The Esther Williams Wargames Trophy
By William "Sonny" Leitch, R.N.
Whilst in Japan I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki the two cities that were destroyed by the dropping of an Atom bomb on each of them in 1945. On visiting both of those cities I saw nothing of the devastation such as had been on news reels of that event, but what I did find were two superbly constructed cities with no bomb craters in sight such as there was in Glasgow, London, Devonport, Southampton and else where in Britain, so in the jargon I had to ask myself, "What was this all about that I was witnessing with my own eyes".
When we left Kure, we were at sea on exercise with other United Nations ships for a fortnight, and then called into Pusan, Korea, from there our destination was a special one it was to Tokyo where we were the first Royal Navy Destroyer since the end of World War Two, to enter that harbour and tie up alongside the quay there. From the time of entering the harbour at Tokyo the ship was surrounded by motorboats and launches loaded with people waving and photographing the event, as we came alongside the quay the news media were there with their newsreel cameras and reporters all jostling for position at barriers set up on the quay where there was a brass band playing, the civic dignitaries were also gathered there waiting for the ships arrival.
As soon as the ship was secured to the quay the dignitaries were welcomed aboard and escorted to the wardroom by officers, for cocktails after which they were taken on a tour of the ships upper decks and armament. Included in the entourage were several news agency's with their newsreel equipment obviously arrangements had been made for that, as they were escorted on to B, gun deck and the Bofors platform amidships where they set up their equipment. B, guns crew stood too, and spent an hour going through the motions of gun drill and I was put on the twin Bofors doing the same, as groups escorted by an officer arrived on the Bofor platform, it was quite enjoyable seeing the expressions on the faces as I traversed, elevated and depressed the twin barrels sweeping the various groups. Although I never got to see any of the footage that the newsreel cameras might have picked up on, there must be some classical stuff out there on film, in archives, that if seen would be hilarious.
In the late afternoon as the last of the visitors were leaving the ship, seamen from the duty part of the watch were called to muster as the USS Orleck, was coming alongside of the Consort; noticeably she was flying a pennant from her masthead that depicted something that looked like a mermaid. Once secured alongside of us with a gangway and a land power line set up between both ships amidships. Stationed there onboard the U.S.A destroyer, was a bosun, a bosuns mate and a sentry, from them we learned that the Pennant flying from the mast head was known as the "Esther Williams" pennant, Esther Williams of swimming and film fame and as we learned, along with it there was the Esther Williams, Trophy, which was kept in the officer's wardroom of the ship, both were part of a war games competition.
By flying the pennant this showed that a boarding party from that ship had secured the pennant and trophy, it was also a signal being sent out in the form of a challenge to boarding parties of other ships. While explaining all of this in their American drawls they were laying it on about "Esther Williams" being "The best god dammed swimmer in the world". Well I wasn't for accepting that, especially when I new three world class swimmers from my home town of Motherwell, in Scotland, Nancy Reoch, Cathy Gibson, and Nan Ray, the latter was one of my class mates throughout our school days at Craigneuk Public School.
As stated I wasn't for accepting any of that Yankee bragging as that's all it was, "The ship with the best god-dammed boarding party, with the trophy of the world's best swimmer".
When I went for my tea I went brooding, as far as I was concerned I was on the world's best ship that bore scars from Yank manufactured munitions, my ship had a history with battle honours, the thing tied up alongside had a film stars pennant flying from its mast head, Esther Williams as a swimmer was a duck paddler in comparisons with the swimmers I new like Nancy Reoch, Cathy Gibson and Nan Ray, who in all probability had relatives who worked in the industries of our area that brought H.M.S. Consort into being.
After tea as my mates were getting ready to go ashore, I left the mess-deck and made my way up to the look out sponson on the Port-Side of the ships bridge; using the binoculars, I traced the halyard lines from the Esther Williams pennant at the top of the mast on the ship alongside all the way to where the halyards were secured on a cleat just above the main mast cross-tree's which was strange as the halyard lines should have ran down to the yeoman's signalling deck.
Still using the binoculars I viewed the overall mast from top to bottom inspecting the mast ladder and access stages on it, the cleat that the pennants halyards lines were secured too was the giveaway to part of the security devised for and guarding the pennant, that was being relied upon.
In order to gain access to the mast on any ship, for safety precautions you have to withdraw the main mast electrical fuse from the circuit box that's located amidships cutting off transmission power on the mast transmission systems, as that is standard practice known to all.
