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    • Royal Navy in the 70's

      Attachment 252Reading other peoples blogs about hospital visits and out patients etc reminded me…………… When I was in the Royal Navy and stationed at the air base at Portland in Dorset, known then as HMS Osprey, I had a dickey knee which kept collapsing on me. Went to the medical centre and they agreed, yep it was a dickey knee and I needed to go to hospital in Portsmouth for a small operation. “What is wrong with it?”. I asked in vain.
      “Stop whining it’s just a small op and it’ll be fine”. Said this Lt Com Doctor.



      Now I could either drive myself or get a railway warrant, decided to drive…..mistake.
      Anyway, arrived at the Royal Navy Hospital Haslar in Gosport at the due time and on the due day and commenced my joining routine, you always had to do a joining routine, because even in hospital you were allowed to draw your beer and tobacco ration.
      Just after lunch time I was directed to my ward and met the ward master, “ This!! Is your bed space,” he pointed to the area surrounding the bed on a wooden polished floor. “Unless you are dead, you are responsible for keeping it clean and polished!”. I made the mistake of calling him sir then and he laid into me, “Do I look like a twat, do I!”, this was screamed at the top of his voice. “Err, no ward master”.
      “Then don’t call me sir!”.
      So I was allowed to get into jammies and sit on the chair by my bed, lit up a blue liner (ciggy) and looked around, there were about forty to fifty men in the ward and all were waving and smiling at me.
      “Alright oppo, take no notice he’s a wanker”.
      “What you in for?.”
      “Got any fag coupons?.”
      “The night shift sister is a right bit of stuff”?.
      The chap on my left was in a full body plaster cast, a marine who had broken his back. At the moment he was lying face down , but they turned him every eight hours. “Gives us a fag mate.”
      So I crawled underneath his pit and put a fag in his mouth and lit it with my zippo.
      “Cheers ops, good on yer”.
      The guy on the other side was also a marine, but only seventeen years old, he had sleep walked out of a mess room window and broken both legs and one arm, “Hello”, he said shyly, “What’s up with you?”………

      In the afternoon I was selected with two others, one on crutches and one in a wheel chair to go and collect the food trolleys for the wards evening meal. Apparently everyone wanted to do this as it gave you freedom from the ward to roam around the hospital and Haslar was a very big hospital, with gardens and big open spaces. The wardmaster had gone off duty at two and been replaced by a Queens Alexandra Nursing Sister called Brenda, a bit like Ronnie Barkers nurse girlfriend in ‘Open all hours’, she was much more pleasant both on the eye and to talk to . She told me that I would be able to speak to the surgeon during tomorrows morning rounds and he would explain what was going to happen, when I had the operation, I still didn’t know what they were going to do!. My new oppos led me into the lift and down a couple of floors to reception where we sat and had a fag and chatted. The guy in the wheel chair, in his late twenties, was a submariner who had dropped a battery on his foot in one of the old diesel boats and it had resulted in the foot being amputated, but what a laugh he was, typical matelot who took everything in his stride. The other guy was much quieter and didn’t make eye contact much, he was a repeat awol (absent without leave) and the last time he had been arrested he had been before a Naval court marshal and was sentenced to 12 months detention and to be dishonourably discharged. Now naval prisons ( known as DQ’s , detention quarters) were not nice places to be, I had been part of a escort once that took a rating to DQ’s and I felt really sorry for the poor bugger. As soon as our papers were signed they had the poor sod doubling on the spot, whilst they checked his belongings for contraband, he was then stripped and given a boiler suit and a pair of plimsolls and doubled away, all his uniform and personal gear was bagged and would be returned to him on his release.
      Anyway, my new oppo told me he had tried to escape from DQ's and had fell down a flight of stairs and broken a leg, as soon as he was out of plaster he would be returned to finish his sentence plus probably an extra six months for attempting to escape! Later we hauled two large stainless steel heated trolley’s back to the ward and those that could walk served the ones confined to bed and then we all sat around a long table and ate our evening meal, accompanied by a beer and a fag, very civilised. Afterwards we same three collected all the debris and pots and returned the trolley’s to the galley, this was repeated three times a day and at nine at night for tea and biscuits , which was known in the navy as nine o clockers!.

