March 10, 1939
Both home and Mediterranean Fleets arrived in Gibraltar this morning at the end of spring exercises. We are to spend a week or ten days here before the Home Fleet leaves for England and the Mediterranean back to Malta (the land of the bells and smells).
I received a very nice letter from you this morning (February 19th) sent by air mail. Very glad to get all the news from home, especially about Bob Niven.
Sorry to hear about George Davidson and Elva Clark.
Judging about your new purchases for the living room, things must be very nice now - perhaps I'll see them some day.
We are certainly getting our share of sunshine this spring. There is a fast boat for officers at 3:45 this afternoon, so I'll go ashore for a short walk.
Unfortunately we are anchored out in the Bay, so have to go ashore and return at certain times laid down in the boat routine, and not as we choose.
We had our aeroplanes up on the flight deck this morning, with our mechanics and riggers cleaning them up. I love the smells associated with their petrol dope, etc.
I have never had such a hard-working and keen crew before. My rigger is the most senior one in the squadron and is a sergeant - very unusual to have a sergeant working on one aeroplane only - no wisecracks - I though I heard Dad say, "He probably needs a sergeant after Bill gives it a work out." His name is Sergeant Duly. My fitter, or mechanic, is Leading Aircraftsman Rees. They keep my Nimrod so clean I have to wipe my feet before getting in. As I have probably pointed out before, our flight deck is only 470 feet long, while the average American carrier is 888 feet long. It's certainly nothing but trick flying, thick deck-landing racket. Especially in a high sea - the deck can pitch up and down thirty to fifty feet, and if it rolls as it usually does, you might slip over the side. The width of the deck is 100 feet.
The Ark Royal, which is out here from the Home Fleet and carries the Admiral in Charge of Aircraft, is of course much larger and compares with American carriers in size and luxury.
We carry 48 aircraft and 48 officers to fly them. The Navy is now training rating pilots as well, so we shall soon have ratings besides officers flying. I believe their new rank will be Petty Officer, which rates with Sergeant. There are also quite a few observer officers for navigation duties in the Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance Squadrons. I haven't learned all the seamen ranks in the Navy yet but here is a general outline: Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman, Leading Corporal Seaman, Petty Officer, Chief Petty Officer, Warrant Officer, etc. up to what they call Executive Officers which are those officers carried for fighting duties, i.e. not doctors, accountants, etc. who have special coloring between their gold stripes in the sleeve. Doctor - red, school teacher - blue, etc.
In the ship there are three messes, i.e., Wardroom Mess for officers of rank, Sub/Lt. up and Gunroom Mess for Midshipmen and Warrant Officers and petty officers have a mess of their own. Only Wardroom officers use the starboard after gangway of a ship. When a boat approaches a ship, the quarter master or a seaman shouts out "Ahoy!" and the sailor in charge of the boat shouts back "No! No! or Aye! Aye! meaning in first place he carries no officer or Wardroom rank or in second place he does, so that Officer of the Watch on the Quarter deck( after section of ship) knows who is coming aboard. Officer of the Watch is always dressed in frock coat and sword and has a telescope under his left armpit.
When the officer steps on the quarter deck he salutes and the Officer of the Watch must always stand at the salute. Also, while officers come aboard, Captains are piped off and onto a ship.
Yes, she is a very complicated life and there's a lot to learn. Smoking is prohibited in ship's boats.
In the summer we had to wear whites to breakfast and lunch. While we were flying or in the hangars we wore khaki, and in the evening for dinner of course white Mess Kit with stiff shirts, so we are always busy changing. Sundays all officers wear frock coats to church and till 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
I told you, I believe, about the Italian airmen on Franco's side in Spain who flew low over the ship during divisions off Majorca and gave us stiff Fascist salutes - funniest thing I have ever seen. Too bad we couldn't thumb our noses back at them or put a six-inch shell over their bows.
I am afraid to read this letter over for grammatical errors and spelling, so I'll finish now.
Lots of Love