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Article: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

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    A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    21 Comments by Peter Copley Published on 7th February 2021 10:21 PM
    In June 1953 I was a 10-year-old St John’s Ambulance Brigade cadet. We assembled on the Burnley cattle market preparing to march off on the town’s Coronation Celebration Parade. From behind some buildings came the sound of a drum and bugle band. To my open-mouthed amazement, a naval band came marching up the road. I’d never seen a naval band before, I was absolutely gob-smacked. Leading the band, a swaggering drum major swinging his mace. The band was the band of the Burnley Sea Cadets. All the cadets and POs dressed in Royal Navy square rig with white belts and gaiters. The base drummer wore a leopard-skin apron, the tenor drummer flourishing his drum sticks. What a spectacular sight for a young boy from the provinces. I determined there and then I was going to join the cadets and that band.

    The following year I joined the Unit a year underage. The CO said because I’d travelled 10 miles on the bus, he’d let me join at 11 instead of 12. For the next 5 years, I was a proud member of the cadets. I fell in love with the navy, ships and the sea.

    Back in the 1950s, the Royal Navy had a massive fleet of ships in reserve. The Admiralty saw the benefit of allowing cadets access to their facilities. In fact, the very reason the Admiralty changed the Navy League Cadets to the Sea Cadet Corps was that they found that the NL cadets ‘joining up’ in 1940 were half-trained. Boys who could march, tie knots, dress properly and had a good knowledge of life in the ‘Andrew’.

    I took full advantage of the navy courses available, doing 2 or 3 courses a year with them. Those were the days before the Health and Safety laws were in force. We cadets did things that just would not be allowed today, even if the Navy of the 21st century had the same foresight as they did in the 20th century. Nowadays cadet access to RN facilities and courses is very limited and not free like it was in the 1950s and the Health & Safety Regs have put a stop to many of the things we did.

    The following are some of the training courses I attended as a cadet. Mostly one week duration. All transport and victuals were provided free of charge, plus free access to all the tourist's venues in London. The days when you could just walk up to 10 Downing Street and chat to the Bobby on the door.

    Seamanship courses on HMS Starling (Captain Walker RN famous U-boat hunter) and HMS Vigo.
    HMS Drake, HMS Excellent and HMS Cambridge – Gunnery courses
    HMS Peregrine and HMS Gamecock – Air badge courses
    HMS Adamant – Submarine Depot Ship – two-week seamanship course.
    On these courses, cadets took part in pulling regattas, firing Bren guns, .22 shooting, being part of a 4” gun crew firing out to sea from Wembury Point, abseiling, liberty boat’s crew, riding on helicopters, a trip on the Admiral’s Sea Barge de Havilland aircraft, trips to sea on warships and so many other things that just wouldn’t be allowed today. What did the cadets do for me? Well, the things I learned as a cadet, stood me in good stead all through my life, at sea, in the fire service, and every year since.

    It is true to say I lived for the day I would join the Royal Navy. In 1958 I passed my educational tests, qualifying for many departments including Artificer. I attended the recruiting office in Manchester for a medical. I remember well, doing the lantern test in the darkened room. Calling out the pinprick lights. 'Red Green, Green Green, White Green,' etc. I couldn’t understand why the other boys in the room were giggling. It was because I was getting the colours all wrong.

    I’ll never forget the doctor saying, “Sorry, son, you are colour blind and cannot join the navy.” I never for one minute thought I was colour blind, I could see all the primary colours in a paint box, no trouble. I was absolutely devastated. In the 1950s 1960s, there was only one standard, unlike today there are different levels of colour vision (Colour Perception) for joining the navy', therefore, however hard I tried, there was no way I could join the Royal Navy.

    I was determined to go to sea therefore the next option was the Merchant Navy. A deckhand was out of the question so I went to the Vindicatrix as a Catering Boy. I didn’t like being a cabin boy or galley boy, so when Captain Tommy Rowe (MV Dartmoor – Runciman’s) offered me a job on deck, I jumped at the opportunity. I was living in a fools’ paradise as I couldn’t get past the shipping federation doctors’ colour vision test to become an EDH.

    What to do about it? A deckhand on the trawlers doesn’t need to pass a colour vision test – so off I went to serve on the Fleetwood trawlers, a deckie-learner, gutting fish, sorting fish, shovelling ice, and boiling livers. I didn’t much like that either. The radio operator suggested I go to the radio school in Preston, qualify with a ‘Special’ licence for coastal waters and trawlers (a 6-month course) and come back on the fishing boats as a radio operator. I attended the college in Manchester and qualified with a PMG any gross tonnage. Although I did return to the trawlers, I later went back deep-sea as a ship’s radio officer.

    How did I manage to join the Fire Service, being red-green colour blind? Well, that was a piece of luck. Dr Sinton, the police/fire service doctor, asked me what I did before? When I told him, I’d been a seaman in the Merchant Navy. He said enthusiastically, “So was I. I was a ship’s doctor during WW2.” We reminisced about life at sea, When I failed the Ishihara tests, he apparently ‘forgot’ to enter that fact on my medical certificate and for the first time I saw the words ‘colour vision normal’ Funny thing when I attended the same doctor for my HGV medical, he ‘forgot’ again to check my colour vision. Thank you, Dr Sinton. I can say now in 29 years in the service my colour blindness never affected me once.

    It’s a fool who goes to sea not being able to distinguish the red and green buoys, however, on my boat, I learned to recognise most of the buoys in the Irish Sea by their flashing sequence and my wife or crew spotted ships lights for me. Besides God gave me 20/20 vision and I can see red lights.

