Before the start of the Second World War, HMS Ganges was a Royal Navy boy’s Training Establishment, located at Shotley on the Suffolk Coast. There, boys as young as 15 were taught the basics of seamanship and gunnery in readiness for a life in the Navy. After the outbreak of war, Shotley became a training establishment for young men.
The number of air raids at Shotley began to increase dramatically and its ratings soon had to go to the air raid shelters for three or four hours each night. So, on 23rd June 1940, the Admiralty decided to establish a camp at Highnam Court in Gloucestershire where Wireless Telegraphy (W/T) and Signals ratings could receive their training without interruption.
On the 9th July 1940, the first draft of ratings left HMS Ganges at Shotley for their new training camp at Highnam Court.
Fortunately the summer of 1940 seems to have been a warm one, initially at least, with plenty of sunshine.
Most of the camp was under canvas in the form of bell tents. The bell tents were very old and rumoured to be ex-Army, last used in the Boer War. Bill Hodges described how they leaked, and had a tendency to collapse without warning “leaving the pole to protrude like a small flag mast” and the men inside to flounder around trying to find a way out.
Although the Navy provided accommodation under canvas for its officers, it appears that they were actually accommodated inside Highnam Court house at the insistence of the owner Mark Gambier-Parry: the Captain, Michael Elwood, had two rooms on the first floor, while the other 6 officers had large rooms on the top floor.
Chief Petty Officers usually had a tent to themselves, while each Petty Officer instructor had to share with one or perhaps two other P.O.s. They had space to hang their hammocks off the ground, allowing them to sleep warm and relatively comfortably.
Ratings however lived 4 or 5 to a tent and so generally had little room for such luxury. With no room to sling their hammocks, their bedding was on floor boards – covered by a ground sheet, on which they placed their hammocks.
For the full account of HMS Ganges 1940-1942 see “Highnam at War” in the Highnam Heritage website.