Satisfied with all that I saw, I left the look out sponson and went to the bosons wash-deck locker amidships where I dug out a pair of rubber gloves that we used when fuelling at sea or working with caustic crystals. The gloves had the advantage that they prevented shocks from static electricity.
Leaving the gloves lying behind the bosons wash-deck locker I walked along to the quarterdeck amidships and stood there talking to our ships bosun and bosun's mate. The ships duty officer and Coxswain were also there inspecting ratings as they were going ashore. The Americans going ashore were crossing the gangway between the two ships and onto our quarter deck to gain access to the jetty where taxi cabs were waiting for them. They would throw salutes at our duty officer in passing, with this nonchalant type mark of respect, Lieutenant Chatterson Dickson, the duty officer at times resembled a puppet on a string the way his hand was going up and down returning the Americans salutes.
Although all that was going on had a comical sort of side to it, my interest was in looking at the American ships mast from that vantage point, which was similar to that of the Consort's upper deck superstructure and the ships funnel, blotted from view, most of the mast, by standing at the guard rails to the port and starboard sides of the ship on the quarter deck, provided a view of the mast that would be blotted out by darkness and the concentrated lights on the superstructure shining from above and down onto the quarter-deck amidships.
With that I was more than satisfied, going back to the mess-deck I picked up the rubber gloves as all that was required was darkness to fall. On the mess-deck dressed and ready to go ashore were some of my mates, Slim Buxton, Taffy Evans and Ed Thompson, all three were trying to convince me to go ashore with them, so I made the excuse that I was going for a shower and had some dhobying to do, which was part of my intentions as well as relieving the Yanks Ship tied up along side of their bragged about pride and joy the Esther Williams Pennant. "Stuff the chewing gum and ice cream brigade that was my attitude".
By seven-thirty dressed in a boiler suit I was standing at the guard rails between the derricks of the whaler opposite the ships galley on the port-side from where I had what you might call a worm's eye view of the mast on both ships and from where it was simple enough to spring across onto the ship along side.
From there looking aft, there was quite a bit of activity amidships where under the lights several ratings were involved in a game of 'Uckers' ( the Navy name for a grown up version of Ludo) as others stood around watching the game. Pulling on the rubber gloves and stepping across the guardrail from that position I sprang the distance between the two ships.
Within less than fifteen minutes I was back on board H.M.S. Consort with the Esther Williams Pennant, tucked inside my boiler suite, having gained access to the cleat just above the cross trees on the mast I cut free the running lines of the halyards to pull it down a matter that was simple to do, while causing and leaving behind the problem for re-locating the lines to that particular pulley wheel on the Top-Mast.
Back on board Consort I hid the Pennant, with the cut halyard lines still attached to it in a space behind and between the bosuns wash-deck locker and the ships funnel immediately aft of the ships galley and put the rubber gloves back inside the wash-deck locker. With that done I made my way to the forward mess-deck picked up towel and soap and went for a shower at the same time dhobying the boiler suit and other kit.
By nine o'clock with my chores done, showered and dressed I was sitting in the mess -deck as the Bosons mate, piping on his bosuns call lead the Officer of the Day Lieutenant, Chatterson Dickson, through the mess-deck on his duty rounds of the ship. As soon as they had passed through the forward mess deck, the ritual of slinging your own hammock and the hammocks of mates who were ashore and likely to be back on board late that night began.
While this and that was going on someone would be fetching boiling water from the galley for a brew up of tea, a settling down procedure before the order of lights out being piped at ten o'clock.
Sometime before ten after leaving the mess deck I was standing amidships chatting to able seaman Ray Shenstone, and it was obvious to me, that the Yanks hadn't noticed their pennant was gone. Inwardly I was sorely tempted to go over to the gangway between our ship and theirs and shout across, "Hey Yanks, Esther Williams just dived off your mast", that temptation and thought among others was dispelled when Leading Seaman, Jumbo Collins, with his blood splattered white front stepped out of a taxi on the Quay along side the ships gangway.
Strait away upon stepping on board he had the attention, of the Bosun and Bosuns mate, with that he began shouting, "The bilge rat bastard broke my nose" "Look at the f***** blood on me" Collins parroted the same several times before looking in the direction of where I was standing, although not shouting he said loud enough, "Look Jock, me f***** nose is broken."
