawal of British Forces
from Aden where there was quite a good chance of getting killed.
which was to be our base for the year despite covering
a vast area at sea.
(with Graham Colson who was later to serve as my Best Man)
Bahrain's Mina Sulman Jetty. Eskimo outboard with helicopter and 'bedstead' Radar.
'Champions Hockey Team'
(can you see me Mother?)
Visits to Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, what was then Ethiopia
(now Eritrea), Kenya (oh, dreams of Mombasa), Mozambique and Seychelles
were regularly interrupted by Dhow Patrols searching for Gold, Weapons, Drugs etc,
a dirty job but someone had to do it, and chasing Pirates.
Most of them were on Eskimo!
Later we were involved in the Rhodesian Crisis as escort for the Cruiser HMS Tiger which was used as a platform for high power talks between the 2 Prime Ministers Ian Smith and Harold Wilson. As a consequence we also became heavily involved in the blockade of the Port of Beira, the main oil supply route for Rhodesia. In typical RN fashion a 'Badge of Office' was fashioned from an old galvanised bucket and christened
and passed from ship to ship on taking command of the situation.
The Bucket, inscribed with the name of each ship involved, now lies in the
Royal Naval Museum, HM Dockyard Portsmouth
(well worth a visit)
After that bit of background an extract from the Memoir:-
Over the following 2 months, our last away from home, there were to be a series of lightning visits to various places where our vista would change almost daily. The first of these would be a short re-visit to the vibrant city of Mombasa, something none of us objected to, and while that passed without incident our next Port of Call was to be PARADISE itself. However, before that there was to be no small Anniversary for myself as a major milestone was reached! On the morning of Saturday 16th July 1966, HMS Eskimo was steaming south across the Indian Ocean, at economical cruising speed, towards the Seychelles Islands where we would anchor off Victoria Township, Mahé the following morning. At 11:30 precisely on that morning the sweetest sound I had ever heard predictably became a reality. At that moment the click of an open mic passed through the ship preceding the familiar shrill of the ‘General Call’ on the Bosun’s Pipe (similar to that of a Woolf Whistle) and followed by the announcement “d’ yer hear there, ‘Up Spirits, hands of messes for rum”. Today I would be ‘drawing’ my first ‘legal’ tot.
This had been a daily part of routine on all of Her (His) Majesties Ships since the introduction of the rum ration into the Royal Navy in 1655 which was in fact a substitute for beer, as being far less bulky to carry. There are a million myths, legends and stories surrounding this daily entitlement a couple of which should be explained as a foundation to the enormous importance of this humble tot to the lowly sailor on the mess-deck. Back in those dark days when ships were made of wood and men of steel, the quota was 1 pint of rum per man, per day (and of course Jolly Jack had to add his own caveat to this as a man’s rum issue could be withdrawn as a form of punishment) per-man, per-day, per-haps! Before commencement of battle and at the moment of victory a ‘double ration’ would be struck known as ‘Splice the Main Brace’, but the original reason for this ‘double issue’ was, when due to damage or wear and tear the arduous task of repairing the largest rope on a sailing warship was undertaken, the Main Brace being the largest of these!.
There were those in high places who frowned upon this practice, none more so than Vice Admiral Edward Vernon (12 November 1684 – 30 October 1757) who later became a Parliamentarian, instituting major changes to the Royal Navy Rum Ration. His order stated that the previously ‘neat’ one pint, daily allowance of rum "be every day mixed with the proportion of a quart of water to a half pint of rum, to be mixed in a scuttled butt kept for that purpose, and to be done upon the deck, and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch who is to take particular care to see that the men are not defrauded in having their full allowance of rum... and let those that are good husband men receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them”. Not surprisingly, Vernon became most unpopular for his actions and was branded with the nickname Old Grog after the ‘grogram’ cloak he would wear while pacing the quarterdeck of his ship and later the same name would be applied to this diluted concoction, ‘Grog’, which in its original form would be rum, water, lime juice and sugar.
The 16th of July 1966 was my 20th birthday and up to that point I was known as a UA (Under Age to draw a tot) so in accordance with RN tradition and like all Junior Ratings before me, there was a decision to be made at that coming of age, simply the choice between G or T? The latter was the designation for ‘Temperance’ which would entitle any ‘T’-Rating to sixpence in old money (2½p) in lieu of the Tot of Rum, or G = Grog allowing you to draw the daily ration of rum, I never even heard of, let alone met, a T-Rating! This may seem like a deal of stuff and nonsense over what on the face of it is no more than a simple alcoholic drink, but there is much more to it that that and woe-betide he who fails to adhere to the strict protocol attached to this revered practice. The etiquette of issue and distribution of the daily rum ration will be described later but equally important is the history, comradeship, collateral along with a code of behaviour, which surrounds this daily ceremony, followed by thousands of Sailors for hundreds of years and must, no matter what, be preserved in the very same way.
