In the Navy, In the Navy there was ink, in the Navy it was blue

Until recently my only connection with fountain pen ink in the Navy was when I was posted to Navy Office in Wellington. I was a Leading Radioman and working in the Navy Head Office signal office.

On my second or third day I was happily writing away with my Shaeffer Imperial V inked with green ink when all all hell let loose. From my boss Chief Yeoman Harvey [ an irishman with a very broad accent ] I gathered that the only person allowed to use green ink was the Admiral. When you saw a document with green fountain pen ink on it you went to DEFCONONE. Ok, I will change to red ink…..NOOOOOO only the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff is allowed to use red ink. As I have said elsewhere I changed to brown ink which has some connotations but none of them are going to upset the Admiral. Actually I never really understood anything that Paddy said except once when I remember an occasion when I was getting a tune up. Paddy was laying down the law and I was saying Yes Chief, Yes Chief when he came through with absolute clarity “You are supposed to be saying fooking NO CHIEF’. Yes Chief.

Naver though much more about that until I was having a converstation with Kim in her lovely store in Devonport. Kim told me she sold a lot of pens to the young navy officers. Did they know that they were not allowed to use green or red ink, she knew the green ink thing well.

It rested there until a conversation with my old friend former Warrant Officer Writer Gordon Cattermole. Gordon was my right hand man in Coastguard and together on Maroro we stunned the fleet by being awarded the Coastguard Rescue Vessel of the year.

When we were on training exercises and we were the bad guys (the ones they had to find for practice) we drove them nuts. As the Chief Controller said when those two get to thinking anything can happen.

Anyway, Scribbles and I had lots of fun, ragging each other about our trades and singing every navy ditty we knew as we steamed through the night.

As Gordon tells it all personal documents were written up in ink, I checked mine and sure enough every entry and signature is in black or blue black. Every signature of an officer was in black ink. One of the tricks of the trade apparently was if you made a cock up on this very important cloth document you used another pen filled with bleach and went over your error.

Gordon also had a green ink story. Apparently the Commodore Auckland filed his expense report and signed it in green ink. Gordon being as sharp as a tack rejected it. On being fronted up to Commodore Tempero [later Rear Admiral who passed away while Chief of Naval Staff]  Gordon was told he was the Commodore and he would sign in whatever colour he wanted. No sir, it is a financial document and the only persons allowed to use green ink on those are Auditors.

On remarking to Gordon about the young officers buying fountain pens and it being some sort of ritual he explained just what that was.Young officers are of course being trained to be gentlemen and inking with a fountain pen is part of that. Each of the Midshipmen is required to keep a daily journal and that journal must be written with a fountain pen. The journals are apparently inspected each month with the ships books. There is an old saying ——- The Navy are officers trying to be gentlemen, the Air Force are gentlemen trying to be officers and the Army is neither trying to be both.

Gordon has not had a great run of health of late. He has a mind like a steel trap and his stories are legend. I have suggested he get a bunch of B5 notebooks and a fountain pen and start writing down his memories.

And yes every personal Naval document I have in my possession has been written up in ink. Gordon says it had to be Blue or Black but it looks like blue black was acceptable.

And another memory, on the 19th January 1961 in the crew recreational space of HMNZS Philomel I was gathered a skinny sallow youth with perhaps 30 others the same. We had assembled from all over New Zealand and this was an event that would take place for four days until an intake was complete.

An officer, Chief Petty Officer and Petty Officer politely attracted our attention and fondly advised us of the great honour which was about to befall us. We were asked to say some words about loyalty and our nation [ the oath ] and then take the ink pen in front of us and write our signature the bottom of a page full of words. We were then to put the time and date. Of course the time was in military time which was explained to us. This being done we were to take our signed forms up to the front and go back to our chairs. Note that this was an ink pen as per school days. Some had been putting cigarette ash in the ink wells so the ink would fade and the signing on would be invalid…… faint hope.

The ink was probably not even dry before gone were the smiles and benevolence the shouting started …. RIGHT YOU ARE IN THE NAVY NOW YOU HORRIBLE LITTLE PERSONS….. TURN RIGHT DOUBLE MARCH LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT OUT THE DOOR TO THE BOAT TO THE ISLAND AND YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE and so on for 18 years….

I talk of Gordon often and sometimes he is referred to as Scribbles. Gordon was a Warrant Officer in the Writers Branch of the RNZN. The Writers were part of the Supply and Secretariat Branch and were responsible for all of the ship documents, correspondence, personnel files, pay etc etc. Think of running a large business with a whole raft of rules and pay rates and you start to come close.

There is a story about a RNZN ship coming through the Panama Canal and the Writers having to go around the crew to get together enough cast to pay for the transit fees. But then stories [ sailors call them ‘dits’ ] abound

Of course the Writers had other duties when it came to fighting and would be found in First Aid Parties, Damage Control Parties or hard at work keeping a narrative for the Report of Proceedings. Reports…. ain’t that the truth reports on everything and reports on the reports it was not an easy job to master. You never tripped over one when it was store ship, beer ship, paint ship, man the decks for entering harbour. Sorry there was an exception, at right Gordon is supervising filling up with diesel at Okahu Bay on Maroro during a Coastguard exercise.

Gordon was one of the best they ever had and many a senior officer found life much easier with Gordon running the show. To a man or a woman you never met a Writer who was not serious about attention to detail. So much was at stake. And I look at my Navy papers which are all filled in by hand and am amazed at the high standard of hand-writing….. they were certainly writers. Now of course they have some fancy title and your documents are probably filled in by some form of laser ray or 3D printer.

There was always a lot of taking of the piss. When you have been in a hot stuffy engine room or working on a hot or cold deck, Writers sitting in their clean office and wandering off for a cup of tea when it suited seemed pretty cushy. Always seems when you had just come off watch and wanted your pay the Ships Office was shut. You assumed they were off enjoying themselves.

I would always greet Gordon with an enquiry as to qhwn the $1.25 he short paid me thirty years ago would be available. Gordon normally retorted with something like when the enquiry into why I got paid at all was finished.  When he and I were on Coastguard duties at night this conversation normally went on for some time.