If Collins was looking for sympathy in calling out to me as he did, he got none and became instantly aware of it as my reply was, "To bad mate, it should've been your f***** Neck". I had no liking or sympathy for the man. As a Leading Seaman, in seamanship he was second to none but he had two traits, by rank and nature he was a bully. His inference that 'a bilge rat' broke his nose, interpreted meant that his nose was broken by a Ships Stoker.
When Collins picked up his part of watch card from the Boson, a card you leave behind when going ashore on leave and pick up on return from leave, he left the quarterdeck without further utterance. His shouting had attracted the attention of the Yanks, on their quarter deck who were then standing at the guard lines beside their end of the gangway, a position from which by looking forwards and upwards they would or could have noticed their pennant was gone but they didn't and it remained unnoticed until reveille next morning.
Sometime after midnight I was in my hammock when Slim, Taffy and Ed, came into the mess all giggly and smelling of beer and determined to tip me out of the hammock to listen to what they had been up to on their run ashore. This amidst snoring, grunts, groans, breaking of wind and moans of those whose sleep was disturbed, it was nothing new to any of us and the rude and crude comments was an acceptable part of how we lived together.
Ed, had bought Hot-Dogs from a stall somewhere on the quay before coming back on board and the smell of onions as we sat round the night light wolfing into them was the cause of several comments, with the crude but jocular replied threat to some part of ones anatomy being introduced to a Hot-Dog. Others returning from shore hadn't missed out on bringing back Hot-Dogs and they in turn were sitting by and around the night lights on the mess going over their run ashore in Tokyo .
When Slim, Taffy and Ed, climbed into their hammocks they new nothing of what I had been up too. They did however know that Jumbo Collins, returned from shore leave with a broken nose courteous of one of our Stokers.
In the morning as reveille was being sounded over the Yanks ships Tannoy System, the Bosons call on Consort's system got drowned out by the action station type system used on American war ships. The off and on hooters type system was being picked up and transmitted through the open microphone in use by ships boson in piping reveille.
With the added sound to reveille that morning, it made the Duty Petty Officers job easy as almost everyone was out of their hammocks and on deck as he came into the mess deck intent on pulling and nudging at hammock's while shouting "Come on then, wakey, wakey, rise and shine," this was a ritual by all duty Petty Officer's, when the ship was in harbour, but not at sea, owing to the difference between sea duties causing a difference with regard to the off and on times, of different watches.
With the news brought on to the mess deck by the Duty P.O and others that had gone on deck to see what the ruckus was, it quickly became clear that the American ship along side had been boarded and relieved of a pennant. That more or less satisfied the curiosity as to what the noise was all about and beyond that it was insignificant. During the routine of lashing and stowing hammocks, getting washed, shaved or showered, then breakfast, topics were on the run ashore and what Tokyo was like, the consensus being, the Yanks, had it sewed up as a Port of Call and spoiled everything with and by their Big Buck spending spree's.
By a quarter to eight the mess deck was clearing with everyone making their way on deck sitting or standing about waiting on the call for hands to muster at 0800 hours. On board the American ship the situation was similar but for the fact that there were Officers and ratings mulling around on the signalling deck and quarter deck.
All of us from the mid-ship party were gathered and standing round the wash-deck- locker as that was our muster point and from a couple of the Yanks, we learned that their officers on the signalling deck and quarter deck were waiting to see which of the American ships in the harbour was about to strike the Esther Williams Pennant.
That's when I let my mates know that the Yank's, were looking in the wrong direction, as the prized possession they were looking for and expecting to see being struck from the mast of another ship, was, with its cut halyard lines still attached, lying between the locker we were standing by and the ships funnel.
This find, was witnessed by all of us, of course, and we made a display of it that was very noticeable to the Yanks, before we handed it over to Petty Officer, Tug Wilson and the ships Buffer, John MacLeod, who along with Lieutenant, Chatterson Dickson, enquired of the Duty Officer, on the American ship if the pennant found on our ship had came adrift from theirs, after acknowledgment, the pennant was handed over much to the relief of those on board the American ship.
Sometime after eleven o'clock that morning the American ship slipped from alongside of H.M.S. Consort, and went to a mooring buoy in the harbour, the problem of raising the Pennant to its position on the masthead went with it.
(Courtesy of William "Sonny" Leitch, R.N.)
Orleck DD-886 seen in Orange, Texas in 2008 after Hurricane Ike.
Photo © 2008 Michael W. Pocock
and MaritimeQuest.com all rights reserved
Page published Feb. 8, 2009