Sunday, 4 May 2014

Cyril Tawney - Thats what its like In the Navy

An annual event that celebrates the passage of my years is ANZAC day – 25th April.  Together with birthdays and Christmas and Easter, Australia day, Queen’s birthday and that day in October where we get a long weekend but I don’t know what for.  However, it is this time in April with the weather turning mild that I recall Navy days, put the medals on and meet up with shipmates that I haven’t seen for a year – and will not see for another year – thank god, what with all the drinking!  And strangely, we never involve our families, except sometimes there might be a son or daughter proudly invited because we’re proud of them or want them to be proud of us, as we spin the same old yarns of military madness.  We served, and through this ANZAC tradition, honour all those other poor bastards who got wheeled around by the military system.  That’s what it’s like on ANZAC day which we recently celebrated.  And that’s why I’ve chosen the lyrics to a Cyril Tawney song for this post, That’s what it’s Like in the Navy.  Cyril Tawney was a UK folk singer, did time in the RN and knew what it was about.

That’s What It’s Like In The Navy
(Cyril Tawney 1930 -2005)
That’s what it’s like in the Navy.
I wish I’d never joined
For a sailor mother dear,
I’ve seen some places in my time
But nothing like this here,
The girls won’t let us court ‘em
And the canteen’s out of beer,
And that’s what it’s like in the Navy.
They covered us with honours
Praises far from feint,
They showered us with medals
‘Gainst which we’ve no complaint,
But we’d rather that our Jimmy
Hadn’t covered us with paint,
And that’s what it’s like in the Navy.
And when we started rolling
We rolled an awful lot,
Some people lost their balance
Or their dinner on the spot,
But the whole of bloody two mess
Went and lost their sodden tot,
And that’s what it’s like in the Navy.
There were tough guys in the Navy
When Francis banged his drum
And chaps like Hawkin’s chewed up glass
Instead of chewing gum,
But even they weren’t tough enough
To drink Maltese water in their rum,
And that’s what it’s like in the Navy.
That’s what it’s like in the Navy ……
Cyril would have been good value at one of our ANZAC day reunions.  This little ditty reminds us that through all the tedium, the hardship, the struggle …. there’s humour that binds us – that’s what it was like in the Navy.

A challenge I set myself each year is to have at least one poem written for the boys on ANZAC day.  This year I wrote a poem called, Weekly Running, and I include it as a link to Cyril Tawney’s Navy song.  When I first set out to write about Jervis Bay and time spent on naval exercises, I thought I would write something with good old Navy humour, sort of like how Cyril and Shep Woolley do it.  However, as I reflected on days and weeks spent at sea going nowhere, it wasn’t humour that came to me.  The feelings I felt were those of the endless routine, of loneliness, boredom and of wasted time ………… while others were out in the world enjoying city lights and family life, we were Weekly Running.  And that’s also what it’s like in the Navy!

2013.  Jervis Bay, south of Sydney is the home to the Royal Australian Navy’s naval college.  The seas off Jervis Bay also serve as the fleet exercise area.  There wouldn’t be a sailor who hasn’t spent numerous days flopping around off Jervis Bay or anchored inside her clear waters.  It is such a part of life that the place is simply referred to as ‘JB’.  There are no port facilities in Jervis Bay, so with the fleet based in Sydney, ships working up or on exercise have to sail, spend a week or two down in JB and then return to Sydney to replenish.  This sailing and returning to Sydney routine is known as ‘weekly running’.

Weekly Running


Call the hands away from their weekend dreams,
Our boilers gauge a full head of steam,
Pack a steaming kit, plant a fare-well kiss,
And say good-bye to the missus,
For the refit’s done and not much fun,
Now they’ve got us weekly running,
A running, running, running,
We’re J.B. weekly running.
Send duty watch aft to single up lines,
Our shore power’s dead yet one more time,
Strike the jackstay staff, fold the Ensign neat,
And stow it away for the week
For a ship at sea is where it should be,
So they’ve sent us out this morning,
A morning, morning, morning,
We sail each Monday morning.
Give three short blasts on the ship’s siren,
Close up our special sea duty-men,
Slip the gang-way plank, clear the harbor heads
And find again the old sea legs,
For the props can turn at half astern
Now they’ve signaled we are sailing,
A sailing, sailing, sailing,
To J.B. we are sailing.
Follow up reports from the D.SOT crews,
Our guns run out on re-coil blue,
Don your anti-flash, call the fall of shot,
And rapid load the gun-bay hoist,
For the rifling’s cold and our ammo’s old,
Yet they’ve cleared us for a firing,
A firing, firing, firing,
On the Beecroft range we’re firing.
Place the upper decks out of bounds,
Our scuppers run the green seas down,
Make the lashings tight, take an extra bight,
And stow gear loose sculling about,
For the weathers rough and the seas are up,
Now we’re off J. B. and rolling,
A rolling, rolling, rolling,
We’re sick of bloody rolling.
Get shipside grey from the bosun store,
Our anchor’s dropped to the ocean floor,
Watch the greenies dib, the dustmen dab,
And stewards polish with a cleaning rag,
For rust stains weep in a wasted week,
Now we paint and we are moaning,
A moaning, moaning, moaning,
We’re in J.B. and moaning.
Chuck an extra homeward bounder on,
Our Navvi will think his charts are wrong,
Gallop up the coast, steer a steady line,
And be on the buoy at knock-off time,
For in state three, condition Yankee,
They would not make us standby,
A standby, standby, standby,
Bloody hell, we’re duty ship and standby!
                                                                                                      J.O. White


1 comment:

  1. Hey Joe, please contact me at
    I want to talk to you about poetry for the magazine. Send me your phone number and I'll give you a call.