HMS Ganges


DRAKE 320/321 Classes
HMS GANGES, 1968

Royal Navy

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Pros and Cons of Being a Badge Boy (John Nixon)

After our initial training in the Annex we were marched over to the main establishment to the sound of the Royal Marines band playing 'congratulations' (the Eurovision song contest entry for the UK in 1967 or '68 - which some of felt was a bit 'corny').

By this time we had all learned to wash and iron our kit, do kit musters, clean up our mess, had our 'jabs,' teeth drilled and polished, had our compulsory boxing match under the supervision of the Chief PTI and were ready to move forward with our training. We were undoubtedly pleased to have successfully managed the first phase of our time at GANGES, even though we had lost a few of our initial intake on the way.

The first two weeks in the main establishment were called 'Nozzers' Routine,' as all new entrants coming from the Annex were called Nozzers. I remember at this stage we didn't wear our blue collars and this singled us out from the other boys in the main establishment. They seemed to like to emphasise that we had not quite made the grade and become a full member of GANGES, and that we had to prove our worth.

In the main establishment we joined up with some other boys who had been in other messes in the Annex, to form Drake 320 (class instructor PO Allard) and 321 classes (class instructor Chief Jones). As I recall, we went first to 24 mess and then 17 mess in the Long Covered Way and our first badge boys were Pete Ruddock and a Welsh guy whose name escapes me at the moment. Nozzers' routine involved spending hours and hours cleaning up the mess and getting to know the ropes in the main establishment.

At this stage we knew that some of us would be selected as badge boys and probably many of us in the group aspired to this position as it involved some extra privileges, the wearing of white gaiters and a stripe on our left arm. Understandably at that age and in that environment, many of us were competitive by nature and our instructors instilled in us a desire to succeed and do well through a system of reward (or indeed punishment). The four boys that were selected from 320 and 321 class were initially Roy Brook and myself, followed by Evans, Pete Kerley and Jim Mason. Captain Napper, in a letter to my parents when I was later promoted to Petty Officer Junior, wrote that badge boys were selected because of 'their leadership qualities, enthusiasm and example.' In the following I recount some pros and cons of being a badge boy.

Pros - we drilled and marched our classes to instruction and on divisions. Some did guard commander duties and (like those who were role models for us) we all learnt to shout very loudly at others, took charge of cleaning routines, were allowed to go to the front of the queue in the dining room, did more cushy jobs during work ship weeks, and even got paid a little more than our class mates. We also got to collect trophies on behalf of our classes or division. Although I went on to have a long career in the Navy and was promoted several times to other rates/ranks, no other event in my career (including since leaving the Navy) made me as proud as the day I became a badge boy at GANGES. However, being a badge boy had some disadvantages.

Cons - the first con that hit me was the fact that some of my class mates who had been very close friends in the Annex and through nozzers' routine became somewhat 'distant.' This is not surprising, however, given that one minute I was taking the flack with everyone else and 'enjoying' myself polishing brass cannons with an oppo' at 0600, and the next I was giving out the orders. Also, who wouldn't get irritated at seeing their mate with a pair of white gaiters on going straight to the front of the dining room queue? Dealing with this mix of pride on the one hand and friction on the other gave me a few sleepless nights, and even prompted me to apply to leave GANGES at our six month option, and therefore the Navy. However, our instructors (and others in the class) were clearly aware of these issues and gave me their total backing and support. Once I had overcome this initial shock I think I settled into the role and did my best to undertake my duties with due concern for everyone in my class (although the system was designed to test people no matter which side of the fence you were on).

Importantly, the rates of Leading Junior, Petty Office Junior or Junior Instructor (which Evans remained behind to do in the Annex when we left to join COLLINGWOOD) were relinquished on leaving GANGES and it was back to being a JEM like everyone else in the class. I was lucky enough to share a cabin at COLLINGWOOD with Stuart (Ozzie) Ostler, who had been a great friend all through GANGES, and Roy Brook, Pete Slynn and Les Davies were all in my REM's class. Friendship without the 'white gaiter barrier' was a welcome return for me.

The final observation I would make is that the reason I was so proud to be a badge boy at GANGES was because of my class mates and my instructors, who were full of character, enthusiasm and whit. To pass through GANGES in their company, and to observe their own successes and achievements (such as being a button boy - something I could never have achieved), was an honour and a privilege.

On being a BB (Roy Brook)

My time at Ganges was very memorable, and on the whole very enjoyable. My life at Ganges changed dramatically though after 'Wicken Fen' when on the Monday after the Weekend away I was 'collard' by Malcolm in the Long- Covered Way and told to fill in a request form to be rated Acting Leading Junior.  John and I went around and stood outside the Divisional Office and I remember we both didn't know what to say to each other.  I think from that moment on we had very different experiences of being a BB, I think I got the cushy number, as I was allocated to a Nozzer Mess.

This must have been so much easier than being elevated within the peer group whom John had been part of since joining 320/321.  I'm not sure how I would have coped with that.

My time was also very different than most other BBs as I had an enormous amount of personal freedom after the first 3 months in the main establishment. I was on a mini UpperYardman's course which meant I did not have to go to School, and I could choose whether or not to go to the Gym or do sports in the afternoon. I had a personal tutor appointed to me  (Lt. Craig)  - ( Who one night pulled his sword on me and held it to my throat - I should never have asked how sharp it was !!!!).

I did not feel 100% comfortable with this as I really wanted to be part of the team (320/321). I never really took advantage of this privileged part of my time at Ganges, and wish to this day that when we came to the end of our time there I chose the option to continue with the Upper Yardman's course and go on to Dartmouth - however, I chose to stay and go with the team to Collingwood.

What do I remember  - There were massive privileges - Our own BB canteen - Never having to queue at the NAAFI - going straight to the front - especially on payday to buy cigarettes from the Kiosk in the Long-Covered Way. Not having to queue in the 'Screamer' (CMG) and generally being able to lead and not being led. Work ship was a good time, as I had 3 very easy work ships. Freedom from routine and a lot of monotonous chores - I don't think I did much cleaning after the first 3 months. Getting into the Cinema first (front row seats). Having to do Duty Badge and Television Room duty - we could choose what to watch. 

Being allowed an extra half hour's grace when returning form leave.  Not having to make my bed up in the morning - I could just pull up the counterpane,   Not having to march everywhere!  - and most of all, wearing white gaiters - Green never suited a Blue Uniform!

I remember dreading divisions - when I had to lead the class on the march past - I could never march in a straight line, salute and say eyes right at the right time !   But as well as being a good time, I also remember it could be a very lonely experience - but maybe I was just homesick - we were after all only 15 - most kids of 20  today are nowhere near as mature as we were when we left Ganges.

The low point, and probably the only really low point in my whole time as a Badge Boy, was dealing with the physical threats from one or two individuals in the class.

I think I was a good Badge Boy to the classes I looked after, and unlike having to handle 320/321 from within. - I could always go back to my mess and the Nozzers and take it out on them at the end of a day!


To comment on or contribute to this site, please contact John Nixon: jn105@btinternet.com

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