      With our nine o clockers we watched the telly at the end of the ward, or listened to hospital radio, but mainly lusted after the nurses who went backwards and forwards more often than they needed, I thought. The Queens Alexandra nursing corps is well known and they are excellent nurses, they wear a traditional nurse outfit with a high white pleated cap like thing and join the corps the same as we join the forces. Now being in a military hospital is not the same as a civilian hospital , if a member of the staff told you to do something, you did it, end of story! None of the ‘Nurse I can’t get out of bed it’s too painful’, you got out of bed!, or you could be charged under naval law for disobeying an order. Lights out were at 1030 after the staff had changed shift at 1000 pm, another female ward sister, but a tough nut indeed. As I got in between the cool sheets I wondered what lay ahead and looked at the picture of my girlfriend in my wallet, “Hey you! new boy, turn that bloody light out”, this was shouted down the ward from her desk at the end, “Or I’ll come up and do it myself.!”
      During the night there were a few tears from the lad next to me, apparently he had only been in the Marines for two days when he broke his legs and had never been away from home before and the guy with the broken back on the other side was turned every four hours at night, which was a lengthy process.
      In the morning, guess who the ward master was? On the dot at six, “Come on get out of your pits and let’s get the place cleaned up!”. I was shown how to sweep and polish my bed space, make my bed up correctly and could then take a shower and shave.
      After breakfast, it was another quick tidy up before morning rounds at eight.
      I watched as the procession entered the ward and slowly moved from bed to bed, until they were at the foot of my bed and I stood up. The senior officer was about fortyish a Captain I think and he had two junior doctors with him plus a nurse and the jolly ward master.
      “Ah yes, you came in yesterday, everything alright?”, no time for me to answer. “Well you’ll be keen to get that knee sorted eh?”, again no time to answer. “Right O, what we’ll do, sit on the bed and drop your pants”. I did so, feeling very naked and foolish.
      He prodded my knee and drew on it with a felt tip pen, explaining to the junior doctors that he was gong to enter the joint at the side and remove a part of the bone which kept dislodging and causing my knee to collapse. “Probably on Tuesday morning, right O, lets move on!”.
      It was only Thursday now, I needn’t have come in until next Monday! They all ambled away to gather around the bed of the marine with the broken back. “How are you today?”………….

      Friday morning, usual routine, clean your bed space, shower, breakfast, morning rounds and the rest of the day to pass the time. Visitors were only allowed at weekends Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm until 4, but we got loads of ‘ hospital visitors’ , normally Officers wives dong the good Samaritan role. At eleven o’clock I was sitting in my chair in my jammies listening to the hospital radio, they were all volunteers and a couple of the dj’s were really entertaining.
      “Hello, would you like me to visit you?”. This was spoken by a rather large lady in a tweed twin set clutching a bundle of magazines.
      Taking off my head phones, “Err, no thank you ma’am, there must be some more deserving lads, I’ve only been here a couple of days”.
      “Very well, maybe some other time, bye for now”. She moved on down the ward.
      The marine in the next pit, who had told me he had broken his back in a motor bike accident for the display team, laughed out loud. “Hey wafu , was she ugly or what? you got a way with the women?”. (Wafu is a term used by the general service branch for the Fleet Air Arm.
      The submariner with the one foot, wheeled himself up to my bed, “You going out tonight Pete?”.
      “Yeah right, course I am”, I laughed.
      “No really, we get shore leave on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, me and Nobby are going across to Pompey for a few beers at seven, give us a shout if you are coming”.
      Half past seven found us on the Gosport ferry, myself , Nobby, a chef who had burned his stomach and George the submariner, in his wheel chair. This was totally un real, Nobby had bandages around his stomach and a drain from the wound to a plastic bag on his leg , George was, well just George, jolly, big hearted but minus a foot.
      I won’t go on about the night, needless to say, we had a barrel of laughs and got a taxi back from the ferry to the hospital, “You spew in my cab and it’s an extra tenner”.
      “So if we all spew it’s a tenner split three ways!, what do you reckon ops!”, Nobby was well on form.
      Anyway we didn’t and got back on the ward at half past twelve, the duty sister was the pleasant one, “You know you are supposed to be back by twelve, now get turned in and I won’t mention it in my log”.
      “Thanks sister”, I said.
      “Come and tuck me in Brenda”, from Nobby.
      George was frantically wheeling his chair towards the heads (toilets), “I think I‘m going spew…………!”


