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I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.

The Rum Story

A long time ago in my distant past I was serving in the Royal Navy as a Marine Engineer second class on board a small frigate. At that time the Rum ration was still being issued to all ratings that were of age. Unfortunately for me, I was too young at the time, yet I was old enough at the age of eighteen to be issued with the beer ration of two cans a day.

The drinking of this Rum was like a sacred ritual always held at dinner time along with lunch. Anyone who was underage was totally banned from the mess square1 as this was the area where the Rum was served and indeed consumed. It was an old custom that went along with many other traditional events that were kept alive at that time.

Amongst these customs was the calling round of an oppo - friend - who would be invited to partake of sippers - a small sip of rum - or gulpers - a mouthful of rum. If the guest was of a senior rank, he would remove his hat to show that he was there as a visitor and not on duty where rank could be pulled. I had on occasion been called round to the mess square where I would be given a sipper from a mate who was due me a favour, but had to leave the area as soon as I had finished.

The main issue of Rum was made on the Burma Way2 right above our mess, by the officer of the day and several others who measured out the amount for each mess into what we called mess fannies. The rum itself was mixed with a small amount of water, as this would prevent any one from storing it up, as otherwise it would turn sour. Any surplus left after the main issue would be poured down the drain of the water cooler (drinking point for fresh water) and witnessed carefully by the duty officer.

It was at the time when I was sitting my exams to be promoted to Engineer first class, and part of these exams was to trace and draw from memory several ships systems, such as fire main, or fuel lines. It was while tracing one of these lines that I came across this one and half inch screwed pipe which for some unknown reason was painted a different colour after it had gone through a bulkhead3. This was totally baffling as all systems were painted different colours for recognition, so I traced it. Upon completion it turned out to be the drain pipe for the very water cooler in which the excess Rum was poured down daily! So I traced it and discovered that it ran right across our deck head4 where it also had a screw joint connection.

My imagination went into overdrive as the thought of free rum came rushing into mind. I approached the mess square and posed the question to all the Grog5 where that, if I told them my plan, I would be given a full Tot every day. This was totally frowned upon at first, until I explained my full plan, after which it was agreed that I could have my full Tot daily on the condition that I drank it elsewhere and not in the mess square. The other condition they laid down was that I had to be the one who would break the screw joint and tap the Rum as it was poured down the drain up above. This was easily done with a bit of planning and a look out to give the signal from the bottom of our steps, and another who gave the sign to start.

All went well for quite some time, and I was given my full Tot every day as agreed, which left me feeling rather pleased with myself as I also had my two cans of beer every day. In fact if truth be told I returned to work after dinner rather drunk every day, but no one noticed!

Then it happened! Someone had called round the Chief Stoker, a rank that was well respected at that time, as it meant that the person had worked their way through the junior ranks. Anyway, the point was that I had not been informed and was totally mortified when I turned round, after I felt a sudden change in atmosphere, to see the Chief Stoker standing there staring at me intensely. It was a fair cop; a thousand excuses ran through my mind as to why I was standing up on a stool with a bucket below a broken screw joint draining the Rum. Yet I knew within myself that of all the people on board, the Chief Stoker was the last person who could be tricked by any means, as he knew every dodge and move that had ever been made.

It was when he donned his cap that my heart sank, as this meant he was on duty, the sudden shock along with the repercussions of my actions, left me rather weak at the knees, and I had to be helped down. My panic and worst fears however were soon put to rest, but not until I had been told to go to the mess square and be seated.

It turned out that the Killock of the mess6 had a chat with the Chief whereupon it was agreed that he would be called round every day to share in our ill-gotten bounty. I can still remember that day clearly, as the panic and fear was soothed with my Tot of Rum and two cans of beer and the understanding of a good Chief Stoker who, incidentally, passed me on my promotional exams.

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10.06.04 Front Page

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1A small seating area.2The main corridor of the ship.3A wall on a ship.4Ceiling.5Ratings over twenty one years of age.6Senior member.

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