Grog is only issued to Junior Ratings (Able and Leading Rates of all disciplines) while Senior Rates (Petty and Chief Petty Officers along with Warrant Officers) are allowed, because of their trusted position, to ‘draw’ their rum neat, or ‘neaters’ as it was better known, both issues being strictly separate. Even then there is a distinction in the Grog issued to Submariners and that of ‘Skimmers’ (crews of surface ships that only ‘skim’ the surface of the ocean). The latter would receive a tot of one part rum and two parts water, while those serving on Sleek Black Messengers of Death would enjoy a one and one mix, why else would anyone volunteer for ‘Boats'.
In good time before the “Up Spirits” Tannoy is made, the Officer of the Day (OOD) along with the Duty ‘Jack Dusty’ (Stores Accountant) would draw the keys to the Rum Locker and transfer the required amount of neat rum for the full daily issue. During the forenoon, the Killick (Leading Hand) in charge of each mess would designate one person (often himself for reasons that will become apparent) as the Bubbly Bosun, 'bubbly' being the colloquial term for Grog and Boatswain as a trustee who could be relied upon to stick rigidly to the protocol required. At the click of the Tannoy, those assigned would muster with their Mess Rum Fanny (container), at what Admiral Vernon described as a
SCUTTLEBUTT and RUM MEASURES
Scrutinized by the Jack Dusty, who himself would be under the watchful eye of the OOD, as he carefully measures the correct amount of rum and water mix into each Mess Fanny. Now is the time for the Bubbly Bosun to show his skills, honed by years of experience, as he steps forward, announces the Mess Number and agrees with the OOD as to the number of ‘tots’ to be issued. With the series of copper measures, shown above, Jack Dusty first fills the required size measure, for the number of tots to be issued, and the next size up with Grog as the Bosun positions the Rum Fanny under the measures and within the Butt. As one measure is poured into the other to overflowing it is only by perfect sighting of the Fanny that will allow collection of some of the residual overflow of rum. A competent Bosun can often account for an extra ‘full tot’ with the right manoeuvring.
It is then his duty to deliver the precious cargo to the mess-deck where a crew of eager ‘G’ Members, including one hand designate ‘ticker off’, who’s duties amount to simply striking each man from the list once he has received his issue. This is also a time of community and comradeship when the whole ‘mess’ get together and discuss the days doings, last night’s run ashore and maybe a word or two about home. Some, who although they are ‘G’ do not care much for the tot, have a great deal of collateral at hand which, according to an agreed amount, can get someone to cover your night duty when not at sea, so they can enjoy an extra run ashore (maybe some extra time at home), an exchange for tobacco and in times before mine even get their dhobying and ironing done for this consideration. The breakdown of ‘amount’ of a full tot includes a ‘sipper’ where the lips are just whetted, a ‘gulper’ where a small mouthful is taken, ‘half a tot’ which is self explanatory and ‘sandy bottoms’ which includes the whole jolly lot.
Then follows a time honoured practice which sees the Bosun fill both a Bakelite beaker of exact measure and a tot glass with grog, while being sure to keep one or two fingers ‘inside’ the beaker, then emptying the rum from the tot glass into the beaker (ensuring a full quota except for that displaced by the fingers) before decanting the ‘almost’ full tot back into the glass. He then offers the glass to the first G Member on the list who, tradition has it, says to the Bosun “have a whet” (sipper), which he does before offering the tot again. The same token is offered to the ‘Ticker’ as the name is crossed off the list with the same procedure being followed for every Member. In addition to this, should there be a ‘Guest in the Mess’, whoever this may be or by whoever’s invitation, he/she too is invited to partake of a suggested amount which is usually more than a ‘sipper’.
After the final tot is issued there is, by definition (manoeuvring, fingers and positioning of the fanny) an amount of grog left over. This residue is known as Queen’s, in as much that to the ‘letter of the law’ it is outside and extra to the permitted issue and as such is still rightfully the property of Her Majesty. There is also an instruction for its correct disposal which clearly states, in Naval parlance, that it must be “ditched down the nearest scupper”! Rules is Rules and therefore made to be broken, anyone adhering to this particular directive would be ‘keel hauled’ by his messmates. It may be of interest to note at this point that the rule also applies to the residue in the Scuttle Butt, the disposal of which must be overseen by a Senior Rate, usually the Master at Arms. There have been numerous cases throughout the RN of sinks/scuppers and drain pipes being meticulously cleaned with an equally clean container placed beneath to catch the residue grog, only to be recovered when the Master at Arms’ back is turned.