      The weekend dragged by, I went down to Gosport for a pint on Saturday lunch time with a Scots able seaman and watched a movie in the evening. Sunday morning I went down to the service in the chapel, more for something to do, than anything else. In the RN the chaplin/priest assumes the rank of the person he is talking to, so it is very easy to have a conversation and you never feel as if it is you and them…….
      Had some lunch then wandered around the hospital chatting to each and all, the marine with the broken back was a bit down in the afternoon, so three of us gathered around his pit and played cards and drank some beer, then some more beer which someone had smuggled in.
      Really glad when Monday finally arrived and I was told by the gobby ward master (who was obviously gay as a fruit cake)that my operation would be at 1000 Tuesday morning.
      Tuesday morning, no breakfast and then a pretty nurse arrived to shave my leg, when she had finished she asked me to drop my jammie bottoms. “What for?.”
      “I have been told to shave your groin, now drop em!.”
      The curtains had been drawn around my bed but heads kept popping around.
      “Go on drop em son!”.
      “Give her one for me!”.
      Sister Brenda appeared, “What’s going on?.”
      The pretty nurse smiled, “He won’t let me shave him!”.
      Brenda knelt down and reached for my jammies .
      I was not only very embarrassed, but also very excited, two ladies kneeling in front of me pulling my jammies down were causing havoc with my bits and as they were finally tugged away, everything was obvious, to say the least.
      They both smiled. “Ah! that’s why”, Sister Brenda said and before I could react she pulled a pencil from her breast pocket and rapped the offending member sharply on the end. The pain was nothing compared to my humiliation and I sat there blushing as the nurse brushed shaving cream all over my bits, “Naughty boy!“, she winked..................

