CHAPTER V

THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND THE INTER-WAR YEARS

Devonport was used at the start of the war as a base for the Western Approaches Squadron, a collection of the oldest battleships in Service. Until 1916 the centre of operations lay in the North Sea, and Plymouth saw little action.

December 1916 saw the inauguration of the station card system for regulating leave in Barracks and this system only ceased in 1972.

As war progressed, and the German U-boat Campaign threatened to strangle the life of the country, the Devonport Flotilla became very active. By September 1917 convoys were leaving Plymouth every four days for Atlantic ports, and the fourteen destroyers of the Devonport Flotilla were underway for an average of nearly half of every month.  Plymouth first received the news of the Armistice of November 11th, 1918 by wireless from the Admiralty. All the ships in the harbour blew their sirens, flags were run up and processions formed in the streets behind improvised bands.

After the war life gradually reverted to normal.  Discipline, which had been slightly relaxed owing to the influx of thousands of war-time ratings, was tightened up, and full use was made of the Parade Ground; even CPOs and POs received regular Parade Training.

War medals were issued with the fortnightly pay (about three pounds for an able seaman) in June 1921, and shortly after this a big change was made to life in the Barracks, which led to the establishment of the nickname ‘Jago’s Mansions’ for the Barracks which just survives to this day.

At this time the cooks of messes used to prepare all the food from provisions provided by the ‘Pusser’ or the canteen, and the made-up dishes were taken to the galley for cooking only. The galley lay between C and D Blocks (renamed Raleigh and Grenville in 1953).   The standard of food depended entirely on the expertise of the individual whose turn it was to be ‘cook’. Furthermore the food was often none too warm by the time it reached the mess especially as in many cases the cooks had to climb three flights of stairs to their messes.

Alphonso Jago was promoted to Warrant Instructor in Cookery on October 1st, 1911, and appointed to VIVID, where he remained as Warrant, later Commissioned, Instructor in Cookery until his death on June 30th, 1928.  Surely a record for length of time in one appointment.

The Dining Hall scheme, in which trained cooks prepared and cooked the food, and meals were served in the dining halls as opposed to messes, was Mr Jago’s own idea and it took many months of hard fighting to win approval from higher authority. The basements in Raleigh and Exmouth were turned into large dining halls and the galley was also enlarged. 

The scheme became known as General Messing and was officially approved in 1922.  It was quickly adopted by other depots and gradually by ships as well.  However, canteen messing did not disappear from small ships until the 1950s.

The advent of the General Mess System did not entirely meet with wholehearted enthusiasm; particularly as the unspent part of the Victualling Allowance was given to the mess in cash as monthly ‘Mess Savings’ and could be spent ashore. A contemporary poet wrote:

‘GENERAL MESSING’
What is it fills our bitter cup
And makes our hearts feel sore?
Why does the dismal queue line up
Outside the canteen door?
Why can’t we put a quid away
Ten bob or even less? -
O messmates, ‘tis misfortune’s sway:
The woes of ‘General Mess’
O tis not to our liking;
My wife, my only friend,
Believes I’m hunger striking
or ‘going round the bend’.
She moans for her poor hubby,
She’s not to blame, I know
They used to call me tubby
They call me Snakey now.

An interesting sideline on Jago was that he also kept a restaurant just off Fore Street.

Dhobying in the Barracks was done in one of the several basement laundries. The floor was smoothed concrete with gullies to allow the constant flow of water to run off.    Washing, except for hammocks which were scrubbed on the floor, was done in large wooden bins. Hammocks were slung in Barracks until after the second World War, all the messes being provided with hammock bars. There were also hand operated spin-driers, which were not very effective, and a large coal-fired drying room, manned by stokers keeping their hands in while ashore. 

In 1927 the VIVID Field Gun Crew returned from Olympia with all three cups for the first time and a new record of 3 mins 49.1/5secs.

On August 15th the same year, the Divisional System was introduced into the Barracks. 1928 saw the canteen converted, at a cost to the Canteen Fund of £1,700, into what is now known as the DRAKE Theatre.

Between Tuesday and Saturday of 21st/25th August, 1928, the first Navy Week was held in Devonport following the success in Portsmouth the previous year. The event was so successful that it became an annual event. £3,350 was raised from this occasion.

The mural carvings in the Wardroom Mess by Colonel Harold Wylie were completed in 1932 at a cost of £1,575.  They replaced the frescoes which previously decorated the walls, and represent notable and historic events in the annals of the Royal Navy, with particular reference to West Country Ships.

The custom of holding an annual ‘Drake Dinner’ in the Wardroom was inaugurated on 31st July, 1933. All the Flag Officers in the Port and the Mayor of Plymouth were invited to a dinner in the Mess to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada and to do honour to the memory of Sir Francis Drake and his companions in that great battle. The date chosen for the dinner was the anniversary of the sighting of the Armada off the Lizard on the 19th July 1588, taking into account the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar (when eleven days were missed between 3rd and 14th September 1752).  The model of Sir Francis Drake’s Statue at Tavistock was used for the first time as a centrepiece for the table on this occasion.  A game of bowls was played on the lawn afterwards.

It was at this dinner that the idea of changing the name of the establishment from VIVID to DRAKE was first mooted by the then Commander (later Rear Admiral) Jack Egerton.  Admiralty approval was obtained to change names on 1st January 1934, and on 24th January 1934, 3,000 cap ribbons were exchanged.

On 16th June, 1934, the new authority to solemnise weddings was exercised in St Nicholas’ Church when Commander L V Dome DSC the Training Commander was married there.

1935, Navy Week was organised officially with a Permament Port Secretary and staff, and the Family Welfare Section was established on an official footing in 1935.  Prior to this an unofficial Welfare Worker had been employed by the Devonport Depot Aid Fund.  In 1938 the ARP shelters under the parade ground were completed and the trees in Barracks were pollarded by Dartington Hall Estate Foresters in the Autumn; rumour had it that this was to prevent mustard gas clinging to the foliage!

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