A man who would accept grog as payment for a mundane task, would never miss an opportunity of Queen’s and also jostle for position of Bosun or Ticker, loving his ‘bubbly’ so much, would be referred to as a Rum Rat and to whom a tot is the ‘second’ most important thing on earth! The Rum Rat knows that the designated measure is his by right so becomes ‘secondary’ to what might be left in the fanny after the full allocation has been made. The Queen’s would then be put into a separate glass and passed around the remaining company, some preferring to go to dinner straight after enjoying their tot, with a ‘sipper’ being taken by each until the last drop is gone. When the daily ceremony is completed, the lid is put on the fanny and usually returned to its stowage, a hook on a hammock rail. Like every other piece of metal on a warship the outside is polished to a mirror-like shine while the pitted and stained inside of the blessed Rum Fanny is left untouched. There have been younger sailors who have unwittingly tried to polish the inside, but best we don’t go into the outcome of that!
Finally, there have been those in addition to Admiral Vernon who in Parliament have advocated the stoppage of the tot. Most famously, in more recent years, Lady Astor known as the Scourge of the Royal Navy tried unsuccessfully to stop the issue, but also made representation that those RN personnel who were suffering venereal disease should wear a badge in public to show as much, which also failed. Outside of her obvious lack of love for the RN, she is also quoted as accusing Sir Winston Churchill himself, then Prime Minister, of being drunk in Parliament to which he replied, “Yes Madam I am drunk, and you are ‘ugly’ but tomorrow I will be sober”! However, Churchill himself wasn’t particularly amoured as saying, “don't talk to me about naval tradition, it's nothing more than rum, sodomy and the lash. This was later changed by ‘Jack’ himself to “rum, bum and ‘baccy” (tobacco).
As with most things in Jack’s simple life there is usually an ‘angle’, with my best being when I was drafted back into the Submarine Base HMS Dolphin. On that occasion I was detailed as the Captain’s Coxswain having to drive his motor launch at his beck and call. All of the duties outside of regular watch-keeping were known as Special Sea Dutymen, only required to work as and when a particular job was to be done. In Dolphin SSD were allowed their own access and time to draw their daily rum ration and I quickly noticed a flaw in the system. If indeed you were quick, one was able to dodge the Jack Dusty clipping the Issue Card then, quickly ‘seeing off’ your tot you could scamper round and join the queue of other crew members getting a second tot and getting the card clipped at the same time. LOVELY!!
By the time of
BLACK TOT DAY
I was a SUBMARINER and once again in Dry Dock as
'Scratcher' (Boatswain) on
HM S/M PORPOISE
Constraints on the vessel meant we had to live ashore so would have to cross
Portsmouth Harbour each day to draw out Tots in the Submarine Base
That day I drew and drank my Tot post-haste then joined some of my
former shipmates onboard the sister ship of Porpoise
HM S/M FINWHALE
seen here with HM S/M Grampus to her left (outboard).
My final ration, on what was to become known as Black Tot Day, was taken on the casing of HM Submarine Finwhale, alongside the trot (berth) at HMS Dolphin the Submarine Base, Training School and Submarine Pens, Gosport, Hampshire. A solemn occasion, to say the least, as we each ‘downed’ that final tot in traditional ‘one gulp’ fashion then smashing the glasses on the ballast tank casings. Not to be compared to the ‘real thing’, there was a fine sequel to all of this as at various pubs and clubs throughout the land, Tot Time has been re-enacted, usually on the first Sunday in August, allowing for most ‘shipmates’ to attend. The last of these I attended was staged at the
CORNER HOUSE INN
Easton, Portland, Dorset.
FANFARE for the TOT
BUBBLY BOSUN and TICKER
SENIOR MAN PRESENT
Otherwise, there is ALWAYS Tot Time at any Royal Navy Reunion.
Held at HMS Dolphin
was special as being the 75th year of the
Many travel great distances to be there with the Shipmate on my right
having traveled all the way from New Zealand.
He on my left Harry Dodds hadn't come far, in fact from literally the next
street from my old home, Slight Return, before which we had never met.
We became firm friends.
stand-fast the Holy Ghost.
Billy Gibson and Charlie Peace
both Stokers with me in HM S/M Alcide.
Billy likely qualifies a the most comical person I have ever met.
Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM)
he and I served on the Ocean Salvage Tug SEA GIANT together.
On which occasion the crews of the
First Submarine Squadron
were afforded the
FREEDOM of the TOWN of GOSPORT
Now there's a turn-up for the book, never before has another
Nation outside of UK and USA been in second place on the
Stat Counter, let alone TOP!
Today we can welcome FRANCE to Pole Position
with our THANKS to all Readers there coming in just one simple phrase.
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