-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
Autobiography of Jim Taylor
By Jim Taylor
Updated 06-May-2014

This article was written by Hood veteran and long time H.M.S. Hood Association member, Jim Taylor. It covers his naval career, to include his time in Hood. Jim passed away on 15 April 2007 after a long illness. He is sorely missed by his friends, loved ones and shipmates.

Chainbar divider

Jim Taylor, May 2005I was born at Portsmouth on 22nd September 1922. In 1934, when I was just 12 years old my father died leaving my mother as a widow with 5 children - myself and my four sisters. Times were very hard in those days and in 1935, to help out I went to the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook. I knew nothing of the Royal Navy when I entered there.

Holbrook was a naval training establishment which had opened in 1933 - just a year before I joined. Entrants were mostly orphans of ex naval and Marine personnel. The school had been formed as a sort of extension to the Greenwich naval school. I remember that I fought for top place in a lot of the lessons with a classmate called McArdle who later went on to attain the rank of Rear-Admiral. We were both particularly good at handwriting and, as our master was also in charge of the local infant choir, we spent a lot of our time copying out music for him that the children were sure to be able to read easily.

I was at Holbrook until I was 15 years and 5 months old - a typical age for boys to leave. I really enjoyed the training as every day was different and I never knew what to expect. Discipline was very strict but fair. A typical daily routine was as follows: 6.45am rise, shower and make one's bed. Then to breakfast, school, PT and swimming. There were seamanship lessons, shooting and a lot of different sports. At the end of the day was tea and another shower - we had two showers each day. We were back in bed at around 8.15pm with "no talking."

Whilst I was at Holbrook I had the nickname "Spud" but that was later changed to "Buck" - the nickname common to all Taylors.

In February 1938 I left Holbrook and joined the boys' training establishment H.M.S. St. Vincent at Gosport. There we had a similar kind of training but with gunnery thrown in as well. This was now my first paid job. As Boys 2nd Class we received 5 shillings 3d a week - approximately 41p in today's money. We were paid fortnightly and were allowed to retain 9d per week - 1 shilling 6d a fortnight in cash. The balance was paid into our "credit" which accrued into a lump sum paid, without interest, on reaching 17 years old and being made Ordinary Seamen.

We were now allowed shore leave from 2pm to 6.30pm three times a week and 1 shilling 3d per week in cash.

I left St. Vincent in February 1939 and joined H.M.S. Hawkins. There were about 40 boys in my class and after about a month on Hawkins 20 of us joined H.M.S. Hood and the other 20 went to H.M.S. Royal Oak. I joined H.M.S. Hood at Portsmouth dockyard in June 1939.

The main thing that stuck me as different about life aboard a ship was that we were now allowed to smoke - something which had been absolutely forbidden up to now. Although I was now in "man's service" life was not nearly as hectic as it had been for me in the past and days became much more relaxed easy I thought.

A big difference in the daily routine was that every morning first thing - before 7am - we boys had to scrub the decks. The ship's company in charge had sea boots but we boys were bare footed. A hose pipe was basically thrown over the side of the ship and sea water pumped over the decks until it was nearly ankle deep. The water was dark and very cold, and as it washed into the scuppers got colder still. Eventually one was left on a damp deck that was colder than you could imagine. If your toes were knocked, as they frequently were, they were too cold to bleed. This deck washing was probably my pet hate in the Navy.

As Boys we were still well looked after. We were studying and had a school room aboard. We had about two hours' schooling and an hour's homework each day. The Boys had their own mess but worked "watch about" with the rest of the ship's company. A typical day on board might be: rise and shine at 7am, lash up and stow hammocks. Wash, breakfast and clean the mess decks. Then hands to quarters, clean guns and assemble at one's part of the ship to be detailed off for one of 101 jobs. The Boys were not allowed to smoke except at specified times though I think that the regime was not so strict for the men. On a lot of occasions the whole ship's company performed "evolutions" such as streaming the paravanes or collision mats - this was all very hard work. After dinner we had school then more jobs and exercises.

Once war broke out a different regime took over. We had no sports at all that I recall during the war but we did have a harmonica band and I played in it. We could only practise when we were in harbour though. We also had runs ashore to the pictures whilst in port.

Whilst I was in Hood my action station was in the aloft director. This was right at the top of the foremast above the spotting top. What a journey it was to get up there. Normally one would have to climb up the ladders on the outside of the mast struts. These could get very hot indeed from the gasses coming from the funnels. On one occasion I remember that the hood of my dufflecoat blew down off my head and the back of my neck was singed. Of course, apart from the risk of burning there was the problem of staying on the ladder. Anyone who served in Hood will tell you how the ship pitched and rolled. I can testify to how bad that was when you were towards the top of the mast. Sometimes I would make my way up the inside of the mast struts. There were numerous electrical cables, wires and iron junction boxes in there as well as the internal structure of the mast to get around. Having arrived at the spotting top I had to get through its roof to finally arrive at my action station.

