They had a crossing the line ceremony but only the officers took part, we other ranks were mere onlookers.
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One morning I got up, put my bedding away, and as it was very early sat at the mess table reading a book. Another airman pushing around on the overhead kit rack managed to push my steel helmet off the rack. It came down edgeways and struck me on the head splitting my head open and caused a lot of bleeding. I went to the sick bay holding a handkerchief to my head to stop the blood running down my face. The orderly on duty told me I would have to wait until sick parade at 9 o’clock. As it was only about 6 o’clock I asked if he could stop the bleeding, and he told me to report to the ship’s hospital.
When I got there I was told that they could not do anything until I was seen by a doctor as the hospital doctors had all been up doing an emergency appendix operation in the night and were all off duty. After some argument one of the orderlies agreed to cut away the hair and gave me a gauze dressing with gentian violet jelly on it to stop the bleeding and prevent infection until I could be seen by a doctor. By this time the numbness had worn off and I was nursing a full blown headache, and I had to wait until 9 o’clock sick parade to see a doctor. When I did, he took one look at it and told me that the wound would need stitches and as he was too busy told me to sit in the sick bay on a form until another doctor was available.
At about 10:30 a squadron leader arrived and the doctor pointed to me and it appeared that this was the ship surgeon who had carried out the emergency operation. He looked at my head and asked an orderly to get the necessary materials.
The sea was very rough and the ship was pitching quite badly so he told me to squeeze in between two lockers, and wedged a chair between them and told me to sit down and grip the seat of the chair with both hands. The orderly pointed out that he had not done any stitching and would like to learn. The surgeon agreed to explain the procedure as he went along and told me that I was to be the guinea pig, and he told me that when he was going to push the needle into my scalp he would say ‘now’ and I was to grip the seat of the chair and pull down as hard as I could. I had to listen as the surgeon explained every detail “don’t push the needle in too close to the edge of the skin, otherwise the skin will tear”, “take it back a quarter of an inch or more and push gently but firmly sideways through the skin” — Now! — and I felt the needle go in. “only do one half at a time”, “don’t try to take the needle through both sides in one go” — Now! — “then gently knot the thread and pull to one side”, “don’t have the knot over the wound, always pull it to one side – it is easier to remove the stitch when the wound has healed without causing the wound to bleed”. And so on until the job was done. Then the orderly bandaged the whole of my head and I was free to go. When I went to continue my days duties I was told that I was excused all duties and my name was taken off the duty roster and for some reason never went back on. I also had a chit to prove that I was excused all duties. When I went on boat drill the following day the duty officer on my post told me I was improperly dressed because I did not have my forage cap on. I told him that the bandage prevented me from wearing it whereupon he ordered me to put it on or face a charge. I put it on and in a few seconds a gust of wind blew it off and narrowly missed being blown overboard. The officer retrieved it, handed it back to me and told me to wear it as soon as the bandage was removed, which was not until three weeks later. It was changed once or twice but always replaced, much to the annoyance of the officer.
I had been on duty bringing up meat each day to the galley. Being small I carried a whole sheep at a time, beef was too big for me to carry. They allowed me to carry veg but not potatoes. It is difficult to master the knack of carrying up a load and holding on at the same time as all the steps are upright rings and one needs both hands free to climb up. Often my friend would get behind me and push me up with his head. However once I hurt my head I was not allowed to continue doing any physical work, so I spent a lot of time playing draughts and chess with anyone else who was off duty.