Bill Brown’s Memoir - A Night Ashore
In Chapter 7 of Bill Brown’s service memoir he slips into some Navy jargon when reminiscing about a ‘run-ashore’ to the fleshpots of Troon.
Washed and brushed and dressed in our regulation RAF uniforms, Franks and I headed for the embarkation point to board the Liberty Boat for Troon. Translated that meant we went to the transport to pick up the 15 cwt truck, already occupied by a couple of Naval Officers who had very obviously been to Troon before. They had very efficiently prepared and produced a chart of the more interesting spots in town, obviously Navigation Types.
Troon was a very pleasant little seaside town with a goodly proportion of attractive young ladies who were, we were assured, by our Senior Service companions, all in desperate need of comfort and support and rescue from the depths of despair and depression, to which this dreadful war had dragged down to and, of course, it was our duty to offer succour and comfort to those poor lassies.
The driver, or should it be Coxswain, of the Bedford truck seemed quite familiar with the Liberty Boat routine, because without any instructions or directions we were driven to a very nice and pleasant looking hotel on the sea front road, which, apparently, boasted of a well stocked bar, a rare occurrence in those war time days of rationing. We disembarked from our Liberty Boat and trooped into the bar, a few pints being a necessary prelude to visiting our ultimate destination, the local dance hall, just a stones throw from the sea.
Over a few pints we were offered a few words of wisdom and advice from our companions, which consisted mainly of the reactions of various young ladies to our harrowing descriptions of the hard and lonely life experienced by Servicemen. A number of names that we were likely to meet were trotted out, accompanied by a brief description of the bearer of the particular name, “------ avoid her at all costs, she has no compassion, she is looking for a husband, be very careful, she needs a lot of persuading and so on.” These names were apparently regular visitors to the Dance Hall and it was obvious that a not inconsiderable amount of research had been carried out by the Senior Service. We sank our beers and made our way to the Dance Hall. it was a pleasant building standing apart from other houses or the like, although a row of houses were built about 100 yards away overlooking the beach.
We duly paid our half crown entrance fee, obviously a cut above the normal run of the mill Dance Halls, where the local hop was about a shilling. We hoped the quality of the females who frequented the place were of a similar status. The band was playing a Fox Trot when we entered the hall itself and so for a few moments we surveyed the scene. A sprinkling of civilians were scattered around the walls, also some Army Officers. “Don’t worry about the Brown Jobs” advised one of our companions, “we Navy types act like honey pots to a warm of bees to these lassies, just can’t resist us”. A pause then he went on, “you chaps should be all right tonight, they haven’t seen many RAF uniforms around, so no doubt you chaps will interest them no end. But make the most of it because they will come back to the Senior Service when the novelty has worn off.”
The dance number finally ended and the ladies were escorted back to their chairs by their partners. “Follow me”, a quick order from one of our guides. He made straight over to a gathering of some six very attractive females – at least he had been right in his pre-dance briefing session at the hotel bar. However, they did not appear to be suffering from any advanced symptoms of despair or wallowing in the depths of depression and, although I would have liked to think that the arrival of the Royal Air Force had immediately had the effect of raising their morale, I had to think that the claims of the Navy of the distress of the young ladies of Troon were a little exaggerated. They were all extremely level headed young ladies and I fear that the Navy’s description was tinged with a bit of wishful thinking.
We stood around for a few minutes chatting until the band struck up again and we just grabbed the girl in front of each one of us and hustled them on to the floor before the Brown Jobs and a few civilians were able to stake their claims. My dancing was not my strong point and I think my companion was more than pleased when the band had finished the number and we returned to the chairs around the walls. I am sure I must have crippled her for life, or perhaps not quite that long.
The evening eventually came to a close and having managed to retain our initial partners we now had to say our goodbyes but had to wait for our Navy pals who seemed to have disappeared somewhere.
The Navy eventually reappeared having, through being familiar with the Dance hall, been able to say their farewells in rooms and other out of the way places we rookies had yet to discover. Surprisingly, my partner, who I was sure I had damaged for life, agreed to meet me again on one condition, that I met her on another night at a different rendezvous where she would take me in hand and would try to teach me the rudimentary steps of the Fox Trot and the Waltz. Oh well, perhaps being completely dance illiterate had it’s consolations.
However, such day dreaming was pointless because, as I later found out, our visits to Troon would be very few and far between and appointments made were invariably cancelled due to the exigencies of Service. It was, of course, extremely inconvenient but it had its very useful side, especially when a young lady was becoming a little too attentive, a condition suddenly surfacing when said young lady suggests that she would like you to meet Daddy and Mummy. It was then that alarm bells began to ring furiously and you realised that exigencies of duty were paramount. No matter how painful it was to have to turn down the invitation to meet Daddy and Mummy, these sacrifices had to be made. Your King and Country needed you. On the way back to camp it was realised that the French Foreign Legion had so much more to offer than was immediately apparent to the casual observer.
But, in all fairness, that phrase was substantially true. As our course progressed and training sessions just carried on, no matter what day of the week it was, plus exercises in the field, dummy runs and landings and so on, took up most of our time, including weekends. The war did not recognise such civilised activities as rugby on Saturday afternoon and the celebratory session in the bar afterwards, nor did it take into account summer week ends on the local village green with the Vicar bowling his googlies or the Blacksmith knocking up a mighty six with the ball finishing up in the Vicarage dining room. Every day was now the same, it was becoming difficult now to know which day of the week it was.
From now on, most weekends were spent under canvas. The weather was generally favourable and in June a warm sun bathed the lovely Scottish countryside with its wonderful warm hearted people. Some of the magic evaporated on those weekends when a period of torrential rain coincided with those camping weekends. Those warm, sunny days of June and July were apt to suddenly turn to wet and windy weather and with everything sopping wet and nowhere to dry wet clothing, minds were apt to turn to other more exotic places, such as lazing on a palm fringed beach with an attractive and friendly young lady beside one, gently sipping some cold drink followed by a dive into the lovely blue sea lapping the sandy beach.
Oh well, let’s get on with this bloody war and return to something like those halcyon days of the twenties and thirties boating on the upper reaches of the Thames, gentle trips into the countryside, camping in the almost unlimited beauty spots of this dear old Country of ours – I wonder just how long we would have to wait to find out if we can ever return to those times.