During the war ladies throughout the country formed all kinds of clubs and support organisations and made a big effort to provide "comforts for the troops." In November 1939 all the boys in Hood were given a pair of mittens and a balaclava helmet which had been knitted and distributed through these organisations. Pinned to mine was the name and address of the lady who had knitted them. All these years later I can still remember that my benefactor was a Mrs. Grant of Congleton in Cheshire. I wrote a letter of thanks to her and was quite surprised when I received a reply back from here. This led to an incident which standout out in my mind from all of my days in Hood. I was sitting in the Boys' Mess Deck when a Petty Officer Instructor complete with an armed Marine Sentry arrived and announced that he was looking for Boy Taylor. I was marched off to the Captain's Cabin - which I had certainly not visited before - terrified. I thought about what I could have done to land myself in such trouble. I need not have worried though. It transpired that Mrs Grant was a friend of Captain Glennie and, when last they had met, she had made him promise that he would invite me to his cabin for a cup of tea! I got the cup of tea as promised but was so nervous that I think I only managed to drink about half of it. Captain Glennie said that he would be interested to follow my career and in those 5 minutes that I spent with him he made me feel quite proud. He was a good man.

Shortly afterwards I was "detailed off" as Bow Boy on the Admiral's barge. I'm not sure whether this appointment was linked to my interview with the Captain or not. The Admiral's Barge was a splendid craft having a crew of about six or seven: a Coxwain, a Chief Petty Officer, A Petty Officer, a Stoker and Boys on Bow and Stern. As Bow Boy I had to ensure that the boat came alongside smoothly and had a boat hook to ensure that this was done. I was, however, not entirely free in the use of the boat hook as there was a series of defined movements to adhere to.

On one occasion I was asked to act as caddy to Admiral Whitworth when he played at Helensborough Golf course just outside Glasgow. Having landed the Admiral drove to the course whilst I was left to walk up a steep hill. I think he only played 9 holes that day as our main duty was to attend the launch of the Queen Elizabeth later that same day. Funnily enough year later my daughter and her family lived right opposite the golf course and I have often played there myself.

I also remember that the Hood was a bit old fashioned in that she did not have a proper crane. Everything that came aboard had either to be brought on board by hand or by means of the main derrick. Christmas 1939 sticks in my mind as we had lots of crates of turkeys to hoist aboard four at a time and it took half the night to get them all aboard.

Towards the end of my time in Hood whilst in dock in Liverpool one of our Marine sentries shot a dock worker (our main enemy seemed to be the IRA at that time). I was in the aloft director and witnessed the episode.

Shortly after this I was taken ill and sent to Haslar. I was diagnosed as having kidney stones. They tried various ways of getting rid of the stones but eventually I was told that I would have to go to Stoke Mandeville for surgery.

Whilst at Stoke Mandeville I came into contact with the Churchill family. The Prime Minister's daughter, Mary Churchill, was the librarian at the hospital. She had a car and I remember that she occasionally took me and two other servicemen out in it.

Whilst we were in the wards we had a local chap come around selling newspapers. He also brought around lovely Blenheim apples which he sold for half a penny each. One week Mrs Churchill came around to visit us with Lady Rothschild. I had a mate in the next bed called "knocker" White. He was a chatty fellow and used to pull Mary Churchill's leg at any opportunity that arose so he thought that he would follow suit with her mother. After they had been chatting for a while he offered Mrs Churchill and apple explaining how lovely they were and saying that he wished his wife at home was able to get hold of such lovely apples for just half a penny each. We noticed that we never again after that saw the newspaper and apple man and afterwards found that Mrs. Churchill had been donating the apples to be given out free to the servicemen in the hospital.

After I received and left Stoke Mandeville I was sent back to the Royal Naval Barracks at Portsmouth. When I was there I met up with an old mate of mine from the Hood - Albert McDowell, who had been sent to the RNB after breaking his leg. We also met up with another friend called Moody. All three of us decided that we would put in to go back to the Hood. A while afterwards we were told that our request had been granted and we went round to Mc Dowell's house for a party before we left to rejoin the ship. Between the party and leaving for the ship I was again taken ill - this time with a stomach ulcer. And was sent back to Haslar.

In 1942, having again recovered and still aged only 20, I was told that after two severe operations I was no longer considered fit for active service and was invalided out of the Navy. I knew absolutely nothing about civilian life and had to start again. But that's another story...