Monday, 30 December 2013

Cyril Tawney - Naval ditties, The A25 Song

I’ve noticed that a couple of my posts featuring naval ditties sung brilliantly by Shep Woolley or Cyril Tawney attract a bit of interest (probably from ex-RN’ers around the world).  Anyway, where I think there might be interest I will endeavour to please, so here are the words to another favourite Cyril Tawney Navy song.  It’s called, The A25 Song.  As with most of Cyril Tawney’s work, the song is ‘old’ Navy – fledgling days of the Fleet Air Arm and set in the struggle of WWII.  Cyril did thirteen years in the RN (joined at 16 years old), but had talent and left to do time as the longest serving professional folk singer in Britain.

The A25 Song
(Cyril Tawney 1930 -2005)
They say in the Air Force a landing’s OK,
If the pilot gets out and can still walk away,
But in the Fleet Air Arm the prospect is grim,
If the landing’s piss poor and the pilot can’t swim.
Cracking show! I’m alive!
But I still have to render my A25.
I fly for a living and not just for fun,
I’m not very anxious to hack down a hun,
And as for deck landings at night in the dark,
As I told wings this morning, blow that for a lark.
Cracking show!  I’m alive!
But I still have to render my A25.
When the batsman gives lower, I always go higher,
I drift o’er to starboard and prang my Seafire,
The boys in the gofers think that I’m green,
But I get the commission from Super Marine.
Cracking show!  I’m alive!
But I still have to render my A25.
They gave me a Barra to beat up the fleet,
I shot up the Rodney and Nelson a treat,
I forgot the high mast that sticks out from Formid….
And a seat in the gofers was worth fifty quid.
Cracking show!  I’m alive!
But I still have to render my A25.
I thought I was comin in high enough but,
I was fifty feet up when the batsman gave ‘cut’,
And loud in my earphones the sweet angels sang,
Float, float float, float, float, float, float, float, float,
Cracking show!  I’m alive!
But I still have to render my A25.
The moral of this story is easy to see,
A Fleet Air Arm pilot you never should be,
But stay on the shore and get two rings or three,
And go out every night on the piss down at Lee.
Cracking show! I’m alive!
But I still have to render my A25.
I have seen versions of The A25 Song where there are up to seven additional verses, but this is the one I have on CD.  For the uninitiated, an A25 is an accident report form; a Barra is a type of aircraft; and ‘Formid..’ refers to HMS Formidable, an Illustrious class aircraft carrier in commission during WWII.  The times I read this song, it makes me feel how quickly we distance from actual experiences and recollections of what we once knew as familiar technology and methods.  Very soon, the people of a time won’t receive that feeling of how it was and what it was like.  That’s why it’s important for poets in the present to capture and preserve observations, emotions and experiences of our time, no matter how mundane.

I use a poem of mine titled, ‘Nirimba’ as the link in this post.  It’s a Fleet Air Arm link.  I was totally unaware of the history of ‘HMAS Nirimba’ when I first joined the Navy and that establishment to undertake my three and a half years of trade training.  We had joined the Navy to see the sea so why were we being bussed inland, miles from any water, to an abandoned airfield west of Sydney?  The Navy’s hold on an inland aerodrome went back to the second world war when the British Pacific fleet used the RAAF facility (Schofields aerodrome) as a maintenance base for their Fleet Air Arm (a Mobile Naval Air Base – MONAB).  At that time, it was commissioned as HMS Nabstock.  After the war, the RAN set the base up as their apprentice training establishment (RANATE).  In my poem I try to go back and capture ‘Nirimba’ and the beautiful innocence of our young time when we were Naval Apprentices.  Soon, there will be too much distance for anybody to feel how it truly was or know what it was like.  The Navy’s ‘Nirimba’ decommissioned in 1994 and the facilities handed on to the Education Department to become a college precinct in western Sydney.

2011.  HMAS Nirimba was the Royal Australian Navy’s apprentice training establishment from 1956 to 1994.  It was located at Quakers Hill in Sydney, miles inland on the site of a fleet air arm base from the second world war.  Apprentices spent three and a half years (seven terms) at Nirimba before going to sea.  A lengthy time by today’s terms to develop a unique culture.  I was an apprentice there from January 1969 to July 1972.



Go back,
way, way back,
  before the Richmond line was electrified,
    before Parklea,
      before muppets, before round rig,
when Bruno was the bouncer at the Blacktown RSL,
  and the Robin Hood was out of bounds,
before Facility 12,
  before purpose built brick buildings
    replaced corrugated iron and concrete floors,
      open ablution blocks left over from the war,
bucket and pogo stick laundering,
before rough play became bullying and bastardization,
  when character guidance was still taught,
    debutante balls with white gloves,
      cardboard detachable collars and crisp starched shirts,
Look up, look up! Don’t look down,
  there’s nothing on the ground,
    one day you may find,
      you have to square off and show you are the better man,
and some of the old salts still remembering,
modeled it on the British,
with an emphasis on pride,
loyalty, example, perseverance, guts and heart,
  Saturday morning working parties,
    winter afternoons on sporting fields,
     assembled under patron explorers,
Bass, Banks, Stirling and Tasman,
Dampier, King, Bligh, then Cook,
  where cheers went up for service,
    for division, for term, for hut
     for being a part, and the love of life,
when attendance at Sunday service was compulsory,
and lingering, longing looks,
upon Chaplain Rossier’s daughters,
  when rejection hurt,
    before free love,
when local schoolgirls were bussed in to cinema dances,
no alcohol, no drugs and strict ten o’clock finishes,
  before videos, before computers and personal television sets,
    competed with the focus and jibes at Mr Marks movies,
clacking mechanically through projector sprockets and guides
reel changes, jams, burnt celluloid and missing cinemascope lenses,
  and the cinema, the cinema the central point,
    when warrants were read from the steps,
to the prejudice of good order and discipline,
and a boy could get fourteen days in Holsworthy prison,
or seven days MUPs for silent contempt
  and a man’s morals were measured in his performance review,
    and Mrs Clarke knew every boy’s name,
      looking eagerly and expectantly for mail,
back when folk packaged parcels and wrote letters, cards
for which waiting taught virtue of patience, and receiving
was something held to carry treasured
in a private corner of a cheap wood ply locker,
  kit musters, cleanliness and inspections
    when liberty men presented at the main gate
     before cars,
      before civvies
shaven hair, blue blazers and private school pocket rig
uniforms massing down Quakers Hill road on foot
when that was still a brisk walk in the country
and a full weekend and freedom tasted sweet
released early from Friday workshops and classrooms
divisions and gunnery jacks with red faces
Look up, look up!  Don’t look down,
  there’s nothing on the ground
    look me in the eye, stand tall!  With men
who believed pride and confidence, something
having to be yelled into a boy,
  before economies and efficiencies argued
    and a seven term investment
      seemed not too long
        to have to wait for return
and it was mind, body and soul to be fed
  before R & Q, before outside catering
    when tables were always laden with generosity
fresh bread, unopened jars, clean butter, and
canned herrings in tomato sauce
take all you want, eat all you take
  you have to be fighting fit, to be fit to fight
when Sister Hazel practiced a brand of military nursing
based on the Crimea, when PTI’s were still feared
and leather soled boots struck at the double on roadways.
Look up, look up.
  don’t look down.
nothing on the ground, anymore
  nothing on the ground
    .... anymore.
                                                                   J. O. White

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