-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
I Was There! Where? The Autobiography of Alec Kellaway
by Alec Kellaway
Updated 06-May-2014

We are delighted that H.M.S. Hood veteran and H.M.S. Hood Association member, Alec Kellaway, has been generous enough to allow us to publish the complete text of his book, 'I Was There! Where?' which he wrote and typed himself.

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My Thoughts on the Royal Navy

The Royal Navy to me was a great institution, from a young person who had lead a very simple, sheltered life there was a great transition into a fast hectic life were one had to be relied upon and had to rely on others. It was no wonder that the first period on enrollment was given to learning about obeying orders. In this all new entries came under the strict regimentation of Gunnery Instructors, these instructors were very skilled in that all orders given were clearly understood and instantly obeyed, a very necessity in war time

After eight weeks with the Gunnery Instructor, the class of us who were 2nd class stokers then came into a more relaxed regime, there was a more intensive emphasis on mechanical training though there was still the need to obey orders.

That was the start, but what about living with people, being of a small family of four to living in an area where one has to eat, sleep and spend off duty hours with perhaps twelve or more may have appeared daunting, but it was surprising the ease I settled in. It was said to me on enlisting “That there is nothing wrong with the Royal Navy, its the people in it that could spoil it", this could be a fact if people in charge exerted their authority beyond the limit

Living with men in either small or large mess areas can be very stressful or endurable, though some people will accept what they have enlisted for others will bemoan their lot and will be forever grousing, their attitude will effect many others.

I found in my early days that officers appeared to consider they were aloof from the lower deck given to presenting orders but not communicating in a friendly manner this was instilled in them from their early days of training when they were cadets. However, in the early days of WW II there was an influx of officers either Royal Navy reserve or Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve, these officers coming from civilian occupations were more adapted to working with and along side personnel, therefore, were more communicative, they would talk to people not down to them

The provision of meals in the navy was varied, in naval establishments all meals were prepared and cooked by enlisted cooks, likewise on large ships. I do not think I could fault this system. On destroyers the preparation of all meals was left to the members of each respective mess, the prepared meals taken to the galley and cooked by enlisted cooks. In this system it was left to the talents of mess members to give some variety to meals – sometimes a hopeless situation- but we survived. When it came to the smaller craft, meals provided could be a hit or miss affair the crew had to rely on the talents of one of the crew who would volunteer for this task! We survived.

I would say that the navy had excellent medical facilities, establishments and cruisers, along with the larger ships having the facilities to carry out surgical operations, on the smaller vessels the Coxswain was qualified in first aid, though when WW II started destroyers did have sick berth attendants who were very proficient and as the war went on most destroyers had surgical officers. The navy did ensure that all personnel had good dental treatment having excellent dental surgeons on the establishment list.

Living space on all ships was limited it is surprising how it was possible to get two pints in a pint pot. A small area about the size of a medium bedroom would be the living space for six to eight people. It has always astounded me that being aboard a ship with over a hundred crew for many months that one only knew familiar faces, I served on several ships and many years after leaving the navy I would be in conversation with people who were strangers to me only to find that we had served on a ship over the same period

My considered opinion of the Royal Navy is that it is a well organised service that has served my country with great dedication over many centuries and I can only say that I enjoyed my twelve years plus and regretted leaving, which was my choice. The greatest differences I found on enlisting was that I had to do the washing and repairing of my clothes chores that were every day routine to my Mother, but with the guidance of shipmates who had served more time in the navy than me I soon learned to cope. One aspect of the navy placed great emphasis on cleanliness and tidiness, one soon took this in one’s stride and this habit lasts forever.

Having been in many troubled areas during my service days I consider that the greatest and most persistent danger was the mountainous seas, they were relentless, though on destroyers and smaller vessels, which sustained heavy damage time in dockyards for repairs, did give the crews unexpected leave.