Way aloft on a mast

Junior ratings training for the mast-manning display  at the Royal Tournament, Earls Court, 1964.

Junior ratings training for the mast-manning display at the Royal Tournament, Earls Court, 1964.

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You may have seen the piece I wrote 18 months ago about the 150ft high mast at HMS Ganges, the former boys’ training establishment at Shotley near Ipswich. I am told that the establishment, which closed in 1976, is about to be demolished and replaced with housing. But I digress.

The mast-manning was a feature of parents’ day when 75 boys scaled the mast with the button boy perched on the top with just a lightning conductor to grip between his knees.

The first time you heard the instructor order ‘first six, way aloft’ put the fear of God into most, including me!

At the Royal Tournament held at Earls Court, London, in 1964 the spectacle of mast-manning was re-enacted in the arena. Twenty-one junior ratings from HMS Dryad, Southwick, and HMS Mercury near Petersfield with no doubt some ex-Ganges and St Vincent boys among them, volunteered to climb the makeshift mast.

It had been built by Accles and Pollock of Birmingham and was 80ft high. The rigging was supplied by Portsmouth dockyard and Bertram Mills Circus provided ideas and ingenuity for its construction.

Having climbed the Ganges’s mast many times I knew how safe it was being rigid and set into the ground.

But the thought of climbing that shaking and swaying makeshift mast held in place by a few stays would worry me no end. Full credit to these lads.

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