Boys on top of the world

The mast on Parents' Day and mast-manning taking place. Note the button boy standing on the very top

The mast on Parents' Day and mast-manning taking place. Note the button boy standing on the very top

THIS WEEK IN 1993: Hampshire schools prepared to take on four-year-olds

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Just recently I have been writing about the boys’ training establishments HMS Ganges at Ipswich and HMS St Vincent over at Gosport.

I know there are many, many ex-matelots living in the city who are former Ganges boys and so, for your delight, I reproduce these two photographs from the book Band of Brothers: Boy Seamen in the Royal Navy by David Phillipson (Sutton Publishing).

The button boy standing to attention on the top of the mast. Gripping the lightning conductor between his knees, he was quite safe. What H&S would think of it today can only be imagined

The button boy standing to attention on the top of the mast. Gripping the lightning conductor between his knees, he was quite safe. What H&S would think of it today can only be imagined

Both establishments had a mast which the boys were expected, or ordered, to climb. The St Vincent mast, although high, was not like the Ganges mast, which was rigged like a proper mast with full yard arms – main yard, top yard and topgallant yard.

In four sections, the mast was made up of the mainmast, topmast, topgallant and royal mast and the boys had to climb the rigging to the half moon, the second platform up.

It was quite terrifying to some and a doddle to others. The worst part was going up and over the devil’s elbow under the first platform. Having climbed it once the boys soon became used to it and on recreational afternoons most of them climbed it. My favourite location was sitting on the main yard under the platform leaning into the mast where a quiet read could be had. There was little privacy at Ganges so this was heaven.

Many boys climbed to the button on top of the mast and stood and saluted . But it was on Parents’ Days that the mast was ceremonially dressed overall with boys standing on the rigging and yards. The button boy for the day was awarded a silver shilling from the captain or some other dignitary who would be attending the function.I can remember one boy from Bristol named Morgan who stood on the button and turned and saluted north, west, south and east!

Sadly the mast is now a wreck with parts fallen off, but there is an ongoing plan to have it restored.

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