HAPPY N.A.A.F.I. DAYS by Pat Jerome

The word NAAFI to some, brings memories of war times if you are of a certain age group. If you are not it probably means nothing at all. The letters stand for Navy, Army and Air force Institute – that is the official version, there are many others that I won’t go into now, not all are kind or complimentary and quite a few are unprintable.
It was instituted on January 1st, 1921, as a new organisation to enable service men and women the world over to have a shop of their own, more or less on their door step. It sold everything from groceries to hardware and drapery, but the part that I was involved in was quite a bit later, in the canteen of H.M.S. Pembroke, Royal Naval Dockyard, Chatham, in 1958. I was 24.
Even though we were shore based, we were a little world of our own. The canteen, housed in one of the large buildings just inside the main gates, had three separate dining areas, a large one for the ordinary sailors or matelots, another not quite so large for the Petty Officers; there were not so many of them – and a much more spacious and airy dining room for the Chief Petty Officers – they had a bit more gold braid.
In the block or building, was a shop that did sell virtually everything that was needed for everyday living, from toiletries to handkerchiefs, shoe polish and razor blades, and all sorts of confectionary, or Nutty, as it was known.
The staff who served in the shop considered themselves a cut above us. We were the ones who kept the sailors, from lowliest matelot to the highest Chief Petty Officers, (and sometimes an even higher ranking visiting officer) – fed and watered, no mean feat.
From breakfast to supper there was nearly always somebody wanting something, and always something to do – floors needing mopping and such – but wet floors could be dangerous. At one time, carrying a large pile of clean plates, I skidded on the wet floor but fortunately shot the plates straight on to the shelf under the counter as I fell. Lucky that the shelf was in the right place at the right time.
Stand Easy, or mid morning tea break, was usually a mad fifteen minutes, when anything up to two hundred sailors would pour into their designated areas for tea and buns to sustain them until diner time.
Before the tannoy announced Stand Easy, and released the flood, we had laid up three of four trays of cups, ten cups to a tray and had poured out tea ready for the first forty or so to swoop in and be served. Tea was made in a large urn in the kitchen, and a succession of oversized metal tea pots were kept filed and carried out to the counter to be emptied as quickly as possible.
Sixteen minutes later the tannoy would announce Hands to Work – or whatever the order of the day was, and all that was left was cups and plates to be gathered and tables to wipe. We didn’t have to sweep the floor – sailors who had misbehaved in some way did that. We did have a dishwashing machine but that was for plates, the cups were washed by hand in big deep sinks, soapy water in one, clear water in the next. The routine was: empty the dregs, then dunk the cups into the soapy water; wash them, slide along the draining board into the clear water, and out onto the next draining board to be dried. We got through a lot of tea towels.
Midday meals were hectic. There was no difference been ranks fortunately, the same food was served to all. There was rarely any left on the plates. The cooks were first class and kept very busy.
If there was a function of some sort, with very important people and lots of gold braid, we were given the chance to volunteer as waitresses, most of us did – the extra money was always welcome.
But the busiest days were Navy Days. We could again volunteer to work as many hours as we could manage. At that time, Navy Days lasted a week, and sometimes between working normal duty and volunteer work we spent more time in the barracks than at home. But it was a pleasant change. Because we were out working among the visitors, serving tea and sandwiches, lemonade and squash, and answering all sorts of questions (whether we knew the answer or not) and, when they had all gone home, back to the canteen to do the washing up.
But it was not all dishing up, washing up and cleaning up. It didn’t seem like a job, it was a way of life – the sailors were OURS to look after, to cheer up if down, to slip the odd half crown to when broke (even though this was strictly illegal) to listen to them when they needed someone to talk to.
At least, that was how it was on my watch. I can’t speak for all N.A.A.F.I. personnel. Our reputation generally was not good but a lot of that was just talk. I mean, fifty sailors to every female, people WILL talk. Even if it was wishful thinking – or envy! They were happy days.

About highamwriters

A group of recreational creative writers and if you ask us nicely we will let you publish some of our work
This entry was posted in Pat Jerome and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s