      0830 and I was given one of those backless gowns to put on and told to lie face down on a trolley, zap! The pre med was jabbed into me and I was told to stop whining. I was supposed to be lying in a quiet area of the ward to calm down before my operation, but blokes were in and out giving me a puff on a fag, “Might be the last one you get oppo!.”
      “Watch out for the theatre sister, she’s a stunner!.”
      “See you later Pete!.”
      One of the nurses came along and pulled the trolley out through the ward doors, “Here we go then .”
      “I’ll take him, I’m going down that way.” This from the ward master who took charge of the trolley.
      Down two floors in the lift and along endless corridors and into a zone where everything was painted yellow, the floors, ceilings and walls, then the trolley stopped out side two large rubber and glass doors with “Sterile “ printed across them. A green gowned and masked figure appeared and reached for the trolley, “I‘ll take it now.”
      The ward master held tight, “I’m supposed to hand him over to the duty Sister!”.
      The other guy tugged the trolley, “She’s scrubbing up, let go you daft twat!.”
      I was being tugged halfway in and halfway out again.
      He eventually let go and walked off mumbling.
      “Fat git.” Said my new guardian and pushed me into the outer theatre..
      Another masked figure approached, “Now lets have a look.” The cover was whisked off and I felt fingers probing my knee.
      I tried to sit up. “It’s the other knee!.” I said in near panic.
      Another big gowned bloke appeared, “Just my junior doctor having a wee joke, ignore him.” I recognized the Captains voice from the ward rounds.
      My left hand was reached for and a needle inserted into the back of it and taped down, another figure appeared, connected a syringe. “Relax, count to ten………………..”
      “One…………………zonk.”
      I know I’m easy!!!! Was woken up by a nurse 'gently' slaping my face, "Come on Peter wake up and take this medicine, it will help you sleep"..................yep!!
      The next day. my leg was sore and incased in an ankle to hip plaster cast with a tube coming from the area of my knee cap attached to a bottle. Was allowed to stay in my bed.... wow! Doctors rounds, "This cast is broken!", they were all examining my plaster. "Get it replaced". Moved on to the next bed.
      Down to the bone setters by trolley, they started to cut off the plaster with an electric cutter, scared the life out of me. The sister in charge was from Scotland (get down Frankie) and soon had it cut in half length ways. They then did all the business and re pastered it. I had to lie there whilst it dried, the last one must have cracked when they moved me back onto the trolley. Back to the ward and put into bed by the nurses.
      "Out, get out of that bed!". It was just after lunch. "A new sister I had not seen before,"What are you doing in bed, get out!".
      So I struggled out and sat in the chair with a stool under my ankle. "Sorry sister, I thought that as I had my operation yesterday I should be in bed".
      She seemed to rachet up an index card in her brain, "Bed rest for twenty four hours, unless really serious. Are you really serious?".
      "Er no sister".
      She marched off down the ward.
      Broken back marine, who was lying face up. " Don't worry Pete, she makes up for it by having a fantsatic arse............gis a fag?." The next day I was examined on doctors rounds, "Remove the tube and send him away for a few weeks, then bring him back cut it off and draft him back to his ship". The team moved off up the ward.
      BB marine mutterred, "Leave eh Pete? take me with you in your ruckie?."
      To leave the hospital I had to do a 'leaving routine', which meant going to the pay office, stores, document office, travel office, victualling office..........all on my new crutches. Then I realised that I coul'dnt drive my car! and went back to the travel office for a rail warrant home to Birmingham.
      "But you came by car, you claimed mileage for your car!", this from a large wench (not navy) who looked at me like I was a piece of dirt on her shoe. "You can't keep chopping and changing we have other things to do you know!."
      I was tempted to tell where to stick her...............But having a go at a civvy is worse than having a go at a superior officer.
      So I got a rail warrant from Portsmouth to Birmingham New Street. "How do I get to the station?".
      No answer and she closed the hatch.
      Gathered all my belongings together in a kit bag and went back up to the ward to say goodbye to the troops.
      BB marine had the curtains drawn around his pit, I peeped in. He was as naked as they come lying on his back smoking. "I'm going to have a blanket bath Pete, sorry but you can't stay and watch, have a good leave mate!".
      The AB with the amputated foot had left the day before and the marine with the two broken legs had been transfferred to another hospital, closer to his family. The rest waved and shouted, "Have a good un Pete!".
      Then I was hobbling down the corridoor dragging my kit bag, with a tear in my eye, yet I had only met these guys a week ago.................
      The bus conductor helped me on and put my kitbag under the stairs, "Off home eh son, enjoy yourself". I offerred the fare, "Keep it lad, have a pint on the bus company!."............

      Had an uneventfull trip home, my dad picked me up from New Street station and I limped into my folks flat over a dry cleaners in Great Barr. Dumped the crutches on day one and got out and about with my old mates, now working as draughtsmen, plumbers, drivers etc; one mate took out the front passenger seat of his car so I could sit in the back with my leg stretched out, a real mate..........his wife was not impressed..........
      Girlfriend was not too impressed either, convinced I had done something stupid to get the injury in the first place,rugby or football, "Grow up", we were married twelve months later, should have taken the hint.

      The weeks passed and I was back at Haslar to have the cast removed and stayed for one week for checks and physiotherapy............. the navy dont do anything mildly. All my mates had gone from the ward, no one knew what happened to the bb marine, I hope he made it?
      Then I was released back to my unit, which was Portland in Dorset, I managed to drive my car back. First Monday on duty, I had a call from the diving officer, " You have not dived the qualifying minutes for a ships diver this quarter and your dive pay has been stopped".
      "But I have been in hospital with a damaged knee cap Sir.".
      "What do you want to be a patient, or a diver?."..........................welcome home
      Comments 1 Comment
      1. purple's Avatar
        purple -
        Funny reading, sounds like it should have been published as a short story in a magazine.