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Two Rooms And A View: 102 Indebted To Lt McCann

Robert Owen discovers that he will only have to serve 18 months in the Royal Navy, rather than the full two years of national service.

The skipper of the Hound at that time was Commander R M Fell, a former naval pilot. I was told that he was too old to fly but still young enough to command a mine-sweeper. We rarely saw him, and our main contact was via the Engineer Officer, who was Lt J M McCann. He used to go around in an all-white boiler suit, and the TV White Tide man now reminds us of him.

I was greatly indebted to him for one important Admiralty Regulation, which in normal circumstances I may not have seen. He informed me that the Admiralty had agreed, for economic reasons, to release national service ERA's in eighteen instead of twenty-four months, provided they had obtained a Boiler Room Watch-keeping Certificate. This was the best news I had heard since the start of National Service.

In naval terminology, a Boiler Room Watch-keeping Certificate indicates the holder's "competence to take charge of a Boiler Room, containing high-powered water tube boilers and all associated machinery in the stokehold, when at Full Power."

Even though the Leading Cook on board said he wouldn't trust me with the ship's toasting machine, I concentrated on my practical skills and worked extra hard to obtain the necessary certificate before we returned to Portsmouth for Christmas leave.

I quickly calculated my release date to be 17th March, 1958. This meant that my short sea-going career was already over, because Hound was due to spend the early months of 1958 in dry dock for a short re-fit. She was then due to sail to northern Norway, a trip I was glad to forgo.

The re-fit in dry-dock was another new experience, because all the crew were moved ashore to live in the nearby barracks. The crew then marched down to the dockyard every morning and back again in the late afternoon. Water supply to the ship was turned off, and we had to use toilet and eating facilities on the dockside.

In addition to the 100 plus crew working on board, there must have been double that number with all the dockyard workers (mateys) from a variety of trades. It was difficult to move, never mind work. They were like ants around an ant-hill. Poor communication, the classical problem of the dockyard worker, was confirmed. They were usually awaiting instructions to proceed, waiting for another trade to finish, or waiting for some spare part to arrive.

Dockies were not allowed to receive instructions from naval personnel, which meant that all communications had to go up the naval ladder, across to the dockyard foreman for the respective trade, and then down the dockies' ladder. Waiting time was enormous and at the same time, dockies had a unique ability to find a part of the ship where they were unlikely to be found, and to have a believable excuse ready if they were.

It was during those last few weeks on board that early one evening I went ashore to post a letter to Angela. If the letter caught the last collection from the main post office, it meant she would receive it the next morning.

It was 6th February, 1958. I recall the date because after seeing a newspaper heading, "Footballers killed in Plane Crash", I bought an evening paper. I was staggered to read about the Manchester United Munich air crash, which killed seven and injured many more players. I took the paper back on board, and I believe it was passed round the whole ship.

After helping with the re-fit and keeping out of the way of the dockies, I left the ship in late February before Hound sailed again for more fishery protection work. I couldn't get off the ship quick enough and spent the final few weeks of national service awaiting discharge in the naval barracks at HMS Victory.

Unknown to me at the time, Hound was the last of the Algerine minesweepers to serve with the Fishery Protection Squadron, and apart from two similar ships of the Dartmouth Training Squadron, was the last Algerine to be operational in the Royal Navy.


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