NOSTALGIA: No chance of being homesick laddie: you’re in the navy now!

Taken some time after 1965 here we see a mast manning display with the button boy atop the mast.
Taken some time after 1965 here we see a mast manning display with the button boy atop the mast.

THIS WEEK IN 1996: Southsea beaches miss out on blue flag

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You will have often seen me write about HMS Ganges, the boys’ training establishment at Shotley, near Ipswich, but we did of course have our own version in Gosport.

This year marked the 90th anniversary of the opening of the establishment as HMS St Vincent.

Boy sailors manning the mast at HMS St Vincent in 1958.

Boy sailors manning the mast at HMS St Vincent in 1958.

On June 1, 1927, 434 boys were relocated from HMS Ganges to make up the first Main Course.

The following June 7 the first ‘new entrants’ arrived from civvy street, just a few weeks after leaving school.

Like all boys joining straight from home, for most it was their first time away from their parents and homesickness was something that had to be overcome. It was done by being kept on the go non-stop.

The instructors could be very hard and treated the boys the same as they might have been when they first joined the ‘men’s’ navy.

Ceremonial Guard, HMS St Vincent 1964. None of these boys would have been older than 16.

Ceremonial Guard, HMS St Vincent 1964. None of these boys would have been older than 16.

Others remember instructors who were a little more human and had no intention of treating boys like men. They got much more out of the lads.

At first there was no mast, like the one at Ganges, to teach boys how to go aloft.

This was remedied in 1933.

The main mast arrived on November 1. It came from the German battleship Baden which had been scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1920. The topmast and topgallant mast came from the battleship Emperor of India.

The 1929 boy sailors' field gun teams on the playing fields of HMS St Vincent, Gosport.

The 1929 boy sailors' field gun teams on the playing fields of HMS St Vincent, Gosport.

Instead of a button for a boy to stand on at the very top there was a weather vane.

It was not removed until 1964 when, at last, a real button boy could stand to attention atop the mast on mast-manning days.

With the plan to raise the school leaving age to 16 in 1968 it brought an end to training of boys for the senior service in Hampshire. HMS Ganges closed in 1976.

The official closing date of St Vincent was December 8, 1968, and the white ensign was lowered for the last time on April 2, 1969.