Each Year, on Remembrance Sunday, I usually publish one of the Tinker's (father of dgr) stories from his little wartime memoir Bugle Boy, and so in keeping with tradition, here's another one. For those who may not have met one of these before, and with apologies to everyone who already knows this... The Tinker, who I'm sure won't mind me saying is now a very sprightly eighty six, joined the Royal Marines in May 1939 at the age of fourteeen. He was sent off to the battleships at Scapa Flow in December of that year once he had mastered 150 bugle calls, the drum and the flute, thus becoming one of the very youngest to see active service during World War Two.... and he's that little tiddler on the left on the cover.
As I have said, we were paid 1s a day. But out of this
grand sum 1s 9d was deducted and placed into an
account to be paid when you attained the age of eighteen,
so in fact we only drew 5s 3d (26p) a week, out of which
we had to buy all our everyday requirements – soap,
toothpaste, Bluebell, boot polish and so on. Yet somehow
we always seemed to finish with enough for pictures on a
Saturday afternoon and half a pound of angel cake to take
back for a feast in the evening – we were always hungry.
There were alternative ways of getting things like forbidden
‘fags’, you could always beg; but our skills were in
scrounging, we became past masters at this as we became
streetwise. The Artful Dodger would have lost the coat
off his back within ten minutes in our room. I have mentioned
before how we would wait outside the beer canteen
(we weren’t allowed in of course), and with a penny in
hand and a doleful face we would approach some Marine
and say ‘Sell us a fag for a penny’.
In barracks Royal Marines came under the Army Act,
but once on board ship we came under the Admiralty and
Admiralty Fleet Orders, so we boys were paid the same as
Royal Navy boys, 6s (30p) a fortnight; the remainder went
into your ‘account’. But even then we managed to exist
and smoked like chimneys with tobacco costing 1s 9d a
pound and we could always sell any excess. Many boys
took up skills like haircutting, snobbing boots or tailoring,
talents that had no recognized trade in the Services; but
the boy who was the only one on a ship who could cut hair
was maybe on his way to being a millionaire next year.
My other bugler, Curly Regan, and I had a ‘dhobi’
firm and as we lived in with the band on HMS King
George V we had a constant demand for clean laundry,
starched shorts and shirts every day. How we managed
this when we had no electric irons remains our secret, but
it was a lovely little earner!
When we eventually ‘passed out’ as competent
buglers, drummers and flautists our pay rose to 8s 9d
(45p) a week, as I have said, and we could really lord it up
My eighteenth birthday, my rainy day, did come – it
must have done – although I can’t remember it. It would
have been on 5 April 1943 whilst I was in the
Mediterranean and probably went on wine, women, and
song. Why leave it to earn interest; there were men out
there trying to kill us and they were very good at it too.