Reply To: Port and Starboard Gangways

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Alastair Wilson

    Following on from my previous comment, and in amplification of Frank Scott’s post immediately before mine – boat hails were used by night or day, if the ship approached were not aware of who was in the approaching boat – but for most occasions you knew who was coming, because it was in the programme – but if another ship’s Captain were coming to visit yours officially, then his boat would fly a Captain’s pendant on a small stave up for’ard – and if he were merely passing, then you, as the officer of the watch, or the QM would step to the head of your ladder and salute him as he went past. A Flag Officer’s boat would wear his flag similarly, if he were afloat on some official business, and on those occasions you would parade a guard and band (but you would receive warning – a signal would be sent, “I shall be afloat in my barge, flying my flag at 1115 tomorrow, guards and bands are to be paraded.” On less formal occasions, he would ‘wear’ a ‘red disc’ in place of the flag – a red disc with a white cross: this required you to pipe the ‘still’ or sound the ‘alert’ if you had a bugler, and your Captai himself (or the Commander at least) would appear on the quarterdeck to pay their compliments to the Admiral. If he were just going ashore at seven bells to play golf, then he would wear a ‘white’ or ‘negative’ disc (white disc with five black crosses on it) and you would salute, but no more.

    All this is very largely a thing of the past now – I am drawing on my memories of (particularly) the 1953 Coronation Review, and Malta in the late 50s and early60s. On the occasion of the `53 Review, I was faced with a considerable dilemma relating to distinguishing marks in boats – I was a Midshipman in the older ‘Illustrious’, which was temporarily Flag Officer Air (Home)’s flagship – he had a Leading Airman as his Cox’n, who was good at polishing up the Admiral’s personal Seafire or whatever, but was Not Good With Boats. So I, as Senior Mid., became the Admiral’s Cox’n in charge of his barge (blue, as befitted a subordinate flag officer’s boat). After the Review, there was a fly-past by the Fleet Air Arm – squadron upon squadron of Sea Furies, Fireflies, Wyverns, Gannets and Skyraiders and a flight of Attackers, the first jets (there may even have been RNVR Seafires) and at the back, a couple of these new-fangled helicopters – don’t take the aircraft types as gospel, memory can play tricks, but there were some 300 aircraft – no (printable) comment. I had taken my Admiral to ‘Surprise’ for the fly-past (red disc) and when it was ended was called alongside ‘Surprise’s’ port after ladder (even admirals used the port after ladder of the (temporary) Royal Yacht, and my Admiral descended into the boat with the Canadian flag officer (all as per programme) – but instead of being told to shove off to take them back to their flagships, I was told to wait, and then Proncess Margaret came down the ladder, followed by the Duke of Edinborough and Her Majesty, and I was told to take them to the Norwegiaan Royal Yacht, the ‘Norge’, lying about a mile away. I had no Royal Standard aboard to indicate to the Norwegians who it was that I was carrying, and I was frantically trying to think how I could indicate it to the Norwegian Officer of the Watch – the best I could do was to bunch my fingers together on the top of my head to try to indicate a crown. I don’t know whether it worked (in reality, I’m sure there must have been a radio message passed to indicate that HM woud not be coming in the Royal Barge) – but as a 19-year-old I was very worried about protocol – these things Mattered in those days.