BOB HIND: ...remembers John Noakes and THAT mast-manning

Last week I asked if anyone remembered being at the boys' naval training establishment HMS Ganges when there was an Asian flu epidemic in late 1957.

Saturday, 3rd June 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:29 pm
John Noakes, right, with the legendary Shep, and the rest of the Blue Peter team
John Noakes, right, with the legendary Shep, and the rest of the Blue Peter team

About 60 boys were used as guinea pigs for a new inoculation that was being tested.

Bob Hookway tells me he was in Hawke 48 Mess.

He joined Ganges in January 1957. When the epidemic struck, about half the mess, 25 or so boys, went down with this strain of flu. However, they were not kept separate from the other half of the mess. No wonder the illness spread.

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Mast manning at HMS Ganges. John Noakes failed to get to the top but but stood on the trestletrees below the button boy.

Bob tells me they still had to attend school lessons and no-one seemed to be kept away from the lads with flu. The only place the suffering lads were not allowed was the CMG (Central Messing Galley). All their food was carried to them.

Another, anonymous, former boy says that 50 or so who had the inoculation were due to sit their boat-pulling exam but could not manage it.

• On the subject of HMS Ganges, I heard while writing this item that the great John ‘Get Down Shep’ Noakes of Blue Peter fame had died, aged 83.

At the age of 33 in 1967 when doing one of his Challenge Noakes escapades, he climbed the mast at Ganges in a full mast-manning ceremony. If you want to see it, go to

John Noakes on his way to the top - almost

John was to be the button boy who stood on the top of the mast.

He reached the half-moon stage and then climbed the Jacob’s Ladder to the trestletrees, or cowhorns as they were called. He then had to shin 15ft to the top of the mast.

He managed to get half-way, but then had to give up and slid back down to the cowhorns where, 130ft above the ground, he had to change places with another boy sailor who went on to stand on the button. Stirring material and well worth watching.

This event happened three months after I left Ganges but is there anyone who was there at the time of Noakes’s climb?

Mast manning at HMS Ganges. John Noakes failed to get to the top but but stood on the trestletrees below the button boy.

• Are there any men in the Portsmouth area who worked on steam trains and were based at Guildford either permanently or perhaps on relief?

As I have mentioned before, July 9 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of steam on the South Western Division of British Railways and events are taking place to celebrate.

Strangely enough July 9 falls on the exact same day this year, a Sunday.

A committee is trying to raise funds to place a plaque on the wall of Farnham Road bridge which used to cross alongside the chalk pit where the former steam depot was located. It is now a multi-storey car park.

John Noakes on his way to the top - almost

The main attraction of a steam engine existed in no other form of traction before or since. The crew made the power, controlled the power and used the power.

If you would like to assist in raising some funds for the plaque please send a cheque made payable to Roderick Moore at 18, Ash Lane, Newport, Isle of Wight. PO30 5LT.

I will inform you of the actual date when confirmed.

• I’ve mentioned it before but can I remind you to keep Sunday, August 20 at 2pm free.

That’s the day a memorial will be unveiled in Guildhall Square to remember 10 famous Portsmouth boxers.

Andrew Fairley, who is organising the event, tells me families and descendants of the boxers are coming from all over Britain and Ireland for the occasion.

The unveiling will be done by the current English light-heavyweight champion Joel McIntyre, a Leigh Park boy.

• There must have been several ships’ fires off Portsea Island, but back in October 1837 a ship caught fire and burned for more than 24 hours.

The 443-ton ship Colonist was en-route from London to Barbados and was at anchor off the island.

A fire was discovered and with a high wind and heavy sea the flames quickly spread causing panic.

With help from local boatmen all the passengers and crew were saved. She blazed from stem to stern and nothing could be done to save her.

She burned for 27 hours and the people of Portsmouth turned out to watch in their thousands. She was eventually towed to Haslar beach where she smouldered for several days. A large amount of silver on board was found melted into curious shapes.

• James Gardener was one of those you used to see on the seafront with a movie film camera and he has produced a colour film of summer days in Southsea about 1960.

There are good shots of the rock gardens and of people in deck chairs along the seafront all in suits and ties, even in hot sun.

The miniature railway and Children’s Corner also feature.

If you would like a copy, contact James via [email protected]. It costs £6.50.