by Barbara Lancey
'How Jack became Jolly' was a light-hearted exploration of the Customs and Traditions of the Royal Navy, presented by Carolyn Stait and Colin Sams.
Carolyn joined the Women's Royal Naval Service as a Wren Weapon Analyst in 1975 and ended her career 32 years later as a Royal Navy Commodore, in Command of Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde, the operating and support base for the RN's Trident Missile Submarine Fleet and Nuclear Weapons support and maintenance facility. Colin joined the Royal Navy as a Junior Marine Engineering Mechanic (aka Stoker) at the age of 16 and saw active service in Malaya, early in his career. Earning his commission as an officer a few years later, he served mainly with the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Marines, seeing active service in Northern Ireland and in the Falkland Islands in 1982 where he served ashore with 3 Commando Brigade during some of the key battles to regain British sovereignty. He finally left the RN after 36 years service.
Naval life is full of colour, humour and camaraderie – much of this enshrined in customs and traditions that have been nurtured over centuries. It also underpins a healthy regard and spirit of rivalry between the Services.
So, with all this experience we learned WHAT MADE JACK JOLLY!
Having cleverly decorated the hall with eye catching memorabilia relating to the Royal Navy, Carolyn began with a musical introduction and then outlined some of the customs and traditions of the Senior Service. She explained the meaning of many words and phrases having first invited the group to offer suggestions, which produced much laughter. 'Toasting' was, and still is, carried out daily, a specific 'toast' for each day – and, in recent years, the women's role has been included or alluded to so as not to discriminate.
Passing round a photocopied photograph of a 'Jack Tarr', Colin began to explain his 'best' uniform from head to toe, demonstrating as far as possible how it was worn and what 'Jack' did with it to 'improve' the look for when he went ashore. It would have taken quite some time to complete the process as many layers made up this particular uniform – luckily there was a more simple 'work' uniform for daily use. Colin also described some of the differences in uniform for different occasions and that for officers, including how a sword would be worn on a long hilt that dragged along the ground if dropped – this was deemed much safer than being held on a tight belt.
Finally, we were introduced to the 'rum ration'! The history behind this and its long tradition was extremely interesting, from neat rum to 'grog' which was diluted with water 2 to 1 and you could definitely sense the desire from the floor to have a taste. Our wish was soon granted, and all went away smiling!
This was definitely a presentation with a difference, and having thanked Carolyn and Colin, who very kindly donated their fee to the charity 'Combat Stress', the evening ended with the usual refreshments and friendly banter.
Look out for details of our next meeting!