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('Roll on my dozen')
Published By John Douglas 1997
Author's Information on the Book
This popular book, first published in 1978 and now in its third and final edition - with only a few copies left - is the personal story of the author, John Douglas, who joined in 1947 as a Signal Boy.

This is a full length book, not the usual few A5 pages representing no more than an expensive pamphlet with a stiff cover.

It has been in great demand since its first publication. There will not be another.

About 160 pages packed with details and Ganges humour, telling how it really was: cruel instructors, good instructors, boys wounding themselves to obtain a discharge, one died on jankers, another in the swim­ming pool; a townie 'oppo' of the author hung himself from a gas bracket in his bed­room on Summer leave, 1948.


The present H.M.S. GANGES was built on the Shotley peninsula as a shore training establishment for boy entrants into the Royal Navy in 1905. Apart from a break during the wars when it was used to train H.O.'s, Hostilities Only, it turned out hundreds of thousands of Boy seamen, communicators and others, ready to take their place with the best - for they were the best.

An ex-GANGES boy was a well-trained boy - or else!

The last nostalgic march-past was held at 10 a.m., four bells in the forenoon watch, on June 6th, 1976 and was attended by hundreds of ex-GANGES boys, some of them now in their seventies and one who remembered joining GANGES in 1910.

After the march-past it was "standing room only" in every pub from Pin Mill to Ipswich and there wasn't a dry eye on the Shotley Peninsula; everyone wanted to know everyone else; Which year were you there? Which mess were you in?"

GANGES closed officially on October 28th, 1976 when the white Ensign was hauled down for the very last time and now hangs in the chapel of the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook.

The 150ft mast, that famous landmark of the infamous GANGES, has now been preserved as a national monument, standing sentinel to a nostalgic and colourful past.


H.M.S. Ganges was possessed of a reputation in the Fleet that brought to the Shotley peninsula a depth of infamy, as a geographical hell hole, touched on only lightly by Devils Island and the Gulag Archipelago. My knowledge of it was, mercifully, acquired at second-hand and for which I was and remain suitably grateful.

I predated John Douglas by some years in my naval training and while Duncan Block, Chatham Barracks, was somewhat less attractive than the life style enjoyed by the inmates of Newgate Prison we became aware that somewhere up on the East coast there was another Naval training establishment that was painful to even contemplate.

Dante Alighieri's chilling phrase 'Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!' would have served eminently well as the Ganges motto. Those with a linguistic problem would have rapidly overcome that shortcoming and discovered that Mr Alighieri had never spoken a truer word than 'All hope abandon, ye who enter here'.

The shape of things to come were made fairly evident at my Own Naval alma mater where the new recruit was greeted with a large sign reading 'If I am called upon to suffer then let me be like a well-bred beast that goes away to suffer in silence'. There was nothing ambiguous about Naval training in those days.

John Douglas parades before us with fearsome clarity the memories of officers, instructors and fellow sufferers that we all met and knew. Ours were not as archetypal as his own and for that relief we can only give thanks.

As a communications 'sprog' myself my training followed the same pattern and John Douglas brings it all back with horrific thoroughness.

'The hornpipe'. I find the thought of those poor wretches being drilled into a merry little dance particularly weird. Gruesome is perhaps the word I was looking for.

The closest I ever came to that dreaded peninsula was while serving on destroyers of the North Sea Patrol sailing out of Harwich. It looked as grim and awful as it was.

Readers with no knowledge of the Naval training of those days will wonder how on earth any boy in his right mind was ever persuaded to join 'The Andrew'.

But in that perverse way of human nature those who lived through the brutal regime of H.M.S. Ganges will probably remember it with affection and even pride.

'You took us on as boys - and made us men' says the verse. The system also produced the finest sailors in the world.


Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director

Weekend Publications Ltd

John Douglas was born in Birmingham in the '30's. He joined Ganges in September 9th. 1947. He spent time there as a Boy Signalman and served ten years in the RN visiting 22 countries including several in the East Indies, Mediterranean and one or two within the Arctic Circle. Two-and-a-half years in the East Indies. 8 months in the Home Fleet, and his final posting was for two-and-a-half years in the Main Signal Office. Malta.

John has been writing professionally, songs, poems, ballads etc. for over thirty years; this is the 3rd reproduction of his second book - he has written five in all -and has written several items for radio and television.

A fluent speaker, conversationalist and story-teller he has guested over 400 radio programmes. researching and presenting some of them, including a ten half-hour series: "Reflections. a city remembered", taking the listener back to 1880 through to 1980. He had several tv spots. ten of them presenting programmes which promoted his books.

He left his native Birmingham in 1989 and lives in the converted 200-year-old village school of Penmarth. Cammenellis, Cornwall.

·         SEE ALSO: Tales of the Troggs