    When I left the sea, I re-joined the cadets as an adult (Lt (SCC) RNR) and spent 20 years teaching kids, radio procedure, sailing knowledge, basic navigation and adventurous training, etc. Sea cadets nowadays are not allowed to be taught anything aggressive like warfare. In the early days, we got away with murder, taking kids sailing, climbing, hiking, camping out in the Scottish Glens, without any qualified staff. After the Lyme Bay tragedy, the cadet forces clamped down on cadet activities, forcing staff to become qualified in every activity carried out. As a father of 4 children, I would not like any harm to come to them by the actions of irresponsible staff. However, with kids being wrapped in cotton wool today and staff having to be qualified to take the cadets on a ramble around the park, it has curtailed a lot of activities, fun, excitement and adventure. I saw this first-hand as the Civilian Chairman of 2447 Squadron Air Cadets, dozens of kids wanting to join the cadets, only to leave after a couple of weeks because they were bored with the classroom work and having to pass exams before they were allowed to do anything different or exciting. The boys and girls thought it was just an extension of their schoolwork. Plus, the staff’s unwillingness to get themselves qualified didn’t help.

    Can you imagine today, a 15-year-old recruit at HMS Ganges, standing on top of a 140-foot mast? Standing on the ‘button’ no bigger than his cap? And nothing to hold onto except the lightning conductor between his knees! I think not! The H&S police would have an apoplectic fit.

    What do members think about rules and regulations and Health and Safety issues. How do you think this will affect our children’s future? What do you think about the armed forces cutbacks to cadet activities, depriving kids the same facilities we had in the 1950s. I think it is very short-sightedness on their part, getting kids off the streets, off their iPads and out of their bedrooms and joining the sea cadets, army cadets or air cadets.

    I’m a firm supporter of the H&S@WA, you don’t want to get killed on a building site or get asbestosis from blue asbestos, and while I was at sea on the trawlers there was no such thing a ‘Watch below’ if you were onto fish you worked non-stop, hour after hour, men literally falling asleep standing on their feet and there were many accidents to exhausted trawlermen.

    Also, how have members overcome their disabilities, such as colour blindness, poor eyesight, asthma, etc. that deprived them of a job they wanted to do?

    PC710198.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    Very interesting Post Peter thank you.
    Hope that there will be some good responses to your last Questions.
    Just for me well have been fortunate not to have had any such kickbacks , so cannot comment on them.
    Only now sadly in older age are things starting to catch up on me!
    But fat too late to worry about them now. LOL
    All the best
    Cheers
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    #2 Hi Doc, me too, I'm falling apart at the seams,

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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    The colour sight test applied to all those on deck in the 1950s the original reason was to distinguish between the red and green sidelights. I don’t think it applied to engineers then , but it does now as thinking has changed as progress goes on its merry way. Colour blindness is something you are born with and is not catching. Cheers JS
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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    Hi Peter, I too was in the sea cadets in the 60s and took advantage of the courses oferred to us. Loch Ewe, HMS Dolphin, trips to sea on R.N. ships including a run up to Aberdeen in a sub to name a few
    . While they gave me a great experience there was only one route for me, I didn’t fancy spending a lot of time in shore based “ships”. I was glad to have been given the opportunity and it did install a lasting sense of self discipline.
    Regards Michael

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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    My brother tells me of a guy who attempted to take up an apprenticeship as a sparkie.
    Might have done well but was color blind and could not tell the colors of the wires.
    Did not get the apprenticeship.

    But there area lot of drivers out there who are very color blind when it comes to traffic lights.
    Red and Green are the same to them,
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    I was in the SEA CADETS with my mate Fred, we both went to the Vindicatrix in 1952 on Deck,
    Fred was colour Blind so they made him do the Catering Course
    Sailed as Galley Boy, and Steward in Cunard, On strike in 1955 he was unlucky got called up in the Army for NS,. signed on Regular and was RSM in the Grenadier Guards, later a Commission and retired as Major.
    So being colour blind didnt really affect him.
    Brian
    Last edited by Captain Kong; 8th February 2021 at 09:47 AM.

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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    Didn't become asthmatic until my fifties, otherwise I was what was considered normal, if any seaman can be considered normal. Went on my first trawler out to Iceland and Bear Island when I was 13, in the '50's, as did many of my peers. We certainly worked hard, on and stop on, don't think it did me any harm; made me respect the sea and the fortitude and humour of my shipmates. They made me work hard, but also made sure I was safe. Never ever met a red or green woman so colour blindness was never a problem.

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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    #7 Brian see you’ve surfaced, put a short post on the one about drill ships and referred to your old pal of years ok . Would have referred to an instance jan feb March April ? 1995. I only found out about it nearly 20 years later from an engineer who I knew very well. Did he ever mention it to you ? It must have been a scary experience.
    As regards national service a mate of mine leaving school went into the post office as a telegram boy and rose to the rank of a motor bike. Went into the army in the Royal signals as a regular and when I saw him later had a German wife and was a sergeant major . Met him at a party and hadn’t seen him for 15 years , after asking him why he was talking all posh, he came down to normal and probably got wrong off his wife in German for drinking too much. He was stationed with the BAOR. For a number of years. Cheers JS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 8th February 2021 at 09:47 AM.
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    Default Re: A Colour Blind Sea Cadet.

    Hello Peter, really enjoyed your article, brought back many memories, I was a decky learner on Lowestoft trawlers in the late 70s (not for long!) I was a fit 17 year old but found the life harsh, my move to Guardline survey ships and then cargo and North sea was a great move foe me.

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