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Navy CP - August 1903

Corpun file 16414

Daily News, London, 10 August 1903

The Naval Manoeuvres.

By A.G. Hales.



The Life of the Sailor.

Work, Play, and Punishment.


A British ship of war is capable of supplying a journalist with more pen and ink studies than any place of its size I have ever lived in. The life is clean, wholesome, and hard. It is a nursery for men, and it makes men. Seldom have I had such an opportunity of understanding the term "English gentleman" as this trip has afforded me. Here, within these iron walls, one is brought into hourly contact with the naval officers, and a page is added to life which is worth the keeping. I watch them at their work. In truth, they know the meaning of the word, for they work unceasingly in working hours, and play like merry boys in playtime. Early and late these men and boys attend to their duties with a conscientious exactness which is a credit to the service. No wonder the British Navy is the pride of the nation, for the men who run the Navy work for their prestige.


The work is hard and the hours long, the food and liquors plain, the life pleasant and healthy, and the discipline taut as steel. The cardinal sin is "slackness."

Boy Life Aboard.

The boys on board have a healthy time. Nine out of every ten of them will get a better up-bringing than they would have received in their own homes. They have to do as they are told, and do it as promptly as a bird flies from the spring of a cat.


No boy may smoke until after he is eighteen years of age. If he does, and is caught, he will most certainly be flogged across the buttocks with a stout cane. If he lies and is found out the same punishment awaits him. If he is impudent to his superior officer he is soon taught that a civil tongue is a jewel beyond price in the Navy. All offenders are tried publicly, no matter what their offence.

I have seen several of these trials, during which some twenty men and boys came up in custody, and I defy anyone to find fault either with the system or the conduct of such trials. When first tried the prisoners in a batch are marched aft to the quarterdeck in the custody of the ship's police. The commander hears the charge read out, the prisoner stands forward, cap in hand, and listens.

"What have you to say for yourself? Are you guilty or not guilty?" asks the commander.

"Not guilty, sir."

"Very well. Call the witnesses."

The witnesses are called, and the commander delivers his verdict. The first one charged is a lad of sixteen, who has been caught smoking. The second was charged with neglect of duty, and insolence. He, too, was about sixteen or a little over. The charges were proved up to the hilt. For smoking the lad was sentenced to receive three strokes with a cane. The other fellow was to get six.


Boys' Punishment.

I went to see the boys punished. In the waist of the ship stands a dummy gun; beside the gun a ship's corporal and a file of men. The ship's corporal is a ship policeman, a big, powerful fellow, who fingers a stout cane, such as schoolmasters in my school days used to use.

The prisoner who has been smoking comes forward, hitches his pants, and throws himself across the gun upon his stomach; his head hangs down one side, his feet on the other. A couple of men kneel by his head and take a wrist and an ankle each and draw them together so that the trousers fit very taut in the most prominent place.

The corporal throws himself into a striking attitude. Evidently this is to be no child's play. Swish! That boy would give every cigarette in his possession to be able to rub the spot where the cane has fallen, but he can't rub, he can only writhe and wait for the next.

The corporal is in no hurry. The first stroke had been a sort of overhead and downward cut. This second one -- whew! -- swish! It comes underhand and upwards. Offer the boy a plug of tobacco now and he will gnash his teeth and curse the very memory of Sir Walter Raleigh. He wriggles on the gun, and every wriggle wakes a memory of my school days. He has my sympathy, but I know it is for his soul's good. He will be a man some day, not an asthmatic weed.

Whizz! -- slosh! A straight forearm cut fair across the other two lines. The men let his hands and feet go, he springs erect with flushed face and suspiciously brilliant eyes, and trots off to his duties. He may smoke again. Probably he will; but he won't sit down to do it for a day or two.

The other lad gets his half-dozen, and the next time he feels like neglecting his work or "cheeking" his officers he will pause and consider the matter; but it is safe to wager that if he gets his portrait taken shortly he won't send one to the ship's corporal. That much you can read in his eye as he glances at the policeman in passing. I fancy I read a little more than that, but I may be mistaken.

I hope that no sentimental person reading this account of ship's punishment will cry out about it. The boys were not damaged; they got just what they deserved; they learnt, and it is well that they should learn in youth, that the way of the transgressor is hard, mighty hard.

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