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HMS Excalibur

History Tour: Next Location

The site of this former naval base is now occupied by the Excalibur industrial estate, although a few of the original buildings can still be seen. See also these letters from people interested in the base.

The following is a short extract relating to HMS Excalibur from a book about the experiences of rating pilots kindly supplied by the author.


Main Gate (4 Mar 01)

Rating Pilot RN - by Alan Clifford

HMS Excalibur, a Naval establishment newly commissioned in the heart of Staffordshire under the command of Captain J. Cuthbert RN and just on the outskirts of the respectable town of Alsager, had, in 1946, become alive again as a New Entry Training Establishment for training 'regular' peace- time adult sailors. It had been a Royal Marine camp during the war and ended life as a trading estate with the original corrugated iron 'blister' hut, which was the clothing issue store, still visible along with a more substantial building which was the Petty Officers Mess.

If coming from the London area, these recruits were required to be met by a kind 'fatherly' Petty Officer on the platform of Kings Cross Station. They were to be the cream of the new age RN who were going to sign on as regulars.

 

Main Gate (4 Mar 01)


Former petty officer's mess
circa 1990

The majority of these Ratings had been forced to take entry as a 'regular' into the Navy, as they were due to be called up for National Service anyway and were told by the recruiters that they would probably end up in the Army Pioneer Corps or, far worse, in the Royal Air Force, as a cook, if they did not choose this way. What was not made clear to them was that National Servicemen were being entered in parallel and that there were also officer entry schemes for which many were educationally qualified and suitable. A few of them were officer candidates ex-'Y' Scheme boys, which had been disbanded now that hostilities had ceased.

 


Former clothing store
circa 1990 (now demolished)

The fatherly Petty Officer at the station was now going to supervise the train ride to Crewe, followed by an exciting ride in a naval three ton lorry from Crewe railway station to the Camp at Alsager. Once at Excalibur, the recruit would stay for six weeks, 'locked up' for the first week until he had 'signed on' and granted one evening's leave in four days thereafter.

They were formed into classes by Branch, with a Petty Officer Instructor in charge of them and were schooled in the 'rules and customs' of the Navy, seamanship, rifle drill, marching, PT and the 'divisional' organisation. They had kit inspections and were required to keep a journal of their stay on 'vacation'. Many had been Sea and Air Cadets so, to some, the training was second nature.
Rating Pilots Course No. 9
Warrant Officer Savage was the parade ground instructor whose bark was worse than his bite. One of his favourite games was to borrow a Rating's rifle to demonstrate a drill movement and then, with great gusto, throw it back at the Rating, nearly maiming him. On occasions, it was thrown back to Mr. Savage, if the rating felt it was his lucky day. There were no repercussions, just a wry smile from him. He had a sense of humour and expected you to have one too, as anyone who has been trained at Whale Island RN Gunners School by a seaman Gunner will know.

The food was fair and a simplified 'canteen messing' system was worked, similar to that used in ships at that time. At meal times it was quite disorderly and the people at the head of the tables usually took too much, leaving little, or nothing, for the remainder. This was not the best of systems to impose on new entries with no supervision.

One of the clearest memories that clings to most of the minds who went to Excalibur, were the quite extraordinary 'runs ashore'. It soon got around the camp that, if you took a train from Alsager into Hanley on your 'run ashore', there were just dozens of pretty girls waiting on the platform to be 'picked up' and taken out for the evening.

The girls could not believe their luck to have 'sailors' on tap in the middle of England and all the sailors had to do was jump off the train, usually before it had stopped, to pick their one and literally walk arm-in-arm with her down the platform to some flea pit in town and watch a movie from the back seats. This all needed to be seen to be believed, but would probably stand them in good stead for their future encounters and could not be compared in any way to the more ordered requests and refusals for a dance made in the church or tennis club back home.
They were issued with a 'French letter' at the main gate before going ashore that seldom, if ever, got used in earnest.


Hanley Station (circa 1980)  

 


Main Gate (circa 1990)

The range of non-seaman branches, fairly representative of the Royal Navy, were at Excalibur, with the uncanny lack of Stokers. There were cooks, stewards, telegraphists, air mechanics and men with dark blue suits who walked around dressed like cooks and stewards. As soon as everyone had sewn on their trade badges the secret was out the new post-war Rating Pilot had arrived.
Excalibur was going to be their first taste of naval life.


ALAN CLIFFORD

Alan Clifford joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in Cheshire in 1946 as an Air Mechanic, which was soon followed by his early promotion to Petty Officer. He was commissioned in 1959 on joining the RN College, Greenwich, and specialised as a Survival Officer at the RN School of Survival on the Hampshire Coast.

It was during his service, both as a rating and as an Officer, that he came to know pilots who had served as ratings stemming from pre- to the post- world War II period. These contacts inspired him to research information on them, which led to a book about their lives and times.

Throughout his career as an Officer he was responsible for training air crew in survival techniques and, latterly, oversaw the introduction of much of their survival equipment through appointments in the Ministry of Defence in London and as Head of the RN Survival School. He has written three books, several film scripts and is now living in Somerset, having retired from the Navy after forty years service.

Copies of the book are available from the author at 15.00 inc p&p.
Address: Rosemary Cottage, Queen Camel, Somerset BA22 7NE
Tel: 01935 850715


Last Update: 3 Jun 06

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