Request to Grow
On the way back from the Mediterranean HMS/M Odin was scheduled to visit Oporto in Portugal. It was a fairly popular run ashore and the crew were looking forward to some fun in the sun.
Life at sea was getting pretty routine and 'Rattler'Morgan and I were trying to come up with another funny ruse to liven things up and, to be honest we were struggling to come up with something new and original. Then, I saw it, there in black and white, a section of the Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy that, I was sure, would have been long forgotten. I showed it to Rattler and we decided to go ahead and use it to get one over on, of all people, the Captain.
Requestman’s table was due to be held in the next few days to promote those that had passed exams and award good conduct badges to those men that had managed another four years of undetected crime. Rattler and I went to see the Coxswain and handed him our request forms. He gave them a quick glance and threw them into the appropriate paper tray in his small office. Then he stopped what he was doing, looked at us and pulled them back out of the tray. His mouth opened visibly as he read them, properly.
“You’ve got to be joking. Haven’t you?” he said looking in our direction with a look of incredulity on his face.
“No Coxswain, I think you’ll find those requests are perfectly in order.” I said.
“But you can’t do that, can you?”
“I think you’ll find we can ‘Swain.” said Rattler, and we turned and walked away, back aft to plan our strategy.
On the day of the Captain’s table Rattler and I were waiting outside the wardroom. All the other requestmen were called in before us which was unusual. Normally you were called in strict order of seniority and, as Rattler and I were going in together, we should have been in first. Still, all this waiting just added to the spice as far as we were concerned. Finally it was just us two left.
The Coxswain’s voice rang out from the wardroom.
“Chief Petty Officer Dickinson and Chief Petty Officer Morgan.”
“Sir” We shouted together and in we marched, faced the Captain and saluted. He saluted back and leant forward on the small lectern that had been placed on the wardroom table.
“Sir.” began the Coxswain, “a joint request from Chief Petty Officer Dickinson and Chief Petty Officer Morgan.”
“Very well Coxswain, read out the request.” Said the Captain looking extremely puzzled. A complaint by two men together in the Royal Navy is classed as mutiny, still punishable by death. A request by two men together, although not mutiny, was still an extremely unusual event.
“Aye aye sir. Chief Petty Officer Dickinson and Chief Petty Officer Morgan, request by both men to grow a pigtail.” Said the Coxswain, and took a deep breath.
The Captain took one look at us across the lectern and made his decision.
“Request denied, march the men out, Coxswain.”
“Excuse me sir”, I said. “If I may be allowed to speak in favour of the request.”
The Captain’s eyebrows did a little dance before settling in a frown across his forehead. He leaned further forward.
“Well carry on Chief; I can’t wait to hear what you two jokers have to say now.”
“Thank you sir.” I continued. “According to Queen’s Regulations sir, and I quote, “Any rating or man desirous of the growing of a pigtail must be permitted to do so. Any man growing such a pigtail will be entitled to the issue of beeswax with which to hold the hair in place. A minimum of two men must request to grow the hair thus, as to allow the rendering of plaits one upon the other.’ Basically sir, you cannot deny us permission to grow our pigtails and the navy has to supply us with beeswax to put on them. Chief Morgan and I constitute two ratings and we can therefore plait each others hair to keep it tidy. I don’t like to present you with a fait accompli but, I’m afraid you must grant our request.”
The Captain stood up straight and scratched the hair behind his ear.
“I need a few minutes to check out the regulations on this one, therefore I will stand you over for ten minutes while the Coxswain and I check out the rules together. Stood over for ten minutes, Coxswain, march them out.”
“Stood over for ten minutes. Salute the Captain. About turn, quick march. Wait outside and we’ll call you back in as soon as we have a decision.”
Rattler and I went into the passageway and stood there having a quiet laugh among ourselves. We’d done it. We’d caught the skipper on the hop and we were going to be the longest haired men in the entire navy. Who knows, we could even rope in the rest of the crew on this and start a plague of pigtails, and there was nothing the Captain could do about it.
It only took five minutes for the regulations to be checked. We had done our homework and knew we were on firm ground. We went through the rigmarole once more of marching in, saluting and the request being read out to the Captain.
“Gentlemen, you are absolutely right.” Said the skipper. “I am not allowed to prevent you from growing your pigtails. I must therefore, and against my better judgement, grant your request. Coxswain, request granted, march them out.”
Once again we saluted the captain and, with huge grins on our faces marched towards the door.
“Just one thing before you leave here gents.”
We turned around and looked at the Captain. He was grinning. What was he up to?
“Are you looking forward to your run ashore in Oporto?”
“Yes sir.” Said Rattler.
“Very much so sir.” I said returning his smile.
“And I gather you have already been given your subsistence money, quite a tidy sum of cash I should think, is this right?”
“Yes sir.” I replied.
“Then you won’t mind if the Supply Officer comes with you to your mess and takes that cash back then will you?”
“I don’t understand sir. Why would he want our money back?” asked Rattler.
“Well you see chaps, you were right about my not being able to prevent you growing a pigtail, however, in your great haste to make a complete arse out of me, I think you may have stopped reading a little too prematurely. You see, the next section states that men permitted to grow pigtails, in order to maintain good order and naval discipline, may not proceed ashore from their ship until a minimum of two plaits can be woven into the hair. This was quite reasonable in Nelson’s time when the next time a sailor could go ashore from his vessel could be maybe another twelve months or more. But we shall be in port in six days so I am afraid you won’t have time to qualify. So, as you will not be allowed ashore in Portugal, you will not therefore need the money paid to you for subsistence purposes. What is more, I am sure that, as you are not permitted to leave the boat you will of course be allowing those senior rates, who were designated for duty during the period, to remain ashore whilst you carry out the duty for them. In fact we shall be in the UK in two weeks time so you will have to stay aboard there too and everywhere else we go until your pigtails grow to the required length. That is all, enjoy the next week or so on the boat. Thank you gent’s.”
With that he began to sort his paperwork and conclude the requestman’s table.
“Sir, before we go,” said Rattler, with a look of panic on his face, ”Chief Dickinson and I would like to revise our original request and now submit a request to carry on cutting our hair.”
The Captain simply looked down his nose at both of us.
“Request denied, dismissed.” And with that he turned and walked out of the wardroom.
Rattler and I nearly came to blows there and then. Whose stupid idea was it to try it on with the skipper anyway? Five minutes later the Supply Officer was taking back our money and the Coxswain was rewriting the duty roster for the week in Oporto. Rattler and I would now be duty watch every day. This time our clever wind-up had backfired and we were not happy bunnies.
The whole crew must have been in on the reversed wind-up because all week we were thanked profusely by the other senior rates for volunteering to do their duties for them. The Captain kept it going right until the moment we pulled alongside the berth in Portugal. Only then did he relent and let us ashore. I would never try to outwit or stitch up the skipper again. Well, not unless a really good opportunity presented itself and, even then, I’d make damn sure I’d researched the wind-up properly.
PS. Now forty-years later and with a head that resembles an ocean-going tadpole I would happily settle for enough follicles to grow a pigtail with LOL.