The birth of a princess, a happy event when we need good news

Former Navy man recalls the birth of Prince Charles

Congratulations to their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of Princess Charlotte, a little sister for Prince George.

In 1948, I was a 20-year-old seaman supply rate in the Royal Canadian Navy aboard HMCS Ontario. We were tied up at A jetty in Esquimalt. It was a Sunday morning, two watches of the crew were ashore enjoying the weekend. This left the duty watch and several hundred officers and men still on board. In mid-morning an announcement came over the ship’s intercom, “To splice the main brace.” Throughout the fleet in celebration of the birth of a Royal baby, Prince Charles.

“Splice the main brace,” an expression meaning by special permission, “Double the normal rum ration to be issued to eligible men only. Eligible men were ordinary able seamen and leading seamen 20 years of age who elected to go grog.

Grog was a two-and-a-half ounce of neat Pusser rum, mixed with five ounces of fresh water.

The rum issue was a ritual, anachronistic, adopted from the Royal Navy. At 11:30 daily at sea or in port, the bosom pipe would sound “up spirits.”

As the duty rum-issuing stores rating, I would accompany the duty officer of the watch, the regulating chief our petty officer to the quarterdeck then descend two decks below to the ships’ spirit locker wherein resided the run. We drew off the required rum for the  issue which took place at noon at the trilling of the bosun pipe announcing the rum issue and hands to dinner.

The grog was mixed and served from a large oaken tub inscribed HMCS Ontario, “The King God Bless Him.”

I had send my seaman helper with two large buckets for fresh water. All pipelines in ships are colour-coded. Fresh water pipes are blue, saltwater pipeline is red used for firefighting. My helper came back with the water, we were running late and were urged to get on with it.

The duty officer, a young officer cadet, tasted the grog with a shocked look, said “salt.” While this officer was nominally in charge, the regulating petty officer and myself the issuing store man, should have tested the water before mixing with the rum. My helper, new to the ship, was entirely blameless. The regulating petty officer with the officer cadet reported the circumstances to the senior executive officer on board. He gave the order to dump the salty rum and redraw the required amount. This we did very carefully ensuring the water was taken from the blue fresh water line and tasted.

Monday, the next day the officer cadet, the regulating petty officer and myself faced the commander’s wrath. We deservedly had a strip torn off us and were confined to the ship for two weeks performing extra duties.

That little episode ensured we would not forget the birth of Prince Charles, Prince of Walaes.

The rum ration is long gone. Unlamented, except for a die-hard few. There is no place for alcohol in a modern navy where people must be at the ready at all times.

That said, we salute the little Princess Charlotte and wish her a long and happy life.

Lorne E. Pattison

Sooke