by Able Seaman Jack Hannam

When 'Haida' was transferred to Plymouth from Scapa Flow to join the 10 Destroyer Flotilla in the beginning of 1944, all the ship's company were looking forward to be the 'first ones' getting ashore to enjoy the amenities of whatever the city might be able to produce in this wartime period.

On arrival at blacked-out Plymouth, the ship was secured to a mid-channel buoy adjacent/abreast to the Royal Navy Dockyard termed the 'Flagstaff Steps' which was a couple of hundred yards apart, ship to shore. Because of the separation distance, use of the ship's boats was a necessity to transfer personnel, stores and liberty men. There was a floating wharf attached to the 'steps' which rose and fell with the tide so those unwary seaman boarding or unloading from the various liberty boats had to be aware that it was not a simple matter of going down or up these steps! One could only mount the steps by proceeding along the wharf until one could safely mount the first unsubmerged step and then traverse to the top and on into the Dockyard.

After securing the ship to the buoy by the forecastle (fo'csle) crew and special sea-duty men were released from their duties, all hands retired to their respective messes. Much feverish activity by these off-duty men in all of Haida's mess decks where the 'Liberty-men' who looked forward to be the first 'mate lots' to experience a 'run' ashore in Plymouth.

After many nights and days of isolation in that barren place of 'Scapa' and being at sea on Russian convoy duties, to be at 'liberty' away from ship's routines and discipline was something to be relished. The feverish activity was something to behold as 'number one' (aptly called by the seamen as 'my acers'  or 'best going ashore uniform' replete with gold badges to impress the feminine gender should they be so encountered!) newly pressed uniforms were donned, shoes cleaned, showers taken. Money and burberries were borrowed from their mates by those not owning such. A lot of good natured bantering went on between those going ashore and those duty men having to remain aboard. This was often termed 'chucking it' at one another; many a good natured ribald remarks  thrown in at the liberty men's retorts!

At last, the ship's boats had been lowered, crewed and ready at the 'ship's ladder' to board the excited liberty men. The boatswain's mate came scurrying through the mess decks blowing his 'bosun's call' and making his pipe "Liberty men Fall In". Those going ashore were herded on the upper deck adjacent to the torpedo tubes into two ranks by the duty 'Petty Officer of the Day' and formed up in a semblance of  order.

However, before men of lower rank than 'Leading Seaman' could proceed, they were required to go through inspection by the Officer of the Day as so ordered by the Duty Petty Officer using a blue lighted flashlight (torch). Burberries were to be opened so that it could be seen that the 'hands' were wearing the proper uniform, shoes shined, all  'hands' properly shaved etc.. One seaman was wearing a white hat because he had lost two blue ones over the side in adverse weather. This was found excusable by the O.O.D. and he was allowed to proceed. On completion of this inspection and all hands warned of the expiration of leave etc., the Chiefs and Petty Officers went down the ship's ladder first and into the motor cutter's forward canopy. As soon as they were aboard, Leading Seamen went in followed by the remaining seamen as the cutter was loaded to it's capacity. The order was given by the Officer of the Day to cast off and return for the remainder of the Liberty men.

The crowded cutter departed from the ship amidst on-going chatter about getting off the ship etc. I was in the cutter's stern, standing up adjacent to a very eager 'mate lot' full of . expectations and in high spirits, and as he was standing adjacent to the after canopy, it was obvious he intended to be 'first ashore' !

The cutter's coxswain, brought it alongside the blacked out wharf, stopped, secured it and ordered the senior rates ashore. Before they alighted from the cutter, however, this seaman in the white cap adjacent to me, jumped ashore ran across the wharf screaming' First Ashore' and disappeared with a loud splash followed by complete silence with all the balance of the men wondering what had happened. The coxswain had a flashlight and jumped on to the jetty and shined the light on the other side of the wharf. A white hat was seen floating serenely alongside the wharf.

Suddenly, a rather soaking, snorting, wet figure was seen climbing up the steps with water running out of  all his pockets, hair hanging down forlornly. There were choruses from the onlookers as to whether he  was 'okay' etc. but he just proceeded up the steps to the wharf, then went back into the water to rescue  his cap all the time saying in a convincing manner-" I was first ashore!!"

All hands had a good laugh, climbed the steps and went off ashore. The seaman in the white cap, reboarded the cutter and returned soaking wet, back to the ship and we were given to understand that  when he went back to the ship, he showered, borrowed a dry uniform and went ashore anyway. BUT,  he was first ashore.

Can anyone from HAIDA remember who was the man in the white hat?

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