By Harold R. Keene

      The famous seafarer, Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar, some believe, became even more well known for the creation of traditions on warships upon the raging seas. Two of the more popular among sailors being; the  issuing of generous  portions of  “Pusser Rum” (2+ oz) every morning at 1100 (with the PA announcement “UP SPIRITS”), to be consumed or dumped by 1315. in the afternoon. In my five years of naval service, I saw not a single drop of this precious liquid disposed of it by dumping. At the Captain’s discretion; on occasions such as The Queen’s birthday or other notable events; “Splice the Mainbrace” was celebrated, which simply meant that a double issue was ladled out. The second tradition occurred on  Wednesday afternoon breaks and were known  as  “Make and Mends.”

In Nelson’s day, the latter referred to taking time to sew needed repairs to the ship’s sails and / or tending to personal clothing or hammocks.. Navy rum was identified as “Pusser,” a term which referred to official supplies for the crew. Of course, The Royal Canadian Navy when formed, became a more or less carbon copy of the British way of doing things, including both of the foregoing. This true story, while making note of the latter, emphasizes much more of the former. Not everyone received their daily issue of rum. Lower deck crew members were classified as either “UA – Under age,”    “T – Temperance,”   or “G – Grog,”    Those abstainers who decided not to receive their entitlement, were paid a whopping six cents per day in lieu thereof.  The Tot of rum had to be consumed either “neat” or with “water.”   Often, while in harbour in places like Sasebo, Japan, for supplies, refueling and taking on ammunition; the ship was rafted off a U.S. Navy vessel.  Amenities on their ships were a step up from similar Canadian ones. They had such luxuries as soft ice cream and soft drinks and a daily can of beer available.  All we had in comparison was Pusser Rum.  For obvious reasons and  only among ourselves the USN was referred to as The Coca-Cola Navy.
            During to the Korean War (1950-53); onboard HMCS Haida. on a very warm Wednesday afternoon in July 1953, Captain Dunne Lantier announced a “Make and Mend”. As the ship was at anchor off an uninhabited North Korean island, he notified  the ship’s company that shore leave would be granted   for some  exercise, should anyone wish to partake. About thirty of us rushed forth while the cutter; a 32 foot launch with a two man crew, was lowered into the water.

       In the navy, the “buddy” system was common for safety and companionship purposes. The Radio Branch of Haida, included two Leading Telegraphers; the writer being one of them. For the most part, naval messages by radio used Morse code. Radio operators were known as “Sparkers.” and their personal identity was   through the use of ones initials. In this case; DRW and HRK. The two, over a period of weeks had managed to accumulate close to a twenty-sixer of rum, hidden away for a special event. Such a happening was about to take place and HRK agreed to smuggle the contraband  cargo onto the liberty boat and was among the first boatload ashore. Poor DRW would have to wait for the next trip.

     Unfortunately, that never happened. The cutter was beached on the sandy shore and all passengers, except the two man crew, quickly disappeared, baseball bats and gloves in hand, leaving the vessel helplessly high and dry for the afternoon.
     HRK found himself in an awful dilemma!  With close to a full bottle of rum on a beautiful day, the thought of running around a ball diamond didn’t have as much appeal as relaxing with a few refreshing drinks. A quick thought of sharing with the other fourteen was ruled out, as half of the flask was not his to share. Equally important;  the risk was far too great to illegally attempting to bring the stuff back onboard.

      At the pre-arranged time of 1600, the enthusiastic shore party returned to HMCS Haida’s beached cutter and with muscle and an incoming tide, refloated the craft.  One member of the passenger list seemed much happier than the remainder. Guess who he was !!!

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