Tales of Royal Yacht Britannia sailors  – Retro

Mess deck, Royal Yacht Britannia - hammock rails running from bulkhead to bulkhead across 8 Mess. Photo: John Stockham.
Mess deck, Royal Yacht Britannia - hammock rails running from bulkhead to bulkhead across 8 Mess. Photo: John Stockham.

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My remarks about sleeping in hammocks was seen by former Royal Yachtsman John Stockham who tells me that hammocks were still in commission on HM Yacht Britannia well into the early 1970s.

The doyen of the class, a Maunsell LN class (Lord Nelson) stands with an exhibition train. Picture: T. Bye collection.

The doyen of the class, a Maunsell LN class (Lord Nelson) stands with an exhibition train. Picture: T. Bye collection.

John said: ‘Just a slight correction to your mention of hammocks.

‘You stated that hammocks went out of service in the late 1960s. Well, I left HM Yacht Britannia in 1971 and hammocks were still in commission on board then.

‘The picture, right, shows my old mess deck (8 Mess) where you can clearly see the hammock bars in position. 

‘There were about 25 stokers in this mess, six bunks for the old hands (me included) and space on the deck for a couple of camp beds.

‘The wide seat by the table was left as an emergency flopping station for those who failed to get into their hammock in the early hours (for whatever reason!). 

‘It was a pretty cramped environment all round. We had hammocks slung in unlikely places  – mess deck passages and the engineer's workshop among others. 

‘We looked forward to the tropics where some of us could camp out on the upper deck.  I wonder if today’s matelots would put up with those conditions?’

Thank you John, very enlightening indeed.

 My photograph last Monday showing smart cars parked outside United Service Garages (USG) in High Street, Old Portsmouth, was seen by a couple of readers who have an opinion on what we were looking at. 

Ian Heath told me: ‘I believe that the cars in the picture are Lagonda.

‘This was a very posh marque of the pre and immediate post-war era. The radiators indicate the same manufacturer for all the vehicles.

‘The nearest one is a drop-head coupe, with four seats. These vehicles were beautifully appointed with walnut and leather. The sort of car in which a rich young blood would drive his floozy to Brighton Races.

‘In fact the company went into receivership in 1936 and was saved by a solicitor, who engaged WO Bentley as a designer. Bentley was disillusioned with Rolls Royce, to whom he had sold his own company.

‘The third car is also, I believe, a drophead coupe, but I can't identify the other two.

‘Lagonda would, however, sell a rolling chassis, whereby the owner could get a coachbuilding company to body it to his taste.

‘Mulliner, Park Ward, Thrupp and  Maberley, Barker, Young, were just some of the companies of that time.

‘It may be that USG had the cars custom fitted with their own preference of body.

‘I understand that USG was started by an ex-Indian Army major around 1924. I also believe he hired cars to army officers on long leave in the UK.

‘I wonder if he also ran a high-class hire to the well-to-do of Southsea?

‘During the Second World War the company engaged in arms production and in 1947 it was bought by Aston-Martin.

‘The name is resurrected occasionally by Aston-Martin. I remember them bringing out a Lagonda about 40 years ago.

‘Even in a 1936 mono photo the cars gleam like new. I wonder if this was a publicity picture for USG?

‘Were all the cars delivered at once, or at least all photographed together after a final delivery.

‘I think there is about £7-8,000-worth of car there. Around £500,000 in today's prices!’

But Frank Jarvis does not agree with Ian.

He told me: ‘The cars lined up outside United Service Garages are Vauxhalls with their distinctive fluted bonnets.

‘I cannot define the precise models and it is no surprise to see this make as USG continued as Vauxhall dealers for at least 50 years after this date at their premises on London Road, Hilsea.’

On Trafalgar Day, October 21, 1937 a splendidly turned out Maunsell class ‘LN’ (Lord Nelson) 4-6-0 No.850 Lord Nelson, the doyen of the class, attracts admirers at Portsmouth & Southsea low level platform 5, on the opposite page. 

In fact, this was an exhibition train that became virtually an annual feature in the 1930s at this station to mark Trafalgar Day.

These static displays proved to be a tremendous attraction to the general public, and were either sponsored by a firm such as Fry's Chocolate or consisted of a selection of the Southern's up-to-date designs of passenger stock on view for the public to browse around. 

n The article I wrote about the infectious diseases hospital at Milton was seen by John Craddock. He told me about the glass screen within the Chapel of Rest in Milton Cemetery.

He said: ‘Further to your article in tonight's News regarding Milton hospital and its use for infectious diseases.

‘I believe that the chapel in Milton Cemetery has an area sectioned off by a large pane of glass.

‘This was to allow the congregation to sit behind the glass, thus avoiding the chances of becoming infected themselves.’

John has given me information on another note, regarding the old Portsmouth Airport.

He says: ‘On the corner of Robinson Way and Airport Service Road, one of the old aircraft hangers is still in situ. 

‘The company that used this building has now moved out and I've heard that the land has been sold. I guess the new owner will demolish this building, so maybe the time to take a photograph before another piece of our history disappears.’

Thanks for this info John, I will get myself down there.